Updated: Aug 9
Will ye no' come back again?
Will ye no' come back again?
Better lo'ed ye canna be
Will ye no' come back again?
So goes the chorus in Carolina Oliphant's rather romantic, nostalgic, view of Bonnie Prince Charlie's flight to France from Scotland in 1746 after the defeat of his army of highlanders at Culloden. Coming, as she did, from a Jacobite family her view would probably have had to have been somewhat romantic. I'm not sure that Charles Edward Stuart ever had a yearning to return to The Highlands, but I do.
For me, The Highlands could not have been better lo'ed. I'm not referring to the area north and west of the Highland Boundary Fault, but The Highlands pub which used to be found at 221 Beccles Road in Gorleston.
During WW2 this former private house housed the gun operations room for the Yarmouth and Lowestoft anti-aircraft area, serving as the headquarters of the 106th Regiment of the Royal Artillery. After hostilities ceased it was converted into a pub for the brewers Steward & Patteson, its license having been transferred from the Oddfellows in Great Yarmouth. With a highlander in traditional highland attire adorning its pub sign, quite how or why it acquired the name of The Highlands I have absolutely no idea. It does seem a rather incongruous name for a pub in the county of Norfolk whose highest point stretches an impressive 338 feet towards the heavens.
I first entered The Highlands a few weeks prior to my seventeenth birthday. I'd been singing at my school's Easter concert entitled Songs from the Musicals - "Automobile in America, chromium steel in America...", "We've got volleyball and ping-pong and a lot of dandy games... " - and, along with some fellow basses and tenors, fancied lubricating my larynx. It was feeling particularly dry as, being a baritone put into the basses, I'd been forced to sing a little deeper than I'd have liked. There's no way that I could have managed the register of the tenors. So, a pint of Norwich Bitter, at 13p, it was. Norwich Mild or the really dire Starlight, both a penny cheaper, were the other options. What about lager? Wouldn't even consider it.
From that introduction The Highlands became the pub of choice. Friday evenings would see a group of around a half dozen of us gather in the tiny Smoke Room, the room to the right of the front door. It had a piano and Paul or Robin would give us renditions of Bridge Over Troubled Water, You've Got A Friend and similar. Even when we went our separate ways on leaving school we'd regularly regroup in the Smoke Room when back home from our respective universities and colleges.
I held my informal 21st birthday 'do' there with student friends descending from places as far afield as Southampton, Willenhall and South Shields to bulk out the old schoolmates. The evening sticks in the memory for a number of reasons. Firstly, it snowed. Secondly, I didn't win a single game with my new darts. Thirdly, my sister snapped the handbrake cable in Dad's HA Bedford Viva van. And fourthly, Rich managed to pull the gear lever out of his Ford Capri. Somehow he managed to drive back to County Durham the following day, picking said lever off the floor and stuffing it back in place every time it leapt out of position.
Upon graduation, whilst the bulk of the group moved away, I remained in my home town for a couple of years and migrated from the Smoke Room into the bar. Most evenings would find me there, playing darts or having the odd game of crib or euchre. Even the occasional game of dice with Fred, the landlord, for shots. Best of three. Fred would have rum and pep whilst I went for the Teacher's.
Jukebox full of Tammy Wynette, Jim Reeves and Hank Williams, with a little room for the likes of Patti Smith, Bruce and Sioxsie. Rinso, his beret atop his head, with his bottle of Stingo in front of him. Discussions with proud Welshman Mike about the recent form of L&YRC and the underrated abilities of England flanker Mike Rafter.
Sunday lunchtimes. Darts with workmates Steve and Gary. Feeding 2p pieces into the fruit machine in the hope of a big win of tokens which, when they did arrive, soon went back over the bar.
Darts matches on Tuesday evenings with big Kenny my partner in the pairs. Kenny would be lumbered with me in the town pairs as well, whilst in the mixed it was Molly who drew the short straw. Eventually I did move away but would gravitate to my 'second home' whenever I returned to visit my folks, for an evening of arrows and a natter with Fred.
It was on one of these visits in early summer of 1984 that I found the door closed. It was closed the following day too, so I moved on to the Station Hotel where I heard the news of Fred's tragic death. The Highlands died with him.
After his death the men's toilets on the left hand end were demolished and the building became a vets.
It served this purpose for a number of years before the surgery was moved to another, larger, bygone boozer nearby - the former Magdalen Arms. When Mr. Google drove by in July of last year it appears that some work was in progress. Just what the future holds for the place I don't know.
No more will Paul play on that piano. Like the instrument, the pub and Fred, he is no longer with us, having succumbed to a cancer that he'd never met in forty years as a GP. Neither are Sue and Ian. I'm still clinging on to life and still in some sort of contact with certain members of the Friday night bunch. I recall, several decades ago, hearing Richard Digance perform Taken My Lifetime Away when he was supporting Elkie Brooks, Ralph McTell or similar (pretty certain it wasn't Queen or The Who!). It's a song about the loss he felt when the East End of his youth was being demolished. I have similar feelings about the loss of this place, along with the Links and Station Hotels. One thing that's pretty certain is that, much as I'd love it to, addressing Will ye no' come back again? to The Highlands is unlikely to have a positive outcome.
At the time of writing The Highlands is on the market, at £250,000, as a commercial property which "Subject to a change of use... could be used for offices or residential use."
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