Gin, gin…is a wonderful thing

One of the great things about writing this blog is the opportunity to learn about a topic I didn’t know much about before, whether that be the history of the ferry, just yards from our front door or the vineyards of Devon. This post however, is dedicated to the wonderful drink that is gin. Here at the Passage House Inn, we think you just can’t beat a good gin and tonic on a sunny summer’s day and so much do we love it that we’ve now got an entire menu dedicated to this most tasty of liquors. So I thought I’d do a bit of digging on the origins and development of gin to see if I could discover any interesting facts to share with you all.

For some unfathomable reason, I’d assumed that gin was a British invention but alas, I was mistaken. Early records show that the first confirmed date of production was in Holland in the early 17th Century where ‘it was produced as a medicine and sold in chemist shops to treat stomach complaints, gout and gallstones. To make it more palatable, the Dutch started to flavour it with juniper, which had medicinal properties of its own.’ In fact, the phrase ‘dutch courage’ comes from soldiers in the Thirty Years’ War who were given gin in the damp weather for it’s warming properties. Eventually, they started to bring it home with them and so it arrived in England. Gin was then fully embraced by William of Orange who dropped tax on spirit production ‘for the health of the nation’ when he came to the throne in 1689. In 1731 gin was paired with gingerbread, a partnership that lasted for over 150 years before fizzling out. Not quite sure what I make of that myself…

And finally, finally, in 1850, the drink that we all know and love was born; gin and tonic. It was actually created as an anti-malarial for British troops in India but was such a tasty combination that it caught on and became a favourite drink of many. And whether you have it in this infamous cocktail or on it’s own, we wanted to be able to offer you a selection of some of the finest gins on offer. From the well known Gordon’s and Plymouth Gin to the lesser known but equally tasty Fever Tree Tonic (spot the reference?!) and most recently launched Pinkster, we really do have an incredible selection (if we do say so ourselves!) So why not come down and join us for a tasting session, try a few out and decide which is your favourite. The only question is, how will you have it? With tonic, in a martini or neat? The choice is yours… There’s a gin for everyone here at the Passage House Inn.

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Talking with…Mike the Ferryman

The last rays of Spring sunshine are fading as I enter the Passage House Inn on a quiet Monday evening in April and am met with a gaggle of smiling faces. One of the things I love about this pub is that you are always guaranteed to find someone friendly to talk to, it’s just that kind of place. This evening however, I’ve come with a purpose. I’m here to talk to Mike Stevens, the well loved official ferryman of Topsham. He’s already at the bar with his drink of choice (Guinness, if you fancy buying him one!) and his partner in boat-related affairs, Lesley.

I wrote in our inaugural post on this blog, about the link between the Passage House Inn and the ferry crossing just metres away from our front door so it seemed right to write about the current ferryman. A lot was said over the evening but the thing that struck me most was Mike’s absolute love and passion for the river and the people he meets. He absolutely lives and breathes the river, his boats and life in general. He is very philosophical about his beginnings as the ferryman. In 2004, an 18 year relationship that saw him living in Dawlish came to an end and he moved our way. Some boys from the council told him that the job as ferryman was available and he decided to give it a go. He said that it was ‘a complete change of life. Amazing’ and that he shouldn’t have wasted his previous years.

His first boat, a little rowing boat, was bought with some money left from his Mother and was named after her, Mary. It was sufficient at the time so he revived the little used crossing, built it up and by 2011 it was time for a new boat. The council got involved in funding a new vessel and Shimmer was built and named by a young lad (aptly called Noah) from Topsham Primary School. Her launch was a real community occasion and still remembered by many.

Today, another five years on, Mike actually has a few more boats! And this is where Lesley enters the picture. I learnt that Mike doesn’t just run the Ferry Passage Crossing. He also has Edwardian Lady and Regnum, both available for small private parties. Mike and Lesley have been offering one of a kind trips for the last three years, offering people the opportunity to have an amazing experience on the River Exe. Edwardian Lady is available for dining with Lesley providing delicious home cooked food and Regnum is available for river trips. Lesley and Mike tell me that their goal is to ‘make history for people’ and I’m sure they’ll succeed.

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For Mike it really is all about making sure folk are happy. He told me that ‘everything is amazing at the moment. Carly and Neil have made the Passage House Inn a welcoming place for locals and visitors and I’m very fortunate to be working with Lesely with the boats making people happy. It all works extremely well’. He’s a very special man. And also very accomplished! I discovered that he holds the Guinness World Record for Underwater Endurance, a record they have since frozen as it is so dangerous. Mike spent an incredible 212 hours and 30 minutes (that’s 9 days!) underwater with no breaks. Not a feat to be scoffed at!

So whether you’re a Topsham local or just the visiting the area, why not take the ferry across the Exe to go for a walk, have a chat with Mike or buy him a well-earned pint at the Passage House Inn if you see him after a long day’s work. Or if you’re interested in hiring Regnum or Edwardian Lady for an unforgettable trip down the Exe, give Lesley a call on 07890 298 399. Here at the Passage House Inn we’re very proud to be connected with this interesting and immensely likeable gentleman, Topsham’s very own ferryman, Mike Stevens.

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