On Gardening leave

Having a Rest: Eddy Munnelly and Pat Wilson behind the bar they are swapping for a life on the water
Having a Rest: Eddy Munnelly and Pat Wilson behind the bar they are swapping for a life on the water
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“AFTER the flood,” says Eddy Munnelly, landlord at Sheffield’s legendary real ale pub the Gardeners Rest, “they found our furniture washed up everywhere.

“One chair was left stuck in a tree half a mile down the Don.”

He shakes his head, glancing at partner Pat Wilson.

“The irony is we bought the place because we liked that it was on the river.”

Here is another irony: next month, this couple, who have spent the last 14 years transforming the once-derelict Neepsend Lane boozer into a nationally-acclaimed, award winning outlet, will retire – for a life on the water.

They are to sell up and, quite literally, ship out.

The pair – who made national headlines after the 2007 floods submerged their pub to such an extent the actual bar was under water – are to buy a narrowboat and sail the canals of Britain.

“You’d think we’d have been bitten on the bum enough by water,” says Eddy, 63. “But it’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing.”

“Running a pub is an unconventional job,” adds Pat, 51. “So we couldn’t just retire and live in a house. This had to be unconventional too.”

An unconventional life it may have been but there can be no doubt it’s been a successful one.

Long before the pair purchased the Gardeners Rest they were already well known Sheffield faces.

Previously they had run The East House in Spital Hill (where they met), The Wortley Arms in Halifax Road, Wortley, and The Riverside in Mowbray Street.

Then in 1998, having gathered a loyal following of beer- aficionados, they decided to have a go at running their own place.

“It needed a lot of work,” says Eddy, a father-of-three. “There was a hole in the floor of the main bar but we had the pub open in 11 days.”

Their tried and tested formula – strong community links, good brews and providing a platform for local artists and musicians – worked.

They built an extension, created a river-side garden and, from somewhere, acquired a mannequin called Stella, who has sat in the bar keeping lone drinkers company ever since. Pretty soon, the pub was one of several in the area which formed Sheffield’s fabled real ale trail – credited with bringing hundreds of beer tourists to the city every year.

And even having to close for more than two years following the flood didn’t deter those customers from coming back.

When the pub finally re-opened in November 2009, they all came, um, flooding back.

“That was great,” says Pat. “These people are more than customers so it meant a lot.”

But now the pair are giving it up for that life on a boat. They plan to leave by the end of May. Whether they will ever return to Sheffield, they’re not sure.

“Of course it will be a wrench to leave,” says Pat. “I love the nights here when it’s busy and everyone is talking and meeting each other and there’s music on, and a great atmosphere but, you know, there are other things in life, and it’s time we did them.”

A Last Orders beer festival, featuring music, art exhibitions and real ales, takes place Thursday May 17 to Sunday May 20. A folk festival is being held the weekend before.