Sunday, 29 November 2009

Norton to Marsh lane - pubs round the edge of Moss Valley


Mr P and I had often discussed a path that he had walked many times in the past, from Norton into the Moss valley and Coal Aston. We had discussed a few times hat fact that ignoring horrors like the Real ale free Chequers, there were 3 other pubs in Coal Aston that we had never visited, so had an ongoing intention to try and find the path. Our recent planned crawl had been cancelled owing to my having been a ill and fighting o off a niggly cold, so it makes no sense at all that yesterday, at the end of November, we agreed to try retracing the path….

We started on Norton Lane and followed Cinderhill Lane in a chilly wind to the path that leads out and across Bochum Parkway. Mr P noted that the last time he had walked the path there was no main road, which led me to question just how reliable this route might turn out to be. Having said that, I had looked at it on Multimap and he had his trusty A-Z and we were quietly confident. We walked down the side of some fields on a muddy path following a wall, spotting a hare heading for the ditch as we headed downwards.

The path soon split and we took the rather uninviting right hand path that walkers forgot, before joining another track, and heading diagonally right towards Hazelbarrow farm, in the hamlet of the same name. After losing the path in the fields below Hazelbarrow we picked it up again in the Nor Wood and then headed down increasingly muddy tracks into the valley, crossing the brook and heading out into the field, bow following the Dronfield Rotary walk signs. After further mud and paths that served as drainage streams we popped up on Birches Lane next to the Royal Oak in Coal Aston, just as it opened.

Inside was a nicely lit and warm pub split into 2 sides but no longer two roomed. There is a traditional Tetley bar, probably 1930’s, in style if not in material, sporting 4 handpumps. We opted for pints of Brains Reverend James at £2.68 a pint, which was a hearty and well-kept pint to start to the day’s proceedings. Warmed and refreshed (it was about 3 degrees when we set out) we set off again; alas we didn’t have time to check out the Cross Daggers or the Yew Tree. We headed into Frith Wood and up through waterlogged fields and quagmire to Summerley, and then up the road into Apperknowle. There was a strange feeling of de-javu as we headed down Barrack road to find the Barracks shut - I am still not certain, but I think they open at 16.00 on Saturday and I always forget. We trudged back up the steep hill to the main road, lamenting the long gone Yellow Lion and headed for the Travellers.

A warm fire greeted us here as well, and some 5 real ales, including 2 from Bradfield Brewery. We both opted for Spire Brewery Dark Side of the Moon, which was on good form and about £2.40 a pint, and settled in the small snug on the right. Given that it was dinnertime we asked the barman if we could eat our sandwiches, and he agreed, and I bought a half of Bradfield Yorkshire Farmer to help my rather poor sandwiches down. We left the pub to walk up Moor Top Road, past the farm and a rather impressive looking tumulus and headed right and then straight on for Middle Handley. Arriving in the village we saw all its facilities in one vista – the chapel, the phone box, the post box and the Devonshire Arms.

I probably only got to visit about 3 times when it was run by the previous incumbents who sadly had to close the pub after the death of the long serving landlord. Since then its been reopened for a couple of years, but has in that time kept slightly restricted hours, and for one reason or another I have only been in 3 times since it has been reopened. The Restaurant has been under construction throughout that period, and is now finished, and disappointingly, despite the fact that the rest of the interior is not brand new, the pub still has the clinical atmosphere and harsh aroma of a cold new build. It is a traditional pub with quite a modern interior, in that the fittings are still befitting of a country pub, tables and chairs, open fireplaces, pictures of animals, but the materials are very modern, and the open fireplaces never seem to be lit.

The paintings are modern with traditional subjects, and the bar, whilst facing the door and sporting some traditional adornments, is wider and more open that the original, made with light wood and very brightly lit. That said there are 4 handpumps as well as Pilsner Urquell on draught and some good bottled beers. The Devonshire was the first pub I ever saw and drank Brampton Brewery beers and there is still a very good range of Sheffield and Derbyshire ales on – I had Bradfield Farmers Blonde at £2.60, Mr P the Kelham Island roll it out at £2.80 a pint, with Absolution and Stones also available. After a good rest we headed to Marsh Lane, where we found the Fox and Hounds keeps traditional hours, being closed at just gone 15.00.

We went in the Butchers, now reopened having seemingly swung between closure and reopening regularly over the last 2 years. I had last been in December 2007 when we had a very nice meal and some excellent Abbeydale beer. Now there are still 2 handpumps in the lounge, 1 was in use selling Old Speckled hen from Greedy King. We both had a half., costing £1.15. We caught the bus into Eckington with the light fading, and having missed our intended ride out decided with some trepidation to try and find a pub selling real ale. Eckington used to, as well as having something like 15 pubs, have a majority selling real ale, but I heard last year that only The Bird in Hand now bothered, and that looked close on he way in. We headed round the back of the bus station, and ignoring the pedestrian street and carried on. We noticed the Mansfield pub on the corner had reopened, but there was only one handpump with no clip, and no customers. Up the road the lights of the George blazed and we headed in on the off chance.

Although the Wells Bombardier was off, there was cask Stones and we soon realised we had found the best place to drink in Eckington. It would be pointless visiting if you had an aversion to sport – both TV’s in either side of the pub were showing the rugby, followed by the unsavoury details of another hopeless Owls performance on Final Score. The pub was packed out and the staff friendly, and although I would have loved to have had another beer to choose from at least they had the right idea, and it was only the necessity to get the bus and head home the persuaded us out of the pub. We took a quick ride to Mosborough and walked along Duke Street to the Alma.

Me and Wee Fatha used to go to the quiz there almost every other Tuesday for years, always drinking Vaux Samson, usually being fed and steadfastly never doing anything as reckless as winning. After Jim and Jean retired around the time Wards closed, I visited much less, but it was nice to be back, and to find real ale on, this time Wychwood Hobgoblin. The lounge was packed out but there was only us most of the time in the taproom. I always wonder whether this is because the new owners after Jim and Jean left tarted up the Tap Room, which was better in its plain appearance. I always think now it looks a little incongruous, but it doesn’t detract from the fat that the Alma is a cracking pub. A short walk away we caught the 30 and back in Handsworth for some spicy casserole and for me, perhaps unwisely, some more alcohol. A warming and enjoyable end to a great day, with some excellent pubs en route.

Wee Beefy

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Bank Holiday Monday Staffordshire pub trip


       sorry have not been on for a while, my eyesight problems have reoccurred and haven't really felt like posting, although that hasn't restricted my trips out.

Please note, there will be info on Cretan Kafenions I promise, but am writing up the Crete diaries on another blog and on the computer first, and theres a loy of info.

Anyhoo, have some pubs and crap weather.....

It was the latter part of summer and the Sunday of the bank holiday weekend loomed empty and frustrating. The weather wasn’t promising much and I was only just recovered from a very long Friday night where real ale had taken a back seat on a late night works do. The only solution was a crawl.

We started our journey by heading into Bakewell, a dubious transport bluff that I am not going to be blamed for, which saw us sit in solid traffic for 15 minutes. Once out, we headed towards Over Haddon and Youlgrave and carried on, arriving at Arbor Low about 14.30. The rain siled down sideways in a nithering cold wind and we parked as far as possible from the ancient monument, perhaps so as to fully appreciate traipsing in the deluge to the stone circle as if we were dressed of the period.

After an invigorating walk of solemnity round the flattened circle, we carried on through Hartington and out towards Stoke on Trent, mainly Hanley where we were looking for Lichfield street. The thing is, although the GBG mentions the A50, its not clear that long ago the pub we were seeking was on the A50, but was now set back a streets width and a pavement from the roaring main road, standing firm against council plans to knock it and surrounding businesses down for no reason at all.

Because its not clear on a road atlas where each A road comes off the Potteries way we came out at the roundabout above and travelled for 15 minutes down nearby tributaries, struggling to find anyone who had heard of the address or the pub, before we finally spotted the Coachmakers more by accident than anything.

Inside it was clear why it was on the N.I, and abundantly obvious how vibrant and popular it was. A traditional 3 roomed local, it has a bar and hatch, a snug, games room and lounge (or parlour), we settled in the snug on the left and surveyed the endless pump clips, on the wall, ceiling, and on pumps on the bar.

Pick of the ales was the Paradise brewery Mild, but there were tasty offerings from other local brewers, and those from further afield. We all signed the petition to abandon the planned demolition and the landlord was very informative and helpful.

We had spent so long in the pub and so long getting there that it was nearly tea time when we left, so we popped in the takeaway a few doors up. Once fed, we undertook the soul destroying journey along endless A roads and ways to Tunstall, to find a pub we had been to once 10 years before. I had provided rudimentary maps and details and we were doing well on Churchill way, but the main road into Pitts Hill eluded us, partly based on making our memories fit the scene, combined with a lack of signs.

We pulled into a garage and a friendly local put us in the right direction – the road we wanted was off a dead end street that used to be a main road, and once we were on it we had to remember which of the myriad turns to take, off which was Naylor Street, and the Vine.

Coming back down we somehow picked the right one and turned first right to see the pub just as it got dark. After parking up outside we went to take in the scene.

The Vine is a true unspoilt back street pub, with a long corridor to the private quarters, a lounge on the left, a narrow bar on the right, a hatch opposite the games room, and outside loos. When I visited in 1999 the lounge was literally that – tablecloths and place mats and vases on the tables, family pictures on the walls, more or less a residential living room. The interior is a littlie more sparse now. The landlord explained that 10 years ago it was kept like that for the older female clientele, it seems they have mostly passed on or stopped coming so its reverted to a plain working man’s lounge, although maybe parlour would be a better description. There is no bar counter in this room.

Its not a real ale haven, and its not meant to be. Keg Boddingtons is perhaps the best draught option, I went for bottled Guinness, sadly the original, but a nice change all the same. A few more regulars turned up, one had been serving behind the bar for a bit, and they were chatting with Wee Fatha, Wee Keefy and I before we made our excuses, since we had another couple of stops before home.

After squeezing our way out of the tiny streets and picking the right main road out, we missed the next turning and WF boldly took us up a random residential street. He claimed to know where he was going, but there was disquiet in the navigator’s seat, and tensions mounted as we guestimated where we might pop out. Full marks to WF though, as we turned up the side of an estate with open ground to our left I thought I saw Mow Cop ahead, and sure enough we were soon in Harriseahead, and parking up to go in the Royal Oak.

It was packed inside, sporting a range of permanent beers and guests. There was excellent Oakham on, sadly nothing from local brewers, but a clearly popular and well-kept range nonetheless. We topped up (well, not WF) on real ale before our next stop out on the Moors.

The weather hadn’t really improved all day and visibility was dire as we headed over the Leek to Buxton road, alas when we got to Royal Cottage, the pub f the same name was shrouded in darkness. Keefy hasn’t ever been in, but me and WF managed on a Friday folk night in February last year, and it’s a very friendly rugged pub inside. There are locals who go in, and it seems, like anyone who knows it who is asked about when or why it’s not open, there is a calm assurance that they know when it does. If in doubt, cut your losses and stop off at the excellent Butchers at Reapsmoor near Longnor, ask the landlord, even if he doesn’t know for certain you can always stop for a pint or two at his excellent pub.

We ploughed on through fog and then lashing rain and stopped finally at the Bulls Head in Monyash. None of us fancied Farmers Blonde, tempted as we were by the novelty of Burton Ale, but were slightly disturbed by the price – more than £3.00 a pint.

The landlady admitted it should come with a health warning – the less forgiving observer might have suggested an easy to spot price list - but she pointed out that the locals all drank it and complained if it was not on, and she couldn’t get it cheaper on account of its strength. I wasn’t sure if I realised it was strong before, but it was a nice pint and she was friendly, crucially, open, and selling a choice of 3 beers.

All in all an interesting trip to contrasting pubs, well worth a go yourself, and who knows, if you plan it for a first Friday of the month the Royal Cottage might even be open.

Wee Beefy