Wednesday, 21 July 2010

3 Valleys beer festival

Having somehow contrived to more or less run out of cash half way through the month (its always a bad sign when you need to start adding the number of weeks left before your pay allows you to live again) I was going to spend the weekend of July 17th doing nothing and resting my hole ridden foot in my cumbersome Herman Munster boot that the hospital had insisted I wear.

That was until I got a text from Fluffy.

Yep, that’s right. I have a friend called fluffy (although he amusingly tries to pretend that it’s actually his name for me which clearly, it isn’t).

Luckily, I am not in SMS contact with a feline or silkily pelted dog, instead Scott is his more drinker friendly name and he lives in that London so we see each other rarely, although more recently since a chance conversation with a mutual friend. Anyhoo, his invite to join him at the 3 Valleys festival proved too strong to resist, especially when I saw the beers that might be on.

The idea is simple. Twelve (or perhaps ten) pubs put on special events and or special beers like they are having a beer festival of their own, all of the pubs are in the S18 and 19 area (according to the website) and you travel for free between them all by a festival bus paid for by the pubs.

So, on Saturday me and Chala headed into town and dawdled unhelpfully down to the train station - the idea was that rather than catch the 15.05 train with Scott et al, we would catch the earlier one (which I guessed left at 14.05 but hadn't checked) so we could go to the Coach and Horses in Dronfield and steal an hours drinking on them, on the assumption that we would be home early like good kids and them lot would be out all-night like rapscallions.

Alas, strolling into the station at the exact time the train left we quickly had a rethink and bumped into Scott en route to check bus times. We realised there was probably no point trying for a bus so filled in time before meeting everyone in the Sheffield Tap by buying tickets and gawping at a monsoon downpour whilst chatting to a bloke from Moss Side about his love of multiculturalism and ultra violence.

The Sheffield Tap was busy as usual, with a selection of some beers from the festival (the Coach and Horses is their sister pub) in addition to the usual Thornbridge range. Chala opted to avoid alcohol at this stage and I had a Pollards milk coffee stout, served in a European style strong ale glass and tasting of, well, milky coffee and stout, and ludicrously drinkable at 5%.

In no time we were on the train and then in Dronfield walking to the Coach. There was a blues singer on outside in the marquee along with an extra bar and, somewhat revolutionarily, a real till accepting real money. Plastic glasses mind you.

With it having poured down with rain on and off there was one large table free outside of the protection of the canvas so we dried that off and caught up and got to know each other, whilst sampling the ales. I started with a pint of Williams Bros Grozet, a gooseberry wheat beer which was intentionally and correctly cloudy and refreshing. Chala opted for a demure half of the Hawkshead organic stout which is a fantastic beer.

After a quick Fyne ales beer that escapes me, I recklessly embarked on the first of two halves of Brewdog Hardcore IPA, which is 9, or possibly 9.2%, packed with hops and almost criminally easy to drink. In between I had a Williams Joker IPA to calm things down a little, but my logic - that we would be out for only a couple of hours so could drink like a mentalist - was flawed, as the unfolding events would demonstrate.

Scott and the others ( John, Steve, Trudy, Simon and Amy - just proving that I can recall names ) headed off on the last clockwise free bus to the Hearts of Oak at Dronfield Moor, whilst cannily, realising we had probably reached the best beer pub of the festival route, we opted to stay for an extra 40 minutes to sample more delights.

Chala finished our Coach drinking as another shower enveloped us with a half of Maredsous from the pub bar, whilst I had a fantastic pint of Murmansk Baltic Porter at 7.2%. Leaving for a bus back to the station and then a bus back out to join the gang at the Rutland in Holmsfield, chaos reigned as no-one could agree where the bus would stop.

We saw it pull up outside but there were plenty of people on both sides of the road, so we ran over and made sure the bus was going to turn round at the roundabout and come back past the pub to the station, which it did. What we weren't expecting was that no-one would join us, and that the bus driver, admittedly following his instructions but flying in the face of logic, fair play and a desire to help, simply drove straight past the waving and shouting crowd on the basis that he did not pick up after the pub-side stop.

That may be the case, but the confusion of having 2 clockwise busses leave the station and drive past the pub along with 8 or 9 that only pick up at the same stop and take you back to the start meant that no-one was likely to understand the logistics, and as we boarded the tiny minibus which was to be the next vehicle picking up at the C+H in 50 minutes time, it was clear that guests were going to be dischuffed.

Anyhoo, putting these concerns behind us we set off again past the Miners to the Rutland at Holmsfield, where the others already were, having given up on the Oak on account of it having run out of festival beer and worse ( I realise nothing could be worse, but cant recall the exact details clearly enough to report the problem ).

The Rutland is somewhere I have been many times although not so much in the last 5 years and it was serving a good range of regional brewer’s beers along with Wharfeside Tether and Bays Gold. Perhaps only for reasons of the festival spirit I went for the Bays Gold (although I was given a taste first) when actually I probably from the taste I had after, preferred the Tether. Either way, an unusual beer from furthest Torquay making a nice change.

We moved on next to the Horns where a festival slump befell us once more, the sign outside and the website promised a few guest festival beers but there was only one, a Kelham beer which was off. We all took ours back and swapped it for John Smiths, and retired to the back room to catch up and listen to some music, but it was a shame that with 4 hours to go on the first day of the two day festival they seemed to have run out of festival beer (although they may well have been topped up on Sunday, am unsure how it works).

From here we headed up the hill to the George and Dragon, bathed in bright sunshine as he dark rainclouds moved away for a spell. Inside it is small and the bar was packed. They had two Peak ales and another and I had their Summer Sovereign which was very nice.

On discovering we had 8 minutes spare we opted to have a swift half in the Angel over the road where some of the party had gone earlier, where we found two Abbeydale beers on and a fortuitous fiver on the floor. Alas, as soon as we were served 3 halves of Absolution the bus turned up and, leaving Chala in the loo in the mayhem, we had to neck the lovely beer and run across the road to the bus.

Once on board the passengers regaled the no doubt grateful driver with a series of half remembered quarter length versions of popular songs, most notably show me the way to Amarillo. This wiled away what seemed a surprisingly long jaunt to Totley, whilst simultaneously making the driver pull a Dairylea advert bus driver face. It would have made my day f he'd grumpily said " ther Tony Christie mad them kids ", but alas he did not.

Eschewing the promise or horror of the Cross Scythes ( I don't think I’ve ever been in, but can’t find a single person with anything good to say about it ), we crossed he road and visited the Fleur de Lys, where there was a band on, and I definitely had a pint of Old Peculier. Or maybe more.

By this time its reasonable to point out that I was a trifle refreshed, which meant after a while spent lolling around outside and at the bus stop across the road we finally finished our festival crawl about 21.00 and caught the bus into town.

The group somehow summoned up the energy ad desire to head to the Rutland so we parted and me and Chala headed home on the 52 where, bearing in mind our slightly sozzled state, we were alarmed to find ourselves sat with an even drunker person who was remonstrating with her other half and various items of fixed seating and bus interior fittings all the way to Handsworth.

Overall a great festival idea, enabling us to try excellent Scottish beers too rarely seen in Sheffield, to try some new pubs and revisit some favourites, and not have to pay an entry fee to get in.

Roll on next year!

Wee Beefy and our lass.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Walking and supping in North Staffordshire.

Clearly what you need for a yomp in Staffordshire is a Derbyshire Wayfarer...

Well, actually you do, as you are starting just over the border then travelling back into the county to get home. The idea of this walk was that, having missed the pub at Waterfall last time, I was determined to get there, and to do the Ilam walk again, and take Dave along with me.....

The day started manically as I got up later than planned and, having unwisely left myself a raft of tasks to complete, then had to run about like a blue arsed fly in order to get the bus into town at 08.27 and thus meet Dave on time (ish) at the train station.

Having forgotten to do my blood test so not realised I had run out of test strips, as well as having forgotten to put a cautionary dressing on the dodgy part of my foot that I always get blisters on, I arrived at the station to find Davefromtshop wasn’t answering his phone, and that the train at 08.54 was next to leave. Cue chaos.

Without checking the time I despatched Dave to get the ticket which I should already have bought whilst I went to the cashpoint and the loo. On coming out I could find Dave nowhere and wasted minutes circling the area, then was heading to platform 6 when Dave rang to ask where I was – and to inform me that the train had in fact just left.

After this I went to platform 5 instead of 6 then went to P6 to find Dave was on P8 for a train at 09.05 which when he finally met me on P6 we looked at the screen and decided was on P5, only to find when we got there that we had looked at a train at 10.05, leaving us about 4 minutes to get back to P8 and catch the train…

Ealing comedy script followed we sat down to enjoy the journey, but the train was delayed and was about 11 minutes late in Derby, leaving us only 6 minutes to get to the bus station. So we tried to catch a taxi, which he had to book for us since he couldn’t for insurance purposes pick up passengers without a booking. We arrived at the bus station with 2 minutes to spare and ran like lunatics to catch the 108. This arrived on time in Ashbourne, giving us 6 minutes to catch the 42a to Ilam (just inside the Staffordshire border) where, only an unlikely seeming 2 hours 28 minutes after leaving my house we arrived to start our walk.

We set off at a goof pace despite the wearying escapade of our outward journey, walking round the back of Ilam Hall to where I knew from last months trek that the path turned off (despite stil seeing absolutely no indication of this). We found the footbridge and crossed in to the fields and uphill to Rushley farm, then up through the narrow dale of Musden Woods. We arrived in Calton in excellent time to fight our way through a laughable excuse for a path linking Throwley lane to a track from Calton, ( it was bad last time but the netes are 6 foot high now), and out onto a path along the edge of and down into the Manifold Valley.

Once on the Manifold track we headed to the path up the dale to Back O Brook before diverting to Pikelow, and down into Waterfall for our first pub stop at the Red Lion, which we reached about 2 and a half hours after setting off.

The Red Lion is tucked away in the tiny hamlet of waterfall and appears to be the epitome of what a pub should be. It’s open in the evening only during the week, which is understandable since on discussing my walk with about 15 people none of them had heard of Waterfall or nearby Waterhouses. They do Sunday lunches and possibly evening meals and on the bar there are handpumps dispensing M+B Mild, Bass and a guest, this time being Fullers London Pride.

The Bass and mild are regulars, and this demonstrates a good turnover, since mild does not like being on more than a few days. The Bass was served in handled beer mugs which is a nice touch, and served through a sparkler. Despite initial concerns I am happy to report that Bass can be served in this way and still taste fantastic. To cap it all, this tiny pub seems to be full of locals of all ages, enjoying a drink and a chat, and seems to be the meeting point for people from a wide area.

We could have stayed a few hours then simply walked to the main road and caught a bus back to Ashbourne (well, with carefully planning, since there’s only 3 on a Sunday), but we opted to press on.

We took the right hand lane out of the village with the green and pub behind us heading for Pethills, taking a few turns to bring us out on the A523 at Winkhill. We then crossed the stream and headed along a long straight road and then up a never-endingly steep hill up to the ridge along which the Staffordshire moorlands walk runs, before slowly dropping down into the linear village of Foxt.

With drizzle upon us we ducked into the Fox and Goose to find Three B’s Blonde and Bass and Jennings Cumberland on offer – alas the Three B’s ran out so we had one of each of the other two. The pub has a traditional interior and bar and a number of rooms, with seating outside. There doesn’t look to be a lot of seating for drinkers, with a lot of tables set for diners, but this could not be tested since it was gone 16.00 and few people were in.

We pressed on downhill to Froghall wharf and out into Froghall hoping for a pint in the Station Hotel. Sadly the pub was closed (opening soon said the sign) so we headed down to the Churnet Valley railway and their restored Froghall station. They were just locking up for the day but we bartered to give them a donation in return for using their loos.

We had a short wait for a bus in Froghall, catching it to Alton Towers ( which you pay for, obviously Derbyshire Wayfarer is no use now… ) before transferring and paying once again to get from there to Uttoxeter, which we made in good time – the two journeys cost about £4.00 each in total and took less than an hour.

Once in Uttoxeter we went to the bar in the Bank House Hotel, where we both had Peakstones Rock Brewery Nemesis, which we missed on our last visit, and at £2.80 a pint seemed to be the same price as in 2007. After a brief relax here we walked round the corner into the square to visit the Vaults.

On our last visit the Vaults had been forlorn and closed, but its fantastic Bass windows had caught our eye. Now open again, we were pleased to discover that is a very traditional boozer, with Pedigree and Bass on handpump.

You enter up a short steep flight of stairs and there are tables on both sides with the bar to the let, and a tiny back room with a bar skittles game and another small bar counter. The Pedigree was excellent and the two blokes sat in the front half were both drinking the real ale, from traditional handled beer mugs. Long may the pub stay open.

We pressed on from this excellent location to the rather more rowdy Olde Talbot just to the right of the Vaults as you come out. This ancient pub is large with multi rooms and low ceilings, and was very busy with drinkers inside and at tables outside. Here once again we had pints of Bass.

We went from here to catch an imaginary train to derby at 20.22 – its always best to double check the times since its an hourly service – but having got there only a minute after it left this at least gave us time for a bite to eat. Addressing a more pertinent need first we went to a pub called the Steeplechase – you’ll have to bear with me on this because I can’t remember its actual name for definite, given that we immediately nicknamed it the Clarkson Arms. We had gone in and found the large modern interior markedly empty, and ordered 2 halves of Bass. Sitting down we noted to our horror that dotted around the pub were a few people avidly watching, interacting with and seemingly enjoying the widescreen viewing on offer – which was an old episode of Top Gear.

Hearing 9 people in unison laugh at a Jeremy Clarkson comment about horsepower or engine torque is for me a chilling experience, suggesting as it does, that people would consider the screening of a Top Gear episode from 3 years ago in the same way they would a stand up DVD or live sporting occasion.

Traumatised, we hurried down our beers then went to a Chinese takeaway to somehow contrive to make ordering two chips with curry sauce complicated, and to end up sat at the station with two scalding hot trays of molten curry and chips.

Once in Derby we headed to the Station (Inn) and having passed the entry check were rewarded with somewhat pricey but as always matchless pints of Bass. We stuck around for another half and a chat before heading to the Brunswick, having not been in for yonks, only to find, perhaps not unreasonably, they were closing at 22.30. We still got a pint though – me Hartington Bitter and Dave a Brunswick Station Porter.

I reasoned that no-one else would follow this lead so suggested visiting the Alexandra for our finisher, but they were observing the same hours so we trudged back to the station knowing it was over an hour before our next train. As luck would have it, given our train shenanigans earlier, the Leeds train was running late so we jumped on this and were back in Sheffield, tired and emotional, at a sensible time.

Overall we visited 8 pubs and had a lot of Bass, along with racking up what seemed like about 16 but was more likely only 12 miles of hard slogging.
And as soon as the crater like blister I achieved heals up I will no doubt be off again to the far away corners of the Derbyshire Wayfarer’s reach to try new pubs and fantastic beer.

Wee Beefy.