Sunday, 20 February 2011

Pubs in Walkley, town side of Hillsborough, Commonside Crookes and Brook Hill.

Hello drinkers and pub lovers,

                 as promised here are the details of my Hillsborough and Walkley pub crawl.

I started in Crookes actually, mainly so that as we picked our way down the snow and slush covered roads I could see if the Princess Royal was open, which it was – I knew then there was a point in visiting later.

Me and Mr P got to the Blake about 14.30 and found one person in – Big Ron, a former colleague of ours, propping up the bar and discussing the only thing worth discussing – pubs – with the barman.

Beer wise there was a good range, I had two pints of the Okells smoked porter which was about 4.8% and Mr P started with the IPA – who’s IPA I never thought to record, even though I also had a pint, but it was very nice, almost as good as the porter. Mr P also tried halves of Springhead Robin Hood and a lower gravity bitter from Pictish.

It’s a good time to go to the Blake during the day because it gives you the opportunity to walk around and admire the layout and the old beer posters and get a feel for the overall ambiance, which can’t really be done when its busy.

We headed from here to the Hillsborough Hotel, past the closed and metal shuttered Bath on Burgoyne Road, where we both had pints of Crown Hillsborough Pale Ale, despite the various strong offerings available. This was mainly because I knew I had a few more pubs to come so wanted to try and remain vaguely sober – achieved in part with the delicious pork pie I had at the Blake.

We parted company here and I headed up Infirmary road, noticing that the Cuthbert Bank was now only a building, with the pub signage having been removed, and the Burgoyne looking forlorn and closed. Further along is a pub I have never been to, the Masons, an ex Wards pub retaining separate rooms in a timeworn if slightly kitsch in places interior. The sign outside says real ales but there was none to be found, the landlord did explain that there was no call for it so he hadn’t kept them on, but surprisingly I noticed he had handpulled old rosie cider – not wanting to jeopardise my crawl I declined to try but may pop back to give it a go some time.

Similar ale free outcomes were achieved at the Queens Ground, which is a shame because it too has an interesting traditional interior, and the Firwood Cottage. I did visit this pub a couple of times when I lived on Tennyson road, they only had Tetley on but it was at least real ale, this is another pub that over the years seems to have changed landlord and manager with alarming regularity, a destabilising influence that prevents a pub from developing. The present incumbent was friendly and offered me a half of Magnet keg instead, which had I not been on a crawl I might have tried, especially with its demise as a cask ale.

Along towards the Florist next I headed up Palm Street and finally got to visit the Palm. Breathless from the steep slippy snow covered hill I was relieved to spot a handpump, and had a very quaffable pint of Black Sheep whilst sat to the left of the bar trying not to hear the football results. The Palm retains a traditional layout with a tiny snug on the right and a games room at the back.

I struggled up to South Road from here, stopping off to buy some food to soak up the ale, and tried the Rose House whilst I was in the area. Given its previous dire fortunes it was good to see it busy but alas it was selling no real ale so I moved on. The Freedom House further along had the door open but no lights on so decided it must be shut, before I headed up the incredibly steep hill up to the bottom part of Crookes, and then onto Heavygate road and the Heavygate.

We are in young wee beefy territory now since I used to drink in this area between 17 ( yes, I know, naughty of me) and 22 – all you need to know is that it was the 1990’s. On entering I headed as I had always done to the right hand side room which now has a pool table in, and two handpumps with the clips turned round.

Up the steps on the left is the more (but now less) traditional lounge where the bar had another couple of handpumps with clips turned round. Upon enquiring, landlord/manager/licensee Ian informed me that it would be a week or two before he got real ales, which suggests he is a new incumbent. He made it clear it would be Greedy King IPA and Abbot but that he wanted to sell some guests so maybe I ‘ll go back in a few weeks to see how its going.

Next to the Princess Royal, which I went in about 16 years ago. If anything, to me, it now looks even more traditional, still retaining a layout of separate rooms and drinking areas , and dark wood panelling. The real change for me was the beer range – I may only have been in about three times ever but recall Tetley was the only beer sold. It still is sold here, but now there are two guests and Black Sheep (and another that I didn’t record). I had a couple of pints of the Sheffield Brewing Co Five Rivers, and a pint of Kelham Easy Rider, and met up briefly with Wee Keefy for a chat. The atmosphere is friendly and the pub warm and cosy – I can see any revisit to any of the pubs will have to include the Prinny.

From here I headed for Commonside, including popping into the Dram Shop to buy a couple of strong beers, and first to the Springvale. I never really took to the Springvale, but it did always have real ale, and still does. Its squarely aimed at the younger end of the market but I think not exclusively students – its too wannabe nightclub for the wide range of drinking tastes that you find within the university community.

I stayed only briefly in the empty part on the left of the bar drinking some very average Black Sheep, before heading to the Hallamshire House, where I bumped into my third Ian of the night, this being the one that works at Archer Road Beer Stop. I had a half of Sharps Doom Bar, unfortunately there was no Sheffield brewing Co beers this time, and I was concerned to see the spectre of a Greedy king pump clip on the bar, hopefully this will not spell the end of the good range of real ales that the pub has served over the last 12 years.

I was heading for the University Arms next so stopped in the pubs along the way – or rather I would have, had they been pubs instead of bars forced incongruously into pub buildings. The Hadfield on Barber Road was always a busy student venue in the 90’s but always sold real ale, probably but not exclusively Tetley – now it is like a city centre bar but without the trend for interesting beers – no real ale on and no sign of continental beers to fill the void.

Down the road towards Brook Hill the Star and Garter used to be a decent real ale pub, in fact it may even have been in the good beer guide in the last 10 years, and was certainly selling real ale as recently as 2007 when some friends from work were going for regular poker nights there. Now alas, its lager and Karaoke, which smacks slightly of desperation.

I headed round the corner to the University Arms and grabbed a half of Sheffield Brewing Co mild, whilst taking the opportunity to sit in the tiny bar snug to the right of the bar. Nothing seems to have changed since Mr Pigeon left and the ale range is still good so hopefully this will continue to be a good pub.

My final stop was the Bath Hotel, crammed as you would expect on a Saturday night, and offering amongst others, a delicious Hornbeam mild. I decided I’d initially only have a half of it, but ended up having three as I got chatting to other drinkers and a Canadian bloke who’s group was heading to the Blake – they were put off by the long walk, which made me smile since I had walked from there in a giant loop via Hillsborough throughout the day. I got home for 23.00 ish to begin making an impractical meal of haggis – when you are starving hungry after some serious refreshment, meals that you wait 1 hour 20 minutes for are never a good idea.

In conclusion, the town side edges of Hillsborough contain a lot of traditional pubs but no real ale, and many closed ones, with only the Hillsborouigh Hotel and New Barrack Tavern offering a decent beer until you reach the Rawson Spring.Walkley is, in places, a dreadful real ale desert, but there are oasis, such as the Palm, the Blake, and if it reopens which I hope it will, the Walkley Cottage. The lower parts of Crookes are blessed with the Princess Royal and maybe the Heavygate, Commonside has one great pub, two if you can ignore the rudeness of the landlord at the Closed Shop, and Brook Hill and beyond is a stark reminder that for every good pub there are the dreadful many waiting in the wings.

It could be argued that too many pubs in one area is unsustainable, so conversely, a mix of well run, friendly, individual or traditional ale pubs and the unloved font festival venues run by transient career pub managers, should allow the best ones to thrive. However, this is how we lose traditional pubs. A step by step teeter towards closure follows the recipe below:

1. It starts with all too often ill conceived changes and novelty schemes.
2. Combine this with a lack of ambition, leadership and support (especially from greedy pub companies who see the operation of prime real estate as pubs to be a hindrance) which creates lack of interest from customers and gimmicks and cutting of corners for short term gain means people look elsewhere.
3. Falling profits leads to a merry-go-round of managers and landlords, the favoured solution of pubco's.
4. This means incoming hosts need to maintain the status quo whether it be good or bad, so often retain disinterested staff and rarely go back to real ale.
5. The constant unreliability and change puts off regulars and the pub relies on making short term gains from new passing trade, which is unsustainable.
6. In the end, instead of building up a nucleus of regulars which comprises drinkers from a wide spectrum of pubgoers the pub caters for a more and more narrow customer base and the ensuing downturn from this means the process begins again in the pursuit of often unachievable targets.
7. The pubco gets tired of waiting and closes the pub to make a killing selling it for development.

I won’t pretend I spent the best nights of my life in the Hadfield, Star and Garter, Royal (not visited since I think its been demolished, I think it was on Walkley Lane), Rose House and Freedom House, but all these pubs used to sell a decent pint and now are a shadow of what they used to be (literally for the Royal) and a millon miles form what the could be.

How strange that Walkley’s current best pubs are two that never in my drinking years used to sell real ale at all, whilst the ones that used to be reliable if unincredible stalwarts of tradition are either trying to stop being a pub at all, or are eschewing the sale of traditional beer in favour of identikit ranges which means they have to stand out on venue and atmosphere alone.

On the other hand, its very important to point out that pubs don’t have to sell real ale to be popular and successful or even to be good – look at some of the incredible examples on the National Inventory such as Duke of York at Leysters Herefordshire, The Comm at Lochgilphead, Argyle and the Lion Royal hotel in Rhayader – but they are good at what they do and thrive on that basis. So although the real ale free venues of Infirmary road are dwindling in number what with the George, Burgoyne and Cuthbert closed, and having probably not sold real ale in the last 20 years ( except the George briefly, and perhaps the Masons), those remaining are at least still traditional in outlook and maintain the ambiance and appearance of a traditional boozer. This is the flipside. I’d love them to be selling real ale, but they don’t. and against my nightmare scenario recipe above, the introduction of real ale would probably be a short term gimmick or unnecessary change, because not every pub can sell real ale – as the man at the Masons knows.

I’d be willing to bet that the Hadfield and Star and Garter will have changed hands before 2012 and possibly closed and reopened along the way. I hope it won’t but there’s a strong chance the Heavygate will change hands again, not because of poor staffing, but because Greedy King are not all of a sudden a good pub copmany just because they brew beer. I also reckon that one of the Florist or the Crown at Walkley will be lost. Through all this, consistent reliable pubs like the Prinny and Hallamshire House will stoically stick to what they know and still be popular viable prospects.

Positive pub news to come in he next couple of weeks – don’t be disheartened !

Wee Beefy

Friday, 18 February 2011

Sheffield crawl and news


news from the cradle of Chartism (this may well be incorrect, but hey, not everything on the Internet is factually accurate) and news of a memory lane pub crawl and a new pub for yours truly.

I had planned to travel over the Pennines to marvel at Manchester's magnificent unspoilt and beer replete hostelries, but instead overslept and felt grim, so a jaunt around the home turf was required

After catching up with a friend and grabbing food at Gusto Italiano, we initially headed for Trippets for a quiet pint, which is more or less possible if you grab a pew on the left as you enter. The Bradfield Farmers Stout was tasty as always but inexplicably cold so had to put it near the radiator for 10 minutes to get the proper flavour.

Alas this first post hangover pint put me out of sorts and my companion was coming down with the plague so she headed to the comfort of home and I weighed up my options. I had thought about a quick jaunt to Chesterfield but decided instead to visit a few Sheffield pubs for a change.

I walked onto Arundel Gate towards St Mary's Gate and headed down past The Scream through the back lanes to the Rutland. Here I had a slow supped and much enjoyed half of Blue Bee brewery Lustin For Stout at 4.8%. This gave me chance to take stock and begin a fruitless search for a copy of beer matters, since I fancied gracing a new (to me) venue on my journey.

Alas no magazine but I headed to the Sheffield Tap and had a half of Great Ridge Moonlight Shadow, a beer that usually comes in keg as far as I know, since its stronger stable mate was on the row of fonts further down. A strange taste, perhaps, assuming its American, reflective of the low gravity which you rarely find in U.S beers ( it may have been 3.4 or 3.5%). No beer matters mind...

I headed on diagonally to the Royal Standard on St Mary's Gate, easily reached from the station by following Leadmill Road. Chala did her cellarmanship course here many moons ago, and I know Davefromtshop supped his first Darleys here as well, but neither would likely recognise the style and type of pub now, even if the layout might not have changed - I was last in about 12 years ago!

The pub appears aimed at students and offers a discount card, pool is popular and they seem to attract a mix of students and locals. There was one real ale on, St Austell tribute, so at least I had something decent to sup, but mid afternoon is not the Standard's cue to sparkle, and sat on a neutral coloured modern leather sofa surrounded by dark shaded areas of block colour and modern furnishings, I felt out of place. The size of the room on the right means that all but a full pub makes it seem bare and unenticing so I lingered only briefly before heading on.

Walking between Bramall lane and Queens Road I joined the main road at the Earl of Arundel and Surrey ( though I note its shared name now, which I forget ) - another pub from the past, perhaps 12 years ago as well, once a Wards pub used to trial seasonal real ales form the Vaux range. i didn't tarry as it looked shut and , perhaps unfairly since I didn't try and visit, assumed no real ale would be sold.

Further up Chesterfield road I reached the White Lion, a pub I have more recently visited when there have been bands on, still retaining its interesting and in Sheffield fairly unusual surviving multiroom layout. It also still serves real ales - 3 or 4 regulars and a couple of guests, my choice being Saltaire Blonde which was fantastic.

Here I picked up a copy of said beer tome and sat down to see where I might venture next. The February edition is perhaps prone to December and January news as its the first of the year, so that might explain why my next stop didn't work out - the Crown further up the road was apparently selling real ale but the two bare handpumps in the back room attested otherwise and I couldn't really quiz the barman since he was asking what I'd like whilst he was on the phone.

From here I took a slightly odd detour to Nether Edge, and the Union, bypassing the Broadfield, not on a beer basis but assuming that now 18.00, it would be heaving and no place for a quiet solitary pint.

I found the Union despite not having visited for perhaps 13 years, and I have to say was pleasantly surprised. I had recalled that it was traditional in decor and layout, but seemed to have remembered the bar somewhere else ( probably erroneously) and offering nowt but Whitbread and Greedy king on the bar. Thankfully this time there was Landlord, Pedigree and an Abbeydale brew on amongst others, with 7 handpumps in use.

The Abbeydale was very drinkable, as was the reassuringly Burton smelling Pedigree, although I worry that this statement may hide a misconception - is it still brewed in Burton ? You'd hope so....

I enjoyed a couple of pints watching the pub fill up with regulars and enjoying listening to gentle banbter at the bar, before heading off via purchasing fuel to the Byron, another long lost acquaintance. Last time i had visited the barmaid was murdering a pint of Tanglefoor through a sparkler and even after I suggested she remove it must have pulled 3 pints for me to end up with one

Now the pub has a good ale selection, including Kelham Island Riders on the storm which I enjoyed nearly as much as the song, whilst sitting in the bar on the right.

My trip took a more boomerang route now as I returned to Chesterfield Road and up to the Sheaf View, packed to the rafters and offering only a smoking shelter table to sit at. I bumped into a friend and enjoyed several pints of Phoenix porter and even managed to find a seat near the bar before caving in and ordering a taxi home about 23.30.

Overall I had some excellent beer and mostly really enjoyed my revisits of former haunts.

One final word on a new pub for me, the Lescar. Everyone has probably heard of the above and many probably visited, but eating at Greedy Greek at Hunters bar on Saturday provided me a chance to try it at last. Very busy, which I had expected, the decor and range of drinks was a big surprise to me, including (perhaps a fleeting nod to Valentines night) subtle red lighting and candles and range of seating and old furniture. Better stil drinkers were well catered for what with Leffe and other continental classics on draught and regular regional real ales, plus on that night 2 Saltaire brewery beers including their Triple Chocolate stout. Best of all, was the fantastic Museum Brewing Co. White Shield, which despite its chewy, hoppy bite I demolished two of prior to eating.

Tomorrow am banished from my own home whilst Thangor the Mortherinlaw and wife take a sledgehammer to all we own, or tidying up as she calls it, so am off to the Blake and hopefully a couple of Crookes and Walkley pubs, before they knock anymore of the buggers down.

Wee Beefy.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Trans pennine ale


I planned a walk cum pub crawl around the route of the Transpennine trail, but so taxing was the trudge through miles of black mud that we scarcely touched any of the proposed pub stops. However, we did reach a few pubs, and the details are below.

Starting at Penistone, the trail is quite ;clear and we embarked in strong wind and some sunshine. Oxspring was a bit tricky as many versions of the trail seem to appear at once, but we made it out and as far as the Travellers om the outskirts. Alas, being Sunday and 11.25 it was shut so we ploughed on, trying to decipher the woeful signage that sent us either miles in the completely wrong direction or potentially back on ourselves missing our first stop.

Luckily, walking companion Christingfer had brought along a handy googlemap app on his phone so we were able to find a road to take us towards Silkstone.

We picked up the trail half a mile from the village and decided not to venture to the once GBG listed Ring O Bells, and ploughed on instead to Worsbrough. The trail in this section is framed by interesting countryside, and we did think briefly of alighting at Stainborough for the pub marked on the map, but ploughed on.

At Worsborough we had our first pub stop at the Button Mill Inn, a large pub opposite the Worsborough country park car park, serving food and one real ale, Black Sheep bitter. The beer was OK, and went down fast, but we were off all too soon heading for our intended finishing point in Darfield.

Alas, the cloying boot ruining sludge and puddles of the trail meant we were knackered by Wombwell, so we did not head for Darfield, and arrived back in Sheffield in the evening. We took the opportunity to visit the Sheffield Tap and I had a few pints of the delicious but enthusiastically priced Highland Dark Munro as well as the Strong Ox 5.6% lager from Bernard and a half of the Orkney Porter at 9.0%.

I reckon this is probably different to the Orkney brewery operation but a welcome change irrespective of that and all good quality beers.

If you try the walk yourself then I think the Station at Darfield and, albeit Greedy King only, the Ring O bells would be worth a look, maybe also the keel or similar in Barnsley. I am paying today with aches and pains but the Tap beers were worth the effort.

Wee Beefy.

Friday, 4 February 2011

News from sheffield and west yorkshire pubs


    during the (literally and metaphorically ) foggy days of the Christmas break, I did manage to to visit a few pubs that i don't usually do, and some new ones, so here is a quick run down.

Between Christmas and new year me and Wee Keefy went out for a drive between Barnsley and Penistone, coming off the M1 at Darton. We were soon out into countryside heading for a very British experience, going for a drive and then a a walk in dense fog, and visiting a pub renowned for its views.

The Cherry Tree at High Hoyland has been in the GBG for a good few years now ( possibly not 2011 ) and is a traditional long stone building, which, i am assured, affords spectacular views to the visitor. Alas, the fog put paid to that idea, but I was feeling good about my choice when I saw a chalkboard sign outside advertising a husband creche. Inside is a long bar and 3 different areas, the end two being intended, I think for diners.

The beer was Black Sheep and something Greedy King based, and possibly another national. Much is made in the last 2 beer guides about the Eastwood and Sanders beers, which, from personal experience, i can confirm are excellent. There didn't look much chance of a guest beer though so opted for the Sheep, which was a well kept if uninspiring choice.

In keeping with the British theme, we were able to witness some archetypal British service when a customer rang requiring a table for 20 or so for that afternoon. The lady at the bar was very helpful and went to chck the bookings in what is a notoriously quiet period after Christmas, but the bloke at the bar, who i wished for the pub's sake was a customer but later it seemed more like he worked there, chuntered loudly about the potential customers lack of planning and called them wankers. When the lady returned it seemed that was not heard by the customer on the phone, but that is a miracle. The grumpy bloke carried on complaining after she had finished the conversation, which gave the bar person chance to say just how few customers they had of late, and to suggest that it was customers that helped him get paid. We left thinking that this wouldn't happen in other places in Europe, where thy appreciate the custom and sometimes the company of visits, and do not share our bizarre mind set of customers being an inconvenience that keeps us away from doing what we love.

Anyway, we headed on through the soup and into West Yorkshire and the village of Emley. The fog was so thick here that even when we found the White Horse you almost couldn't see it through the mists. Inside there were about 8 ales on the bar as you enter and a long room with a real fire and a large tastefully decorated Christmas tree, with another room off and one at the end.

We had the Ossett Christmas beer and a strong stout from Fernandes and another porter, which I think was from Ossett. Adding friendly and helpful staff and customers meant we would, with hindsight, have come straight here. A must return to pub I reckon.

Next we headed for Ingbirchworth and the reservoir, where we had our walk in the fog. The dense plumes on the frozen reservoir made an eerie and surprisingly photogenic subject and it was an enjoyable if brief couple of miles round and back to the car. From here we headed to Victoria - by accident, and the pub wasn't open anyway - before making our way to flouch and on to the Dog and Partridge at Hazelhead.

 Inside this very large roadside inn is a comparatively small old wooden bar, with 4 handpumps dispensing Barnsley bittier ( which I had ) a regional and a Robinsons guest - Wee Keefy had a hot drink since he was driving. There is also an enormous fireplace with a fire roaring away, although you probably have to queue to get a seat at the table nearest to it. For all its old world features there's no escaping that this is a food orientated pub, but it was a decent pint of Acorn nonetheless, and a nice change.

Back to Sheffield news, and in January I visited the Sportsman at Lodge moor, heading out to Redmires. I was meeting for a family meal, and this too is a pub that makes a lot of its money and attracts a lot of its patrons from food. The Sunday lunch comes highly recommended ( not stingy with the meat ) and there are two real ales, tetley and Landlord. I had a few pints of the landlord which was nice, but the price is steep - £3.20 a pint (if my maths is right) making it nearer to town prices.

The thing is though, the pub is always full when I have been in the last 4 times, and I'd rather have sensibly priced food with two albeit standard expensive real ales, than expensive food and nothing to sup.

My final news is of them what er in town. To my surprise, the other night All bar One was selling real ale with two somewhat overly modern handpumps in evidence, Black Sheep and Sharps Doom Bar being on offer, not sure of the price. This is supplemented with some excellent continental draught beers such as Rothaus wheat beer and Paulaner lager from Germany, and Sierra Nevada from the U.S, a fine strong hoppy pale ale ( which is orange in colour, but will let them off ) which packs in a huge amount of flavour. Granted its not everyones idea of a pub, and it can be pricey, but its still a positive development to see cask available.

Round on Trippets lane, the Trippets wine bar (above) is open as a pub, with predominantly Thornbridge and Kelham beers on, but all locally brewed. We go in fairly regularly, probably once a fortnight, and the picture above us from our anniversary drinks back in October last year.

Over the road, the Grapes, for decades a music pub with a strangely ultra traditional interior, has always had a Flynns sign on the side. It turns out the Flynns own the Grapes but leased it, as well as the Dog and Partridge. The Grapes now has a traditional carpeted interior and, alas, no pool table, but one piece of excellent news is that they have reopened the snug bar on the left. I admit that regulars of the Grapes who went for the music are likely to be bewildered and disappointed by what is quite a big change, but the bigger impact appears to be on the dog and partridge.

Visiting the other night was like stepping into an empty house, with almost nobody in, only Tetley on the bar ( I know it was never renowned for real ale but usually had some Abbeydale on, which has been retained at the Grapes ) and absolutely no atmosphere. Hopefully this won't see the decline of this great old building, with its fantastic and unusual back snug, and the small room on the left. I will certainly go to the dog and partridge again to see how it is going, but I can't overemphasise the change. So overall positive real ale news and some new pubs that i have tried. I will update again soon on South Derbyshire and elsewhere.

Wee Beefy.