an unexpected fortuitous decision by Nationwide to take my insurance payment after the bank holiday rather than a day early, meant that what looked like being the most depressing bank holiday weekend for years started, continued and ended on a high note. A wretched innings at the crease of my employer's ironed underpants, or my job as its more catchily known, prompted me to lust for a refreshing and hopefully relaxing pint in that Sheffield straight after work.
I stayed as long as my brain could manage and walked past the Shakespeare on Shalesmoor, to see how work was coming along. To my untrained builders eye I have to say it looks as dire and untouched as always, although perhaps the fact that days after buying the pub some nobheads broke in and stole all the pipework means that the owner wants it to look like nothing new is happening inside.
I walked up Brook Hill from here and past the church near Jessops before heading down to Harrisons 1854. Inside, more changes were afoot, the cider was back in its box, apparently, despite the boxes ability to keep the juice fresh, the slow turnover and long pipes meant before you could enjoy a pint 3 or 4 had to be discarded, so the pump dispense was abandoned.
The beer range was Moonshine and Deception as usual, fair enough there isn't enough demand for a third at present, and most importantly, the comfy seating has appeared downstairs, likely but hopefully not what attracted a gaggle of youths. Although it was quiet around 19.00 onwards, there was also another member of staff in anticipation of it livening up later.
I still had chance for a chat with sommelier turned Mrs mop Dave who had committed the lamentable crime of picking up a fixture from under the bar, and realising that it needed cleaning. We realised that the 3 Valleys festival was on the next day, and, having secured some funds, hatched a somewhat cock-eyed plan to meet at 12.00 in Dronfield the next day.
Arrangements in place I headed off on a mission - to find an unusual American bottled beer in one of the West One bar/restaurants. The above was all the instruction I had, and I noted there were a few to go at; I knew Vodka Revulsion (do you see what I've done there? I have changed the name, and everything....) wouldn't entertain such a concept, and something unmemorable next to Antibos looked a bit too food orientated. Las Iguanas I knew was hardly a good bar for a quiet drink but admirably, on my last visit they sold a very quaffable dark Brazilian beer.
So I headed for Bar 23, where the music sounded a bit more, erm, well alternative than the noises from other venues. There was some nice seating and some interesting places to hide, and the barman was incredibly helpful, alas though he could not confirm that they sold any but the most widely available American beers, and recommended the Bowery.
En route I popped in - once I had found an entrance to, Bar 360. Its Round. Do you see what they did there ? An opportunity missed I say, since it could so easily have incorporated 360 entrances, with only one operational. Like the Sheaf Island for example. Anyhoo, once inside I started my unusual American beer shtick and straight away was shown a bottle I did not recognise, and purchased it.
Blue Moon wheat beer is from the Blue Moon Wheat Beer co, and according to the blurb is a kooky but marketable (is this a claim or information? ) orange flavoured wheat beer. Not noted on the label was that it was a little cold and extremely fizzy, but still managed to be very nice indeed, accompanied by an eclectic musical selection.
The info on the back makes much of its wholesome beginnings - I can't recall which high fibre nutritional slice of the States it came from, I am, rather like Doris Stokes "getting" Colorado, but it makes much of how it is just a few friends getting together to make beer that is an unusual twist on classic beer styles for their own enjoyment, with a trifling and little explored monetary dimension that they seem to forget.
I moved my attention to a rather muddy playing of Firestarter by the prodigy next whilst getting my head round, almost literally, the interior. It is indeed a large round building with toilets emanating in the right hand side of the straight feature which is the bar (they are curved inside ), a long table, possibly some pushed together, on the right part of the circle as you enter, and some comfy settees which are a good vantage point for watching people parading around West One - not literally.
Thing is, this smooth city centre concept bar was detracting me from my ultimate goal to sit down somewhere comfy and quiet for a pint so I opted to sup up and head off, but not before reading the finer points of the bottle label. To my surprise, not only did these friends appear to have moved production to Canada, but also the sole distributor was Molson Coors, who also seemed to be the sole owners. I thought Molson were a giant Canadian conglomerate now swallowed up by the unseemly behemoth that is now Molson Coors and thus even more enormous and power crazed. So how rare is this beer, and how long will it remain so ?
No answer was to be had, but I suspect this is another cherry picking by the interplanetary big 3 brewers ( OK, I know they don't brew on other planets yet, but rest assured anyone who did would be swiftly made an offer they couldn't refuse by caring Big Daddy bear Inbev, or Coors or SABMiller).
So, on next to look at the Bowery, a literal description since despite its favourable music choice and long list of bottled classics, I was tired and waining and wanting a comfy sit down, so I did not linger. I was heading for Henry's but passing the Green Room, an enigma of real ale uncertainty for some time now, although I knew I would get no where to quietly sit, I decided to pop in anyway.
A landlord pump clip was turned round and the other bare, possibly the same sight that had greeted me on my last umpteen visits, but I was past caring by now. Still, I meekly enquired if real ale was or would be available, and then came an epiphany for me, when a man with a thin face, a niggly voice and what I recall, likely wrongly, as a pork pie hat, told me that they didn't sell it anymore. So, finally they come clean - all we have to do now is wait for the next change in management or a rethink, and I will be finally tempted to go in.
So, off for my final destination, I dithered over a trip to the Wick At Both Ends, but worried that I may not have a good beer choice, and Henrys seemed too far, so I headed for Trippets, which was very busy with punters and a "disc Jockey" playing "records" as I believe the young folk are calling them.
The lighting was a bit naff but sort of amusingly so, the main area was packed so I was sat at the back of the place watching the Long Play record spinner bang out some choonz, or something in English, whilst enjoying a nice pint of Thornbridge Alchemy, once again. All in all a satisfying night fact finding, of not a very relaxing nature, and a good precursor to a Saturday out in the countryside.
Droning on about the Valleys.
So, the cock eyed plan aforementioned was that I would get a lift off Wee Fatha, from Handsworth to the Coach and Horses, for which I would tender a pint, and meet Dave Barraharri as he shall now be known, at the pub for a few halves before he left for work.
In reality, Wee Ftaha was in the grip of financial anxiety and so virtually metered me all the way to the pub, although he did lend me a tenner to negate my planned trip to the cashpoint. Alas, this would have filled in time, since having got there at 11.30 and assuming the staff milling around and doors being open and lights on meant they were trading, was told that i could not buy a beer for another half an hour. They offered me the chance to sit outside reading the beer list and deciding what to buy, but this felt like invited torture so I walked out to try and find a lovely path to yomp along for 30 minutes.
The Drone Valley no doubt has some lovely bits to it, but I get the feeling you kind of need to know where they are. Fortuitously, after only 5 or 6 minutes walking, I did find a path, but its only signed in one direction, so I spent most of my time circling the edge of the field seeking a stile to get out over. Once found, I clambered this broken edifice to follow a real path to another stile/path conundrum, following a sign into a field the only visible way out of which was blocked, and then out onto the Dronfield Rotary walk. This was ominously taking me away from the pub and my starting point, so I hurried back to find Barrharri outside the pub already ensconced with a half.
Dave had White Swan or similar from Thornbridge dispensed from the bar inside, and I quickly fetched a half of the Arran Red Squirrel. I have never had this before on draught, and it was a pleasing malty ale which lacked a little in body, and seemed to lack condition. Next Dave got a half of the Dark Star Festival, which he transferred from his wobbly plastic cup into his cherished half pint glass, and I went for a pint of the Buxton Dark Dales, which was as chewy and uncompromising as their Axe Edge, the difference being this was a Dark IPA.
The smell of the barbecue was making me hungry, but luckily for me The Coach and Horses had imposed dietary restrictions on me by asking £5.00 for a burger. On my limited budget, no amount of beer hunger was going to tempt me to part with that kind of cash, and I did ask how the burgers were going, hoping the kind lady behind the bar would detect and appreciate my subtle irony. She did neither.
Still, I stayed on for a couple more, Dave had another beer, and I a pint from the inside of a Derby Brewery beer with a rabbit on - confirmation to follow ! This was a flat lifeless ale that looked like it had been sat in a jug for two hours and tasted nothing like a hoppy Derby offering, with an odd dry malt and no discernable predominant flavour, a bit like one of those unfathomable Millis beers that they brew in Kent - the irony of a hopless Kentish Ale, stop it Millis, it hurts....
Luckily I pretended the beer was refreshing, bearing in mind that at first and somehow at the end it tasted OK if uninspiring, before using my real glass to get the best pint of the day, a fantastic 568ml of Fyne Ales Avalanche, which quickly rid me of the odd taste of the last pint whilst I waited for the bus. My stop ended about 13.50 as the coach arrived so I ran off to catch that to the Miners Arms in Dronfield.
his is possibly my first visit to the pub, and despite the inconvenience of arriving just as they stopped serving food, I was able to choose a tasty half from the range of Rev James, Black Sheep Bitter, Kelham Island Easy Rider and Hook Norton bitter which I had a very nice half of. I didn't try any of the other beers due to time, but the bitter was in great nick and the other festival goers all seemed to be enjoying that and the Rev James.
The Millthorpe Conundrum
Out next onto Festival bus route 3 to go onto what I assume is valley number 2, that being the end of the Lineker Valley, and up to the Barlow Brewery. On the timetable it clearly marks the Royal Oak at Millthorpe on this route, but the driver barely paused at the bottom of Millthorpe Lane. Some passengers commented and it turned out that persons not from the area, and so not able to notice we were passing the pub, had fancied a visit, but there was a goodly wait until the next bus.
I noted from the 3 Valleys website that there was no mention of the Royal Oak, but there was a (then) pictureless reference to the Devonshire Arms - no idea which one it was, the only one I could think of was the one at Middle Handley, making it the opposite side of the Drone Valley heading for Unstone and Chesterfield, and not served by any buses, I now know its on all 3 routes and the 30 - could it be the one at Dore ? And does that make the furthest Valley Abbeydale? I concede I am not hot on valley knowledge, and I never thought to ask when I was out, and I now think there's a Devonshire in Barlow, so who knows....
So why the omission ? I noted that some of the pubs at the end of Holmesfield weren't involved this year, but that seemed inevitable for the Horns with its beer calamity last year, but surprising for the likes of the Angel, which offers real ale anyway as far as I know ( The George and Dragon was again offering Peak Ales, so perhaps they always sell them ? ). The Royal Oak was not featured last year, but no bus went nearer to it than Holmesfield, but this year was surely a golden opportunity ?
Well, for whatever reason, they didn't seem to be involved, and when I got there by car en route from the brewery to the Rutland courtesy of Dave later on (thanks mate, a very kind offer ), it was resolutely shut. Now i realise it may not usually open all day Saturday, but why not make an exception today, even if not involved ?
It seems incongrous for a pub saved by the locals after a possibly 15 year fight by the owners to close it down, that the pub should be so reticent to invite trade. I mentioned the puzzle to Wee Keefy yesterday, he has visited a few times with me, and he noted that there was a no bikers sign outside. Obviously, the pub is thriving sufficiently well to be choosy, and to risk alienating a chunk of passing trade, but this does not seem sensible or plausible. So where is the Royal Oak going one wonders ?
Anyway, gripe over, the Barlow brewery were participating by opening their tiny bar ( and it is literally just that, with seating in marquees and a food van outside ), and providing some decent bluesy entertainment from a singer called Whiskey Bob Shaker, who played two Tom Waits songs to open (albeit likely covered by Waits himself ), which immediately prompted me to not go for the bus but to stay and cadge a lift instead.
Beers wise I had half of the Barlow Dark and half of their impressive imperial stout. I secured a chair and sat in fleeting windy sunshine soaking up the music and sipping both beers, with the imperial stout being surprisingly drinkable. All too soon however I had to leave and Dave Barraharri picked me up outside and whisked me off via my getting him lost using my "knowledge " (and taking him to the closed Royal Oak as previously noted) en route to the Rutland.
Here there was the full compliment of Black Sheep beers, as advertised, along with Castle rock Pale. I nursed a half of this sat in a corner between the bar and a magnificent shiny copper flumed fireplace, watching people queue thirstily at the bar. I only stayed for a half here because really I needed to eat by now, and it appeared that the imperial stout may have been a bit too refreshing.
So, I staggered up the winding lane to Northen Common, and went in a new pub for me, the Hearty Oak (pub and kitchen), formerly more sensibly named the Hearts of Oak I think. Outside was a barbecue, inside was rammed with drinkers and diners and on the bar were a couple of Raw and a couple of Abbeydale beers. I tried pints of both the Raw Centennial and dark Peak, the latter probably the better since the first was a bit tired, and gorged on a cheeseburger and then a sausage butty, both with an extra piece thrown in as it was burnt - note, I did get a say in this, one of the staff members even brought me the extra sausage in in case I anted to cram it in my bun, which is both what I did, and not a euphemism.
After this a mild discombobulation befell me and having missed the bus to just about anywhere soon, I walked round to the Miners to catch one back to the Brewery, with a group of festival-goers including someone called Spencer, a friendly bloke who seemed interested in real ale and probably had a web identity of spencerocks or similar. Either way I feel sure he would have left with this blog address in his possession.....
Whilst here I had the Barlow Festival IPA and Calendar Ale, which I supped under cover whilst chatting with my new afable cohort and the inimitable JB, whom I spotted sitting nearby. As was only fitting in his presence, the subject of the next bus out came up and true to form he had all the information I needed. Soon I had said my goodbyes and was off to the Hearty Oak, only to swap buses, and then down to the Castle Inn off Twentywell Lane.
Many people had crowded onto the bus to get here this time and inside it was rammed. It was busy anyway with food trade and in the room to the right people were amassing for the Champions League Final. On the bar were Bradfield Blonde, a Blue Bee beer which I only noticed later, and two Oakwell ales, which I had a half of each, their Oakwell bitter and the senior. Both were refreshing if a little innocuous compared with some of the earlier ales tried but they were well kept.
From here I walked down the main road to Abbeydale Road and thankfully flagged down a bus into town and was home quicker than I expected, in time to watch the end of the match and to make some tasty food.
The festival was another enjoyable day out, the travelling time ensuring that you probably end up drinking less then you'd expect if you are out for say 8 hours, and also of course the bus is essential in helping you to get to the pubs which this year, perhaps more than before, are spread over a larger area. The only regret is that I had not started at the other end and took in the George in Holmsfield and the Cross Scythes at Totley, or maybe even the mysterious Devonshire Arms. Perhaps next year.
Crich on a chuffin bike.
So, with bank Holiday washed out, it was inevitable that my desire to get some exercise would wind up getting me soaked, and Monday was the chosen day of punishment for a Lea, Crich and Derwent Valley yomp. Alas, its getting late so am going to have to reign in the details, but suffice to say route wise we walked from lea to Lea Bridge near Smedleys Mill, up over the hill through woods to the Cromford Canal then along to Crich Carr and up an extremely long and steep hill to near the Tramway Museum, and into the Cliff Inn, before following the road, Leashaw, back to the car.
(no bikes were actually usedi n this slog)
The Cliff Inn used to be Hardy Hanson's pub, likely doing a roaring trade in food, possible a long ago regular in the guide along with the tramway, and now somewhat reinvented as a traditional pub selling real ales and some home cooked food. They don't appear to have a website but an enthusiastic review at Peakdistrictonline.co.uk/peak-district-pubs which for some reason I can't copy over (possibly an HTML anomaly) which gives a fairly ingratiatory splash on the merits of the pub.
One of its central themes is the fact that the pub serves locally brewed real ales, with much reference here and in the GBG of beers brewed within a 15 mile radius of the pub. It may not specify that all the ales fall into this category, and indeed on this visit two dont - (perhaps Black Sheep and Landlord are regulars?) but the two guests were, and this is a development to be encouraged.
Wee Keefy had a half of the Brampton Golden Bud - which at £1.50 is a bit steep for a half at 3.8; and I a pint of the Thornbridge Kipling, which is bear 6% and had a £3.30 price tag to match, although thats not dissimilar to Sheffield these days. Prices aside its great to see a pub signing up to the idea of getting beer from as near as possible instead of shipping it in via sometimes 3 different distribution plants and wholesalers. Given the overkill caused by so many places selling the same beers in the area (with noticable exceptions, the Thorn Tree Matlock, Royal Oak and Hope and Anchor Wirksworth, and Bear Inn Alderwasley excepted ) its nice to see a good range of beers reflecting the diversity of Derbyshire brewing.
If this plan could be rolled out nationwide, this could form the central tenet of a practical plan to secure the future of many threatened pubs around he UK, based on them selling as much local products as possible and thereby repaying the local community for their custom with tacit support for small local businesses. Selling local ale on its own wont halt the hostelries decline but it might make pubs more enticing to visit and more active in the wider local economy.
More news soon, likely on my return from Scotland next week.