Thursday, 5 May 2011

Easter Sunday walk, Bolton and surrounding countryside pub visit, Harrisons 1854, Sheaf Island, Sheffield


don't anyone tell Windows but I have somehow got onto my blog despite rather than because of their shambolic Vista operating system. Hopefully if we don't tell them they will assume that their evil plan continues to work and in fact I am unable to do anything useful on the net (please note, whilst pertinent, regrettably the subject of whether or not this blog is useful is not open to discussion right now ).

So, it was Easter Sunday, we had been to Christingpher's (and the excellent Nags Head at Loxley) on Maundy Thursday, had gardened and fed Thangor on the Friday and Saturday, so felt we were due some time out.

We caught the 52 to Crookes and set off along Stannington View Road and down into the Rivelin Valley (or glen, as the online ordnance survey map optimistically describes it), noting with surprise along the way the devastation wrought by the golf ball sized hailstones that fell on Saturday that had flooded Hillsborough. To get a sense of this, imagine walking down a path littered with green confetti and that's what it looked like - although bizarrely only the Crookes side of the valley was affected.

Coming out on Mark Lane we walked along the valley side above the main Rivelin Valley Road and stopped near where you used to turn off up to the Bell Hagg Inn, long demolished, for a picnic. We then continued along the side of the valley before clambering down through the woods and out onto the road at the corner where the river goes under the road and the path crosses it.

From here we walked past the main dam and up to the parking spot on the road just as the path from Bell Hag joins the river from the left, and up onto Tofts lane, arriving at the Rivelin about 15.00. The pub was busy with many people sat outside. Inside, there are two rooms and a small curved bar with two handpumps. Dishearteningly the only one sporting a clip had it turned round and the bloke in front of me beat me to asking what seemed an obvious yet necessary question about the availability of real ale. Alas, we were informed that it had run out and they had not managed to get any more.

I was a bit miffed as I had endured many minutes of protests from Chala about the lack of buses and therefore the need to climb the hill to Stannington, the visit to this pub being a needless ( and now quite frustrating ) extra 10 minutes walk that she didn't want to do. With this complaint ringing in my ears I ordered her a soft drink and myself a half of Guinness and paid with a twenty pound note, as this seemed the only avenue of protest open to me.

Chala stopped moaning long enough to use the loo and we sat outside listening to locals tell stories of the freakish hail bombardment the day before. I also overheard the landlord telling one of his regulars that it had been impossible to order another cask and that he had tried everywhere locally to find someone who would sell him one.

Initially I thought this was a good example of someone going the extra mile, until I realised that he obviously hadn't adequately planned for a bank holiday when making his beer order. I don't doubt that the Tetley bitter doesn't exactly fly out of the cask, and I recognise that most Bank Holidays are a tumult of rain and cold winds, but even if he bought 2 extra casks surely he could have got through them in the next couple of weeks? In the end I was dischuffed sufficiently to not even take a photograph.

Next we walked back on ourselves towards the farm and up a steep but eventually very straight path towards Stannington. We were walking in a straight line for the church, knowing that there was a pub round the corner, that being the Crown and Glove.

Reaching our destination proved more tiring than I had anticipated and Chala was a little rusty on her first real walk of the year, but we were soon stood sweating at the bar perusing the beer choice. There was Black Sheep, something I don't recall but didn't fancy, and Wentworth WPA on offer.

I went for the WPA, Chala another soft drink, and we took our drinks and essential packs of Frazzles outside into the warm sunshine to admire the view across the fields. We were joined briefly by one of the pubs bull terriers Sumo, who was then taken out for a race around the field opposite whilst I got a second pint, my first real ale of the day having been dispatched somewhat hastily in about 6 minutes.

Next we headed off down the hill towards the Robin Hood at Little Matlock. We were quite a way behind Chala's schedule by now, but it was such a fantastic day that I didn't want to miss out on this gem of a pub, so I called Thangor and enquired if she fancied a drive and an evening drink in the sun, which she did. We were soon making our way down Wood Lane and down the path to the pub, which was busy with outdoor drinkers and even had a few people inside sheltering from the oppressive glare of the frightening orange sky ball.

The real surprise however was the beer choice - Farmers Blonde, which is fairly regular, but also 2 dark beers - the excellent Thornbridge Brock and the even better Burton Bridge Damson Stout. I had two pints of the stout whilst Chala had wine, and not long after, Thangor arrived, soft drink already ordered, to join us on the sloping bench tables in the field next to the pub, soaking up the bright sunshine. I also had time for one final half of the Brock, which was very nice but perhaps lacking the punch of the Damson. We noticed the pub was preparing a barbecue, and it would have been lovely to have stayed all night, but all too soon we trooped off home for a fantastic meal and some quality wine.

Bolton and its rural environs pub lollop

The next day we were up early and I joined Wee Fatha and Keefy on a trip to an admittedly unpromising sounding destination - the countryside near Bolton. The journey was as picturesque as could be expected, although we started by going over the Snake pass, and our first stop was Worsley outside (or in?) Salford, to see the famous orange canal.

Iron ore deposits in the mines that the canals once linked to still permeates and turns the water a lurid orange, although i understand its quite harmless to the water dwellers along the Bridgewater Canal. We stopped next at the Hail ith wood, a country house museum which was closed, and at Smithalls country park where we stopped to eat our dinner, before we headed off into the wilds around Rivington.

Our first pub stop was the Black Dog at Belmont, a large food orientated pub with the Holt's livery, but based on the prices and the appearance of a guest, I would be surprised if it were part of their estate - a pint and 2 halves of their bitter, even considering the potential for unjust price additions for halves, came to £4.90, that's nearing £2.50 a pint. It was good pint mind, but not what you'd expect to pay in a Holt's house.

We headed towards Rivington and Anglezeart reservoirs next via a diversion to Great Hall barn, before ending up at the picture postcard village of White Coppice. We stopped for an ice cream at the cricket club, a stoically English thing to do, with a cold wind threatening to blow dark clouds from the hills onto the tranquil scene, before we went for a short walk up one of the valleys. We then headed into Clayton Le Woods to see a friend before making our next refreshment stop at Wheelton, and the Dressers arms.

This former brew pub is food orientated, but the beer is not a sideline - there are tables to sit and drink at and an impressive range of beers. I had a pint of the Wheelton bitter which was ambiguously described by the barmaid as being "brewed in Yorkshire" when I enquired who's it was, and Wee Fatha and Keefy both had ha;f pints of 3B's Easter Gold, and Bank Top Captain Jackman. Me and keefy also tried halves from George Wright, whose offerings were seasonal, and included Drunken Duck and Cheeky Pheasant, and there is the chance that there was a Slaters beer on ofer as well. All the beers were in good nick with the Wheelton and Slater's possibly edging it.

Our final stop was the Top Lock at Heapey, or Higher Wheelton, depending on your outlook. The pub is situated next to a bridge over the canal and is vey busy in summer, Wee Fatha recalled that when it was still a Matthew Brown pub in the 1960's and 70's there would be coach parties coming from nearby towns and cities for the food alone.

Since then a couple of things had changed - not just the takeover of Matthew Brown. As confirmed by the regulars, the beer range had increased - now offering nine handpumps, and the food style had altered dramticaly. There are still a handful of traditional English dishes that were sensibly priced, hearty and filling, but mainly it was a "Westernised Indian" selection ( I swear it said that on the menu).

The problem is, irrespective of thoughts or concerns about authenticity, and ignoring as we did the fact that its smelt fantastic, it was incredibly expensive. A basic chicken curry without sundries or other accompaniments was £10.95, more for beef or lamb and more again for prawn, and some naan breads were nearly £4.00 a go.

The average restaurant price for an Indian meal, westernised or not, is still only around £10.00 for a basic curry and rice with poppadoms, but the equivalent here could cost you £20.00. I don't know who wants to pay that much for a pub curry, but it seems like a bold move to have removed an albeit popular in the last 10 years menu, and replace it with the above.

Still, the beer range was fantastic and the interesting spiced beef and ale pie was filling and really tasty. Beer wise its a thankless task remembering for certain, but there was Acorn Darkness and a royal wedding themed ale of theirs, Hopback Entire Stout which I tried, Durham Amarillo, Barngates Cracker, and a Blackwater beer that I swear was called surrealism, but that would be the same as the Abbeydale beer of the same name, and doesn't appear to be supported by info on other websites. All of the last 3 were tried along with a half each of the two wedding beers, the Entire and the Blackwater perhaps being the best.

This was our final stop pf the day, and a nice way to end the trip, especially given the range of beers on offer, despite my concerns about the pricing policy. Hopefully we can get back some day and sample some more of their excellent beer range.

Harrisons 1854 and the Sheaf island

After my Tuesday wander mentioned in the last post, I had Wednesday afternoon off to accompany Chala on a medical appointment which finished around dinnertime. Seeing she needed cheering up we went to get some food at the Greedy Greek on Sharrowvale road, before walking in the sunshine to Sheaf Island for a couple of pints of the Beartown Black Bear, a delicious porter from the Congleton brewers that was exactly to my taste.

After this brief visit we headed into town for a coffee and a potter about, before heading up in the evening to Harrisons 1854 on Regent terrace. Dave was once again manning the bat, and we quickly settled down with a beer and a glass of wine in the lounge, listening to the somewhat eclectic speaker set up doing an impersonation of an old Jimi Hendrix or Pink Floyd recording, moving between the two speakers in waves.

Chala had soon spotted and ordered a Steeplejacker house cocktail, and I was onto my second pint of Deception when the owner Bob turned up. We soon got chatting and that's when I found out about the bar and its idiosyncrasies, mainly its heating.

I have to clarify at this point that Bob is likely a world expert on heating systems, there's probably nothing he doesn't know on that subject. However, faced with this nonpareil in warming of pipes, there is no rational explanation for my next actions....

I confess, I tried hard to contribute to the conversation that now included Dave and Chala, in an attempt to get Bob's ear, also to seem polite, and perhaps, because I am a reflective personality. This is someone who mirrors the interests of the person they talk to without outward insincerity ( I am not so sure about my abilities in this respect as my colleagues will attest ) and without embarking on a sudden religious type conversion to their mindset. I am told this puts people at ease, at least that's what people tell me - on the rare occasion I listen.

Anyhoo, against this backdrop and inexplicably feeling I had hold my own in the conversation, I was talking to Bob and found myself for no discernible reason embellishing a story that I didn't particularly care about - not enough at least to need to try and gain kudos in its field; and about which I knew nothing. That's right readers, I exaggerated a story on the subject of central heating, in the presence of a renowned expert in that field. Why ?

Suffice to say I cam eunstuck and had to backtrack considerably to retain any vague semblance of credibility, and I think I managed to not get royally storyfucked in the process, but this is one of those occasions where I have no idea what my brain was up to and why I considered this a good idea. So if anyone manages to distance psycho-analyse me, then please feel free to post a reason for this shambling display.

Back to more global issues, at least those not directly concerned with my mental state, I later went through some of the draught foreign beers and the other 2 real ales with Dave and Bob in an attempt to clear up, no pun intended, the mystery of their murkiness and respective odd tastes.

As I said yesterday, these anomalies now appear to be mainly due to a lack of throughput - although the surrealism was on its last legs, all of the beers bar the Deception were not selling quickly and needed to be pulled through a bit, before satisfyingly throwing off their murky disguises and tasting normal again. So, I could now be sure of getting a fantastic pint whichever of the range I chose, and having already shown myself to be unreliable on the subject of water heating provision, I now managed to look like I knew nowt about beer as well....

Luckily, after this experimenting Mrs Bob arrived and I left Chala chatting to Bob and struck up a conversation with her. To be fair, she seemed to possess considerably less knowledge about central heating, however its noteworthy that this is a trait she shares with almost all of the rest of the worlds population.

Overall we were in the "H" for a good few hours and enjoyed some excellent conversation and some good real ale and wine, and despite my monetary mental demise I fully intend to return their as soon as I can, remembering to keep tall tales off the agenda and hopefully getting to see the place busy like it deserves to be.

More on Handsworth and Rivelin and Loxley pubs soon, but for now, stay sane, don't stay sober, and remember to drop in on this page again soon.

Wee beefy

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