Tuesday, 31 May 2011
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.
Wednesday, 25 May 2011
as threatened previously, I am going to update you briefly on my last Friday night, or, indeed, any night, drinking of this month. Alas you see, May is a pay period procrastinator, having got my funds for this month on 28th April, just before a bank holiday (good, but guaranteed to mean you spend heavily at the beginning of the month ), with the much anticipated June wage not due until the 31st of May, near 5 weeks later and annoyingly the day after the bank hols.
So, relishing this final fling, and as is my favoured after work drill, I left before 17.00 and got on the 5 o clock 31 to Daniel Hill and hopped off for the Blake. I was meeting Carlos, who I haven't seen for ages, but have seen enough times to know he'd be late. Which was fine, apart from the fact I arrived at 17.12 and was due to meet him at 17.30.
Inside the pub was nicely busy but not yet rammed, and I was delighted to spot some of their fine pork pies on the bar, so bought one of them, and what was to have been a half. "A half? Its Friday you know " said the barman, and despite my crap insincere protests about being early and long nights etc, I caved in after a lengthy interrogation of about 25 seconds and had a pint of the excellent Oldershaw Dark, which was £2.20.
I sat at the back of the left hand room trying to find the paper interesting, taking a few pics on my trusty phone and eating my pie, all the while trying not to drink too much of my pint, but a lot was gone by the time my phone rang. It was Wee Keefy - me and he and our friend Jambon had made a vague rolling agreement to let each other know when we were heading for the Blake so as to meet up. Despite the fact that Wee Keefy and Carlos live in the same house, neither knew the other was planning on going.
Overhearing the plan secured Carlos a lift and myself a slightly shorter wait; although they arrived after 20 to, I might have been waiting much longer if they hadn't come in the car. Already familiar with Blake best practice, all 3 got a pie each, WK a pint of the Burton Bridge, Carlos a pint of Warsteiner or Becks, can't recall which, and Jambon a very "eclectic " pint of a Grafton beer.
On tasting it I noted that, despite his description of it tasting of furniture polish it was in fact the Ahtanum hops that were prominent. I had to also explain however that many brewers have harnessed their astringent flavour to glorious effect, when matched with complimentary citrus hops, but that Grafton had steered clear of this precedent and created a one dimensional dry metallic beer instead. I reminded him that I could have advised, and Keefy obligingly made reference to my status as the oracle.
All too soon the smokers in our party had us sat outside in the surprisingly large garden, in steeply dropping temperatures. Obviously I was dressed for a summers eve and was quickly feeling the chill as Keefy fetched me another Oldershaw and Jambon a pint of Keefy's Burton Bridge choice - I think it was called Top Garter. The aforementioned brother (note, he is actually my brother, I am not paraphrasing some creaking afro Carribean sterotype here...) had other plans afoot so had to leave us, and we sat outside for a while longer before my desperate plea to return to the warmth bore fruit.
We sat at the back of the left room again beneath an excellent poster advertising IPA from a London brewery that I thought was Reids, but on my pic seems to begin with an A. I tried the Burton Bridge myself and it was really nice with a floral fruity hop flavour, as well as the Allgates California that I had enjoyed on my last visit, before we headed off.
We visited the Freedom House, at my suggestion, and breaking with tradition, we opted to head right at the entrance - and lo it was thus becometh that oh the right was the wrong side in thee quaint Inne, for that was where the rapscallions and those loud of remonstrance were base-d.
In modern language, this means that the decision not to go in the welcoming (if unlit!) left side had demonstrated that I appeared to have been going in the best room all along. The right is a lot less comfy withalmost nowhere to sit, and definitely nowhere to have a quiet chat, and is very much targeted at people who play pool and consider sitting down to be a girls pastime. There was one beer on, Moonshine, so Jambon bought the round, with Carlos on cooking lager which may have been Fosters, and we went outside in to the beer yard.
Here I discovered that the Moonshine, though clear, had a rather strange taste, one that Jams found so distasteful that he threw all of the contents of his glass into a plant pot, a rather rash action which meant it was going to be difficult replacing mine. Basically the beer was old and had gone off, but there was no alternative to swap it for and I had gulped at first and then suffered more than a third by the time I admitted defeat.
After a refreshed gentleman took centre stage to deliver an evangelical descant on kebabs, and to question why we intended heading for the Walkley Cottage when he knew it as "the sausage cottage", we took our leave. I solemnly placed my half full pint on the bar and stated that the Moonshine was off, to which the barman replied "oh" but I was on my way out and didn't request recompense so I have no idea whether the beer was taken off. Having been my recommendation, this was a poor showing fro the House, but hopefully just a temporary blip in its recent good form.
We decided to change route slightly as I wanted Carlos and Jams to try the Red Deer, and not because we were concerned by what we might expect from a venue known as the sausage cottage. We jumped off past Henderson's factory and cut across the back, with me briefly nipping into Harrisons to see Dave, before we got to the Red Deer.
The beer range was good but there was perhaps less to tempt me than of late, Carlos was happy with his lager and me and Jambon had excellent pints of the Wharefebank Tether pale ale, after which I nipped back for a half of the Moorhouses Pride of Pendle. It wasn't very nice, and didn't taste anything like I thought it should, but on taking it back and ignoring the staff's insistence that it may be the wrong beer as it was the wrong colour, the mystery was eventually explained as being just that, and the beer was replaced with an actual Pride of Pendle, which in many respects was better than the Tether.
Next we headed for a food top up for Jams at a takeaway of dubious authenticity (kebabs, pizza and fish and chips, how scintillatingly uni-national!?!) before we headed at my behest, to the Old House, on the promise of real ale and good music. Alas on entering, the music was achingly bland townie cheese, which stops being ironic, if even it ever was, quite quickly I find. I lost my companions whilst eyeing up some decent real ale, and its a good job I hesitated to find out what they wanted to do, because the venue was roundly dismissed on their return from the facilities, and we headed on once more.
Perhaps being of a certain age and a certain musical disposition, it was inevitable that next we would wind up at the Washington, scene of many post work revelries from the past and probably until recently the only place to get a decent pint after midnight. Inside it was packed and there was Moonshine and Tetleys on the bar, with an interesting if slightly odd selection of tunes playing. The Moonshine in here is almost always cloudy and perhaps a little cold, but it always seems to taste OK, if unexceptional, and besides, I admit it, we weren't in here for the beer.
I bumped into Simon from the 3 Valleys fest last year, an event we both realised only then was on the next day, and which sadly finances have forbade me from attending. I only stopped for one pint as well, since much as I was enjoying myself, i wanted to avoid paying for a taxi and so ran to High Street ( erm, in my imagination at least ) to catch the last bus, getting there about 10 minutes early, but safe at least in the knowledge I'd save some cash.
Overall it was a good night out, with a few minor dips in quality, both beer and music wise, but this shows that you can find a mix of different pubs all selling real ale quite close by, whilst still enjoying their unique and particular vibes and idiosyncrasies.
I am off awaah to Scotland a week on Saturday but will have been watered financially by then so may have a quick night out, but otherwise will be back to update the details of my Caledonian Crawl in mid June.
Thursday, 19 May 2011
and welcome to my shock news that I am finally going to write up my first trip of the new year, out with Davefromtshop on a jaunt between Derby and Burton, from way back in January.
Its important to clarify that as ever in such circumstances, it was the mislaying of my detailed accurate and eventually indecipherable notes that scuppered my efforts and indeed dampened my intent to write up this welcome to 2011 pub crawl. So apologies for the fact that all of the beer information, with perhaps the exception of the first pub we stopped at, will no longer be applicable.
Despite the above, may I invite you to pull up a cup of tea , pour yourself a chair and settle down to imbibe the details of a frosty pub trip.
So, it was the first Tuesday of 2011 - not a particularly astonishing event but the earliest opportunity that Dave could get cover for his emporium and the penultimate and therefore best day of my remaining leave before returning to the drudgery of work. We set off early in crisp frosty sunshine and caught the train to Derby, where we stopped off for a coffee before catching one of the V services to Tutbury, arriving at 11.30.
I had done some preparatory research on tinterweb prior to setting out and thought I had good directions to the pub, however the road we seemed to require went up either side of a dip, and we guesstimated to turn right, which was alas the wrong choice - a fact we only discovered on climbing to near the top of the hill on that side. Having been informed we should have been on the hill on the left we eventually remedied this and ended up at the Cross keys.
This pub has sold Burton Ale since it was released as a cask ale more than 30 years ago - to paraphrase the GBG - a fact confirmed by the friendly host who proudly showed us his Burton Master Cellarman badge and told us a bit about the beer, including the surprising fact that it was currently brewed at one of the Manchester breweries, possibly Lees. In order to fully appreciate his testimony, it was inevitable that we tried a pint each of the subject matter, which cost us £5.92.
We would have liked to have lingered here a lot longer, to enjoy the friendly banter at the bar and to try the Pedigree as well, but we had a bus to catch, and a couple of ideas for other pubs to try. Once back in the old centre of Tutbury we went in the oldest pub in the town, which is the Old Dog and Partridge. Despite its undoubted age credentials, this was a disappointing visit, not started well by our entrance being blocked by work un-decorating the Christmas Tree, and an uninspiring range of expensive super regional ales. I know that in these pub company times its perhaps churlish to moan at the range of ales available, especially when considering how many pubs don't even bother selling the stuff at all, but its inescapable that the pub is crying out for more focus on drinkers, and a decent local beer would do the job nicely.
Instead we somehow found a table not set for diners and had acceptable halves of Youngs Special at a cost of £3.22 for the two. Afterwards we still had a short window of spare time so headed along the street and found the New Inn on the right. This pub packed more charm into its quiet and perhaps tired interior, helped by a distinct lack of customers, and perhaps more so by its natural dim lighting and dark colour scheme, than the last oub could ever hope to. They sold one real ale, a decent pint of Pedigree, and I had a half which was approximately £1.45 and Dave a small measure of Jamesons that cost something like £1.18 if my jotting is to be believed.
Soon we were heading back towards Derby and alighting in Etwall, to visit the Spread Eagle. I had read quite a bit about this pub, how it had hit hard times and now, having been bought and subsequently revitalised by two local businessmen, how it has been turned back into a proper community pub. This was a good news story, and a strong factor in the decision to pop in. The other was its apparent vintage, which turned out to be an interesting lesson in the pitfalls of expectation and interpretation.
Because, gawd love em some folks have placed quite some emphasis on the pubs original features and redoubtable age. The thing is, I have been rather spoilt in my pub travels thus far, and so had all sorts of imagined appearances for the pub, even after having briefly spied it on the way down. All I am getting to is the fact that old as the building may be, the interior, whilst pleasant and finished to a high standard, is so modern as to jar with my idea of the old building.
Now that, is of course entirely my fault. I had no reason to imagine a younger Olde Trip or an undiscovered Harrow at Steep, I just kind of defaulted to that expectation based on the write up. Is this just an idiosyncrasy that I display or have others noticed themselves doing it ? I remember a brilliant example of a 15th century pub in the GBG in Wiltshire that when we got there had a 1970's WMC style front room and a crass 1990's faux countrified lounge area, which coupled with its dreadful beer made for a huge let down.
Anyhoo, luckily my self tricking had not affected my appreciation of the beer, and we settled down in the room to the right with2 pints of Bass ( £5.20) followed by a pint and a half of Pedigree, at £3.90, all the while arguing with the dunderheads at BT about fixing my phone line and Internet connection.
Soon we were back on the V3 again heading for the Olde Talbot at Hilton. The GBG for many years promised it opened at 15.30 but we know from past experience that the week after New Year is when the status quo is abandoned and the routines are disturbed, and true to form the Olde Talbot was closed when we arrived at 15.40. We quickly found some opening times and formulated a fallback plan.
We walked a little further through the village, not really knowing what we were intending to do or where we were headed, when we noticed a sign for the Hilton House Hotel. We found the entrance to the bar at the back and walked in expecting to have to sup a couple of soft drinks and to our surprise found a cosy bookshelf festooned bar room with 2 handpumps on the bar - and they were open.
We opted for a half each of the Spitfire and a bag of crisps which cost us £3.25 in total , and settled down to chat briefly with the bar staff about their secret workplace and to try and not seem amazed that they did quite a good trade in evening meals. You see, its probably really well known in the local area, but it struck me that other than thirsty guests, your average Hilton House Hotel bar customer was a long standing regular and or someone living within 5 miles of the Hotel. Not that we were complaining of course, this was a truly pleasant surprise and a warm and comfy place to relax, even if we were doing so in anticipation of the Talbot opening.
In respect of which we left at just gone 16.00 and walked round the corner to the pub which had the sign lit up, and went in through a low door to a right hand bar in a very old pub which was exactly how I had imagined the Spread Eagle would look. Having noted the beers on offer we transferred to the rather warmer long bar on the left and picked a table towards the back of the room, admiring the view of the bar and some rather careworn ancient beer mats with tables to match. We had two excellent pints of Amber Ales AVB (£5.70), followed by a half of Bass for me and a Talisker for Dave.
Next we had to head back into Derby to catch the other Burton service, which I think was the V2. We got in just in time to run back to our starting point at Albert Street and get the bus to Willington.
I visited the Green Man here years ago with Wee Fatha and it was excellent, with a great pint of Bass and some good guests, along with Pedigree I think. Returning now the beer side was a little disappointing, with a choice of two beers, me and Dave both opted for a half of Pedigree, which was an average example and came to £2.90.
We were hoping to visit the Rising Sun across the road next but that plan fell flat when we realised that there was no one in the pub to serve us. The pub appears to be split into two halves with an entrance on the corner of the main road and one facing the station. Despite wandering in and seeing two people playing pool, and even after standing optimistically at the bar clearly fancying the EPA from the choice of two or three real ales on offer, the lights were off in the rest of the pub and after 5 minutes of seeing no-one we decided that we weren't going to get served, so left. What a strange way to run a pub!
We went up the road a little next to walk through the enormous car park of the Green Dragon . This is an eclectic pub with subtle warm lighting and an odd mix of old furniture, with a few handpumps on the bar, some interesting music being played and a lackadaisical atmosphere which still managed to include getting served. The two Derventio beers had unfortunately run out, although one pump clip was turned round already, so we opted for a pint each of the Sharps Doom Bar. We enjoyed this whilst we sat round the corner from the bar admiring the layout and fittings and the warm glow of the fire. Definitely a pub to try again.
Leaving Willington we headed back into Derby, and headed straight away up King Street and Ashbourne Road for the Greyhound, a pub recently acquired by the Derby Brewery Company (well, likely over a year ago now ), and en route to our intended penultimate stop at Mr Grundys Tap House or similar.
Entering through a side door from a passage there is a very modern feel to what is an old and low ceilinged pub, with a shiny new bar each side of the dividing wall between the smaller front room and the long one at the back,where we chose to sit with our pints of Peregrine Porter from Cotleigh.
At this point we decided to cut our losses and have some very nice and inexpensive food, along with several more beers, the details of which am afraid will have to be extricated from Dave via the video he will have taken on our way home of me drunkenly yet accurately reciting our every drink of the day.
After leaving the Greyhound it was too late to make it to Mr Grundys so we tried to catch a bus into town, a plan which didn't work for a number of reasons, not least a lack of detail on buses in the bus stop timetables. With time at a premium we walked all the way back into town and onto the Alexandra, where we definitely had a dark beer and a chat, before a last pint (after reaching the station and finding the train seriously delayed), at the Brunswick, which I know was a pint of their station porter for both of us.
We got home in good time after a fantastic day, notable for my having rashly changed our plans along the way ( we never made Burton or Barton Under Needwood or Newton Solney ), and some fantastic thriving and deservedly popular real ale pubs, dispensing for the most part, some excellent beer.
For now, I am off out in 17 hours for pints in the Blake, so may have some Walkley or perhaps town news depemding where we go, to share soon.
Wednesday, 18 May 2011
Railway Wadsley Bridge, Grenoside pubs, Harrisons 1854 Regent Terrace, Cavendish West Street, Henrys, Old House, and The Blake, on Blake Street.
I have quite a few things to cover as last time I sat down with intent and decided to write up some news there was a blogger problem and I couldn't get on, so there is a bit to catch up on.
Firstly, a correction. At some point in the last few posts I claimed that Soyo bar had reopened as Cuba Revolution. However, in my old age, I had confused somewhere modern I had never been, with somewhere modern I had, but had not wanted to have been to. So, before I am besieged (erm, I concede this is unlikely) by hoards of Dubcore listening, trouser or short indecision encountering, i-puter users of a tender age writing in to complain, Soyo (whatever that is) is no doubt the same, and the venue that has reopened was formerly called Bar Hoi or similar.
So, back to nice things.
A quick Handsworth update first, and on my last brief visit the Cross keys was selling Youngs Bitter as well as Cocker Hoop and Bombardier - the bitter was a pleasant change and in good nick. At the Old Crown, they have kept the White Rose Blonde on as well as their El Gecko ale, along with Concertina One Eyed Jack - both that and the Gecko were in good nick and although the White Rose seasonal or specials have a tendency to be a bit samey, its good to know that you can expect a nice pale hoppy beer to be on when you visit.
The Railway, Wadsley Bridge.
Just before the bridge heralds the change of Penistone Road North into Halifax Road, there is a pub, on the right hand side coming from Hillsborough, which was no doubt once a Whitbread pub, based on a few features of its appearance, and which had been closed for some time before reopening in November 2010.
The Railway is smaller and, if I might venture, more genuine in its appearance than the ever enlargening hostelries across the road. It has been rescued from an uncertain future and now once more aims to provide Wadsleyans (is this a religion?) with a decent pint.
Currently the opening hours are 16.00 until midnight Friday and Saturday and it is open from Midday Sunday. I understand that as trade picks up, which I think and hope it will, there may be scope for extending the opening hours. The pub will also open on request for groups, which I believe is what is happening soon ( or maybe yesterday ) on a Tuesday for Sheffield Camra.
The pub has been bought and is being nursed back to health and revitalised by Sheffield landlady extraordinaire Jean. I went in the pub for the first time ever on Saturday, and although I am certain I have never met Jean before it seems like we have been missing each other for about the last 12 years.
She ran the Crown and Glove in Stannington until a few months before I started visiting, she worked with Del at the New Barrack Tavern, before I worked fro him at the Hillsborough Hotel. She also worked at the Pheasant on Foxhill road at the time me and Chala nearly bought a house up the road, and she worked at the Pheasant at Lane Top prior to Chala's Aunt running it and at the East House prior to our friend Foxy taking the helm. Considering all these facts, and details of other pubs she worked at that I have failed to recall, its a surprise I have never had her pull me a pint before, but now I have.
Which leads me to the crucial subject of the beer and the pub. There are 4 real ales on hand pump and Warsteiner lager, and possibly Leffe. There is talk of a few interesting bottled beers and perhaps cider, but all in good time, for now the range is miles ahead of anything in the vicinity ( I think all the pubs nearby have been and three still are, real ale free ). From the choice of Thwaites Original, Nutty Black, Bradfield Bitter and Blonde, I had a few very enjoyable pints of the Nutty Black.
Whilst so doing, I noted that the pub still retains 4 separate drinking areas, with 1 separate room on the left, and a function/concert room being finished at the back which can be hired or used for bands. Talking of which, there are regularly bands on at the pub, I think at the moment only on the Saturday night, with a quiz on Sundays.
And, in an ingenious move, outside there is a board with information on it regarding opening hours and upcoming events. This was especially relevant as I wandered down about 14.00 on Saturday to note it was shut, but took my life in my hands crossing the road anyway to try and find out more info. Knowing I had a while to wait i walked into Hillsborough to catch the bus to Grenoside to have a very different pub experience in the Norfolk Arms.
On the road heading out of Grenoside on the edge of the village, and opposite where the woods begin, the Norfolk is a former Wards pub which I am fairly sure has sold real ale for many many years. There is still a large concrete(?) or otherwise rigid sign on the wall advertising its Wards credentials, and despite the ominous To Let sign, its still open at the moment, but no longer selling food, as the sign makes clear by having painted over the word food.
I was pleased on entering to see two hanpumps selling Abbeydale Absolution and Bradfield Farmers Brown Cow, and a further 2 down the side with Bradfield blonde and Taylors Landlord on offer. I had the Blonde, which was £2.90 a pint, and settled down in the window seat on the left as the telly relayed the build up to the cup final. And then a funny thing happened.....
There was the landlord and a customer seated on the right and a man who had come in with some goods fetched for the landlord, all sat together on the right (ironic) watching the TV when, horror of horrors, a black person became the subject of a feature on the programme. Being a rational chap this passed me by and I couldn't have seen the impending hiatus, but after a sudden change in the tone of the banter, the newly arrived customer loudly proclaimed " of course he's arrogant, he's a fucking n*****. He's a coon".
I quickly checked the date to make sure I had not been transported back to the 1980's or even the 50's but no. it really was 2011 and a man had used a word I had only previously heard in reference rather than in real time, and once in a Lenny Henry sketch about someone daubing the word "cone" on his house. There was tacit agreement with this incredible departure from rational thinking, before the conversation returned to deliveries and football, one assumes, of a purely uniracial nature.
Now, I realise that as an informed person I should have remonstrated with these by gone bastions of backward thinking, but I don't mind admitting that I was still running the statement over and over in my mind, trying to get it to register what I had heard. And besides which, if you are misguided and feel safe enough to make absurd comments like that without batting an eyelid, what other lows might you stoop to in an argument? After all, I had started to maintain an admirable sun tan, I might not have escaped unharmed...
Instead I quickly downed my drink and left. You see, I only went out for a quiet pint or two, not to attend a clan rally or get embroiled in an argument with idiots. So if you think I should have done more then so be it, but I can already do more by not going in again, and you can all do something by following suit.
So, with the wannabe BNP ralliers stewing in their own bigotry behind me, I headed off up hill on a rather zig-zag route to the top side of Grenoside and over to the Cow and Calf. I got there at just before 15.00 but needn't have rushed, as am fairly sure they serve all day. Here was a marked difference from the last pub - not only was the beer only £1.59 a pint (well, it is Sam Smiths), but the atmosphere was convivial, people were having structured logical discussions (ignoring a conspiracy theory about Sven Goran Ericsson) and the pub was packed with families diners and drinkers enjoying their free time.
The Cow and Calf was one of the pubs I used to visit when I was younger - not alone, obviously, and I remember sitting out in the garden and their being a tuck shop for kids - surely I can't have dreamt this ? Irrespective of that, I have continued to visit now and again, and I have been back a few times in the last few years with Chala nd Christingpher and Mr P. Its nice to know I can rely on it being open, selling real ale and perhaps even serving food, especially if I am walking into Wharncliffe woods or down past the Birley Stone.
So, two contrasting Grenoside hostelries, and a brand new positive pub reopening story from Wadsley Bridge. Which leads me nicely onto two school night wanders around the city centre and Walkley.
Me and Mr P last week visited the Blake, partly because we fancied a change and because I was getting withdrawal symptoms having not been in for a month. Getting the half 5 number 31 eats into your drinking time, as there is more traffic at that time, but it was still probably no more than 15 minutes to the pub, which was quiet, but healthily attended with drinkers in each one if the rooms.
We started proceedings with a pint each of the Allgates California, a pleasing hoppy drink that didn't stand a chance in my glass after a thirst inducing groan of a day at work. Mr P opted for a half of the kelham Riders on the Storm next, along with some essential food (crisps) whilst I sampled a Pictish Alchemist Pale at 4.3%, which without wishing to denigrate the brewers achievements, was a typical Pictish beer - which is a good thing.
Our final brace was another half of the riders for Mr P and I had one of the most fantastic pints I've had in a long time, the Cherry Stout from the Nook Brewing Co, based at the Rose and Crown in Holmfirth. Not too sweet despite its fruity flavour and with a perfect balance of maltiness and smoky bitterness, this was miles ahead the best beer of the night, and a good source of fuel to get us up to the next pub.
The Princess Royal had been closed when me and Mr P had visited the Blake in the snow, so we went in on a pleasant evening to sample a beer in here, which was Mr P's first visit. There were 3 real ales on, including Tetley I think, but we both went for the Sheffield Brewing Co 3 Rivers, with the two pints costing £5.70. The beer was in better nick than last time, although am uncertain if it normally has the biscuity characteristics that these pints displayed. Nevertheless this was a nice drink and a refreshing reward after toiling up the hill from the Blake.
We headed into town and Mr P home as he'd reached his quota, whilst I went to Henry's to see what beer was on offer. I only stayed briefly but enjoyed my preferred window seat and the excellent half of Wharfebank Brewery Spinners, a 3.8% session beer costing a whole English Pound. I also briefly popped in the formerly droughty venue that is the Cavendish on West Street.
Despite being unapologetically aimed at students and younger drinkers who seek out offers on a range of variously dire and fearful drinks, the Cavendish, or "Cav" as it needlessly shortens its moniker to, has now gone mad and started selling real ale. There are two handpumps - I am sure there was one when they first opened - and on the night they were selling Everards Tiger. It was a tad warm and fairly tired, but this sighting was still an unexpected bonus, since no doubt on some future team night out we will wind up there and I will now, assuming it works out, finally have something to drink.
I ended the night in Harrisons 1854 on Regent Terrace, a stark and pleasing contrast to the noisy big screen hub-ub of the last venue, where Barkeep Dave was showing someone round, and the band practiced upstairs. Having arrived later than normal, I was able to see the musicians for myself when they came in for one after practice, and it was nice to see the bar full up and hear the warm buzz of conversation over the music, even though the choice was excellent as usual, until much later at least.
Beer wise, the cider box has gone to be replaced by cider on handpump, which means at present there are just two real ales on, being Deception and Moonshine from Abbeydale. I stuck to the Deception as is my normal Harrison plan now, and settled in (as far as that's possible for a big lad on a bar stool ) for a few drinks and some crisps at the bar, the only minor downside being a rash moment of what was hopefully ironic musical digression where Dave played Cherry Pie by Warrant. Unacceptable Dave, truly, but another great evening overall.
My final news concerns last night's trip to the above preceded by a visit to the Old House. Inside there appears to have been a slight makeover, and it seems mercifully a little lighter inside so now I can walk unhindered and in safety to and from the bar. There are 5 handpumps, which I think is relevant as I only recall 3, on this occasion selling Moonshine, the excellent Farmers Stout, and rather surprisingly, Flowers IPA, from whichever contract brewer has takken it on lately.
I had a pint of Moonshine and then a pint of the Stout, as well as fooling myself into thinking the Franziskaner was a dunkel not the standard wheat (not that I mind), so had a half of that as well. I also sampled some excellent Errazurriz pinot noir, with Chala sampling the Robert Mo(n?)davi Chardonnay, before we caved in and got two pricey and for me slightly too dry chip butties, and some more stout.
Afterwards we headed to Harrisons as I said, and found it a bit busier than usual, although I didn't detect the welcoming sounds of the band upstairs this time. Once again Deception was my tipple of choice as the Moonshine was getting a bit low, and we nibbled on some free nuts to stave off the hunger until we left about 22.00, allowing me the opportunity to wolf down a steak when I got in.
More news soon, especially since I have finally found the details of my January pub trip to Derbyshire, and hopefully will have something to tell of my catch up with Carlos on Friday.
Sunday, 8 May 2011
some news from much closer to home now re the pubs of Handsworth. I am focusing on the two pubs that sell real ale for definite and that I know are good, and leaving for another time the subject of the New Crown which may now have given up on real ale altogether, and the wannabee restaurant that is the White Rose, my nearest watering hole which I almost never visit on account of it being a bit grim.
So, on the 1st of May, having recovered from our skip filling exploits, which was the way we chose to celebrate the royal wedding, me and Waarf went for a wander through Bowden Woods, a short amble that I suspected would take us to Handsworth top after a while, and thus promised a pint or two.
The woods look fantastic at the moment, the unbroken sunshine and lack of rain has meant the paths are bone dry and easily passable (notably the unfavoured ones that head off into the undergrowth where briefly, you can imagine you aren't sandwiched between a dual carriageway and a housing estate), but also the flora and fauna is in bloom and there are bluebells and other green shoots in the dappled light to enjoy.
Of course, its difficult to spend more than 10 minutes in Bowden woods without encountering a retard on a mini quad or trail bike tearing up the path, usually to the delight of a gawkish crowd of easily amused simpletons, or young people as I call them. Mind you, lets be clear, this is not a mono generational phenomena, quite often doting law breakers come along to see their water headed offspring zoom around illegally on footpaths in the best countryside for miles around. On this occasion, a mixed bunch of adults and the larger infantile were amassed at a cross section cheering on an unseemly quiche of Johnny no stars as they attempted to race around every path or track in the woods, and who delighted in racing past us at 30mph, much to the assembled morons pleasure.
Somehow we escaped unscathed, but annoyed at having the peace and of course the law, broken by irresponsible persons, only to get through the second part of the woods and out onto the path to Richmond road to observe a gang of mini quad riders speeding towards us in unison, their faces covered.
Naturally, if you have an inbuilt tendency towards selfish stupidity, this is quite normal behaviour, but on planet earth it shouldn't be. So, and this is not an excuse, I promised myself that I had good reason to be ready for a life soothing drink at the pub when i had finished the walk with Waarf.
We walked along the road straight on towards the allotments and up the path across the field to the church before Chala announced that she wanted to go in the Cross Keys. Once in there, I noted one handpump had the clip turned round, but didn't mind as Cocker Hoop was still on, but when the barman went to pull it another staff member told him it had gone - he stopped as I sighed at the expected alternative, but didn't turn the pump clip round. I have to be very calm to overlook that deceit.
So, with only the grimly innocuous malt and water mouthwash of Bombadier, once a beer that actually had ingredients in it, on offer, Chala checked if I wanted to stay. Of course, I'd have rather gone for a better range elsewhere but I checked twice that there was something she wanted and proceeded. Having got my pint, Chala then ordered a coke with ice. Inspired.
In the end, more out of annoyance at earlier events, and that we could have been having something that wasn't a Bombadier and a coke, I had two pints, before we sloped off home for a very nice meal.
The next day, having missed my chance before, I went to the Old Crown on me tod and was very surprised to see 3 White Rose brewery beers on offer. I had a pint of their Spring Hoppiness, which was quite nice but a bit tired and cloudy, and then a pint of the better Hopping Mad, which was similar, but clearer and with a little more bite. I also had a chip butty to soak up the effects of my lunchtime tippling, before treating myself to a final half of the Blonde - the Hopping Mad had run out. Mind you, as I sat back down, the landlady very kindly came over with a free half of the beer that had just run out. Full marks then to the Old Crown for having something different on and being generous to boot.
So, back to today, and after painstakingly pissing away two hours uploading losing and moving parts of my last post, we went on said walk again, this time undisturbed by the great unthinking, and walked, through the lesser used paths, all the way from Handsworth Avenue entrance to the bridge out of Bowden woods, in silence, and dappled sunshine.
Feeling a bit devil may care, we then headed for the TPT towards Beighton but took a walk across the playing fields, shortening our walk to Handsworth top by a few minutes. This time I insisted on The Old Crown being first choice, although to be fair to the Keys, it was rammed, so perhaps they had got 3 beers on this time?
Alas we shan't find out as we went in the Old Crown, and found 3 White Rose ales on offer once more. Their Blonde appears to be the regular, the Spring Hoppiness was on the same pump but this time clearer and fresher, and the unfortunately named Kate's Willy was on pump 3. I tried 1 pint and a half of the spring offering, and, despite misgivings about a potential cheap novelty ale bandwagon, I did try their royal wedding ale, which wasn't as good as the spring beer.
Also, whilst stood at the bar I noticed a Spire Golden (something) Ale pump clip above the bar, suggesting perhaps they have had it in the past, or it will be coming on soon. I get the feeling that the Keys is owned by a pub company, or certainly that they have a say, and this is a crying shame. On a purely aesthetic note I much prefer the Keys, and I think both of them are selling real ale at the same price, £2.65 a pint, but consistently the Crown comes up with interesting or just generally better beers, and for that reason, is currently nudging ahead in my Handsworth affections.
Lets hope then that the choice, assuming these are the only two choices for real ale drinkers in Handsworth, long continues.
Out back is a restaurant and there seemed to be a slow trade in pensioners specials, although it was only 12.40. The bar is quite modern with pale wood, and the alcove seating on the from left where we sat is almost the only traditional sitting arrangement in the front of the pub. The pool table takes up all the space on the right and between us and the bar is a sea of tall bar stools and bar tables. Its light airy and sleek but I don't get what they are aiming for - it looks like a city centre bar in an old pub with a carvery at the back. Very strange, but hey, at least they were open.
So, we laboured thirstily on, down Sykehouse Lane and onto New Road at Damflask, not knowing what times the Plough opened, so we walked along the road all the way at a very good pace. Being squashed between the hillside and the trees lining the water the sun wasn't weakened here by anything silly like wind, so it was actually quite hot.
the excellent prices. Dave had the Bradfiled Old English Ale and myself more of the Pale, and we had time for a couple of halves of that as well before getting the 19.10 bus to the Royal at Dungworth.
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.