Sunday, 15 January 2012

Wee Beefy's 2012 Derbyshire Dales walk


    I am fully recovered now from my first yomp of the new year, when I walked from Birchover to Matlock Bath via Winster and Bonsall, trying some new and old pubs along the way.

The Bus to Beelzebub

With the above song in mind (Soul Coughing fans) I set out on a hellish trundle to my starting point. As usual I'd got up later than planned then fannied around for ages doing crap that I really ought to have done the night before like a sensible person. I even managed to rustle up some breakfast even though I had miplaced its ingredients - in the end I had a less than classic walkers prep of a bowl of shepherds pie....

The bus arrived on time and we quickly realised that hell was not its destination; instead it was hypothermia. One of the windows in the what looked like 1960's bus was wedged open. All the way to Bakewell we were blasted by icy cold wind. Great. Things didn't improve any in Bakewell either - I had to go for a coffee to get warm but finished it all too quickly, then had 25 minutes to fill in before the bus, which I spent walking round trying to warm up.

The 172 bus ride to Birchover is beautiful on a frosty sunny day like Saturday - as you wind up through Stanton in the Peak every house and wall is finely dusted with frosty icing sugar, and the fields were bathed in sunlight as we passed the edge of Stanton moor, with large swathes still white from the hard frost. I started in Birchover at Barn Farm and made my way across what would have been a muddy lake of a field normally,  in low set bright sunshine, biting cold wind and crispy ground to Uppertown.

Uppertown is a bit of a weird title for part of the village which lies below Birchover - unless its meant to be part of Winster, in which case its still the lowest part. Clearly this is a countryside in-joke that I don't get. From here I followed Birchover lane then took the path past the cemetery to the road leading to the top of Winster, where most of the fields and fauna were still frozen. Looming up round the corner at the top was my first stop.

The Miners Standard, Winster

I'd never been in this pub so was quite pleased to find it open and to finally get in for a beer. There's an outside porch and then a sign above the door as you enter - some say the initials are the names of two locals who built the building, others that it stands for the words in a lead miners saying - either way, I can't be sure what it stands for and annoyingly, I forgot to write it down! If anyone knows the letters or their meaning please let me know.

Inside there is one room split into 2 areas with a passage heading out to the loos and presumably the back, although I had no desire to sit outside so didn't check. There is a real fire in the left hand side and a fireplace to the right might also have one. The long wooden bar sports three or four handpumps and I tried the Brakspears bitter - £2.25 is a damned decent price in Derbyshire these days and not to be sniffed at - better still the beer was very well kept and managed to retain a lot of flavour, considering its 3.4%.

The pub seemed to be full of locals but I know its popular with walkers, and the landlady regaled the occupants of the table across from me with a story from Facebook, which she could barely say whilst crying with laughter. She also used a phrase I hadn't heard before - when she was explaining to one of the regulars children what she was doing, she said "I'm mending the fire up" I can't say I've heard anyone say that before, so maybe its a local phrase. Although it could just be incorrect. Nevertheless, after enjoying the Facebook tale myself I decided to stop for another, and had a good pint of Pedigree, which I think was £2.60 a pint. This is a cracking pub all in all, hopefully one I'll get back to soon.

Bonsall Moor

From here I pressed on over Bonsall Moor. I was going to walk all the way to Upper Town in Bonsall on the road but it was such a beautiful day I decided to cross the moor by path instead. On the way up the first half mile or more of the road, I had to walk on the left, because the right was in shadow and was still covered in a slippery white hoare frost. The road is quiet, disturbed only by a handful of cars and a coal lorry, in fact the whole area is blissfully peaceful; and until you reach the edges of Bonsall a mile or two later, except for a clutch of farms, and a ruined building or two, there's nothing but stone walls and  rugged Derbyshire moorland to see.

The path across the moor is a bit short on worded signposts after you leave the road, but I found my way past numerous crossroads and junctions despite having forgotten to bring the half of my decimated White Peak map for this part of the walk. The route is diagonal and crosses many fields with squeeze stiles to negotiate - luckily the walls are low so I could swing my legs over, ottherwise I would never have made it. All of the fields traversed were edged with frosty white, and some had long sparkling fingers of cold placed across them, even at about half one in the afternoon.

The Barley Mow

The path comes out on a lane at Uppertown and leads to the bus stop - I mention it only because the bus route seems so incongruous, winding up through the narrow streets and out up towards Bonsall moor then along the back of the highest part of the village and turning round in a space that suggests it needs a good 4 goes to get round. I then followed Bankside down to The Dale - a sign at the top warns the road is unsuitable for HGV's - hopefully the pic right will demonstrate why.

As I walked down the road to the pub I noticed again that one whole side of the steep sided dale was still blanketed in white powder, although someone had hung their washing out, presumably in anticpation of the sun reaching it sometimne around March. Please note, the far wall in the picture is in fact the garden of the house and is therefore the edge of the road as it turns left at the absurd hairpin bend.

The Barley Mow is a small long buildng the back of which is carved out of rock, and has a single room with plentiful seating and a range at one end and the bar and kitchen at the other. The toilets are outside, and the front has just enough sepace for some people to sit outside. Remember to take the door on the left though - the one as you climb up the steps leads to the kitchen. I used to come to the Mow a lot but haven't been for a while now, a fact demonstrated by the fact that the new owners had been there more than 3 years.

When the previous landlord and owners had it there were two real ales on, Hartington Bitter and Greedy King Abbot. Now the beer range has changed considerably, with all 4 handpumps in use. I started with a pint of the Blue Monkey Original, a 3.6% beer packing as much hoppy flavour in as a lesser 4.5% brew. Despite this beer being my third of the day, I didn't allow myself to be tempted by the homemade food which smelt lovely, as I had a pile of unappetising squashed sandwiches to enjoy later.

All too soon my beer had mysteriously disappeared and I had to go back for another couple of halves - I had the Otley Columbo pale, and the stronger Whim Snow White Weiss, at 5.0%. The Otley was as expected, lovely citrus hops and sweetish malt but inevitably slightly cloudy. The Whim was cloudy intentionally and was a really nice beer even though it failed to taste like a wheat beer at all. All beers were £2.90 to £3.00 a pint.

Every year, the Barley Mow claims to be the centre of UK hen racing - apparrently hens have been known to complete the race, but usually just sit down, walk in circles or peck through the gravel in the car park looking for worms....

Temple Hotel bar

All too soon I had to drag myself away and head down the semi frozen dale and over the hill to Matlock Bath. It was only about 3PM but it was cold once again, althoiug I was at least warming up as I toiled up through the village, bypassing the closed Kings Head (I think they keep quite strict lunchtime hours) and heading up to the church and then following the steep winding ember lane to the woods behind Matlock Bath.
Having climbed up so high I then had to precariously climb down a very slippy muddy steep path at the edge of the woods to bring myself out at the Upperwood area of Matlock Bath. As directed by a local dogwalker, I was to walk down between two houses and at the entrance to Gullivers Kingdon I would see on my right what he called a plane. I knew what he meant as soon as I saw it - its an interesting word for a ginnel or snicket but I suppose its loosely based on an inclined plane, which they used to send small trucks loaded with coal or rocks down on a pulley.

Soon I was overlooking the Bath with the Temple Hotel on my right. As you enter the bar is immediately on your right - I point this out because I didn't notice it at all at first, in fact am not even sure there is a sign. Inside is an L shaped room (or it maybe continues past the left hand end of the bar) with ample seating and a long bar sporting 5 handpumps, all in use. I had a fantastic pint of Blue Monkey Evolution, which was £2.90a pint, and there were plentty of other options available, an Oakham Scarlet Macaw, Abbeydale Dr Morton's Snake Oil, Full Mash Spiritualist and a real cider, which is on a gas assisted pump.

I soon got chatting to Chris, who runs the bar, about the beers he has on and his and his customers favourite brews. I mentioned my love of Blue Monkey, and he advised me that BG sips my favourite of their beers was on next, indeed the Oakham died a death so I ended up trying that as well. In between times, having finished my pint of Evolution, I had a pint of the Dr Morton's snake oil. Far better than my recent Abbedydale experiences this was a really tasty, bitter golden beer.

It turns out Chris used to live in Sheffield and visit the Archer Road Beer Stop so we agreed we have probably met before, and whilst propping up the bar (but crucially, not being in the way) I also got into a chat with a couple from Nottingham who had been to a gig in a sheffield pub and loved it. Alas, they couldn't recall the name, its location or the identity of the band, but it did have a bar on the left. After much guesswork a friend was called and we found out it was the Broadfield - which explained why I didn't recognise the description, since there isn't a right hand room anymore.

The other thing I noticed, apart from the fact that I was there for nearly 2 hours which is much longer than I had planned on, was that almost every beer drinker who arrived remarked on there being Blue Monkey beers available - it seems that many people share my love of this brewery's output, and Chris confirms this is one of his big sellers. Trade was brisk whilst I was there with a mixture of guests and other visitors, and I was impressed to see that it seems highly regarded - overall though the most impressive aspect was the dedication to quality shown regarding the beer. I wasn't allowed to taste the Oakham offering by Chris until he had, because he thought it was pulling light and running out. He confirmed it was tired, which when I tried it was, and then took it off.  All the beer was in tip top xconditin and it was an interesting range as well. This is another pub I hope I can get back to soon.

Princess Victoria

From here I had to find my way down to the A6. A couple of locals suggested I walk down the alleyway that would bring me out near where the pub was - I didn't find an alley I fancied however and did the trip on the road (although I found the alley at the bottom?). I was soon at the bar in the Princess Victoria perusing the choices. I haven't been in since it was a Batemans house selling guests, and its now owned by Ashover Brewery. The Batemans XXXB was still available, and thats what I had a pint of. The only Ashover offering was their Light Rale which I don't rate, and nothing else caught my eye at all hence my enjoyably conservative choice.

I have probably only been in about 4 times and for some reason I never seem to be able to get on with it. I like the way it looks, I like the food, I like its quirky design, but for reasons unknown I never want to spend long in there, and the disappointing beer range put me off persevering. Perhaps an early crawl stop might alay some of my misgivings.

Midland and County and Station

I now knew that I wasn't going to make the Plough at Two Dales, so that still remains one of my "target" pubs to visit. Instead I went and grabbed some chips from a chippy down the "seafront" and went back out into the freezing cold to eat them quickly. I now had an hour to fill in before my bus so ventured into the Midland. They served 4 real ales, Farmers Blonde, Peak Ales Swift Nick, Bakewell Best and their seasonal Noggin Filler which I had a half of.

This was a comfy enough quite large pub, with a mix of tourists and locals, and was, thankfully, quite warm, which was a merciful relief I can assure you. The guy behind the bar seemed quite loud but the atmosphere was congenial and had I had more time, money, and had drunk less earlier, I think I may have stopped for a pint of what was a very nice Peak Ales winter brew. I think a longer visit next time is required to sample some more of their range. The picture on the right is the bar in the Midland.

Alas I hadn't really spent long enough in there so to avoid dying of exposure I nipped in the County and Station across the road. There was Pedigree and Jennings Cumberland on the bar so I went for a half of that by way of a change. It was tired, one dimesional and a little warm, a pale imitation of what can be a good drink. The pub itself is OK, but a little odd, a transient unpreposessing venue comprised of a collection of unfulfilled ideas.

Whilst you had some quite traditional pub decor and dark wood fittings, there was also a pool table in a boistrous back room, the inevitable imposing Sky TV Screens, and a restaurant, prominently advertised, on the right. It was bit cold, and a single couple sat in there eating pub fare. I'm glad it stocked some real ale but I can't see me rushing back to visit again.

By now it was too near to the time of the bus to squeeze in another pub visit and find the bus stop, so to keep warm I walked towards Matlock, stopping to check the time at each stop, which wasn't many since they are spaced well apart, and looking out for another pub where I might quickly nip in to use the facilities. With 10 minutes to go I arrived at a bus stop outside some toiletsa (actually open!) so I was ready now to settle down to the ball ache which was the journey via half of the Derbyshire Dales to Belper and then onto Derby.

The Best Bass you'll ever taste

I got into Derby at about quarter past 9 an hour or so before my train and got a bus round to the train station, then ran round to the Station Inn on Midland Road (where else?) The door was open for a change, which is very unusual for a Saturday night when Derby have been playing, and was quite crowded with sound barrier threatening footy fans. I got to the bar and was welcomed warmly by Dave, who correctly but not entirely difficultly predicted my order would be a pint of Bass from the jug. I could then retire to my seat behind a wall of wannabe footbal managers and refereeing experts to quietly enjoy one of the finest pints of ale in the UK.

I even had chance to enjoy a further pint of the glorious tasty Bass whilst there, before I had regrettably, to leave the pub and head back to the station. Here, my train was delayed so to fill in some time I popped in the Noahs Ark, to find painfully bright lights, an argument in the doorway and no real ale, so I returned to the station. In the end, the train was over an hour late and I was back in Sheffield at gone midnight.

Late 1854

With a thirst still to quench after 2 hours waiting or travelling I decided I had limited options for decent beer at this time. Despite my blog promise in my last post to start going to Harrisons early on I hot footed it up town and got there in time to have a pint of that wonderful Deception that I had the other night, and also had chance to catch up briefly with Barraharri whilst I supped it. This was a nice way to end the evening, sate of thirst, tired of legs, cold of frame but happy nonetheless.

Overall I had a really enjoyable day out and visited some truly excellent pubs, drank some fantastic beer and saw some stunning scenery, and not even the rank incompetence of the train companies ("the train is currently limping into Leicester") could put a downer on my fantastic first walk of 2012.


Wee Beefy


  1. Just for reference, you can click on any of the photo's to see full size images, should you like them. Ta, Big lad.

  2. A great idea for a blog; I regularly mention pubs, tearooms, and cafes on my walking blog.