yesterday was my third trip out to the Three Valleys beer festival, being held over one day across 10 pubs in the Drone, Lineker and Sheaf Valleys (I still don't know if these are the three!). Here's some of the details of how my trip went...
I was setting off early since in a break with tradition I wanted to start at the Totley end, catching the bus to Dronfield to start at the Three Tuns. I got the bus into town, then chewed my fist in anxious worry as the 10 minutes late 97 dawdled aimlessly toward my destination, Dore Station, which I made with 4 minutes to spare.
Bus to Beelzebub
Well, officially I did. Except that 11.48 came and went with no sign of a bus. Then it arrived at 12.00 - at the bottom of Twentywell Lane, and picked up some people. Realising that Dore Railway Station was incorrect we waved at te bus but to no avail, it set off up Twentywell lane leaving us a 20 plus minute wait for the next one. Looking at the programme today, there is a section that says that you catch the bus at Dore Station across the road from the car dealership. Well that's great, but why do I need to download a programme to find out this mystery?
If it doesn't stop at Dore Station like it did last year, say Twentywell Lane Bottom instead. The other 2 people at the station of lies walked up to Bradway and I went to the "bus stop" to fume and wait. In the end Barraharri graciously offered to drive from Dronfield and pick me up. He arrived 5 minutes after the next bus was due, and we didn't see it heading toward Totley. Considering that NotDorestationatallactually is the second stop, its inconceivable that the first bus of the day could be 12 minutes late. Seemingly though, expectations of incredulous unreliability needed ramping up throughout a day where the festival experience was soured by absurdly bad transport links.
Three Tuns, Hallowes
Anyhoo, froth finished, we arrived by car at the Three Tuns to find a hog roast, clay oven, hay bails and outside seating, and a pub bar heaving with handpumps and a whole list of tasty treats in the cellar. As Barraharri was driving he stuck to a low gravity pint of Barlow Heath Robinson, whereas I had a very tasty pint of their Deepdale Pale Ale. Alas, served in plastic glasses. Apparently,. some sort of deal allowing them to do something or other that am not sure about. This was not a good start.
Luckily things improved and we had another drink, I a half of RCH Old Slug Porter and a pint of Burton Bridge XL mild, and Barraharri a delicious pint of diet coke. The driver's lament. The XL was a very tasty dark malty ale that dispelled any misconception about mild lacking flavour, and the Old Slug was drier and more bitter than I remember but excellent all the same. Here we met up with Rich and Tim, two friends of Barraharri who were heading eventually for the Horns Inn. They joined us in the car to Barlow (the car was the best option since the people who I had seen at the bottom of Twentywell lane when I got a lift arrived after our first pint, with the bus over half an hour late, followed ten minutes later by the next one. It was clear the bus would be a waste of time).
The Barlow Brewery
Barlow brewery had an outside bar this time, perhaps because the little bar in the brewery buildings was just too small. There was a range of Barlow beers on, and music (alas not the excellent Whisky Bob Shaker til later) and excellent sensibly priced food. Barraharri had another Heath Robinson and the rest of us all had the Dark Horse, another full flavoured mild (although it might have been an old or dark ale) which was very nice. Plastic glasses here as well, but there was last year, and its not a pub, so plastic is easier.
Taxiharri very kindly drove us to the Hearty Oak next, as he had to go home and get changed for work. The Hearty Oak was where I was charged twice last year (I didn't notice til about 5 weeks later) and it was important that I remembered to get over it, which of course I have, which is why I haven't mentioned it. And definitely didn't at the bar.
Hearty Oak Northern Common
Here there was another excellent choice of ales and we all started on pints of the impressive Buxton Moor Top Pale, a refreshing hoppy beer bursting with dry bitterness despite its 3.6% strength. We navigated the heaving crowds to dins (this says find, honest, but it makes so little sense I've left it in) a spot to sit and survey the scene whilst supping our ales. The pub was even busier than it was last year so they must be doing something right - perhaps the brilliant beers on offer swung it.
Our next pint certainly did - Ashover Brewery Liquorice Alesorts, a fine stout with the natural bedfellow of liquorice sitting in amongst the dark dry roast malts brilliantly. A poor flavoured stout is one where the additional tastes overtake the base beer but this was not the case. The excellent stout was a fantastic beer to finish on - but we had many more pubs and beers to go....
Next we walked to the Rutland Arms, again eschewing the random delights of guessing the time of the bus. The Rutland was a surprise omission this year, since for many years it had been the best pub for beer in Holmesfield, though now its a closer contest what with the excellence of the Hearty Oak. Inside it was quite quiet for a Saturday and there were about 6 ales on offer - Tim and Rich had Sharps Doom Bar, and I had a half of the Castle Rock Harvest Pale, and a hot dog.
After the flavour blitz of the Ashover and Buxton beer there was widespread disappointment with the dull, malty sweetness of the Doom Bar. Because I had only just met my drinking companions I didn't want to seem like a patronising expert so hadn't steered them away from Doom Bar, but it transpired that it would have been better if I had.
Off next on foot to the Horns Inn, a surprise inclusion to my mind. In 2010 the Horns was easily the worst venue we visited, with off beer and no apparent interest in getting something else in to replace it. I wanted to go, if nothing else, to see what had changed, and also because Tim and Rich were there to see their mates band the Nervous Triggermen.
Straight away on entering it was clear that this was a much improved pub. Three real ales on the bar and a bar set up in the back room dispensing ales from the barrel. There was an informative beer list provided, with the pub mainly showcasing Raw Brewery beers, and guests that they had supplied from Offbeat and Prospect and others. And there were glasses, just like in the last 2 pubs. Thank Christ.
I started with the Raw Solstice Pale and its probably useful to point out that I had lost track of what my companions were drinking by this stage! I also tried a pint of the excellent Raw Anubis Porter but the best beer of the night, and possibly the festival, was the Dark Star Saison. A wonderfully refreshing cloudy Belgian style ale with zesty pineapple notes and a wheaty body that went down like pop. I don't know how many pints I had of this - possibly three - but it was an awesome beer. We managed to get a seat near the bar to watch the band as well, who were quite good. Had I not been hindered by the need to get home, I could easily have gone nowhere else that night....
However, home it had to be, and |I wanted to visit the Coach and Horses as well. So this meant putting my trust in, and exhausting my patience waiting for, the festival bus.
Twenty minutes after the bus to Dronfield was due the Barlow bus arrived. The programme says it stops outside the pub but it doesn't, although I concede that it wouldn't make much sense for it to do so. Having checked it wasn't Dronfield bound I went back to standing outside the pub awaiting the other bus. And what a wait.
I think it may have been 45 minutes late, but it might have been more, when the barely driveable tractor of exasperation trundled up, to a round of sarcastic applause. We struggled down into Dronfield and when we finally got near the station we found the road closed due to a serious road accident. I haven't heard anything on the news but I hope it wasn't fatal - it did seem to involve a number of vehicles.
Coach and Horses
The driver went for a bag of chips and I walked quickly up to the Coach and Horses, where I bumped into a gent who used to come in the shop many years ago, embarrassingly he knew my name, but I couldn't recall his. Sorry about that, if you are reading this! Once inside there was a selection of beers on the bar from Thornbridge and elsewhere, and 6 outside in the outside bar. I started with a pint of the Dark Star Summer Madness, which was not really to my liking, too fruity and slightly sweet, but was, after asking nicely, served in a real live glass, and everything.
I managed to secure a comfy settee to sit at and nipped outside to fetch a half of the Bridgehouse Stokers Ale, which was a very pleasing dryish bitter, and a half of the excellent Magic Rock Dark Arts as my finisher. These were served in plastic being from an outside bar, but I took them in and fed them into my pint glass as it became available. I also got some free chicken wings to tide me over.
By half 9 I was in need of a trip home and not fancying the walk to the Station and then waiting an unguessable length of time for the bus back to Totley and then catching two more buses home, I jumped on the 43 instead, and was in town by about 22.00. One more bus hop later I was at home, making a gastronomic delight of bacon and fried bread, whilst my chop cooked in the oven. The bacon was delicious, and I even remembered to turn the oven off when I went to bed two hours later. I'm sure that chop would have been lovely....
Overall this was probably the best organised Three Valleys, especially the level of detail about beer and venues on the website, and stand out pubs were the Hearty Oak, Coach and Horses and the Horns Inn.
The downside, and lasting bad memory for me was the utterly shambolic transport. They really really need to get that sorted if the festival is to maximise its undoubted potential.