Sunday was meant to be a day of rest. Not in a religious sense you understand, just, simply, a day off the poison and a lie in, followed by an early night. With no suggestion of my going outside. However, a chance visit by Wee Fatha presented the idea of soaking up the scenery and sunshine and popping into a warm building along the way. Using all of my legendary will power I heartily agreed.
We'd been planning for a while to go to the Anchor at Oakerthorpe. Having drunk their very palatable beer at the New Inn Cropton beer festival for the past couple of years, and enjoyed their excellent bottled Blackout, the long standing Cropton outlet was a very tempting stop off. I quickly read up on a few nearby attractions, you know, in case the scenery observing became less important, and we trundled off onto the A61, heading through Higham, and a lake sized flood in a dip before reaching the Anchor.
I was in first as WF was painstakingly photographing the large boozer, and was, not unsurprisingly disheartened to see.....3 handpumps, sporting 3 Greene King beers. I was quickly glad that I hadn't tagged a walk to the Anchor onto my last visit t the area, which I think would have made the spectacle even more disappointing.
The barman explained in great detail that they'd sold Cropton for years but had stopped because it had become rubbish, and no-one liked it. It dawned on me that the "transformation" into the Great Yorkshire Brewery may have played a part, especially since my initial reaction to their range of beers was unenthused puzzlement.
I had a half of the Abbot Reserve (not actually a bad beer, it pains me to admit) and WF a half of Olde Trip, and we set about having the same conversation twice - once with the barman, and then again, with the landlord who had joined us at the bar. It seemed quite a personal fall out so its not really appropriate to share too many details, but in essence the beer quality had dropped sharply, the locals don't like the new recipes and the new brewer brews poor versions of old favourites.
Luckily, the GK isn't a permanent replacement, and some Phoenix beers are on their way, so all is well on the beer front, but I can't help thinking that what is essentially a very large quite expensive restaurant selling 3 national brands isn't going to see a huge upturn in trade as a result of putting a couple of different beers on. The Cropton link was our only reason for visiting - and I wounder, despite the obvious potential for disappointment, whether this is why the website still proudly proclaims their ale, some 8 or 9 months after they stopped regularly selling it.
Off towards Derby next and we were trying to find the local CAMRA pub of the year, a boozer that has eluded me for some time now. Luckily, despite a diversion, we got to the Hunters Arms in Kilburn in daylight (for a pic), and better still went inside and drank beer. From an impressive line up of mainly local breweries (Welbeck, Thornbridge, Kelham, Blue Monkey, Dancing Duck) I went for a pint of Blue Monkey Infinity and bought WF a half of Dancing Duck Dark Drake, which he enjoyed.
Sat down in comfy seats (alas not near the roaring fire) we were quickly given a whole bowl of tortilla crisps. A nice touch, because irrespective of whether they might be a dry and salty encouragement to drink more, they normally have to be paid for.
The pub was busy with a varied clientele and it seemed friendly and warm and comfy - admittedly this makes me sound like I'm 70, but its nice to have the above facets in a boozer on a cold winters day. And the beer wasn't a bad price either - the Welbeck Abbey Cavendish which I also had a half of was £3.10 a pint, the Infinity and Drake £3.00 and £2.90 respectively. Not exactly Spoons prices, but inexpensive for that Derbyshire. Can't wait to get back into the Hunters Arms.
It was getting dark and WF is no fan of night time driving these days so we headed off for a last stop. Despite my suggestion we visit Waingroves, or if not the Crown at Higham, we opted in the end to visit the Shoulder of Mutton at Hallfieldgate. A first visit for us both (a full hand of new pubs, get us!) this wasn't a disappointment. Kelham Easy Rider, Caledonian Flying Scotsman and Welbeck Cavendish were the beers on offer and both me and WF had the Cavendish. It was on good form, and had we had more time I'd have tried the Caley beer as well.
The pub was quiet but then it is quite isolated, and the friendly landlord was playing pool with a customer (not literally...) in the right hand room whilst we sat in front of the bar. An interesting slightly retro selection of music was playing, and it was one of those exhale and slump pubs where you could quite happily settle down and spend many hours there. Another great discovery.
So, as well as being an excellent way to ease slowly off the beer before Wednesday's revelry, this enjoyable surprise trip out round Derbyshire ensured we got to three new pubs and drank locally brewed beer, erm, plus Greedy King, and pricked our interest for another mini tour of the area some time soon. I can recommend all three pubs, but the Hunters especially.