back in August me and Barraharri set off on a rather long drive around Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire, taking us through fantastic scenery to pubs in villages, Market towns and in rural seclusion. A chance meeting with a friend on Friday led to a plan to go out and visit some pubs he'd never been to - and what better way than to reprise the route from last year.
It was particularly pertinent since Barraharri was having his leaving do the same day - but not until midnight. So that meant I could spend the day retracing the long steps of the journey we took on a cloudy day in Summer, now on a sunny day in Winter.
We drove through Chesterfield, down to Two Dales and up through Wensley and Winster over Bonsall moor to Uppertown and down into Bonsall for our first stop, the Barley Mow. Being Saturday it was open, so we parked up and popped in, Mr Grant opting for a soft drink, and myself a pint of Dark Star Darkness.
We settled down in front of an open door (hardy souls them Bonsalians) and listened in on a cameo stand up performance from the barman. The pint didn't last long - the first of the day/visit never does, but I think there was surprise at us leaving after only 15 minutes. If we hadn't got a long way to go I reckon I'd have loved to stay and sample the Whim Arbor Light or the Blue Monkey Infinity , but we did. So we didn't.
A quick trip up the Via Gellia then down to Milldale and Hopedale, and the first directions mishap - I didn't see the road off to Stanhope where I wanted to be going and so we ended up in Wetton.
Knowing I wanted to get to Ilam, and vaguely where it was, I directed us left from Wetton only to find us driving up a path. A quick SatNav (it was me who got us there!) enquiry suggested we head down Walditch, another unsurfaced rocky track, so we headed back into Wetton and following new directions finally spotted the turn for Stanhope. A scenic trundle to Ilam, then over Throwley Hill followed, bringing us out in Waterhouses, from where we went to the Yew Tree at Cauldon. We'd rung to check they were open, and the place was really busy.
A decent pint of Burton bridge Bitter for me and a half of Rudgate Ruby Mild for Mr Grant followed., whilst we soaked up the atmosphere and surveyed the bric-a-brac, paraphernalia, accouterments and assembled collect-ables in this fantastic old pub. Decent priced beer as well - our pint and a half came to £3.38, so assuming both bers were the same price that's very inexpensive for the area.
Off next to Waterfall, a short drive away, and we found the Red Lion busy, but only on one side, leaving us the lounge on the left to, erm, lounge in. That took a bit longer than planned since no-one was behind the bar. A good few minutes passed before someone reappeared, which is annoying, but the pint and a half of Bass (more than a pound dearer than our last round) perked us up, as did the real fire.
We headed into Leek next and the SatNav helped us out well, locating and showing a route to both intended pub stops. Having got parked we went straight to the Wilkes Head, which was also busy, and I had a pint of the Whim Flower Power and Mr G a half of the Hartington Best. The Flower Power was exceptional, as it was the last time I tried it, and the Bitter was good as well. Unfortunately the Ruby Bitter I had a half of next was off, so I swapped this for a half of the Hartington IPA. Their beers may have changed a little over the years but I think the Flower Power amply demonstrates they still brew great beer.
Next up I finally got to visit Den Engel. Literally two minutes away, its some surprise that I have managed to miss this pub on my previous ten visits. Four real ales and 10 or so taps plus a decent bottle range makes this s great place to relax in a bar which, as far as is possible, does really seem to be reminiscent of a continental, if not Belgian bar. Here I had a bottle of the De Ranke Saison De Dottignies and Mr G a soft drink. The saison was very palatable, and more like the Fantome, which I suspect is a good thing, and was also easy to drink despite the carbonation and chilly serving temperature. A great place to drink.
Off into Cheshire next and we popped in the Vale Inn Bollington to eat and of course drink. We both had Bollington Brewery Oat Mill stout, a half for the driver of course, and that was on decent form, and I also tried half a Bollington Goldenhall, which was a tasty slightly sweet amber ale. The food was a sensible price and the place was heaving, although much annoyance ensued following finding lots of reserved tables. Nothing says piss off better than a table you can't sit at .
Following on with that theme, the White Swan at Kettleshume is fast becoming a restaurant. Very few diners but every table set out for eating, and the snug, which must hold all of eight people, the only place you could simply sit and drink. That said, no-one objected to us sitting at a table set for dining, so that's a plus, but its not really conducive to a relaxing pint. I had a half of the 4.0% Copper Dragon Silver Myst, which was very nice.
Off through the dark lanes now to Lamaload, then past the Cat and Fiddle to Dale Head and into Earl Sterndale. The Quiet Woman was almost the quiet pub, as the couple leaving as we got there turned out to have been the only customers. No sign of Ken (perhaps enjoying his evening nap, although someone in the back was reading the paper) and nothing to distract us sat in the relaxing calm of the bar. I was on a pint of Jennings Dark Mild in the absence of a guest beer, Mr G on a soft drink once again, and despite the unusual emptiness of the pub it was still a nice stop off on our hectic route.
Our penultimate stop was at the Royal Cottage. Arriving as the first customers of the night we had a good chat with Cliff and I supped a bottle of Old Speckled Hen. It was unusual to hear Cliff bemoan his lot in terms of the pub not making money but its obvious after our chat that the folk night is pivotal. It was cancelled on the 26th due to snow and with its high isolated position the pub couldn't open Saturday either. I've never visited the pub late on before but I got the impression that its usually closed by 22.30, so trading is very restricted. Luckily, on this occasion, other customers were coming in when we left near ten.
A final run into Bakewell put the tiny back lanes behind us, but not before we headed out to Wardlow Mires to visit the Three Stags Heads. A decent range of Abbeydale beers were available as always, and I got a pint of Absolution an Mr G a soft drink (poor lad!).
A great deal of dogs were present, and a varied conversation about anything and everything played out in front of the warming fire as we sat against the left hand wall surveying the scene. Its good to see that nothing has changed here, so Mr Grant got to see the pub as it usually is, chaotic, eclectic, traditional and unique. And the beers was pretty good as well.
So concluded a fantastic yomp round the countryside, with all the pubs being open when they should have, and the trip serving as a rather unsuitable precursor to my attending Barraharri's leaving do. At least he got to visit the Royal Cottage back in August. Just a shame he missed the Yew Tree. Seems you sometimes need two goes at getting a pub crawl right, and this three counties drive manages that perfectly.
Thanks to Mr Grant for tirelessly ferrying me around - thanks to Barraharri for showing it was possible.