this coming Sunday, it being the day before pay day, I will be sipping water collected from leaves in the garden, mixed with sachets of salt and sugar procured from takeaway joints in the dizzying good times of the first week of the month, to get my sufficient nutrients. Luckily, last Sunday was a bit better than that. Here's what I did.
Myself and Tash sped across - sorry, dawdled hopelessly following retarded bus timetable changes - to Hillsborough to be picked up by Mum and Martin. Matty had very kindly lent us some cash for our meal which was to take place at the Top Red, or Old Red Lion, in Grenoside. Its fair to say that in the seventeen or eighteen years since I was last in it has changed. For starters, it now looks older than it did - I know that is logical, since its eighteen years ago, but it looks older now, like it did perhaps 100 years ago. The ageing is of course fake, and I think the bar has moved, but at least its not what I remember as an ex Whitbread/Sherwood Inns pub.
We were there for Sunday lunch - you have to book - and I can see why. Its £7.50 a go and served beautifully and the meat and accompaniments including piles of veg was delicious. I had a couple of pints of Stancil Number 7 and Tash a pint of Farmers Blonde - both were about £3.00 a pint and well kept. After a quick trip to Mum and Martin's for coffee we got a lift to Hillsborough.
Here we ventured into the Hillsborough Tap. As the sign advertised, all real ales were £1.99 a pint and there were four or five on, with just the Marstons Help for Heroes being on at £2.20. We each had our first pints of this year of Belgian Blue from Bradfield, as I visited for the very first time. The pub is still recognizably a former sports bar, but now does better beer. Its not a place to go if you don't want to watch sport, however, the seating was comfy, the clientele was mixed and the only downside was that the pork scratchings were overpriced - making up no doubt for the inexpensive beer.
Just up the road is the Queens Gruond. Having read in Beer Matters recently that it now sold real ales I decided we should pop in, having only previously been in once, when am, not even sure I had a drink. The pub retains a three room layout from an original four (I think) with an interesting entrance way, a lovely window above the bar, original looking leaded windows showing it was once Wards, and a long sturdy wood bar with three handpumps. From a range of Farmers Blonde, Belgian Blue and Strongarm we went for a pint of the Farmers Blonde for me and the Blue for Tash. The beers were, I think, about £2.60 or so a pint and were well kept. Crucially, in terms of allure, there is a real fire, and a cat called Boo with the strangest miaow. Certainly a venue I will return to.
Further still towards town and before the hulks of the Burgoyne and Cuthbert Bank loom up at you, is the Masons. Still proclaiming cask ales on its sign, which has not been the case since I first visited four or five years ago, this is an interesting and traditionally laid out pub which I actually quite like. I have only been in to drink twice before now, and each time was interesting. There are two rooms either side of the doorway which has a tiled sign on the floor - the right room is actually behind the bar which has interesting glass plates above it - it is currently closed off alas. Beyond the bar is a large opened out room with access to the outside, off which are the loos, and an original leaded windowed door entitled cloak room.
On the bar are two unused handpumps and some keg fonts. We both had a double gin and shared a tonic for our first round, and sat in the left had room to listen to Haircut 100, Ray Parker Junior and other "giants" of Eighties pop. Soon it was time for another drink and I got to choose - I went for a half of John Smiths Extra Smooth (all in the name of research....) and bought Tash a bottle of Desperado. As you can probably guess, this was an awful drinking experience, but we didn't care. It was, as Tash remarked, just like her growing up drinking days in Whitehaven. Only cleaner...
We finished our wander in the Hillsborough Hotel. The pub has been sold I think to a developer who plans to build flats upstairs and keep the pub open downstairs. The brewery has been mothballed so there is now an interesting range of cask ales to choose from. It's sad for Alison to have to give up the brewery but I was never a fan of the wildly inconsistent Wood Street beers. Instead from the five or six casks on offer we had pints of Whippet English Pale and Gadds Number 3, which we enjoyed sat near a radiator - which seemed like it was on, even though it wasn't. Clearly a cold inspired trick of the mind. Good to see an interesting range of reasonably priced real ales on offer at the Double H.
Overall then we visited five pubs, four of which sell real ale, and found all of them worth a visit and some a return visit for different reasons. By way of comparison, here is a link to my post the last time I visited the pubs in 2011. Well worth popping into any of the pubs if you get chance.