Saturday, 25 February 2017

Toolmakers Brewery Tap, Forest, and Yellow Arch


  this is not a pub crawl I have done....

However, I have been to all three, two in one night once, and recommend you do the same. Here are some details (and guesses to fill in the blanks) a few facts and some opinion about the three venues above.

I was at Toolmakers earlier this month for Kirsty's birthday. You know, Kirsty. Kirsty? She is Kirsty who I work with. You are bound to know her....enniz, I went to the Toolmakers Brewery Tap for her birthday and really enjoyed it. My only issue is, I don't know when its open to just pop  in for a beer, if it is at all...? So although this serves as a review, I would consider calling the brewery or the Forest pub (there is a link here to their brewery website) to check when or how you can visit!

The bar room itself is long and has seating for 20 or 30 and a big log burner (although that wasn't working when we went so they had electric heaters!) The bar is at the right hand end and features three handpumps with two Toolmakers (Sonic Screwdriver being one) and a guest ale on handpump - at his time it was Steel City Forked Tongue so I was chuffed to bits -  a seriously hoppy pale ale at a birthday bash!  All the beer was well kept and sensibly priced at £2.80 a pint and, if memory serves, was served in large lined glasses allowing for a decent head.

It was my first visit to the brewery site and its quite difficult to find if you haven't been before, but you really just need to walk up Rutland Road to the Forest and Botsford Street is your next right, so behind the pub almost. There is a small metal A board/swing sign at the end of the street but it was dark when I went and I didn't see any signage! That said, there is almost nothing else on Botsford street.

Just round the corner is the Forest pub. Following brief spells as the Forest show bar (open for rent) and then the Woodside Inn, the Forest is now run by Marion and Olie, and has has had some work done on its interior and exterior. It sells three or four Real ales, mainly from Toolmakers but also one or two guests. I recognised the lady behind the bar at the Tap from the Forest who I think is Marion, and I understand her and the landlord run both.

The pub does Sunday lunches (or did) which I understand are very popular, and the beer once again is well looked after and sensibly priced. I went in after the birthday do and it was still busy, although I was only there for about an hour or so with my pint of Sonic screwdriver. A quick look on Google shows a lunchtime menu so I may try and pop in for a bite to eat soon.

The final place I want to mention is Yellow Arch Studios. I had heard about it for a long time but never went until September last year. I went to see a friend of ours Trev at his birthday do where he played and had other performers with him in the main hall.

The venue is easy to spot on Rutland Road and you enter through the arch and up some steps. It is  Moroccan themed inside and you walk through a corridor to the small bar and large performance area in front of you. The bar has three handpumps selling Kelham Island beers, and they sell a decent range of cans and bottles wines and spirits. It may have been Trev's influence but there was exceptional Greek food on offer in a room near the entrance - as a lover of Greek food this was very good quality I can assure you.

As with the Tap, I am not sure what the requirements are for getting to the bar - the bar is licensed, and it looks like its fine to simply wander in get a pint and sit down in the back room, however am guessing that the bar is only open when there is a band on so I expect you would have to pay to get in - for info, the link to their website is here.

In terms of the earlier mentioned crawl element, if you walk up Hicks Street to the left of Yellow Arch you come out on Rutland Road and its a short hop from here to either the Forest, Tap or in the other direction to the Gardeners Rest. All of which are worth a visit in Sheffield, the variously venued city.


Wee Beefy  

Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Bridge of Aln Hotel, Whittingham, Northumberland


        I was recently sent a link to a report by Tash from a Professor of Entrepreneurship and Regional Economic Development at the University of Northumberland. This was about the important influence on the happiness of locals versus the often equal frailty of the local pub, in small communities. The link is here, and the report uses statistical analysis and sources including the Office for National Statistics, and Actions with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) to support the claim, that pubs in small communities are a positive focal point within them.

What I found interesting was I was sent this a couple of days after reading that the Bridge of Aln Hotel in Whittingham, Nortumberland, an isolated community not too far from Netherton with its famous Star Inn, was currently closed. No details were provided, but I always worry when an isolated pub closes, especially one on the National Inventory. There is a link to the listing here which gives some details and beautiful photos of this unspoilt former hotel.

I visited in 2013 with Wee Fatha. We were staying in Long Framlington, a long finger of habitation on the A697 just down the road. Having eaten in the village we headed for Whittingham and then to the Star at Netherton. The Bridge of Aln didn't look particularly open and you enter through a door at the back, having parked in the courtyard. I don't think the large front door is any longer in use. There were lights on so we knew it was open but am guessing it doesn't attract much passing trade.

Having found our way to the bar we found a gaggle of locals enjoying drinks and conversation about local life - despite its remoteness, the area has numerous small villages and hamlets and it appeared all those drinking there were local. It was quiet (if that makes sense given my description of the conversation) warm and relaxing and the locals soon started asking us where we were from and going. I had a pint of Youngers of McEwans on keg and WF a soft drink and we went for a wander about in the actually quite large building. To note, the Whatpub website states it sells real ale - am guessing this is seasonal, as there was none there when we visited.

The bar is 1950's in style, as are much of the furnishings, and one of the doors (maybe for the bar?) has a sign stating "Select Bar" on it. This is a feature I have never seen before and am guessing it relates to its former days as a hotel.  We didn't get to see the rear right room but it looks rather fine on the National Inventory pub website. When we got back to the bar we explained that we were going to see Vera at the nearby Star at Netherton and we were told to hurry as if there was nobody in around 21.30 she would shut - we arrived just as she was saying goodbye to the last customer so just in time!

Another pub in the area that, alas, I have not yet visited, is the Star at Harbottle. It is only 3.8 miles away from the Star at Netherton and is similarly isolated. I was disappointed to read that this pub is also currently closed - especially since the pub has diversified to provide a tourist information service, and sell crafts as well as becoming the local shop. In his report, Professor Ignazio Cabras states" this positive effect increased threefold between 2000 and 2010 (the period examined) - possibly because pubs have become increasingly important as other local services such as post offices and village shops have closed."  

It is interesting that both pubs are in Northumberland, given the provenance of the report, and that in this case, the diversification has (temporarily I hope) not kept the Star at Harbottle trading. Especially since in other rural communities the pub taking on the shop - such as the Sycamore at Parwich in Derbyshire, seems to have helped keep the pub open, and strengthened its place in the community.

Perhaps the details in the report show that, sadly, the pressures upon rural and isolated pubs are increasing ever more since 2010 and that even necessary diversification of the business is no guarantee of pub survival. In the end, you still need footfall. If people aren't coming to the pub to drink it will close. Lets hope both pubs reopen and continue to serve their communities, and that both communities in turn do their best to support them.

Your very good health

Wee Beefy