Thursday, 26 November 2009

Bank Holiday Monday Staffordshire pub trip


       sorry have not been on for a while, my eyesight problems have reoccurred and haven't really felt like posting, although that hasn't restricted my trips out.

Please note, there will be info on Cretan Kafenions I promise, but am writing up the Crete diaries on another blog and on the computer first, and theres a loy of info.

Anyhoo, have some pubs and crap weather.....

It was the latter part of summer and the Sunday of the bank holiday weekend loomed empty and frustrating. The weather wasn’t promising much and I was only just recovered from a very long Friday night where real ale had taken a back seat on a late night works do. The only solution was a crawl.

We started our journey by heading into Bakewell, a dubious transport bluff that I am not going to be blamed for, which saw us sit in solid traffic for 15 minutes. Once out, we headed towards Over Haddon and Youlgrave and carried on, arriving at Arbor Low about 14.30. The rain siled down sideways in a nithering cold wind and we parked as far as possible from the ancient monument, perhaps so as to fully appreciate traipsing in the deluge to the stone circle as if we were dressed of the period.

After an invigorating walk of solemnity round the flattened circle, we carried on through Hartington and out towards Stoke on Trent, mainly Hanley where we were looking for Lichfield street. The thing is, although the GBG mentions the A50, its not clear that long ago the pub we were seeking was on the A50, but was now set back a streets width and a pavement from the roaring main road, standing firm against council plans to knock it and surrounding businesses down for no reason at all.

Because its not clear on a road atlas where each A road comes off the Potteries way we came out at the roundabout above and travelled for 15 minutes down nearby tributaries, struggling to find anyone who had heard of the address or the pub, before we finally spotted the Coachmakers more by accident than anything.

Inside it was clear why it was on the N.I, and abundantly obvious how vibrant and popular it was. A traditional 3 roomed local, it has a bar and hatch, a snug, games room and lounge (or parlour), we settled in the snug on the left and surveyed the endless pump clips, on the wall, ceiling, and on pumps on the bar.

Pick of the ales was the Paradise brewery Mild, but there were tasty offerings from other local brewers, and those from further afield. We all signed the petition to abandon the planned demolition and the landlord was very informative and helpful.

We had spent so long in the pub and so long getting there that it was nearly tea time when we left, so we popped in the takeaway a few doors up. Once fed, we undertook the soul destroying journey along endless A roads and ways to Tunstall, to find a pub we had been to once 10 years before. I had provided rudimentary maps and details and we were doing well on Churchill way, but the main road into Pitts Hill eluded us, partly based on making our memories fit the scene, combined with a lack of signs.

We pulled into a garage and a friendly local put us in the right direction – the road we wanted was off a dead end street that used to be a main road, and once we were on it we had to remember which of the myriad turns to take, off which was Naylor Street, and the Vine.

Coming back down we somehow picked the right one and turned first right to see the pub just as it got dark. After parking up outside we went to take in the scene.

The Vine is a true unspoilt back street pub, with a long corridor to the private quarters, a lounge on the left, a narrow bar on the right, a hatch opposite the games room, and outside loos. When I visited in 1999 the lounge was literally that – tablecloths and place mats and vases on the tables, family pictures on the walls, more or less a residential living room. The interior is a littlie more sparse now. The landlord explained that 10 years ago it was kept like that for the older female clientele, it seems they have mostly passed on or stopped coming so its reverted to a plain working man’s lounge, although maybe parlour would be a better description. There is no bar counter in this room.

Its not a real ale haven, and its not meant to be. Keg Boddingtons is perhaps the best draught option, I went for bottled Guinness, sadly the original, but a nice change all the same. A few more regulars turned up, one had been serving behind the bar for a bit, and they were chatting with Wee Fatha, Wee Keefy and I before we made our excuses, since we had another couple of stops before home.

After squeezing our way out of the tiny streets and picking the right main road out, we missed the next turning and WF boldly took us up a random residential street. He claimed to know where he was going, but there was disquiet in the navigator’s seat, and tensions mounted as we guestimated where we might pop out. Full marks to WF though, as we turned up the side of an estate with open ground to our left I thought I saw Mow Cop ahead, and sure enough we were soon in Harriseahead, and parking up to go in the Royal Oak.

It was packed inside, sporting a range of permanent beers and guests. There was excellent Oakham on, sadly nothing from local brewers, but a clearly popular and well-kept range nonetheless. We topped up (well, not WF) on real ale before our next stop out on the Moors.

The weather hadn’t really improved all day and visibility was dire as we headed over the Leek to Buxton road, alas when we got to Royal Cottage, the pub f the same name was shrouded in darkness. Keefy hasn’t ever been in, but me and WF managed on a Friday folk night in February last year, and it’s a very friendly rugged pub inside. There are locals who go in, and it seems, like anyone who knows it who is asked about when or why it’s not open, there is a calm assurance that they know when it does. If in doubt, cut your losses and stop off at the excellent Butchers at Reapsmoor near Longnor, ask the landlord, even if he doesn’t know for certain you can always stop for a pint or two at his excellent pub.

We ploughed on through fog and then lashing rain and stopped finally at the Bulls Head in Monyash. None of us fancied Farmers Blonde, tempted as we were by the novelty of Burton Ale, but were slightly disturbed by the price – more than £3.00 a pint.

The landlady admitted it should come with a health warning – the less forgiving observer might have suggested an easy to spot price list - but she pointed out that the locals all drank it and complained if it was not on, and she couldn’t get it cheaper on account of its strength. I wasn’t sure if I realised it was strong before, but it was a nice pint and she was friendly, crucially, open, and selling a choice of 3 beers.

All in all an interesting trip to contrasting pubs, well worth a go yourself, and who knows, if you plan it for a first Friday of the month the Royal Cottage might even be open.

Wee Beefy

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