Sunday, 29 November 2009

Norton to Marsh lane - pubs round the edge of Moss Valley


Mr P and I had often discussed a path that he had walked many times in the past, from Norton into the Moss valley and Coal Aston. We had discussed a few times hat fact that ignoring horrors like the Real ale free Chequers, there were 3 other pubs in Coal Aston that we had never visited, so had an ongoing intention to try and find the path. Our recent planned crawl had been cancelled owing to my having been a ill and fighting o off a niggly cold, so it makes no sense at all that yesterday, at the end of November, we agreed to try retracing the path….

We started on Norton Lane and followed Cinderhill Lane in a chilly wind to the path that leads out and across Bochum Parkway. Mr P noted that the last time he had walked the path there was no main road, which led me to question just how reliable this route might turn out to be. Having said that, I had looked at it on Multimap and he had his trusty A-Z and we were quietly confident. We walked down the side of some fields on a muddy path following a wall, spotting a hare heading for the ditch as we headed downwards.

The path soon split and we took the rather uninviting right hand path that walkers forgot, before joining another track, and heading diagonally right towards Hazelbarrow farm, in the hamlet of the same name. After losing the path in the fields below Hazelbarrow we picked it up again in the Nor Wood and then headed down increasingly muddy tracks into the valley, crossing the brook and heading out into the field, bow following the Dronfield Rotary walk signs. After further mud and paths that served as drainage streams we popped up on Birches Lane next to the Royal Oak in Coal Aston, just as it opened.

Inside was a nicely lit and warm pub split into 2 sides but no longer two roomed. There is a traditional Tetley bar, probably 1930’s, in style if not in material, sporting 4 handpumps. We opted for pints of Brains Reverend James at £2.68 a pint, which was a hearty and well-kept pint to start to the day’s proceedings. Warmed and refreshed (it was about 3 degrees when we set out) we set off again; alas we didn’t have time to check out the Cross Daggers or the Yew Tree. We headed into Frith Wood and up through waterlogged fields and quagmire to Summerley, and then up the road into Apperknowle. There was a strange feeling of de-javu as we headed down Barrack road to find the Barracks shut - I am still not certain, but I think they open at 16.00 on Saturday and I always forget. We trudged back up the steep hill to the main road, lamenting the long gone Yellow Lion and headed for the Travellers.

A warm fire greeted us here as well, and some 5 real ales, including 2 from Bradfield Brewery. We both opted for Spire Brewery Dark Side of the Moon, which was on good form and about £2.40 a pint, and settled in the small snug on the right. Given that it was dinnertime we asked the barman if we could eat our sandwiches, and he agreed, and I bought a half of Bradfield Yorkshire Farmer to help my rather poor sandwiches down. We left the pub to walk up Moor Top Road, past the farm and a rather impressive looking tumulus and headed right and then straight on for Middle Handley. Arriving in the village we saw all its facilities in one vista – the chapel, the phone box, the post box and the Devonshire Arms.

I probably only got to visit about 3 times when it was run by the previous incumbents who sadly had to close the pub after the death of the long serving landlord. Since then its been reopened for a couple of years, but has in that time kept slightly restricted hours, and for one reason or another I have only been in 3 times since it has been reopened. The Restaurant has been under construction throughout that period, and is now finished, and disappointingly, despite the fact that the rest of the interior is not brand new, the pub still has the clinical atmosphere and harsh aroma of a cold new build. It is a traditional pub with quite a modern interior, in that the fittings are still befitting of a country pub, tables and chairs, open fireplaces, pictures of animals, but the materials are very modern, and the open fireplaces never seem to be lit.

The paintings are modern with traditional subjects, and the bar, whilst facing the door and sporting some traditional adornments, is wider and more open that the original, made with light wood and very brightly lit. That said there are 4 handpumps as well as Pilsner Urquell on draught and some good bottled beers. The Devonshire was the first pub I ever saw and drank Brampton Brewery beers and there is still a very good range of Sheffield and Derbyshire ales on – I had Bradfield Farmers Blonde at £2.60, Mr P the Kelham Island roll it out at £2.80 a pint, with Absolution and Stones also available. After a good rest we headed to Marsh Lane, where we found the Fox and Hounds keeps traditional hours, being closed at just gone 15.00.

We went in the Butchers, now reopened having seemingly swung between closure and reopening regularly over the last 2 years. I had last been in December 2007 when we had a very nice meal and some excellent Abbeydale beer. Now there are still 2 handpumps in the lounge, 1 was in use selling Old Speckled hen from Greedy King. We both had a half., costing £1.15. We caught the bus into Eckington with the light fading, and having missed our intended ride out decided with some trepidation to try and find a pub selling real ale. Eckington used to, as well as having something like 15 pubs, have a majority selling real ale, but I heard last year that only The Bird in Hand now bothered, and that looked close on he way in. We headed round the back of the bus station, and ignoring the pedestrian street and carried on. We noticed the Mansfield pub on the corner had reopened, but there was only one handpump with no clip, and no customers. Up the road the lights of the George blazed and we headed in on the off chance.

Although the Wells Bombardier was off, there was cask Stones and we soon realised we had found the best place to drink in Eckington. It would be pointless visiting if you had an aversion to sport – both TV’s in either side of the pub were showing the rugby, followed by the unsavoury details of another hopeless Owls performance on Final Score. The pub was packed out and the staff friendly, and although I would have loved to have had another beer to choose from at least they had the right idea, and it was only the necessity to get the bus and head home the persuaded us out of the pub. We took a quick ride to Mosborough and walked along Duke Street to the Alma.

Me and Wee Fatha used to go to the quiz there almost every other Tuesday for years, always drinking Vaux Samson, usually being fed and steadfastly never doing anything as reckless as winning. After Jim and Jean retired around the time Wards closed, I visited much less, but it was nice to be back, and to find real ale on, this time Wychwood Hobgoblin. The lounge was packed out but there was only us most of the time in the taproom. I always wonder whether this is because the new owners after Jim and Jean left tarted up the Tap Room, which was better in its plain appearance. I always think now it looks a little incongruous, but it doesn’t detract from the fat that the Alma is a cracking pub. A short walk away we caught the 30 and back in Handsworth for some spicy casserole and for me, perhaps unwisely, some more alcohol. A warming and enjoyable end to a great day, with some excellent pubs en route.

Wee Beefy

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