Thursday, 19 May 2011

Staffordshire and South Derbyshire pubs by bus


and welcome to my shock news that I am finally going to write up my first trip of the new year, out with Davefromtshop on a jaunt between Derby and Burton, from way back in January.

Its important to clarify that as ever in such circumstances, it was the mislaying of my detailed accurate and eventually indecipherable notes that scuppered my efforts and indeed dampened my intent to write up this welcome to 2011 pub crawl. So apologies for the fact that all of the beer information, with perhaps the exception of the first pub we stopped at, will no longer be applicable.

Despite the above, may I invite you to pull up a cup of tea , pour yourself a chair and settle down to imbibe the details of a frosty pub trip.

So, it was the first Tuesday of 2011 - not a particularly astonishing event but the earliest opportunity that Dave could get cover for his emporium and the penultimate and therefore best day of my remaining leave before returning to the drudgery of work. We set off early in crisp frosty sunshine and caught the train to Derby, where we stopped off for a coffee before catching one of the V services to Tutbury, arriving at 11.30.

I had done some preparatory research on tinterweb prior to setting out and thought I had good directions to the pub, however the road we seemed to require went up either side of a dip, and we guesstimated to turn right, which was alas the wrong choice - a fact we only discovered on climbing to near the top of the hill on that side. Having been informed we should have been on the hill on the left we eventually remedied this and ended up at the Cross keys.

This pub has sold Burton Ale since it was released as a cask ale more than 30 years ago - to paraphrase the GBG - a fact confirmed by the friendly host who proudly showed us his Burton Master Cellarman badge and told us a bit about the beer, including the surprising fact that it was currently brewed at one of the Manchester breweries, possibly Lees. In order to fully appreciate his testimony, it was inevitable that we tried a pint each of the subject matter, which cost us £5.92.

We would have liked to have lingered here a lot longer, to enjoy the friendly banter at the bar and to try the Pedigree as well, but we had a bus to catch, and a couple of ideas for other pubs to try. Once back in the old centre of Tutbury we went in the oldest pub in the town, which is the Old Dog and Partridge. Despite its undoubted age credentials, this was a disappointing visit, not started well by our entrance being blocked by work un-decorating the Christmas Tree, and an uninspiring range of expensive super regional ales. I know that in these pub company times its perhaps churlish to moan at the range of ales available, especially when considering how many pubs don't even bother selling the stuff at all, but its inescapable that the pub is crying out for more focus on drinkers, and a decent local beer would do the job nicely.

Instead we somehow found a table not set for diners and had acceptable halves of Youngs Special at a cost of £3.22 for the two. Afterwards we still had a short window of spare time so headed along the street and found the New Inn on the right. This pub packed more charm into its quiet and perhaps tired interior, helped by a distinct lack of customers, and perhaps more so by its natural dim lighting and dark colour scheme, than the last oub could ever hope to. They sold one real ale, a decent pint of Pedigree, and I had a half which was approximately £1.45 and Dave a small measure of Jamesons that cost something like £1.18 if my jotting is to be believed.

Soon we were heading back towards Derby and alighting in Etwall, to visit the Spread Eagle. I had read quite a bit about this pub, how it had hit hard times and now, having been bought and subsequently revitalised by two local businessmen, how it has been turned back into a proper community pub. This was a good news story, and a strong factor in the decision to pop in. The other was its apparent vintage, which turned out to be an interesting lesson in the pitfalls of expectation and interpretation.

Because, gawd love em some folks have placed quite some emphasis on the pubs original features and redoubtable age. The thing is, I have been rather spoilt in my pub travels thus far, and so had all sorts of imagined appearances for the pub, even after having briefly spied it on the way down. All I am getting to is the fact that old as the building may be, the interior, whilst pleasant and finished to a high standard, is so modern as to jar with my idea of the old building.

Now that, is of course entirely my fault. I had no reason to imagine a younger Olde Trip or an undiscovered Harrow at Steep, I just kind of defaulted to that expectation based on the write up. Is this just an idiosyncrasy that I display or have others noticed themselves doing it ? I remember a brilliant example of a 15th century pub in the GBG in Wiltshire that when we got there had a 1970's WMC style front room and a crass 1990's faux countrified lounge area, which coupled with its dreadful beer made for a huge let down.

Anyhoo, luckily my self tricking had not affected my appreciation of the beer, and we settled down in the room to the right with2 pints of Bass ( £5.20) followed by a pint and a half of Pedigree, at £3.90, all the while arguing with the dunderheads at BT about fixing my phone line and Internet connection.

Soon we were back on the V3 again heading for the Olde Talbot at Hilton. The GBG for many years promised it opened at 15.30 but we know from past experience that the week after New Year is when the status quo is abandoned and the routines are disturbed, and true to form the Olde Talbot was closed when we arrived at 15.40. We quickly found some opening times and formulated a fallback plan.

We walked a little further through the village, not really knowing what we were intending to do or where we were headed, when we noticed a sign for the Hilton House Hotel. We found the entrance to the bar at the back and walked in expecting to have to sup a couple of soft drinks and to our surprise found a cosy bookshelf festooned bar room with 2 handpumps on the bar - and they were open.

We opted for a half each of the Spitfire and a bag of crisps which cost us £3.25 in total , and settled down to chat briefly with the bar staff about their secret workplace and to try and not seem amazed that they did quite a good trade in evening meals. You see, its probably really well known in the local area, but it struck me that other than thirsty guests, your average Hilton House Hotel bar customer was a long standing regular and or someone living within 5 miles of the Hotel. Not that we were complaining of course, this was a truly pleasant surprise and a warm and comfy place to relax, even if we were doing so in anticipation of the Talbot opening.

In respect of which we left at just gone 16.00 and walked round the corner to the pub which had the sign lit up, and went in through a low door to a right hand bar in a very old pub which was exactly how I had imagined the Spread Eagle would look. Having noted the beers on offer we transferred to the rather warmer long bar on the left and picked a table towards the back of the room, admiring the view of the bar and some rather careworn ancient beer mats with tables to match. We had two excellent pints of Amber Ales AVB (£5.70), followed by a half of Bass for me and a Talisker for Dave.

Next we had to head back into Derby to catch the other Burton service, which I think was the V2. We got in just in time to run back to our starting point at Albert Street and get the bus to Willington.

I visited the Green Man here years ago with Wee Fatha and it was excellent, with a great pint of Bass and some good guests, along with Pedigree I think. Returning now the beer side was a little disappointing, with a choice of two beers, me and Dave both opted for a half of Pedigree, which was an average example and came to £2.90.

We were hoping to visit the Rising Sun across the road next but that plan fell flat when we realised that there was no one in the pub to serve us. The pub appears to be split into two halves with an entrance on the corner of the main road and one facing the station. Despite wandering in and seeing two people playing pool, and even after standing optimistically at the bar clearly fancying the EPA from the choice of two or three real ales on offer, the lights were off in the rest of the pub and after 5 minutes of seeing no-one we decided that we weren't going to get served, so left. What a strange way to run a pub!

We went up the road a little next to walk through the enormous car park of the Green Dragon . This is an eclectic pub with subtle warm lighting and an odd mix of old furniture, with a few handpumps on the bar, some interesting music being played and a lackadaisical atmosphere which still managed to include getting served. The two Derventio beers had unfortunately run out, although one pump clip was turned round already, so we opted for a pint each of the Sharps Doom Bar. We enjoyed this whilst we sat round the corner from the bar admiring the layout and fittings and the warm glow of the fire. Definitely a pub to try again.

Leaving Willington we headed back into Derby, and headed straight away up King Street and Ashbourne Road for the Greyhound, a pub recently acquired by the Derby Brewery Company (well, likely over a year ago now ), and en route to our intended penultimate stop at Mr Grundys Tap House or similar.

Entering through a side door from a passage there is a very modern feel to what is an old and low ceilinged pub, with a shiny new bar each side of the dividing wall between the smaller front room and the long one at the back,where we chose to sit with our pints of Peregrine Porter from Cotleigh.

At this point we decided to cut our losses and have some very nice and inexpensive food, along with several more beers, the details of which am afraid will have to be extricated from Dave via the video he will have taken on our way home of me drunkenly yet accurately reciting our every drink of the day.

After leaving the Greyhound it was too late to make it to Mr Grundys so we tried to catch a bus into town, a plan which didn't work for a number of reasons, not least a lack of detail on buses in the bus stop timetables. With time at a premium we walked all the way back into town and onto the Alexandra, where we definitely had a dark beer and a chat, before a last pint (after reaching the station and finding the train seriously delayed), at the Brunswick, which I know was a pint of their station porter for both of us.

We got home in good time after a fantastic day, notable for my having rashly changed our plans along the way ( we never made Burton or Barton Under Needwood or Newton Solney ), and some fantastic thriving and deservedly popular real ale pubs, dispensing for the most part, some excellent beer.

For now, I am off out in 17 hours for pints in the Blake, so may have some Walkley or perhaps town news depemding where we go, to share soon.

Wee Beefy.

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