the title references the fact that almost all of the pubs in my recent pub ramble with Christingpher were at one end or the other of the Ecclesbourne Valley, but as so often happens with such things, you have to get there and home again, so before you read on I must confess that there are a few sneakily inserted Derwent valley pubs as well....
We were due to set off at 10.00 from Sheffield Interchange last Sunday, and according to the poster in the entrance there was no disruption to the route despite the Race for life event taking place. Fairly puzzling then that Stagecoach, obviously too busy concentrating on their multinational concerns to think things through properly, decided to run the service 15 minutes later, thus handily missing the 2 connections in and following Matlock. Well done.
Luckily, I noticed the 215 was headed Matlock way, and that was leaving late (but not as much as the X17), due to it being filled with passengers presumably also missing vital connections, so we hopped on that and arrived in Matlock with 6 minutes to spare - AKA, the time the X17 had been due to arrive.
We were in Wirksworth before Noon and walked slowly round to North End to eagerly anticipate the opening of the venerable and admirable enterprise which is the Royal Oak.
This was my first daylight visit (they only open during the day on a Sunday, 12-15.00) and my companion's first, and weren't disappointed. Ales on offer were Rudgate Viking, Timothy Taylors Landlord, Bass, Whim Flower Power and Wincle Sir Phillip. Not noticing its strength (5.3%), I opted for a pint of the Whim and Christingpher the Wincle, and we sat down to enjoy our pre walk refreshments.
Sat in the cool air of the pub, with quiet chatter at the bar, with the sun blazing outside, this was a perilously good start - I think that we could easily have stayed here til 15.00 then gone to Derby, and the cobs and pork pie bought pushed us towards abandonment. Instead, we enjoyed another pint (our choices now the other way round), as well as taking a pic or two and chatting to the friendly landlord. I highly recommend a visit.
Next we were in the Market Place catching the 6.1 towards Belper, the knowledgeable driver pinpointing the exact country lane junction we needed to get off at near Blackbrook, so we could set off up onto the ridge overlooking Belper. Unfortunately, testing of my camera and the warm sunshine made this a slightly slower walk than I planned, and it was gone 14.00 before we arrived at the Bulls Head at Belper Lane Ends.
Having never been before, I can't say how its changed, but it certainly appears to have been recently refurbished and boasts comfy seating, a pristine beer garden and four real ales. On the bar were Bass, a Springhead beer, and the local Shottle Farm Brewery Shottle Gold and 8/- (yes, you read that right). the latter being served on gravity from the cellar.
Both beers were £2.80 a pint and we enjoyed them sat in the garden taking the opportunity to soak up some rare sunshine. The gold had a very traditional lightly hoped flavour and the 8/- was malty and fruity and darkish brown. Both went down really well. And next we were to walk to the brewery.
Well, I say "were", we had to be at Cowers Lane to get on the Ecclesbourne Valley railway at Shottle station by 16.30 so it would only have been a look, but it didn't look far, and we had 1 hour 40 minutes to get there. What could go wrong?
Well, I could bring far too large a scale map for a start, and after rejoining then leaving the safety of the Midshires way, almost without exception, there were no waymark arrows. The map helpfully instructed us that the path went right then followed a wall into the valley and up the other side into Shottle. We went the wrong side of the wall for starters, then back up in a loop, and even when we found the path again it was overgrown or difficult to see, leading eventually to a stream that wasn't on the map, after which the path disappeared entirely.
After 15 minutes puzzling and looking for signs of stiles/gates (half of the stiles were collapsed walls so that wasn't easy) we decided to paddle across the stream and keep straight on. The other side of the hill heralded waist high grass that was arduous to traipse through, and we finally reached Shottle at the time we were meant to be reaching Cowers Lane. Still, we made it there in time to catch the last bus (at 17.15, for crying out loud) and got off at Milford past Belper and visited the King William.
This former Leadmill brewery pub had 4 ales on including Pedigree from the jug. I plumped for that, and Christingpher the Oldershaw Newtons Drop, and we settled down at the left hand end of the long room as sunshine streamed in and across our table.
Next we walked up the hill to the Holly Bush at Makeney, a terrific unspoilt pub with an amazing Bar snug, dispensing Pedigree and Ruddles by the jug plus guests. Christingpher had the Thornbridge Colorado Red, and I a pint of the Buxton Blonde. This was accompanied by one of the Holly Bush's pork pies - I asked for one, and was told there was a choice of small and a medium. "How big's the small?" I enquired, as the barmaid showed me a pastry case the size of a haggis. " I'll have the small I think", and at £1.60 it was a decent price for a filling carbohydrate hit. The only slight downside here was the Colorado Red - not badly kept or even expensive, just not a well balanced Thornbridge beer.
The final part of our walk was to wander along Duffield Bank in glorious sunshine into Duffield, crossing the Derwent at the Bridge Inn and making our way up King Street to the Pattenmakers Arms.
Here it was a no brainer as to what to have - two pints of Bass form the jug was the only plan we were interested in and the beers didn't disappoint. Sitting in the arts and crafts homeliness of the right hand room this could have been a perfect visit had it not been for an unfortunate public toilet roll incident which would be too tiresome and pointless to explain.
Finally we were in Derby and noting there were plenty of buses to the Station we headed for a centre pub, this being the Exeter Arms. Here the beer had taken a hammering and no more was coming on it seemed so we both had a half of the deliciously creamy mild Dark Drake from the on site Dancing Duck Brewery, which then promptly ran out as well.
Our penultimate pub was the Brunswick, where we had underwhelming but inexpensive halves of their Caramild and Station porter, before a quick visit to the Alex round the corner, where I had a pint and Christingpher a half of the excellent Welbeck Abbey Portland Black.
This was a great selection of pubs even if the walk was frustrating, and bar the Bass in the Pattenmakers all offered a sensibly priced beer selection - ale in the Royal Oak, Bulls Head, King William and Exeter Arms was less than £3.00 a pint, not bad these days for Derbyshire.
There are of course also many other pubs in the Ecclesbourne Valley so that may have to be a trip for another time, but those that we visited were excellent, with The Royal Oak in Wirksworth easily standing out as the best.