Saturday, 25 August 2012

Friday night in North Staffordshire


     after me and Barraharri's failed camping expedition saw us miss the Quiet Woman, and after Cliff at the Royal Cottage mentioned that he'd not seen my Dad for a while, a chance conversation with Wee Keefy and Wee Fatha resulted in a plan to head out into the dark brooding landscape of the moorland border between Derbyshire and North Staffordshire.

I have started a lengthy break from work as of 17.00 yesterday so was in the mood for some good beer and pubs and the chance to visit two of my favourites was the perfect finish to a great day. We picked up Wee keefy before 19.00 and headed out via Ladybower, Bamford, Bradwell, Millers Dale, Brierlow Bar and Longor to the Royal Cottage on the A53.

We arrived early, its surprisingly easy to make the journey from Crookes in an evening, so we parked up outside in the rain and waited for the outside light to come on at 20.00. Every time me and Wee Fatha visit the Royal Cottage it rains, is foggy, or there are high winds. Or all three. Somehow, the meteorological maelstrom is the perfect accompaniment to a visit to the Cottage, and true to form, since Summer is now officially gone, the fire was lit as we walked in through the passage to be met and licked to death by Jessie the friendly Rottweiler.

Just like last time there was one customer already in, presumably a friend, and he sat with us and Cliff the landlord to talk about just about anything really, whilst I supped a bottle of Old Speckled Hen, WK a bottle of Newky Brown and Wee Fatha a Manns Brown Ale. There is something calming (despite the rather busy garish wallpaper and carpets!) and relaxing about sitting in the Royal Cottage listening to the stoic, measured conversation, especially between Cliff and his regulars. Apart from that those words, the only sound is the odd vehicle whizzing past on the main road outside.

As mentioned before, the pub only really seems to be busy at the folk nights on the last Friday of each month, on all other occasions, I've never seen more than 4 customers including us. Sat near the fire with Jessie slumped like a dead weight on my leg listening to Cliff suggest my Dad's recollections of the local railway were from the Thirties (now that's harsh!) and calmly arguing with the bucolic chap next to me about the number of dogs at the Butchers Arms 30 years ago is, despite my description, the epitome of traditional pub atmosphere.

Wee Keefy in the bar room

We stopped for  a few beers in here, Wee Fatha had to go to tomato juice after a bit, and I made a rather unwise decision to try the draught. I noticed Cliff was on the Tetley smoothflow, and whilst that's not a beer I like particularly I thought I'd give it a go.

The more militant amongst you will view what I did next as a travesty, as might those with a nod to medical knowledge, but I drank the beer, even though it was unlike almost any other beer I have ever tasted. And that's not a compliment. It was, through the first two layers of odd earthy sourness, reminiscent of the nitro cream edge of all smoothflow beers, and there was a hint of Tetley malt in the background, with bitterness indiscernible from the sharper flavours. It reminded me of the odd "beer" they sold at the Seven Starts at Halfway House in Shropshire - identifiable only as beer by echoes of malt and hops. Maybe I'm soft not to refuse to drink it. So be it. At least when he offered to top it right to the line I declined....

All too soon another customer had arrived and unfortunately it was time to move on, to leave the darkness of the bar and the harsh single light above the tables and the amazing flock upholstered and covered furniture behind. Having only been visiting for about 6 years I can hardly be accused of having a blinkered memory lane view of this unique pub, so perhaps I have a blinkered view of it now. I can't find fault, well, other than the draught, and that's not really something I say very often. Opening times, as confirmed last night, really are only 20.00 to later on, Friday and Saturday. I continue to believe that the effort of factoring in a trip is well worth it.

We drove back through Longnor next where its clear that the Crewe and Harpur has closed (a light or two on but curtains drawn and the big door shut, no outside lights) and then down through Crowdecote and left up the little lane into Earl Sterndale where Wee Fatha's settling dog parking habits ensured a tantalising wait for entrance to the pub.

Inside it was quite busy and there were 3 beers on, with the excellent pork pies and meat pies on the bar (along with fresh eggs on the piano top) offering a choice of Jennings dark Mild, Marstons Bitter and Wincle Sir Philip. I had intended to keep up my tradition of having a pint of mix but I love Wincle brewery beers so couldn't resist the complex fruity allure of the Sir Phillip.

We got sat down in front of the bar and got chatting to a bloke who used to live in Sale - not that remarkable, until you consider that is where Wee Fatha grew up, and it turns out they lived round the corner from one another. The last time such a co-incidence occurred was in the Royal Cottage, where we got chatting to a man who used to play in the woods near the Jacksons Boat Inn near Sale. I love small world stories like that.

Being somewhat short of good draught thus far I probably had 3 or 4 pints of the excellent Sir Phillip in here, with WK departing for a Dark Mild for two of his, and I got chance to chat to Ken the landlord who is a veritable font of knowledge. Turns out he and Cliff went to school together, and I learnt more about the Royal Cottage in ten minutes than I could have - or indeed would have tried to - in 10 years of visiting.

Alas eventually we had to head home, and with very little traffic we were back in Crookes in 50 minutes, and back home a little further on for me I sat down with a bite to eat and a satisfied positive feeling of having been to two of the best pubs in the area.

All we need to do now is go back and visit the pub at Crowdecote - where rumour has it, an enterprising new landlord of this formerly Worthington or Tetley only pub, has gone mad and put on four guest real ales. Its just another excuse to go to the Royal Cottage of course, but why not?


Wee Beefy


  1. Opening times, as confirmed last night, really are only 20.00 to later on, Friday and Saturday.

    Are those the most limited opening hours of any pub in the country?

    Sounds like an excellent night :-)

    1. I did wonder, the New Cross Hotel at Court Henry near Carmarthen is probably harder to organise a trip to since their hours are more spread out - I think the regional inventory has it as Thursdays from about 20.00, Saturdays the same and Sunday 12.00 til 14.00. The Thursday opening isn't guaranteed, in which case this rather unenviable crown may be theirs.

      I am quite lucky that its only just over an hours drive to the Cottage, so hopefully I can get back soon. And you're right, it was an excellent night.