Sunday saw me yomping through the North East Midlands to the Moss Valley, or, to be more precise, the edges of it. More precisely still, the pubs therein. Here is what I found in some of those buildings.
Myself and Miss N blazed a trail to Eckington along the TPT, and arrived in what is now virtually a ghost town, as if Eckington wasn't already a stand in for the set of Threads. No offence Ecky folk, but the past malaise of almost none of its many pubs selling real ale has now been replaced by the more pressing malaise of none of its many pubs being bloody open!
Annoyingly I had failed to make note of the pub that is in Eckington purporting to offer a range of real ales* that I had spotted somewhere in the beer writing world, and feeling that arriving red faced in the Co-op and asking random people which of Eckington's pubs were open may make me look a little piss-headish, we opted instead of boozing to get refreshments from the shop, and carried on our trek.
We made good progress along Back lane, turning left off the track near the house in the woods that Wee Fatha claims isn't on the map (it is, and I don't believe its not on his 1970 version - questions arising about why he's not got a more recent one must wait to be answered on FB or similar!) before heading up the hill past the School playing fields to behind Bramley Park. Here our progress slowed significantly.
Because we spent 50 minutes becoming increasingly thirsty trying to escape on to the road amidst a frustrating lack of any signage. To make sure this problem doesn't reoccur, please donate to : www.perhapsyoudconsiderputtingwaymarkarrowsorsignsupnobheads.com/FMS.html to enable the council or authority responsible to put just one lousy chuffing indication of which way the path goes, at the 4 way junction of the path you've just walked up, the one you need of which there is no obvious evidence, and the two created by ruminants out of boredom. Thanks.
So, having got over that as I so obviously have, and escaped onto the road via Eckington School playing fields, we toiled up the hill and into the Fox and Hounds at Marsh Lane, now mercifully keeping more modern hours of open all day. We quickly ordered two glasses of water and two perfectly kept cellar cool pints of Jennings Crag Rat at £3.10 a pint, which hit the spot perfectly. We sat outside in the beer garden with me perversely craving the heat of the sun, and once we'd applied plasters and other medication (don't ask!) we steadied ourselves for a walk to the next pub.
This was the Devonshire Arms at Middle Handley. There's no longer any point sighing and muttering about its gastro credentials rather than it being a proper pub like what it used to be - because it simply isn't and it is almost impossible to conceive of it being anything else other than a commuter home if it had not taken its current direction.
Sat outside in the setting sun, we supped pints of Farmers Blonde for Miss N and the excellent Barlow Dark Horse for me, from a range of usually four cask ales. As well as the beers, the other feather in the pub's cap is that they take cards - buses aint cheap in the area so you need all the coinage you can get. Especially if you get stuck in Apperknowle...
Walking into the sunset we were rewarded with outstanding views over the Drone Valley with beautiful colours streaking across the sky and vapour trails criss-crossing and fading into purple and then dark red as we walked. We didn't actually get stuck at the Travelers Rest in Apperknowle, but I can safely say that it wouldn't have been the worst place to do so.
The current CAMRA Dronfield Sub Branch Summer pub of the season, as well as gaining massive kudos by selling rarely mentioned Blue Bee Pilcrow Porter last week, also excels by carrying an ever changing range of other real ales, plenty of ciders, and by selling absolutely fantastic pork pies. We ordered a large one to share and weren't disappointed for £3.00 - the ales were around the same price and we had a Reef Porter from Coastal Brewery and the rather marvelous Abbeydale Asbo. I didn't see the strength., but I confess it "dinnarf" remind me of the Abso. Lution. Either way it was cracking.
Alas, having arrived in near darkness and with time getting in on we needed to try and catch a bus, which we did, much to our surprise and slight disappointment, despite the best efforts of Tin Pot Travel. Clearly, the trick to doing this walk properly is to start walking at 10.30 instead of 13.30, not get lost, and end up at the Travelers a bit earlier, therefore fitting in a few more beers. Even without following this recipe, this was a very enjoyable visit to a proper locals pub selling great real ale in fabulous countryside.
All in all, despite not reaching Ford or Troway or visiting the Butchers, the Moss and Drone Valley edges offer some fine pubs and a decent range of beers. Well worth taking a hike from Woodhouse or Norton or Coal Aston, or Dronfield, or anywhere nearby really, to sample what the area has to offer.
*investigations suggest I made this up! I can't find it in Innspire and the Internet mocks me by suggesting its the Fox and Hounds in Marsh Lane, or the at least accurate in terms of location but less likely Duke of York in the centre of Eckington - am I losing my mind, or is there not only the George that sells real ale in Eckington now?