Saturday, 28 September 2013

North Staffordshire nights


     It was the end of the working week. Some cataclysmic occurrence had rendered the city centre an immovable mass of abandoned vehicles, cordons, roadblocks, and amassed irritable people, short of fuse and bereft of answers . The birds took flight. The stray dogs stopped barking. The air went cold. And nobody bought an ice cream.

It was time to head to the moors.....

Under purple, red, and yellow hued skies we headed for Ladybower, passed through Bradwell, Tideswell and Millers Dale, passed the turn for Chelmorton on the snaking road to Brierlow Bar and then headed through Earl Sterndale, Crowdecote and Longnor before arriving, as the sun set over Flash, at a small unassuming building with a darkened wooden board above the door, and an A board across the road with nothing written on it.

Inside, the Butchers at Reapsmoor was already busy, and Carl was stood behind the bar aiming to tempt us with whatever was on his hand pumps on this crisp colour splashed moorland night. Unusually, he quickly caved in and admitted that the beer on the left was Jennings Cumberland. We were disappointed - where was the guesswork and hopeless clues? There was also a mild. No stranger a thought had entered my mind - Carl doesn't serve mild does he? Well, since he doesn't usually remember what he is selling himself, who knows? Luckily normality was restored, since he couldn't recall the name of the beer. Or its strength.

His daughter said "its 4.5%" as he told a customer it was 4.0%. Wee Fatha piped up "it says 4.6% on the pumpclip". Carl said "do you read everything it says on the front of a bus?". I couldn't see how this helped clarify anything, but he seemed pleased that this removed the need for any further questions, as we filed through to the room on the right with our beers - a pint of Mild and half for Wee Keefy and Wee Fatha - and a pint each of Cumberland for myself and Miss N.

Soon a canine party popper was let off and a herd of Alsatians rushed in, bristling between the chairs and tables, sussing out which one of us seemed most taken in by their enormous "feed me" eyes, and were therefore the best to be leaned on or stared at as we ate. Meanwhile, bellies rumbling as we waited, we all migrated onto the Cumberland since, alas, the mild was very much on its last legs. This saw us through our mammoth plates of Barnsley lamb chops and mixed grill.

Soon we were off over the moors to another isolated gem. A missed turn on the moors road towards Morridge brought us out onto the A53 before the incongruous Winking Man nightclub, but 300 yards up the road a defiantly modest single light and a jumble of cars showed us the Royal Cottage was busy - it was the last Friday of the month and was therefore folk night. We couldn't even get parked in the pub car park it was that busy. Those seeking assurances that the pub is still open - read on and rejoice.

Inside, the left had room was open and a large number of instruments and music stands clustered at the end of the bar to be retrieved when needed by the musical throng. Cliff looked rushed off his feet, draught beer was on, the fire was lit, and it was warm and joyful. Three bottles of Old Speckled Hen and a Manns Brown Ale for the driver were secured, and we sat down near the fire with a couple of dogs propping themselves against our legs or lying on our feet. The music from the other room drifted seamlessly from folk to a classic blues song, then some Appalachian sounding choral number, then a didgeridoo, and back to old English songs of lost love. And we talked, fussed dogs, and watched and listened. It was just what we needed.

It seems perhaps trite to describe somewhere as being timeless but there were two senses of that at play there last night - yes, it seems never to have changed in terms of decor since the 1960's or 1970's, and the furniture appears to predate that, but its also somewhere that you can lose track of time. Before we knew it, with Miss N and WK on Newky Brown, we had, and were discussing racing over to Earl Sterndale for a last one. Wee Keefy's powers of persuasion worked and we were out in the chill of the nigh walking back to the car, none of us seemingly having realised it was gone 23.00.

Back through the lanes there was only the landlord and one of the regulars in at the Quiet Woman - obviously we now know that was indicative of the late hour we arrived rather than it being particularly slow on trade. WK had a pint of Jennings Dark  Mild, myself and Miss N a very nice pint of Wincle Waller, and WF a half of the same. Drinks in hand, we repaired to the dominoes table to talk Royal Cottage, moorland pubs and ailments with the two gentlemen until long after we should all have been home in our beds.

So ended a fantastic, needful escape from the haste and stress of the city. With three excellent pubs, and three indomitable landlords at the helm in to the bargain.


Wee Beefy

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