after a bit of a health shock on Thursday (now recovered, thankfully), it was nice to catch up with Wee Fatha, Tash and Matty last night for Matty's first trip out to the North Staffordshire Moorlands. As it was his first trip out there, WF planned a less than expedient but thankfully beautiful trip out to show off the sunny scenery, which if nothing else, meant we arrived at our first pub hungry.
We set off around 17.00 and after an unexpected stop at WF's we headed into Chesterfield and then down to Baslow. We drove through Chatsworth then Youlgreave, Lathkil Dale to Monyash and then through Crowdecote and Longnor and onto Reapsmoor. Here, lit by only a single light in crisp evening sunshine, was the Butchers Arms.
On the bar, Carl had gone mad and put 2 pumpclips onto demonstrate what beer was available. Its an in joke at the Butchers, that you either have no punpclips, and he does or doesn't know what is on, or you have one and its something different. This time, the two were Clarks Number 19, which he described as "sweeter" and Island Hopping, a hoppy pale ale. This turned out to be from Orkney based Highland Brewery - there is a link to their website here. Easily the better beer of the two. And quite a surprise to see. Also, a decent price as well - 2 and a half of that and a pint of Clarks came to £8.60.
We were here mainly for food and soon had a seat in an initially smokey back room, and a menu each. The pub is very busy for food Saturdays so we had to order quickly. Me and Wee Fatha went for a couple of Barnsley lamb chops with minted gravy, peas and salad and chips (new pots for WF), while Tash had homemade peppered pork and chips and veg and Matty had an absolute doorstep of a meat and tatties pie and chips. The food worked out about £10.75 each and it was delicious. A great start to the evening. To note, no dogs were in the room when we ate, and more shocking, Carl wasn't wearing shorts! He must be unwell bless him.
From here we carried on and followed our normal route, except for diverting via the Mermaid, the ex pub high on the Staffordshire moors before coming out on the A53. Past the Winking Man, our next destination was ahead of us - the Royal Cottage. We got in before 21.00 and there were two customers already in. I had a bottle of Speckled Hen as I always do, and WF a Manns and Tash and Matty a Newky Brown each.
Despite sporting a recently repainted sign, nothing has changed inside. The bar front is still carved wood, the odd brickwork wallpaper still sits over the fire with old pictures and news reports and details of land sales, Cliff's chair still has the same covers on it, and there is still a Tetley keg pump on the bar. Given that he only ever used to put it on for the monthly folk nights, from two weeks ago, I didn't risk any.
Soon the pub became busy - a couple came in, and sat where Cliff would, and a guy called Martin. The older gent next to us left about 22.00 but three ladies came in who were connected to (but I don't think lived at) a nearby hall. I swear, on a none folk night, there were 11 customers in the Royal Cottage. No word of a lie, I have never seen this except on folk nights.
We listened in on conversations about land sales and farmers and weddings and local pubs, including stories about Carl and his Dad from the Butchers, and me and Matty shared another Old Speckled Hen. However, soon it was 22.30 and we had to head off to Ken's - after all, we didn't want to find him closed. Arriving at 22.44....he very much was. We even knocked on the door but no answer came. WK is camping at the Quiet Woman next weekend, so I will warn him to get back early!
Our final stop was just down the hill at the Packhorse Inn at Crowdecote. Given that it was shut before 2300 last time I hurried in at 22.55 and got served. We had three pints of Leadmill Sheffield Wednesday beer, and WF had a half of Byards Hop Dog - I may have mis-remembered this as there appears to be no such brewery!
We also had a half of Moravka the unpasteurised pilsner form Taddington, and settled down to listen in on a farmer and 2 lads discussing the attendance - or none - at a local 18th Birthday party. The ale was well kept and slipped dwn very nicely as the conversation swung from why we had come here all the way from Sheffield, to what punishment must be inflicted on the younger of the three if he didn't pass his driving test by November.
We haven't been in for a year so this was a good chance to catch up and once again to enjoy a good range of real ales, of which there are four, with plenty of good beers coming on soon. Different, granted, to the older farmhouse style boozers of the Butchers and Royal Cottage, this is still an excellent pub, serving good food and ales. The only snag is, it may not, in fact, be in Staffordshire! Well worth a try anyway, despite.
So, a second trip in the area saw us once again miss the Quiet Woman, which is a real shame, but revisiting the Butchers and Packhorse was well worth the somewhat arduous drive. Having passed so many closed pubs en route, it was also good to see all three doing so well.