Tuesday, May 3, 2022

When the Going gets Lough

Unusually, the past couple of weeks have seen me in a position to accommodate a couple of trips in quick succession, with the most recent of these seeing us back over the border into Leicestershire. Amy and I had long discussed a revisit and reappraisal of Loughborough, ostensibly to see how much things had improved, or not, since 2015 when it last featured in these pages. Time and circumstance were finally on our side last weekend. With a Saturday off and Amy scheduled for a hair appointment in Loughborough on the same day, an opportunity had at last presented itself. The aim was to explore some venues that we'd neglected last time or, as with the recent trip to Nottingham, were relatively new on the scene. There would be a couple of returnees but the majority would be new experiences. From our home in Clifton, we find ourselves in the handy position of being directly on a bus route between Nottingham and Loughborough, making planning our trip significantly easier than it might otherwise have been. I was very eager to see what the day would bring and it would already be much enhanced by having Amy alongside me.

We arrived in Loughborough shortly after 11am. Amy's appointment was scheduled for around 11.30 so, whilst she made her way over, I was left to my own devices for around 40 minutes or so. This time was spent wandering around the market, exploring a couple of shops, generally refreshing my memory of where things were and, at one point, paying 20p to use a public toilet. The weather was warm, calm and very pleasant so we had definitely picked a good day on which to explore Loughborough's pubs. Around 12.30, Amy got in touch to confirm that she was all done and we reconvened to begin our day proper. The location of Amy's hair appointment is situated just off the central market place and our first port of call was only a short walk away. Turning left onto Derby Square, we continued on for a few yards until we reached the junction of Market Street and Ashby Road. In the centre of this, on Ashby Square, is where you'll find our first stop: The Griffin.

Located just north of the town centre, The Griffin is a heavily student-oriented pub operated by Marston's. The inside is large and open-plan with lots of seating throughout as well as a more secluded snug-type area to the left of the entrance and a large rear garden that features picnic bench style seating as well as a wall-mounted TV. The bar sits along one side and is decorated with fake ferns and palm leaves. The decor throughout is bright and colourful. There are a number of TVs around the room with an emphasis on showing live sport. There is a staircase in one corner that leads to an upstairs corridor where the toilets are located. On the bar, which is very well-stocked in general, sits a solitary handpull on the very end. This features a rotating beer from the Marston's range which, on the day of our visit, is Wychwood Hobgoblin IPA. We both opted for this and headed to a comfortable looking sofa in the aforementioned snug area which allowed us a prime view of a large TV showing the Liverpool game. We drank our beers in relative comfort here. The pub was surprisingly quiet for a Saturday which led us to speculate as to whether a number of students are adhering to the old stereotype about them not getting up before mid-afternoon. The beer was very good and perfectly drinkable and the match wasn't bad either. We decided to use the half time interval to make our way to pub number two. 

Leaving the Griffin, we turned left and made our way up Ashby Road, heading further away from the centre of town. After only a couple of minutes, our next destination hove into view on the right hand side. Crossing over, we approached The Generous Briton.

Known locally as 'The GB', the pub reopened in 2011 as a freehouse. The two room layout has been retained with a main entrance on Ashby Road and a side entrance, that leads directly into the bar, on Regent Street at the side. The decor is homely and welcoming with banquette seating in the bar and more traditional tables and chairs in the slightly larger lounge. TV sport is shown throughout. The bar, into which we enter, features a dartboard and old photographs of the local area. The lounge contains a pool table and a jukebox. The interior has been maintained to a high standard with a light and airy feel and the pub's name branded onto some of the windows. The bar is central and serves both areas with two banks of hand pumps divided between the two. Closer inspection confirms that the lounge bar contains 4 handpulls which feature the pubs regular beers: Timothy Taylor Landlord, Sharp's Doom Bar, Draught Bass and Charnwood Salvation. The bar area holds the remaining 3 and these are given over to guest beers. It is in this area that we now find ourselves. The guest beers on the day were Brains Rev James, Castle Rock In Bloom and Navigation Eclipse. I was surprised, although probably shouldn't have been, to see Castle Rock in The GB so it made sense to give it a try. Amy followed suit and we retreated to a table opposite the bar where we could watch the opening minutes of the second half of the Liverpool match unfold. In Bloom is a Castle Rock seasonal beer. At 4.5%, it's brewed with Loral, Citra and Sabro hops. This provides floral aromas and subtle earthy and herbal notes followed by a delicate hit of lime and coconut, all ending in a rounded mouthfeel and refreshing bitterness. It's a delicious beverage indeed! The GB had surprised us. The interior is at definite odds with the first impressions from outside and it's a welcome addition to Loughborough's beer scene, as evidenced by it being awarded Town Pub of the Year in 2011 and 2013 and Pub of the Year 2012 by the local branch of CAMRA. The choice of beers is wide and varied and the service is good, if slightly pushy when trying to persuade you to buy another. 

We neglected the offer of a second beer here. We had arranged to meet Amy's sister and her partner at some point later in the day and were concerned about being pushed for time so we made the decision to move on. Our next intended port of call was the Paget Arms on Oxford Street but, despite what the Internet would have had us believe, we arrived too early. Concerned that we might be forced to rush if we waited for opening time, we decided to head back towards the town centre, which offered the next string of pubs in fairly close proximity. Retracing our steps slightly, we headed left down Regent Street until we emerged near a retail park. Crossing through this, we emerged on a road known as The Rushes which runs into the main shopping area of the town. A short way along this road, from our perspective, is the Swan in the Rushes.

The Good Beer Guide 2022 listed Swan is a traditional three-roomed pub, owned and operated by Castle Rock. As of 2022, it is the oldest surviving pub across Castle Rock's managed estate. Originally built in 1932, when it was known as the Charnwood Inn, the pub gained its current name in 1986. The glazed stone frontage is original but the original leaded windows that once said 'Vaults' and 'Smoke Room' respectively, have been replaced with modern versions. Left of the entrance lobby is the smoke room, which has retained a 1930s tiled and wood surround fireplace, fixed seating, leaded glass panels and parquet flooring. The lower part of the back bar is also original but the upper part is more modern, possibly from the 1960s. The right hand bar still contains the original bar counter with a rare shallow copper trough running around the base and original fixed seating, although the bar back dates from the mid-80s. A smaller room to the rear was formerly part of the living quarters and most of the doors throughout the premises are original and remain in situ. The pub is recognised by CAMRA as having a a regionally important historic interior. As well as its wealth of original features, there is also an upstairs function room, the Hop Loft, and a first floor outside terrace. A large beer garden with marquees and bench seating has been incorporated into what was once the car park. A recently refurbished games room features darts, pool, table football and a vintage arcade game. The Swan has undergone a revival in recent years and was awarded CAMRA branch Cider Pub of the Year for 2019, 2021 and 2022. The central bar serves both of the front rooms and features 10 handpulls, divided into two banks of 5, one in each room. 8 of these were in use when we arrived. As well as offering Castle Rock beers, namely Elsie Mo, Harvest Pale and Preservation, there were also guest ales available, in the form of Shiny Glamour Muscles, Charnwood Salvation, Littleover Taj and Backyard 1898. Another pump was taken up by Seacider. As strange as it sounds, I often won't drink Castle Rock in a Castle Rock pub if there are guests available as it allows me to expand my palate. So, on this occasion, I opted for the Taj from Derby-based Littleover. Amy went for a craft beer this time and we decided to sit outside in the expansive garden so we could enjoy the warm weather, albeit from the shade of a marquee, and watch one of the employees tighten bolts in all of the picnic benches. I wasn't familiar with this particular beer from Littleover before but I was pleased to make its acquaintance. Taj (4.6%) is a gluten free IPA with refreshing tropical and citrus hop notes and a subtle, dry bitter finish. It went down very well indeed in the sunshine of a beer garden! I'd enjoyed properly visiting the Swan again. It has certainly improved in the 7 years between appearances in the blog and I'm not even being biased. Confident that we now had more time to kill before we met Amy's sister and her partner, and emboldened by confirmation of a Liverpool win, we were well and truly in the swing of things by now.

We left the Swan the way we came in and had but yards to go to find out next location. The first of two micropubs to make an appearance on the itinerary, had we not been looking for it, we would have missed the Needle & Pin. 

Converted from an old electronics shop that had been closed since 2008, the Good Beer Guide 2022 listed Needle & Pin opened in 2016. The door leads into a split level layout with the ground floor featuring bench seating and tables and a small flight of steps leading up to a bar in the top corner. Beyond this is a small corridor wherein lie the toilets. The 'cellar' is a specially adapted cold room accessed from behind the bar. A flight of stairs leads to an upper level which features more extensive seating as well as board games and music. The interior is very bright and clean. The bar features 4 handpulls as well as a bank of 4 keg taps. The Needle & Pin was awarded CAMRA Branch Pub of the Year for 2018. The 4 hand pumps offer a choice of both local beers and those from further afield. At the time we visited, the following were available: North Riding Imperial Stout, Mill Hill A Man is not a Camel, Stancill Barnsley Bitter and Mill Hill In Capable Hands. Whilst I went for the In Capable Hands, Amy was drawn to a cherry and plum gose on keg from Polly's Brew Co. Having selected our beers, we went and took a table by the window. Amy's beer was delicious with all the fruitiness and subtle sourness you'd expect from the style. Personally, I was equally as enamoured with my choice. In Capable Hands is brewed by Mill Hill in nearby Enderby. It's a hazy, New England-style pale ale with big hop notes, underlying bitterness, and a very clean and refreshing finish, all at 4.7%. I love finding beers I love from breweries I'm not familiar with. The Needle & Pin is, in every sense, the epitome of everything that's right about a micropub. The only discernible issue was that the pub was devoid of background music during our visit. We'd arrived not long after they opened and were the only customers which made the long periods of silence slightly awkward but it's a small quibble in what is otherwise an excellent little place. 

It was time to venture on again. Our next location would see us venturing back into the town centre proper. Turning right down a side street, we emerged within sight of the Griffin where our day had begun. Approaching it, we this time turned left onto Market Street, which is effectively a traditional high street with shops and cafes along either side. Halfway along this, on the left as we were walking, is Cask Bah.

The second of the duo of micropubs scheduled for the day, the Cask Bah's emphasis is on beer, music and good times. This is very much reflected in the interior. Music memorabilia and lyrics from punk songs decorate the walls. Even the name of the pub pays homage to a song by the Clash. There are musical instruments throughout, portraits of music icons across the walls and the toilet is accessed through the front of an old red phone box. Real ale is available and is served via gravity from taps mounted on the back bar. The rock music aesthetic extends to the beers which are all provided by Nottingham Brewery but are rebadged, with permission, and renamed after music icons. Even the pump clips are customised vinyl records, a theme that continues throughout the venue. The decor and the vibe come as no surprise as soon as I realise that the landlord is Craig, former landlord of the Tap & Tumbler in Nottingham. During his time at the helm, the Tap also sold rebadged Nottingham Brewery beers and incorporated vinyl into their interior decoration. What of the beers? Well, there are 7 pumps here, 6 for beer and 1 for cider. As mentioned, each beer is renamed for a specific musical theme, but all are from Nottingham Brewery's range, meaning that there are a range of styles on offer. The beers, at least during our visit, are Rebel Reb'ale (Dreadnought), Pitcher This (EPA), Strummerville (Bullion), Lemmy Legend (Legend), Blockhead (Reel Ale) and Mellors Mild (Rock Mild) with the available cider being Lilley's Apple & Blackcurrant. It took a little while for my head to stop spinning so I could focus on the job in hand but I was eventually able to select the Rebel Reb'ale and Amy the Pitcher This. We sat in a booth, resplendent in its punk decor, and absorbed the atmosphere of the place. I have to say, it's very, very cool. Whilst I was making the requisite notes,  Craig came over we had a chat about the place and how things work with the beers and the dispense. We briefly chatted about his time at the Tap and he said that he'd recognised me from somewhere which would, in all likelihood, be from his previous place of employ. The beer was great. Nottingham Brewery don't get enough credit, in my humble opinion, for the quality of their ales. The Dreadnought is excellent! It's a 4.5% amber coloured bitter with full malt flavours and hoppy bitterness. I would absolutely recommend this place to anyone who enjoys beer, music and the good times that encapsulate both. I have no doubt that I'll be coming back. 

As painful as it was leaving Cask Bah, we were now eager to get to an old favourite from our last time in Loughborough. Continuing down Market Street and through the market place, we emerged on Leicester Road. Continuing down this, we reached Wood Gate, where we turned right and crossed over at the traffic lights. A short distance away is the Good Beer Guide 2022 listed Organ Grinder.

Previously a coaching inn known as the Pack Horse, the pub was bought by Blue Monkey in 2012 and underwent a thorough top-to-bottom renovation which uncovered lots of original features. The main bar is slightly to the right of the entrance, serving a bar space with wooden furniture and repurposed barrels as seating. A corridor runs alongside this which leads to an outside space, to the rear of which a beer garden, with picnic table seating, can be found. Directly behind the bar, the lounge bar area has been converted from the old stable block. The stables themselves have been repurposed into booths for drinking with the dividers being left in place to reflect the pub's original incarnation. Opposite this, is a tiny enclosed seating area with a single table and a handful of chairs. This is a situated in a separate room called the Ostler's House, which is filled with firewood and old photos and still retains the original stove and sink. An ostler was someone who would look after horses for visitors of coaching inns. Keeping these features and allowing the public to utilise them is certainly a nice touch. It's always good when pubs give a nod to their history. This being a Blue Monkey pub, it should come as no surprise that their beers are prominent. 8 hand pumps sit on the bar and 7 of these were in use, with the vast majority from the Blue Monkey range, specifically Jungle VIP, Chocolate Guerrilla, Guerrilla, Primate, BG Sips and Infinity IPA and another pump reserved for a guest beer, in this case Goffs Jester. It would be rude not have one of Blue Monkey's excellent beers and so we both went for the Jungle VIP (4.4%) a delicious golden ale. It's fruity, easy drinking and very refreshing. We sat in the Ostler's House whilst we sunk our beers. I didn't remember all the unique details of this place before and I'm very glad that we made the effort of a return visit. It also reminded me that I really need to revisit the sister venue in Nottingham at some point in future. That's for another time though!

By now, we finally had an ETA for Amy's sister Laura and an agreed upon destination. With two pubs left, it looked as if we would have company for the last leg of the trip. Leaving the Organ Grinder, we headed slightly back on ourselves, and made our way over to Church Gate, where we arrived at almost exactly the same time as Laura. A few minutes later we were joined by Laura's partner Yasmin as we congregated outside our penultimate stop: The Three Nuns.

This Everards pub takes its name from an unfortunate spelling error. During its naming, the original name, the Three Tuns, was misspelled as Three Nuns and the name stuck. Colloquially known as the 'Nuns' it boasts an open plan interior arranged around a central bar with traditional wooden furniture and banquette seating and a beer garden to the rear. The bar holds two banks of hand pumps, 6 on the front bar and 5 on the back bar, usually with beers doubled up across both sections. The decor is traditional with breweriana, local photographs, whitewashed walls, wooden beams and horse brasses. Everards beers take centre stage here. Only one of the 11 pumps wasn't in use and the others were all doubled up, featuring 5 different beers from the Everards range: 4 x 4, Sunchaser, Old Original, Beacon Hill and Tiger. It had been a very long time since I'd had an Everards beer, let alone in an Everards pub! Amy and I both went for the Tiger whilst our guests went for lager and vodka and lemonade respectively. We sat on a table just inside the door, enjoying our drinks and generally catching up. The Tiger, as you'd expect, was in cracking form. Copper in colour with aromas of malt and toffee, it's a very well balanced drink with a delicate spiciness from Fuggles and Goldings hops. I'd forgotten how good a beer it actually is. 

We had one final venue planned before our day would draw to a close and, luckily enough, it happened to be just next door. So, with Laura and Yasmin in tow, we made our way to the White Hart.

Now a freehouse, the White Hart reopened in 2013 following an extensive refurbishment and is now part of the Benjamin Pimlico Pub Company. There is a secluded patio and beer garden to the rear, with the interior radiating a cosy, relaxing ambience. The lighting is low and subtle, creating a comfortable atmosphere with wooden tables and chairs arranged across the floor with a bar to one side. Candles occupy the majority of tables to further enhance the mood lighting. The pub is Good Beer Guide 2022 and was CAMRA Branch Pub of the Year for 2017. The pub operates a 21 and over policy for individuals but young children under 5 are still welcome as part of a family group. The White Hart has built up an excellent local reputation for good beer and features live music on occasional Friday and Saturday evenings. 6 handpulls occupy the bar with a mix between local and not so local beers. At the time of our visit, the choices were Timothy Taylor Landlord, Shiny Disco Balls, Arbor Mosaic and 3 beers from Charnwood, in the shape of Blue Fox, Vixen and Salvation. I immediately went for the Blue Fox, Amy went for a pint of Beavertown Neck Oil and our guests repeated their previous drink choices. We took a table a short distance from the bar and remarked on the general feel of the pub. Amy and Laura had been here in the past but not for many years and discussed how much it had changed, evidently for the better. I enjoyed my beer here too. Charnwood are a family-run Loughborough brewery and it's rare to see their beers outside of the town so it was nice to be drinking it where it was meant to be drunk. Blue Fox (4.2%) is a refreshing golden beer brewed with Mosaic hops that give it a tropical fruit and blueberry aroma and finish. It was ace!

And with that, our time was up. Our glasses were empty and our bus was nearly due so we bid farewell to Laura and Yasmin and headed the short distance to Baxter Gate to embark on the return journey. The day had been a successful one. I hadn't been entirely sure what to expect from our Loughborough revisit but it had delivered. It's clear that, whilst the town does certainly have its share of 'locals' pubs, the new additions to it's drinking scene are perfectly placed to attract visitors from further afield. It definitely feels that the choice of both pubs and beers in Loughborough has changed for the better in the last few years, and it's nice to see things moving in an upward direction as opposed to the alternative. The more that the beer scene in this part of Leicestershire trends towards the positive, the more inclined I'll be to schedule in a return trip. It had certainly been a worthwhile day and we'd both thoroughly enjoyed it. After all, if you don't end a pub trip by falling asleep on the sofa at 8.30 during an episode of Ghost Adventures, have you even been on a pub trip?  

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The more things change.......

Greetings! For my recent trip, I once again took advantage of a bonus day off from work and also elected to stay much closer to home than I have for a while. It had been quite some time since I had properly evaluated the drinking scene of this fair city of Nottingham that I now call home. In the years since my last survey, things have changed. New venues have opened, many have changed hands, some have been refurbished and some, unfortunately, no longer exist. With things feeling as close to normality as they have done for quite a while, what better time to head out and explore the newer and more recently revamped locations amongst Nottingham's hundreds of pubs? Some of the locations will have featured in the blog before, in one form or another, but there are a few that make their debuts by virtue of having sprung up over the last few years. It's a tough job.

The day of my trip was an unseasonably warm and sunny Thursday. I had planned a route that would see me circumnavigate the city centre, both starting and ending at a bus stop adjacent to Nottingham station. I arrived in the centre just before 12.30pm, getting off the bus on Carrington Street, and immediately made my way to the day's first stop. In the shadow of Nottingham Station is one of the city's newer micropubs. The day's adventures began at BeerheadZ.


This Good Beer Guide 2022 listed venue is a conversion of an old Edwardian cabman's shelter and restroom that is part of the station buildings itself. Dating from the time of the station construction in 1904, the interior still retains some of the original features such as drivers' benches and coat hooks. The station is a Grade II* listed building meaning that the renovation has been minimalist and keeps with the overall architectural theme. BeerheadZ are a small Midlands-based chain with other premises in Grantham, Lincoln and, until fairly recently, Retford. The pub is a single ground floor room with an adjacent door that is the rest room. Painted wooden panelling and window frames have been retained from the original shelter. Seating is on wooden stools and beer barrels with wooden tops as well as low, tongue shaped tables. The majority of the seating is directly opposite the central bar but there is additional seating outside on both sides of the walkway to the station concourse. The colour scheme is two tone cream and lime and there are also power sockets for charging devices but no WiFi. BeerheadZ was awarded Nottingham CAMRA Cider Pub of the Year for 2018 due to its cider and perry range. The bar is well equipped with cask and craft beers as well as a range of bottles and cans. 5 chrome hand pumps sit pride of place on the bar. At the time of my visit, 4 of these were in use, offering a choice of Goff's Lancer, Magpie Coat Tails, Liverpool Syren's Call and Heritage X Porter. With fond memories of our recent trip to Liverpool, I was instantly drawn to the Syren's Call (4.1%). I decided it would be remiss not to make the most of the sunshine so took my beer outside and sat on a metal chair facing into the station. I must admit that this was my first ever trip to BeerheadZ. I have no idea why it's taken me so long! Syren's Call is described as a 'modern bitter'. It's golden in colour with less toffee flavour and more leafy, hoppy notes. It's very drinkable and certainly starts the day off on a good note! BeerheadZ is in the perfect spot for those requiring a beer before, or after, a train. Be aware when visiting though that the capacity is only 36!

I now retraced my steps, heading back down Carrington Street and turning left onto Canal Street. My next location is immediately next to a coffee shop and is a fairly imposing building right on the pavement. I was now at Fellows, Morton & Clayton.

This red brick pub is a Grade II listed building and was formerly a Victorian office building for the eponymous coal carrying company. Built in 1895, the building was converted into a pub in 1980/81. Designed by architect W. Dymock Pratt, who also designed nearby Via Fossa, the pub is also notable for being on the site of Nottingham's first successful balloon flight in 1813, commemorated by a green plaque on the exterior wall. Inside, the pub is split level. A ground level bar area leads through to a lower drinking and dining space and also to a spiral staircase that leads to the toilets. There is a rear, two-floored room that can be used for functions. To the front, a raised snug type space occupies room behind the front window. The bar is L-shaped and faces both the front door and the main seating area. A small outside seating area is accessible through glass doors to the rear. I've been in the Fellows on the odd occasion in the past but I cannot for the life of me remember whether or not it's ever featured in a blog entry. I do know that the available real ale choice has been reduced though. During previous visits, albeit years ago, 8 handpulls were present, in two banks of 4. This has been reduced to a single bank with the second set replaced by a T bar offering keg beers. The 4 available hand pumps were all occupied when I arrived. The choices here were Hollow Stone Oligo Nunk, Sharp's Doom Bar and Thornbridge Astryd with the fourth given over to Lily the Pink cider from Celtic Marches. I decided on the Oligo Nunk but this ran out as it was being poured so instead I swapped to Astryd, from the ever-reliable Thornbridge. At 3.8%, this is a juicy, hazy session IPA brewed with Mosaic hops. This gives big flavours of berry and stone fruit and also lends a nice cleanliness to the finish. It definitely has a kick for a low strength beer! I took a seat at a high table almost opposite the bar whilst I enjoyed this delicious beer. It gave me time to take in the decor, which is primarily themed around beer and brewing. There used to a be microbrewery upstairs on this site but it has been out of use for many years. The pub also shows live sport and there are a couple of TVs throughout the premises. The pub was relatively quiet during my time there but was just beginning to pick up for the lunch rush. 

It was time to move on again. Leaving the Fellows, I turned left and continued down Canal Street, crossing the road at the traffic lights and then turning left onto Wilford Street. Passing an Irish Centre on the right, my next location is just nearby, perched on the bank of the canal. Next stop, The Navigation. 

Not to be confused, as it often is, with the Trent Navigation on Meadow Lane, the Navigation has previously been both a Whitbread and Banks's tied house. Formerly known as the Lock & Lace, it was a fully licensed pub from at least 1879, when the landlord was T. Smith. Located on the canal side, the pub has been through a number of owners in recent years and is now under the ownership of Marston's. When the pub last featured in these pages, myself and Matt visited when it was home to Annie's Burger Shack before that business scaled up to its own premises. That was the day we learned that I didn't understand how canal locks work. Anyhow, following an extensive refurbishment in 2017, the pub appears to have been given a new lease of life. Internally, the bar sits along the right hand wall with some seating opposite, A larger room, with more tables, is to the side and this leads through to a canal side access with outside seating right on the canal side itself. There is also a small beer garden and smoking area to the rear of the pub, accessed through a door next to the bar. The decor is music themed with murals, framed photos of music legends, classic film posters and, my favourite, an entire drum kit repurposed as a light fitting. Cool or ridiculous? You decide! Beer-wise, there are 4 handpulls on the bar. One of these is a permanent outlet for Timothy Taylor Landlord but there are also 3 guest beers, on this occasion Ashover Indian Pacific, Dancing Duck Dark Drake and Oakham JHB. I was suitably impressed to find such a collection of guest beers in a pub that I had assumed would be steadfastly tied to the Marston's range. After some swift perusal, I selected the Ashover and made my way around to some sofa style seating in the larger room, next to the canal side entrance. Indian Pacific (3.9%), is a hoppy session IPA, originally brewed especially for Brownhills Beer Festival in Chesterfield, but clearly popular enough to be shipped further afield. It's a very nice beer indeed! All the expected IPA hoppiness and bitterness are there without the expected strong alcohol hit. Cracking stuff!

My day was going well so far. The weather was holding, the beers had been good and the first trio of pubs had exceeded expectations. Onwards and upwards! Leaving the Navigation, I turned left, made my way back up Wilford Street and crossed the road. I then turned left again and continued down Maid Marian Way before crossing over again. I had now intended to visit the Royal Children but, despite what it said online, they weren't opening until later in the day. I made a vow to swing back this way later. Unperturbed, I continued down Hounds Gate, emerging on Friar Lane, where I crossed over to my next destination. My next stop would be somewhere rather different in the context of the pubs I'd hit so far: Southbank Bar.

Starting life as a department store, the premises was previously known as The Approach until 2016 when it was refurbished into its current incarnation. Originally known as Southbank City until the rebranding of its Trent Bridge sister site, Southbank Bar is a large, open-plan sports bar that prides itself on excellent entertainment and ability to show live sport across a vast number of TV screens. The bar is on the right hand side as you enter with a raised stage area for live music to the left. Seating takes the form of booths to the sides and rear with more conventional seating in the central space, which becomes a dance floor at weekends. As well as a large projector style screen, there are numerous others throughout, both on the walls and in the booths. The pub has featured once in the blog before, back when it was the Approach. I tend to normally visit about once a year, usually in February, for the Superbowl but have popped in on other occasions and, as some of you may remember, I used to work for the company that owns it for a while a few years ago. Whilst definitely a sports bar first, Southbank does supply real ale and there are 6 handpulls present. On the day that I popped in, half of these were in use, with a choice between Fuller's London Pride, Navigation New Dawn Pale and Oakham Citra. Obviously I went for the Citra. It still remains one of my favourite beers and it's in great condition here. It's a rather surreal experience being in here in the daytime when I'm not willing anybody but the Patriots to win the Superbowl. 

Leaving Southbank, I turned left, continued to the end of Friar Lane and crossed Market Square. Reaching Market Street, I continued uphill with the Theatre Royal in front of me at the top. This would actually be my next destination, in a round about way. When I reached the top of the hill, I crossed over Parliament Street, walked past the entrance to the theatre on my left and began heading down South Sherwood Street. A few yards down, on the left, is the entrance to Yarn.

Previously known as the Green Room, Yarn is part of the Theatre Royal complex and reopened in its current state in November 2017, following a major refurbishment. Whilst still owned by the owners of the theatre, the bar is operated by Castle Rock and would be the first of 3 establishments of theirs that I would visit throughout the day. The bar is long and narrow with two entrances, one to the rear, through which I enter, and one inside the theatre foyer. There is bench seating outside whilst inside the seating is more functional tables and chairs and a wooden floor. 10 handpulls are on the bar are there are also 9 taps for keg beer which are mounted on a wall behind the bar. Of the 10 available pumps, 9 were in use on my visit. Unsurprisingly, some of these were Castle Rock beers, namely Elsie Mo, Harvest Pale and Preservation, with Elsie Mo and Harvest Pale doubled up. The guest beers were Mallinsons Waimea and Salopian Lemon Dream with the remaining two pumps reserved for real cider, in this case Broad Oak Moonshine and Cockeyed Bonobo Banana. There would be more Castle Rock beer later on so I avoided that for now and, instead, opted for the Lemon Dream (4.5%) from Shropshire's Salopian Brewery. I've had Lemon Dream more than once before so knew what to expect and I wasn't disappointed. This is a golden ale with zesty aromas and a citrusy finish. It's brewed using organic lemons but the lemon isn't overpowering with the sweetness rounding out the flavour of the hops and the delicate bitterness. It's a bit like a beer digestif! Yarn is a venue I've been in fairly regularly, normally with Amy prior to the cinema, and it's a welcome addition to the pub scene in this area of the city. It certainly gives a more interesting choice of pre-show drink to the casual and seasoned theatre goer!

It was time to continue on now but I didn't have far to go. Leaving Yarn the way I came in, I continued down South Sherwood Street until I reached the junction with Shakespeare Street, with my next location already in sight. Crossing over, I made my way directly into The Playwright.

Officially known as The Playwright at 38, this is a pub that has been through various incarnations throughout its history. Originally the Clinton Arms, it became Russells in 1983 and was most recently known as the Orange Tree before a refurbishment in and a change of name in May 2019. Whilst under the Clinton Arms moniker, is was fully licensed in 1868 under C. T. Baxter and was also the location where Nottingham Forest FC was officially founded in 1865 by a group of shinty players, who also settled on Garibaldi Red as the club's colour. Following Notts County's relegation from the football league, Forest are now the oldest football league club and, at the time of writing, are well in the running for a return to the Premier League for the first time since 1999. But enough about that. The Playwright's location on Shakespeare Street has given it it's current name. Internally, the layout is open plan, with plush sofa seating and retro decor. The atmosphere is generally relaxing throughout. A pleasant garden is to the rear and there is a room towards the back that can be reserved for functions. Photos of bygone Nottingham and local history decorate the walls. The pub is now under the ownership of Charles Wells as part of their 'Pizzas, Pots & Pints' brands and offers stonebaked pizzas alongside other morsels. I'm here for the beer though. The central, J-shaped bar has 4 handpulls, 3 of which were being utilised when I was there. All of the beers are from the Charles Wells stable, under the names DNA, Legacy and Origin. All the beers are brewed under the Brewpoint label. I decided on the Legacy (4.1%), a citrusy golden ale with notes of orange and peach, hopped with Admiral, Olicana and Citra. The body and bitterness are moderate and the whole thing is refreshing and easy drinking. I took my drink to a round table in the window that was catching the sun and watched the world go by for a few minutes. Prior to this visit, I'd only been here once since the refurbishment but had come here a few times when it was the Orange Tree, when it also featured in the blog. I have to say, I do like what they've done with the place.

It was further into the city centre now. Continuing down Shakespeare Stree, I turned right, walked past Victoria Centre, turned left down Parliament Street, right down Thurland Street and left again onto Pelham Street. Walking up the hill towards the Hockley area, I reached my next stop: Faradays.

Situated on the corner where Pelham Street and Victoria Street converge, Faradays was previously known as Cape and underwent a refurbishment and renaming in 2016. The current eponym is apparently to commemorate the location of the old Raleigh bicycle works on Faraday road. The site on which the pub stands was once known as Swine Green and was referenced in the first work of poetry written by Lord Byron, back in 1798, which is commemorated by a green plaque above the door. Faradays is operated by Stonegate and consists of a large downstairs area with the bar to the back, and seating throughout. An upstairs function can be hired and is accessed by a metal spiral staircase in the middle of the pub. A doorway to the right of the bar leads to a staircase that goes down to the toilets. A section of pavement to the front of the pub is cordoned off for outside drinking and dining. This is another pub that featured in the blog years ago under its previous incarnation. Real ale has recently been reintroduced after being temporarily discontinued during the coronavirus restrictions. A bank of 4 handpulls occupies the bar with 2 of them being in use when I arrived, giving me a choice between Doom Bar and Little Critters Malty Python. I went for Malty Python (4.3%), a best bitter from Little Critters, a brewery based in Sheffield. I decided that I'd like to sit outside this time and was lucky enough to find a spare table with just enough sun on it that it wouldn't be too hot or too cold. The beer was good. It's well balanced between bitterness and sweetness and carries hints of caramel and hedgerow fruits into a smooth finish. The outside space was fairly busy during my time here, unsurprising given the weather, and more than a few workers had taken the opportunity for a liquid lunch. Who can blame them?

My next destination was a literal stone's throw away and another new location to the blog, though it has now been open for a few years. Time to officially investigate Six Barrels Drafthouse.

One of two such venues in the city, Six Barrels Hockley opened in 2017 in a building that had been closed for many years after previously serving as the Lord Nelson and, more recently, Image Bar. The Lord Nelson was previously a John Smith's tied pub and, in 1874, was a fully licensed establishment under A. Richardson. It once had a viewing panel that allowed the old (very deep) well to be seen but this is no longer visible to the public. A meat cellar and barrel thrall are still extant in the cellars. Now operated by Pub People, the modern conversion has seen bare wood and comfy furniture installed, with a central bar and large windows overlooking the street. The decor is part pump clips and beer can labels, and part nerd chic with an abundance of Star Wars decoration and theming. I'm definitely not complaining! The pub is managed by a good friend of mine and I always enjoy a warm welcome when I visit. Six handpulls sit on the bar, alongside a great selection of craft beers in keg and a very well stocked can and bottle fridge. On the day of my visit, 5 of the 6 handpulls were in use, with an interesting array of choices. I had to choose between Pentrich Confetti Moment, Marble Export Mild, JW Lees Bitter, Bombardier and Old Sawley Little Jack. I don't see Old Sawley beers very much so the presence of Little Jack was a nice surprise that I couldn't pass up. Named after a horse, Little Jack is a 4.3% pale ale that is crisp and refreshing with big citrus flavours from the use of 4 American hops, specifically, Amarillo, Citra, Simcoe and Cascade. It's a cracking little session beer, made even better by the surroundings I'm in. I sat in a booth, drank my beer, charged my phone and said hello to Ginny, one of the two very cute and very sweet pub dogs. It's hard to find fault with this place and I really do need to visit more often. Great beer? Check. Great atmosphere? Check. Dogs? Double check. What's not to love?

As much as it pained me to leave Six Barrels, there was work to be done and beer to be drunk. I turned right upon leaving, making my way down into Hockley and approached Stoney Street, where I turned right. Next on the list was the Angel Microbrewery.

For many years known as the Old Angel, during which time it was one of Nottingham's premier alternative pubs, this pub has stood in the Lace Market since at least the 1600s and has a long and colourful history.  Grade II listed, it was the site of at least two murders in the 1700s, that of a prostitute and a policeman respectively, and served as both a brothel and a chapel. Caves lie deep underneath the beer cellar and were carved out in the shape of a crucifix. The cellar itself still contains a barrel thrall and was used as an air raid shelter. The old chapel, which has a double height ceiling, is a famous gig venue that witnessed early shows by bands such as Oasis, Kasabian and Arctic Monkeys. Equally famous,  under its old guise, was the ceiling covered in gig posters and the puddles in the gents toilets, all now sadly (at least in the former case) gone. The old church pews, from the days of the chapel are still preserved and lie upstairs. The pub underwent a major refurbishment in 2016 and is now in the vein of an organic gastro pub with an on-site microbrewery, which supplies beers to the pub and other local venues. The interior layout is largely unchanged with wooden floors, two rooms with the bar in the middle divided by a corridor and another, smaller room to the rear, where the toilets can now also be found. A small garden space to the back is an effective sun trap on nice days. The pub certainly didn't look like this when it last featured here! The 8 handpulls are divided up into smaller banks on both sides of the bar and 6 of them were in use when I arrived. Unsurprisingly, the pubs own beers take centre stage, but there are some other local guests. Available on the day are Angel Revelation, Angel Hung, Drawn & Portered, Navigation American IPA, Navigation Rebel and Brass Castle Elvis Impersonator, with another pump given over to Seacider Black Cherry. I am instantly drawn to the Elvis Impersonator, from Brass Castle brewery. At 6.7%, it is a peanut butter, facon (that's fake bacon to you and I), and banana stout. Erm, yes please! It was totally worth going for the stronger beer. It was delicious. Sweet, nutty and smooth but with an underlying smokiness, all wrapped up in big malty flavours. I would have had another if I'd had the time. This is absolutely an early candidate for beer of the day at this stage! It was nice being back in the Angel. I remember it from years ago when the aesthetics were certainly different and, whilst it's not the same, it has kept some of the character whilst generally improving the whole place. Even if the gig posters are gone. The character may not be the only thing remaining though. The ghost of the murdered prostitute has long been said to haunt the premises and there were many tales of a ghostly female singing at the end of the night and messing around with the fruit machine when it was still here. These accounts were from when the pub was in its previous form. Whether the tragic girl is still in situ since the revamp, nobody knows for sure.

The next stage of the afternoon would take me down into Sneinton Market, an area that, for some years, was a bit of a pub and real ale wasteland. However, over recent years, significant investment and rejuvenation has begun and continues to go on, improving the area and facilities for locals and visitors. A number of pubs have sprung up too, creating a very nice little circuit with the venues situated at the bottom end of Hockley. The next trio of pubs are new arrivals in these pages. After leaving the Angel, I made my way down Hockley, crossed Huntingdon Street and walked up into Sneinton Market, in the direction of the Victoria swimming baths. On the corner of Handel Street is a recently reopened pub that is the newest addition to this part of town, The Bath Inn. 

Don't let the Egyptian Art Deco exterior fool you. There's a much older building underneath. The Bath Inn was built around 1820 and refronted between 1920 and 1930 in an exotic style inspired by the national interest in Egyptian culture and styles, and also in keeping with the nearby Turkish baths. A Grade II listed building, the Bath Inn was a fully licensed establishment in 1871, under W. Harvey. Formerly a Shipstone's house, the Bath at one stage operated as both a pub and a chip shop before a lengthy period of closure which finally came to an end when it reopened in December 2021. The new owner is Piers Wheatcroft-Baker, local garden centre magnate and son of Doctor Who actor Tom Baker no less, who has continued the Egyptian Revival facade both inside and out. Internally, the chip shop counter has gone, replaced by sarcophagi and other Egyptian style artefacts. A mannequin of a diver in a bathing costume is suspended over the bar, which is tucked into the back of the room. There is a piano, branded candle holders and lots of seating throughout. To the left of the entrance is a snug with an enormous mirror and soft lighting. A smaller area with settles and small tables is to the right. A large open room sits between the two entrance doors which makes a perfect spot to observe the local area. Another smaller room with upholstered seating is located near the stairs, which lead down to the toilets, with a kitchen beyond, though this is currently not in use. I've heard mixed things from locals about what it's like in here so I'm glad to be able to check it out for myself. Luckily, unlike it's former self, real ale is available and there is a choice of beer from 4 hand pumps, with my options being Vocation Bread & Butter, Dancing Duck Ay Up, Doom Bar and St. Austell Proper Job. I was served by Mr. Wheatcroft-Baker himself (don't mention his dad) and selected the Proper Job, taking it with me to sit in the room with the large mirror, just as the Beatles came on over the sound system. So far, so good. The beer was well kept and reasonably priced for the area, contradicting some of the reports I'd heard. The decor is the star here though. Where else in Nottingham, nay the country, could you sup a beer and make eye contact with a slightly unnerving Egyptian sarcophagus at the same time? Exactly.

It was back into the market proper now, to the second Castle Rock venue on the itinerary and a place that, since September, I've been proud to call my place of work. Located on Southwell Road, on the very edge of the market, is the Fox & Grapes.

Regarded as a heritage pub, the Fox & Grapes is literally a pub in two halves. The front portion that faces the street dates from 1905-06 and was designed by Evans and Son, masking the remains of a much older 19th century building of the same name, located to the rear. The join between the buildings can be seen from the Avenue C beer garden side. The pub was renamed Peggers, from a local poacher's act of 'pegging' his catches to railings at the front of the pub, and owned by Banks's until a long period of closure. Ornate windows led to the local nickname 'Pretty Windows' although no trace exists of what led to this name, with research suggesting that now absent frame tracery from the Edwardian refit may have been responsible. The pub also has rather grisly claim to fame. On September 8th 1963, the then landlord, former miner George Wilson, was brutally stabbed to death just yards from the pub. Nobody was ever brought to justice and the case remains Nottinghamshire's oldest unsolved murder. Castle Rock reopened the pub in September 2017 spookily, and completely accidentally, on the anniversary of the murder. The previous two roomed layout has been opened up into a single L-shaped room with two raised areas on either side of the front door. A high ceiling and large windows give a light and airy feel. The bar occupies one side of the room, built partly around a load bearing pillar. The old Peggers sign from the time of Banks's ownership hangs above the bar. My workplace boasts a lot of choice for the connoisseur. 11 handpulls, 8 craft keg taps and an extensive choice of bottled and canned beers mean there is something for everyone and I'm not just saying that! Being a Castle Rock pub, there are a few of their cask beers on namely, Harvest Pale, Preservation, Elsie Mo and Screech Owl, alongside 4 guests, on this occasion Deya It's All Linked, Castle Rock Army of Me, Siren Jiggery Pokery and Thornbridge Market Porter. The remaining 3 handpulls serve real cider, currently Weston's Old Rosie, Lilley's Mango and Ampleforth Abbey Medium Dry. On this occasion, as I tend to do when I have a beer after work, I went for the Elsie Mo. It wasn't for brand loyalty reasons or anything. I just happen to really like it! If you're unfamiliar, Elsie Mo is a 4.7% golden ale which is both hoppy and bitter and, if I do say so myself, very well kept, reflected by the pub's inclusion in the Good Beer Guide 2022. I can also say that we are the proud recipients of a Pub of Excellence Award from Nottingham CAMRA. It is a joy working here and it was about time that it featured in the blog, especially as I had a reason to be in the area on my day off. It seems that everyone locally knows the story of the 'Pretty Windows Murder' that lends the pub a hint of notoriety. Has it left an impression on the pub? It's a strange one. I'm not saying the pub is haunted. I am saying that, more than once I've come in to work to find a window open that I know I closed the night before and that can only be opened from inside. Add to that, the occasional cold breeze, strange sound, knocks and the bizarre time that a tap behind the bar turned itself on and it's safe to say the jury is out. 

I was approaching the end of my day now but I still had a few venues to tick off. Next up was the third pub in what I've decided just this second to call the 'Sneinton triumvirate'. Virtually opposite the Fox & Grapes, all I had to do was cross the road to reach the Partizan Tavern.

Nottingham's newest micropub opened in July 2021 in a premises that was formally a betting shop. Run by a local CAMRA member, the pub is named after Partizan Belgrade, a Serbian football team that the landlord regularly visits. The interior is bright and airy, with an L-shaped bar and two large windows that look out onto Manvers Street. 4 handpulls are located on the long arm of the L and there are two fridges stocked with both soft drinks and craft beer. Real ciders are available direct from the box and the range and quality of these have led to the Partizan Tavern being awarded CAMRA Cider Pub of the Year for 2022. Wall decoration is primarily Partizan Belgrade football programs. I'd heard there was always an interesting choice of beers on here and that turned out to be pretty accurate. The 4 options available to me were Totally Brewed Into the Portal, Little Critters Malty Python, Lenton Lane Very Iggy and Lords Brewing Co. L.A. Speed Check Mountain IPA. The slightly long-winded and confusing name of the latter instantly attracted me so it was no contest really. I wasn't familiar with Lords Brewing Co., but it turns out they're from Golcar near Huddersfield and, if this beer is anything to go by, I'll be looking out for their stuff more often. At 4%, L.A. Speed Check Mountain IPA, is a hazy, session pale ale, brewed with American hops. It's very juicy, hoppy and citrusy and very refreshing. The landlord is a very nice bloke and I enjoyed a chat with him about the local area and how it's improved in leaps and bounds from a few years ago. The Partizan is definitely one to come back to. 

I headed back towards the other end of town now as I had two more destinations left before calling time. Firstly, I wanted to revisit to a place I'd bypassed earlier as it wasn't open. Heading in virtually a straight line from Sneinton back to Hounds Gate, it was time to reassess the Royal Children. 

The current building is believed to be a 1920s or 1930s rebuild of a pub that stood on the site, with the previous building being first referred to as an inn in 1799 when the landlord was John Clayton. The name stems from a popular legend that Princess Anne (later Queen Anne), the daughter of James II, took refuge in Nottingham in December 1688 when the king's reign was failing, and her children were given refuge at an inn that stood on this site. However, given the dates given for the building's construction and the fact that none of her children born before this visit were still alive, and her next son was born 8 months later, this very much seems to be based on legend and not fact. For whatever reason though, the story persists and the name of the pub has remained unchanged. Although, the presence of children on the site would certainly explain the childlike footsteps that have been heard on the upper floor of the building at night, most recently by the former manager, and the number of other reports of strange activity, although this could also be explained by the fact that the pub backs onto Ye Olde Salutation Inn, renowned as one of the most haunted pubs in the city and possibly the country. The Royal Children has had something of a reputation over the years that I've lived in Nottingham, usually an unfavourable one. It's never really been known for beer and has relied on a very specific clientele that don't tend to be particularly welcoming to strangers. Despite this, it did previously stock real ale
and featured in my very first blog entry, 9 (!) years ago. Amy and I also came here once, in the middle of the day, and witnessed a man try and start a fight with a complete stranger in the virtually empty pub. It was good news then when Pub People announced that they'd bought the lease and were taking the pub over, overseen by another good friend of mine. Gone was the jukebox, the TV and the fruit machine and in came a craft beer fridge and the return of real ale. My friend is no longer the manager there but I didn't think much would have changed in the couple of months since he'd left. How wrong I was. The TVs and fruit machine have returned, the latter in place of the aforementioned beer fridge, and a pool table has been put in what was previously a seating area. Worst of all, real ale has gone. Not one of the 5 handpulls had anything to offer. I've since discovered that Star have reacquired the lease from Pub People so at the moment, things have taken a backward step as far as this pub is concerned. I have to say, it's a bit of a disappointment. 

I had one destination left for scrutiny and that meant making my way back to where my day had started. Down Maid Marian Way, left onto Canal Street and right back onto Carrington Street. A few yards from where my bus would later be departing, is the Barley Twist.

The third and final Castle Rock property on my tour, the Barley Twist is located in a former sweet shop, from where it takes its name. Primarily a craft beer bar, it is spread over two floors with a ground floor that features original brickwork and high ceilings along with a small number of tables, as well toilets to the rear. Downstairs is a rustic cellar bar which is perfect for a quiet drink and can also easily cater for functions. Train departure times are displayed on a board to help quell any nagging anxiety about missing the last train back to wherever. The bar is primarily craft beer oriented with a number of products in key keg. There are also a couple of large, very well stocked, bottle and can fridges against one wall in case anyone is in need of train beers. Two cask ale pumps also feature on the bar, offering Castle Rock beers, in this case Harvest Pale and Preservation. The latter seems like the perfect way to round the day off. This is a 4.4% best bitter, that carries a strong malty character and is slightly sweet with hints of caramel. A pint of it, whilst perched at the bar chatting to the bar staff was certainly a good way to finish. 

What a day it had been. Nottingham had been long overdue a reappraisal of its drinking scene, especially in the wake of the pandemic. All in all, I found my adopted home city's beer scene to be in rude health, barring one glaring disappointment. I'd certainly been able to compare and contrast the current state of play with how things were a few years ago when I last explored it in depth. Have things improved? I would have to say yes. New and/or improved drinking venues that continue to offer delicious beer can only be celebrated. Nottingham is certainly growing its reputation as a beer destination and it has to be said that it is richly deserved with each new venue offering something different and a reason to keep returning. But things are still developing. More venues are on the way. Nottingham is in the midst of a development boom that promises to bring more good things our way. I'm already aware of more premises in development or opening imminently and that can only be promising. In time, it will certainly call for another survey. I'll try not to leave it as long next time. 

Thursday, March 24, 2022

A Compendium of Coalville

Greetings! It's nice to be back in such a short space of time. Fingers crossed that this becomes the norm! Last week, blessed with a Friday off, and some decidedly spring like weather, it seemed as good a time as any to head out once again in search of great pubs and good beer. My chosen destination was something of a wild card and not somewhere that, at first glance, had much to offer the real ale connoisseur. Would it live up to its reputation as a real ale wasteland or were there hidden gems to discover? I was about to find out, as I breached the county boundary into Leicestershire to investigate Coalville. 

Coalville is an industrial town in the district of North West Leicestershire, with a population at the 2011 census of 34,575. It lies on the A511 trunk road between Leicester and Burton upon Trent, close to junction 22 of the M1 motorway where the A511 meets the A50 between Ashby-de-la-Zouch and Leicester. It borders the upland area of Charnwood Forest to the east of the town.

Coalville is twinned with Romans-sur-Isère in southeastern France.

Coalville is a product of the Industrial Revolution. As its name indicates, it is a former coal mining town and was a centre of the coal-mining district of north Leicestershire. It has been suggested that the name may derive from the name of the house belonging to the founder of Whitwick Colliery: 'Coalville House'. However, conclusive evidence is a report in the Leicester Chronicle of 16 November 1833: 'Owing to the traffic which has been produced by the Railway and New Collieries on Whitwick Waste, land which 20 years ago would not have fetched £20 per acre (£50 per hectare), is now selling in lots at from £400 to £500 per acre (£1,000 to £1,200 per hectare), for building upon. The high chimneys, and numerous erections upon the spot, give the neighbourhood quite an improved appearance. We hear it is intended to call this new colony "COALVILLE" - an appropriate name.

In the early nineteenth century, the area now known as Coalville was little more than a track known as Long Lane, which ran approximately east–west, stretching between two turnpikes, Bardon and Hoo Ash. Long Lane divided the parishes of Swannington and Whitwick (both lying to the north of Long Lane) from the parishes of Snibston and Ibstock (both lying to the south). Hugglescote and Donington-le-Heath were part of Ibstock parish until 1878. A north-south track or lane stretching from Whitwick to Hugglescote crossed Long Lane, at the point where the clock tower war memorial now stands. This track or lane is now Mantle Lane and Belvoir Road. The Red House, an eighteenth-century building, close to this cross-roads, was one of very few buildings then standing.

Samuel Fisher, writing his memoirs at the end of the nineteenth century, described what the area looked like in 1832. Standing close to the position of the present-day clock tower, Fisher describes how, on looking down Long Lane towards Ashby, "we see a large tract of waste on both sides of the road, still traceable, covered with gorse-bushes, blackberry brambles, etc., with not a single house on either side of the way" until arriving at the Hoo Ash turnpike. Then, looking toward Hugglescote (down a track that is now Belvoir Road), "we see a magnificently timbered lane without a single house, with the exception of White Leys Farm and the Gate Inn on the Ashby Turnpike". In the direction of Bardon, there were no houses until arriving at a group of five or six cottages on the corner of what is now Whitwick Road and Hotel Street, and in the direction of Whitwick (the modern day Mantle Lane) there was nothing apart from a smithy and a carpenter's shop, and the houses of these tradesmen. These would have stood on the site of what is now The Springboard Centre (formerly Stablefords wagon works). From this wilderness emerged the modern town of Coalville, on a rapid scale, following the advent of deep coal mining.

Despite its emergence as one of the largest towns in Leicestershire, Coalville's history was not well documented until the establishment of historical societies in the 1980s, though some information had been put on record by a few independent local historians. In more recent years, a wealth of material charting the town's history has been published through the combined efforts of the Coalville 150 Group and the Coalville Historical Society and in 2006, these two groups amalgamated to form the Coalville Heritage Society.

Coal has been mined in the area since the medieval period, a heritage also traceable in the place name Coleorton, and examples of mine workings from these times can be found on the Hough Mill site at Swannington near the Califat Colliery site. A life-sized horse gin has been built on the Hough Mill site and craters can be seen in the ground, where the medieval villagers dug out their allocation of coal.

The seam is at ground level in Swannington, but gradually gets deeper between Swannington and the deepest reserves at Bagworth; consequently, it was not until mining technology advanced that shafts were sunk in the district now known as Coalville, beginning with Whitwick in 1824 and at Snibston in 1831.

Deep coal mining was pioneered by local engineer William Stenson who sank the Long Lane (Whitwick) Colliery on a relative's farm land in the 1820s. In doing so, Stenson ignored an old miner's dictum of the day, "No coal below stone", and sank his shaft through a layer of 'Greenstone' or 'Whinstone' to the coal below. This effectively opened up the 'concealed coalfield.' This was followed by the mine at Snibston, by George Stephenson in the early 1830s, and Stephenson was also responsible for the creation of the Leicester and Swannington Railway at the same time.

Quarrying, textile and engineering industries, such as railway wagon production, also grew in the town during the 19th century. Stenson is sometimes described as 'the Father of Coalville'.

Coal-mining came to an end in Coalville during the 1980s. Six collieries – Snibston, Desford, Whitwick, Ellistown, South Leicester and Bagworth – closed in and around Coalville in an eight-year period from 1983 to 1991, resulting in about five thousand men being made redundant.

The disused colliery at Snibston was regenerated into Snibston Discovery Park but controversially closed in 2015 by Leicestershire County Council. The area formerly occupied by Whitwick Colliery has been redeveloped as the Whitwick Business Park and which incorporates a Morrison's supermarket. There is also a small memorial garden here, established in memory of 35 men who died in the Whitwick Colliery Disaster of 1898, which occurred as a result of an underground fire, though sadly, the etched metal plaque commemorating this terrible calamity has (of 2014) been removed from the large granite memorial boulder.

Within thirty years of the town's birth as a result of the collieries, many additional industries became established within the town, such as flour milling, brick making, engineering and the manufacture of elastic web.

During the twentieth century, Coalville was home to Palitoy, a toy manufacturer that made Action Man, Action Force, Tiny Tears, Pippa, Tressy, Merlin, Star Wars figures and the Care Bears. The company was founded by Alfred Edward Pallett in 1909 to produce celluloid and fancy goods. Their first toy was in 1920 and the first doll in 1925. The Palitoy site was closed in 1994.

Aggregate Industries has its headquarters at Bardon Hill Quarry and is one of the five largest construction material suppliers in the UK. The company was originally established in 1858, though an early reference to a granite quarry at Bardon Hill appeared in 1622, in William Burton's "Description of Leicestershire".

TEREX Pegson Limited is a UK manufacturer of mobile crushing machines, and is part of the Terex Corporation. Pegson is headquartered in Coalville, with a distribution centre for North America in Louisville, Kentucky. The manufacturing plant has been located for many years on Mammoth Street, off the Whitwick Road and the company is able to trace its origins to the company of Samuel Pegg and Son, which was originally set up on Alexander Street, Leicester in 1830, when its main concern was connected with hosiery machinery.

Tulip Foods (formerly Belvoir Bacon) on Mantle Lane was incorporated as a limited company on 1 July 1954, having started about twenty years previously, as a slaughterhouse supplying pork products to a local shop in Coalville owned by the Bloor family. By the 1960s the factory had begun to distribute its products nationally. The factory became known locally as "Piggy Bloor's". The Belvoir name was replaced by Tulip in 2003.

Numerous business parks and industrial estates have been established in and around Coalville following the decline of coal-mining and allied industries. Calder Colours, based on the Coalville Business Park, are manufacturers of art and craft materials. In 2014 this company produced the hundreds of litres of red top coat and terracotta base coat paint for the commemorative art installation at the Tower of London entitled Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, marking the centenary of the outbreak of World War I.

In October 2016, Amazon opened in Coalville its biggest fulfilment Centre in the United Kingdom (named BHX2). Reportedly occupying an area equivalent to 19 football fields, the centre employs hundreds of citizens in the Leicestershire region and is operational twenty four hours a day.

I've visited former mining towns before, mostly in Derbyshire, with limited degrees of success, so I was interested to see at which end of the spectrum Coalville would fall. Despite no longer having a passenger train station, the town is still accessible via public transport, in my case a 90 minute bus journey from Nottingham city centre on the Skylink. I arrived in the town just after 1pm on what had certainly turned out to be a mild day for the time of year. I had identified a number of stops for the afternoon so, orienting myself as best I could, I headed for the first of these, which I had actually passed on the bus a few minutes earlier. Lying at the very edge of the town was my first destination, the Victoria Bikers Pub.

As the name suggests, the pub caters to bikers and truckers but the casual drinker and dogs are also made welcome. The pub is a popular live music venue with bands every weekend and opens until the early hours on Friday and Saturday nights. Regular activities focus heavily on motorbikes and rock and metal music with mini festivals held on a regular basis. The majority of the pub's trade is at weekends and, as such, it only opens in the daytime Monday-Thursday, with split opening hours on a Friday. I timed my trip to ensure I could visit during the early trading session. Inside, there is a small space to the front with seating to the left and a pool table and toilet access to the right. To the rear, is a much larger space leading to further seating areas and the stage. At the time I arrive, the rear section is closed and in darkness. The small front section is open though and I am greeted by the landlord as the only customer when I arrive. The bar is L-shaped with the smaller arm serving the small front room and the longer section extending to the rear. I am pleased to see 2 handpulls on the bar, one of which appears to be in use. Further inquiries confirm that this is indeed the case and I begin the day with Purity Mad Goose. Taking my drink, I perch near the pool table whilst I survey my surroundings. It's obvious that this place must have a fantastic atmosphere in the evening, with customers jammed in to watch live music. Gig posters past and present cover the walls inside, along with motorcycle memorabilia and photos of the Hairy Bikers. It reminds me a great deal of Ye Olde Salutation in Nottingham, a regular haunt for myself as well as bikers and metal bands. The Mad Goose is in good condition and certainly quenched my thirst after the circuitous bus journey through the villages of rural Leicestershire. Upon leaving, I noticed a number of crosses displayed on a wall under the pub's roadside sign. These are dedicated to deceased rock and metal musicians, both of international fame and also lesser known local figures. It's a nice touch.

Heading back the way I had come, I made my way back into town proper, arriving back on London Road where I started. I had next intended to visit the Leicester Inn a short distance but a sign on the chalkboard mounted near the door explained that they were closed due to 'unforeseen curcumstance' (sic). Undeterred, I immediately turned my attention to another location slightly further down the road. Next stop, the Stamford & Warrington.

A traditional town pub, this former coaching inn is recognised is on CAMRA's list of historic pubs due to its unchanged interior. The former archway for coaches remains to the left of the building and the original stables still exist to the rear. The pub was re-fronted in the 1920s and then refitted into its current state in the 1950s/60s, remaining remarkably unchanged since that time, especially surprising given its town centre location. The public bar to the right has a lino tiled floor, a bar counter with ribbed hardboard frontage and a Formica top, a bar back dating to the 1950s/60s and a tiled fireplace from the same era, now with a gas fire in front of it. The seating takes the form of fixed benches with red Formica topped tables. The door to the left inside the entrance previously provided access to the lounge bar but now forms part of the licensee's accommodation. Of the original 1920s features only the 'Vaults' and 'Smoke Room' windows remain. An extension to the rear during the refit has enabled the toilets to be brought inside. The pub is named after the Earls of Stamford & Warrington and payment is by cash only, with a handy reminder of this taped to the entrance door. There are already a small number of regulars in the pub when I arrive, curious as to what I will discover. The bar takes up almost all of the left hand wall of the room, with seating opposite. The licensees are die-hard Wolverhampton Wanderers fans, as evidenced by the club memorabilia scattered around the back bar and on the walls. I was also shocked to see a surprising number (i.e. more than zero) of gollywogs adorning the shelves behind the bar. Whether the licensees are aware of the strongly negative connotations of this choice of decoration is not immediately obvious but it was quite jarring to see such a thing in 2022, even in a pub as unchanged as this one. There is a bank of 3 handpulls on the bar but only one beer is served, namely Marston's Pedigree. I supped my beer whilst propped at the bar, ostensibly minding my own business and feigning interest in the horse racing on the TV. I'd forgotten at this point that is was Cheltenham Gold Cup day so should expect to see this in the rest of the pubs I was in. The Pedigree wasn't bad. It was by no means the best pint of it that I've had and it certainly wasn't the worst. I also took some time to further peruse the less upsetting decorations, a lot of which were photos from foreign holidays displayed on one the bar's support pillars. 

Leaving the Stamford after finishing my beer, I turned left and headed in the general direction of Memorial Square where the town's impressive war memorial clock towers over the nearby buildings. Reaching Belvoir Road, I turned left and made my down into the main shopping area of the town. A short walk away, on the left, is The Engineers Arms. 

Operated by Amber Taverns, the Engineers Arms is a community-driven locals pub on one of the main roads through Coalville. The interior is open plan with lots of seating, consisting of scrubbed tables and chairs both plain wood and upholstered. The bar is on the left of the main room with the interior divided up by pillars. TV screens are located on the wall opposite the bar where there is also access to the toilets. A large, comfortable beer garden is to the rear, complete with smoking shelter, and is an effective sun trap. This was a slightly busier pub than my previous stop and certainly seemed to attract a younger clientele. Everyone seemed engrossed in the horse racing which at least meant that there was plenty of space at the bar. However, my heart sank when I quickly noticed a complete lack of handpulls anywhere in sight. This is despite cask ale being mentioned on the pub's website. Luckily, it wasn't all bad. The Engineers stocks Newcastle Brown Ale so, determined to make the best of a bad situation, I ordered a bottle and headed outside to the very well-appointed beer garden to enjoy it. The garden is certainly very nice, with lots of space for outside drinking and dining and, more excitingly, a Star Wars mural on one wall in a nice nod to a now sadly defunct local toy manufacturer. Thus far, the day had gone as I suspected it might. I was holding out hope that things may improve as the day wore on. At least the sun was out. 

I was hungry by the time I left the Engineers so I quickly located the local branch of a certain national bakery chain and spent some time sat in the sun in the nearby shopping precinct enjoying some much-needed sustenance. I didn't want to get too ahead of myself for time as I still had a few hours before my bus back so I went for a bit of a wander where I discover a nice, scenic park built on the site of the old Snibston Colliery. The headstocks, old pit buildings and disused coal train railway lines are still in situ as a remnant of the town's industrial past. My next location again saw me back on Belvoir Road but this time on the junction with the high street, in the shadow of the war memorial. It was time to visit the Snibstone New Inn.


This roughly square Marston's pub sits on a busy road junction. Internally, there is one large room for drinking and dining, a smaller room to the left through an alcove and another room to the rear which now houses the pool table and juke box. The bar is central and seating is scattered throughout the space immediately around it. Seating is a mixture of high tables and chairs, as well as lower seating areas with benches and also some bar stools. The main entrance to the pub is on Belvoir Road and there is also a second door to the side which exits onto the high street. The proximity to the war memorial is reflected in military memorabilia inside, including flags of various military regiments displayed on the ceiling. The pub also does a lot of work for local veterans charities. This is by far the busiest pub of the day. It is filled with regulars settling in for the horse racing and stopping by for a quick one before planning to return later. I manage to squeeze into a space at the bar and eventually manage to procure a vacant bar stool. There is a bank of 3 handpulls here, once again offering Pedigree as the solitary beer. I dive in and order a pint which I drink sitting at the bar. In terms of atmosphere, this is certainly a friendly and welcoming pub. The community ties are obvious and it's clear that the staff here work hard to ensure that their regulars and other customers are looked after. I had a relaxing time here, enjoying a very well kept pint of Pedigree.

I had a slight dilemma at this stage, at least as far as the trip was concerned. My plan was to visit the local micropub, Bitter & Twisted, which much research had told me opened at 5 on a Friday. I decided to while away the time where I was as I felt that I had seen all there really was to see in Coalville at this stage. 5.10pm rolled around and I made my over to the micropub, only to see it still closed. The sign on the door certainly suggested that it should have been open. A bit perturbed, and with my bus not due for another hour, I resolved to return to the Snibstone for another beer and then try the micro again. Half an hour later and still no dice. I came to the conclusion that perhaps it was actually opening at 6. With my bus due at 6.15, I had no time to wait around. With a tad of disappointment in my heart, I climbed back onto the bus and began the journey back to Nottingham. I had been hoping that the micropub would have been another bright spot on what had been a rather indifferent trip. I did, at least, find a ten pound note on the floor. You win some etc.

The bus trip back gave me adequate time to reflect on my day out. Coalville is best described as a place very much of its time. Whilst there is a sense of community, as would be expected in a town that grew from industry and where close bonds would be needed, there is also a notion of a place being left by the wayside. Mining, and other former industrial towns, quite often feel that the heart and soul of the place is missing which, in a sense, it is. It's a tough one. Towns like Coalville obviously do enough to keep themselves going but I can't help but feel that there was something missing. Whilst the pubs were all very different, the beer range left much to be desired but it's not just about that. It's about a sense of place. Too often, towns like Coalville are left to fall away, which takes more than just businesses with it. Let's hope it doesn't happen here too.