Bounded by Sherwood, Thorneywood and Gedling, the area known as Mapperley and Mapperley Plains is located on lands that have been in use since at least the 14th century when a hamlet stood on the site. The area refers to land on both sides of Woodborough Road, from a point at the junction of Mapperley Road and northeast for approximately 3.75 miles to the point where that road forks towards Woodborough Village. The stretch of Woodborough Road between Mapperley Road and Porchester Road has been known as Mapperley Plains since at least 1851. At just over 400 feet above sea level, the main part of Mapperley is the highest area of Nottingham and affords excellent views across the city and towards the countryside. It is on a long, narrow spur, the remnant of a plateau eroded by glacial meltwater, that runs SW-NE on a narrow ridge that is now topped by Woodborough Road. Some of the largest brickworks in the Nottingham area once stood here as the local Keuper marl (now known as Mercia Mudstone) was suitable for brick-making and it is believed that bricks from this area were used in the construction of London's St. Pancras station. The name Mapperley Top refers to the collection of shops that runs along Woodborough Road and there is also a local radio transmitter on the nearby Mapperley Ridge which stands 122 metres above sea level.
Matt and I met for the day at the Sainsbury's local on the junction of Ransom Road and Woodborough Road, following long walks up some steep hills. Our first destination was not too far away, the Duke of Cambridge, literally just down the road.
Originally built around 1881, the pub is named after George William Frederick Charles, 2nd Duke of Cambridge from 1850. He was the grandson of George II, served in the Hanoverian army then became a colonel in the British army in 1837, major-general in 1845 and rose through the ranks before becoming Field Marshal in 1862. Inside, the pub is very much a 'locals' venue but we get a warm welcome regardless. The building is 2 storey with the kitchen located upstairs and the bar area on the ground floor with seating scattered around the bar which lies opposite the door. There is a substantial outdoor seating area on wooden decking at the side of the building. The pub is also dog friendly providing they are kept on a lead and are well-behaved. The atmosphere is very friendly and relaxed and the ale selection gets the day off to a promising start. There are 4 hand pumps on show with Harvest Pale and Bombardier available, one pump not in use and the 4th occupied by a guest ale, in this case All American Summer Pale Ale, brewed by Edinburgh's Caledonian Brewery. There is also Theakston's Mild available on a smooth flow tap. Matt and I opted for the Summer Pale and it proved to be a good choice. At 4.0%, it is very light, very hoppy and smooth with delicate fruity undertones. It goes down at a fair rate of knots and gets the day off to a good opening.
Leaving the Duke after our pints, we next ventured down Woodborough Road to Mapperley Top where our next 3 locations sat directly next to each other in a convenient line, set back from the main road. First of this trio is The Plainsman, a smart-looking Greene King pub.
Developed in December 2008, The Plainsman has the appearance of a traditional country house and takes it's name from the proximity of it to Mapperley Plains. The interior is significantly better than Greene King pubs are usually renowned for with a new, modern appearance, a big, polished, wooden bar, curved in layout with a central location. There is a large amount of seating throughout the interior and several large TV screens showing the early stages of Wimbledon. The bar is very well-stocked both with spirits and beer, with chrome gas taps and smooth, white hand pulls, of which there are 6. The ale on offer is mostly the standard Greene King fare with choices between Greene King IPA, Olde Trip, Abbot Ale, Old Speckled Hen and Old Golden Hen, as well as one that we've never seen before. Twisted Wheel is a Greene King ale with a difference. Advertised with a bullseye-themed, 70s-style pump clip and with an ABV of 4.0%, it's light with a taste of ginger and a notable hint of spice. It's an unusual concoction but is very nice and a refreshing change from the usual mainstream ales that Greene King puts to its punters. The name is interesting too. According to one of our fellow punters, Twisted Wheel was also the name of a 60s and 70s northern soul club in Manchester. Whether this is the direct inspiration for the name though remains to be seen. Upon ordering our pints of this unusual brew, we took a seat in the outside seating area, which is mostly picnic tables but also includes plastic sofas, and discuss one of our favourite topics: Doctor Who.
Before too long, it was time to move on again and, just next door, is the local Wetherspoons, the Woodthorpe Top.
The building that is now the Woodthorpe Top was previously Woodthorpe Grange Motors, the successor to Hopcroft Motors, a local car mechanics, for which this single-storey building was initially built following the Second World War. The Mapperley war memorial is located directly in front of the premises. Paid for by public subscription and erected shortly after the First World War, this Gothic-style memorial stands on a triangular island of land donated by Lord Carnarvon. The bar is long and on the right hand side of the room as you enter. The bar frontage is wooden with white plaster cladding and the opposite wall has been stripped back to expose internal brickwork with pieces of slate used to give the appearance of older stone. Amongst the standard Wetherspoons mix of high tables and low sofas, is a partition wall dividing the central room from a number of booths along the internal wall. The centre of the pub is taken up by an unusual centrepiece, in this case an ornamental artwork in the form of a metal tree which adds an unexpected touch amongst the décor. I've spoken before about the strength of Wetherspoons commitment to ale and this place is no exception. 10 hand pulls are present with the regular presences of Abbot Ale, Ruddles and Hobgoblin. In addition though, is a wide range of guests, including 2 from Titanic Brewery (Plum Porter and Nautical Mild), Lincoln Green Marion (Matt's choice), Thwaites' Best Cask and Golden Spring from the Blindmans Brewery based in Leighton, Somerset. This latter is my choice for my next tipple and it proves to be a good one. Yet another one at 4.0%, this is golden and fruity with a slight malt kick and a very hoppy finish.
Our next destination and the last of the 3 in close proximity to each other is the Bread and Bitter, another excellent pub under the ownership of Castle Rock.
As hard as it was to tear ourselves away from here, we still had one more place to visit. Leaving Mapperley Top, we headed slightly back on ourselves and made our down nearby Porchester Road to The Punchbowl.
Operated by Ember Inns, The Punchbowl outwardly resembles a hotel or, as is more likely given the area, an old manor house. The pub is very food driven but also makes every effort with regards to their cask ale. Inside, the bar is opposite the entrance and roughly L-shaped. A restaurant/dining area is located to the left of the entrance down a small flight of stairs, although it is possible to eat wherever you like. To the right is a more traditional bar layout with higher tables, snug-like areas and a TV screen. The premises also boasts a large outdoor seating area with picnic tables and a smoking shelter, all located under trees that grow on the property. The front of the building is whitewashed and full of character. The building itself is mounted above the road with a couple of staircases leading up to the main entrance. Dogs are welcome here too but must be kept on a lead at all times. Mine threw up last time we brought him though. The bar is well-equipped, with 9 hand pulls serving the regular ales of York Brewery Yorkshire Terrier and Thornbridge Lord Marples. There are also regular guests, on this occasion Everard's Tiger and Moondance from Hampshire's Triple F brewery, although this is still settling at the time of our visit. After brief deliberation, we opted for the Yorkshire Terrier, which was certainly more interesting than the dog it was named after. At 4.3%, it's pale and smooth with a creamy head, hop flavours and a fruity aroma. I do like The Punchbowl and I've visited it a few times in the past. Their food is excellent too and they do a number of decent money-saving deals on various days of the week. I can also vouch for the excellent quality of their Sunday dinners! Matt liked this place so much that he suggest we have a second here as well, which I was more than happy to do, and this time we took a punt on Lord Marples. This is a mere 4.0% and is a classic British bitter with light toffee and caramel characters, a mixture of floral and spicy hop notes and a pleasing bitter finish.
And with the finish of these pints, it was time to call it a day. Despite recent disappointments on a couple of previous excursions, I think we both agreed that this particular trip was a roaring success. Mapperley has lots to offer the discerning ale drinker and I would heartily recommend a journey out this way to try it for yourselves. For the relatively small number of pubs in the area, you could do worse than to make a day of it and try them all like we did. It's always pleasing when you can find so many venues, so close together that share the same standard of quality when dealing with cask ale and this can certainly be used as an example for others to follow.