Derby was one of the centres of the Industrial Revolution and, in 1717, was the site of Britain's first water powered silk mill, which was followed by the cotton mills of both Richard Arkwright and Jedediah Strutt.
Other pioneers and famous people associated with Derby include the painter Joseph Wright, clockmaker and philosopher John Whitehurst and Erasmus Darwin, doctor, scientist, philosopher and grandfather of Charles. The beginning of the 19th century saw Derby emerge as a manufacturing centre and the North Midland Railway set up its headquarters in the area in 1840, and eventually became the Midland Railway following a merger with other railway firms. Rolls Royce also opened a car and aircraft factory in 1907, strengthening the city's industrial links. All Saints Church was dedicated as a cathedral in 1927, eventually being officially designated as a city in 1977 as part of the 25th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II's ascension to the throne. The city is also world famous for stories of hauntings and is commonly claimed (along with York) to be one of the most haunted places in the world.
Against the backdrop of the city's chequered history, we hopped on the Red Arrow from Victoria Shopping Centre, arriving in Derby just after midday. Our first stop was almost opposite the city's bus station, in the form of the watering hole called The Noah's Ark.
The frontage is traditional Tudor in appearance with an olde worlde interior of lots of benches around the walls and lots of small tables, all arranged a central, roughly pentagonal bar. The walls are covered in Derby County memorabilia and the bar is very well stocked with a quaint ceiling mounted spirit rack above the centre of the bar. The overall atmosphere is friendly and the pub is full of plenty of locals, sitting quietly or propping up the bar. The pub is believed to have once been the site of an unregistered mint that specialised in forging counterfeit coins. Thankfully, the current business is considerably more savoury. The bar includes 3 hand pumps, one of which is not being used, with the others including Abbot Ale and Bombardier. We both opted for a pint of the latter which was very well kept, and retreated to one of the long, low benches to soak up the ambience of our surroundings. The Noah's Ark is one of Derby's many properties, including a fair quantity of public houses, to have a ghost story or 2 associated with it. There have been reports of a figure of a girl being seen, who appears to be watching out for someone and the figure of infamous former local Noah Bullock, who ran the old illegal mint, is frequently reported, its appearance reported to bring either good or bad luck to the observer depending upon who you talk too.
Moving on from this relaxed local, we took a brisk walk to our next stop, the first of 2 in a row owned by the Wetherspoon's chain.
The Standing Order inhabits a large, Georgian-looking building on Iron Gate. The building was formerly a tavern but was most recently a bank before reopening as its current incarnation. The inside is certainly reminiscent of its previous life being absolutely enormous and rather imposing, made up of ornate furnishings and decorative touches on the high ceiling above the standard Spoons seating layout. The large, rectangular bar is central to the room and boasts an impressive 24 hand pumps, half of which display the standard fare for the Spoons franchise (Ruddles, Spitfire, Pedigree, Abbot Ale and Courage Directors). The other 12 pumps feature a number of guests from Wychwood (Hobgoblin), Milestone (Fletcher's Ale; Cromwell Bitter and Grand Slam) and North Star respectively. I went for a pint of the Cromwell Bitter (4.0%), a dark ruby concoction with tastes of chocolate malt, a smooth, bitter flavour and a slightly smoky aroma, all very unusual for its low percentage.
Following our enjoyable beverages, we ventured next door to the next Spoons venue, The Thomas Leaper, branded as part of the Lloyds No. 1 Bar range.
This significantly smaller venue started life as a Georgian town house which was most likely erected around 1740 and stands on the site of the family residence of Thomas Leaper, after whom it is named. The house, like the building next door, eventually became a bank, before the shop front was added in the early 1900s, finally becoming a licenced premises in the late 1990s. Inside, the layout is similar to a lot of other pubs of the same chain, with a long bar along one wall and lots of seating. The bar includes 10 hand pumps which features a strong variety of ales including the usual Abbot Ale, Ruddles and Pedigree as well as Oakham Bishop's Farewell; Derventio Cleopatra; Marston's Old Empire; Falstaff Brewery The Good, The Bad and The Drunk; Titanic Stout and Sharp's Citrus. The Cleopatra (5.0%) interested me and it turned out to be a good choice, golden and smooth with intense flavours of mango and peach. This was our designated food stop for the day so we took a few minutes deciding on some much needed food and stayed for an extended period of time letting it go down nicely with our beers.
Our next location was a little bit further out than we'd ventured so far and we did get slightly lost during our initial attempts to find it. Eventually though, thanks largely to the wonder of smart phones, we ended up where we wanted to be and it was well worth it.
Our next lay back along the route we had already travelled, in yet another pub famed for its live music. Situated on King Street, facing the main road, is The Flower Pot.
This is the home and brewery tap of the Black Iris brewery and also boasts a strong reputation for providing exciting offerings from near and far. It's brick exterior and traditionally laid out interior give way to an extensive smoking area of large picnic tables, each with their own parasol which is much needed as the day moves on and the temperature rises. On the bar, 8 hand pulls are available, providing an interesting array of brews. There is a cider, in this case Picker's Passion from Sandford Orchards (chosen and much loved by Matt) and 5 ales with 2 of the pumps out of service. The ale choices are Ossett Winning Streak; Ilkley Mary Jane; XT 8; Organic Fool's Gold and Welbeck Abbey Cavendish. I was also delighted to see that a mini beer festival was in progress, featuring a selection of brews from the brewery itself. This is where my taste buds eventually led me and I settled for a pint of Abseil IPA (4.2%), pale and citrusy with a fruity aroma and bitter finish. We took advantage of the decent weather and located ourselves in the beer garden where our conversation began to plough its usual meandering territories, in this case Matt's recent trip to Cornwall with Jess, home brewing and work. Jade phoned at around this point and she was pleasantly surprised that I was still coherent after 5 pints and with more pubs still to come! Sounds about right!
The next 2 stops on our magical mystery tour were the only ones that, perhaps ironically, didn't hold any mystery for me as I'd visited them both in the past, albeit briefly. Situated in the Cathedral Quarter and, mercifully by this stage, close together these were 2 of the premises that I had most been looking forward to heading back too. We began the 2nd half of this trip at the Old Silk Mill.
Located on Full Street, very close to the famous Derby landmark of the same name, The Old Silk Mill is currently facing a struggle to stay open due to falling trade, although the current landlords are doing all they can to reverse this change in fortunes. This is the quintessential traditional ale pub with something of a decent reputation for live entertainment too and the layout supports this, with seating situated largely around the edge of the room and a small bar opposite the entrance. On my previous visit, there was also a separate stillage bar in one corner of the room but this, sadly, was either only temporary or has been a casualty of the pub's reported decline. The bar itself is well stocked with 10 hand pulls, 2 of which include a cider and perry. 2 of the ale pumps are not in use but the others include Thronbridge Jaipur; Sharp's Doom Bar; 1872 Porter; Castle Rock Harvest Pale and also a stout. With the weather being too hot for anything as heavy as a porter or stout, I went for the Harvest Pale, which was excellent and proves how good this pub is and why it deserves to be doing well. Anyone that knows anything about the history of Derby will no doubt be aware of the many tales associated with the old silk mill nearby, including the story of the young boy, thrown to his death from the tower, whose cries are still regularly heard. Its namesake pub allegedly has things going bump in it too with occasional sightings of a phantom cavalier in the cellar area.
Moving back towards the Cathedral Quarter, our next location is right on the nearby corner and is renowned as Derby's oldest (and perhaps most haunted) pub.
Ye Olde Dolphin Inn takes it's name from the English translation of the word 'Dauphin', the name given to the heir to the old French throne and is a fairly common pub name in some older premises. The exact date of its construction is unknown but the layout uneven foundations suggest a possible medieval origin or even earlier. The interior retains the majority of the original features including original doorways and exposed oak beams. There is a large beer garden to the rear, which is in the process of being prepared for a live music performance at the time we visit. The bar is central to the property and is accessible through 2 doorways off of the slightly sloping central corridor. There are 7 hand pulls and again the variety on show is unusual (Abbot Ale; Grafters Wobble Gob; Doom Bar; Golden Sheep; Bass; Landlord; Deuchars and Nottingham Robin Hood). I went for the Wobble Gob from Grafters of Lincolnshire. At 4.9%, this is copper in colour, malty and bitter with undertones of hops. Once again, we decide to lean nonchalantly in the beer garden and marvel at the sheer volume of pump clips displayed upon the walls and beams around us. I also took an interest in the signs advertising the local ghost walk which starts from the pub every week and, with the number of stories about this place, you can see why. The most infamous and downright terrifying tale is that of a young doctor who illegally acquired the body of a young woman from two body snatchers and had it delivered to the cellar under what is now the lounge area, in the dead of night. In those days, this part of the building was part of a boarding house. As the doctor was beginning to dissect the poor woman and remove her entrails, she suddenly awoke, having been accidentally buried alive. Confused and dying, the woman leaped up and began running around the cellar, dragging her entrails behind her until she collapsed and died from shock and blood loss. The young doctor had to be placed in a lunatic asylum to the effects of this unfortunate incident and the screams of the young woman are still heard from the cellar area, along with substantial poltergeist activity. Other apparitions reported include a man in Highland regalia seen running down a corridor with a sword, carrying a young woman piggyback style. He is believed to be a Jacobite soldier who was billeted at the inn. A lady in a blue dress is also commonly witnessed. Nobody knows her identity but she is believed to have had an affair with highwayman Dick Turpin. The ghost of a small girl has also been seen sitting on the stairs that lead to the restaurant area.
Our next destination was a lot less spooky but no less brilliant. We had another longer walk ahead of us but it was worth to visit the Little Chester Ale House.
Derby's first and only micropub is situated in an old shop in the Chester Green area of the city, a well-presented residential district. Although small inside, the layout is very nice, with a few small tables arranged in front of the counter/bar on which sit 4 hand pumps. On offer are Nutbrook More; Wentwell Derby Pale Ale; Double Top Brewery IPA and, my personal favourite for best beer name ever, Wentwell Justice for Gingers. At the risk of offending Jade later, I opted (4.0%), which was expectedly pale but pleasantly sweet and hoppy with a distinct fruity tinge. Due largely to the amount of alcohol in or respective blood streams, conversation became more sombre at this point as I began to reminisce about my much-missed nan and Matt brought up similar stories of his own. I'm glad we made the effort out to this corner of Derby to find this pub as it was totally worth it. The Chester Green area is not devoid of ghostly activity either with many a resident reporting the sights and sounds of what appear to be Roman soldiers marching through the area, most likely stemming from the period when a Roman camp was located here. There were no soldiers, Roman or otherwise, present during our time there though.
By this stage, we both hot, quite drunk and rather tired but we still had one more pub to visit before the slog back to the bus station. Our final stop on this whirlwind tour took us back towards the city centre again as we made our way towards The Exeter Arms on Exeter Street.
This is another traditional pub with an old, traditional looking interior and an extensive smoking area. With is being a Friday evening when we arrive, there are a few people in the pub and it takes a little bit of time to reach the bar but it is worth the wait. There are 7 hand pulls present, 3 of which include beers from Dancing Duck brewery (Ay Up, 22 and Dark Drake). Other beers available are Pedigree, Wentworth Imperial Ale and Raw Edge Pale Ale. Jack Ratt strawberry cider is also available. Energy flagging by this stage, I went for a pint of Edge Pale Ale from Chesterfield's Raw Brewery. This is 5.0% pale and smooth with a hoppy finish and a fine hint of the underlying malt. Sadly, with my head starting to rebel, I couldn't quite finish the whole thing and took that as a sign that it was time to make my way home. Leaving Matt in the company of one of his friends who lives and works in Derby, I made my wobbly way back over the Derwent to the bus station which, thankfully, wasn't too far away. On the journey back down the A52 I had a chance to reflect upon the absolute success of this particular excursion. As much as my Nottingham friends will hate me, Derby is certainly a place worth visiting for the quality and range of its ale pubs, its friendly atmosphere, its spooky stories and its vast and rich history. There are certainly many more places available to visit in the city and I will definitely be making a concerted effort to make my way through them.