Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Go West!

Being a teacher puts me in the enviable position of having a holiday every 6 weeks or so and it just so happened that the weekend after my birthday Buxton adventure was the start of February half term. With this in mind, I had long ago arranged with Matt and Jess to visit them at their new home in Bristol where Matt originates from. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to explore the sites (read pubs) of Bristol and have a thorough look at what the city has to offer for the ale tourist and the tourist in general. I'd never been to Bristol so I didn't really know what to expect but Matt assured me that it would be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. What followed more than lived up to this claim.


Bristol is England's sixth and the United Kingdom's eighth most populous city, one of the Core Cities Group and the most populous city in South West England.
Historically in Gloucestershire, the city received a Royal charter in 1155 and was granted County status in 1373. From the 13th century, for half a millennium, it ranked amongst the top three English cities after London, alongside York and Norwich, on the basis of tax receipts, until the rapid rise of Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester during the Industrial Revolution in the latter part of the 18th century. It borders the counties of Somerset and Gloucestershire, and is also located near the historic cities of Bath to the south east and Gloucester to the north. The city is built around the River Avon, and it also has a short coastline on the Severn Estuary, which flows into the Bristol Channel.
Bristol is the largest centre of culture, employment and education in the region. Its prosperity has been linked with the sea since its earliest days. The commercial Port of Bristol was originally in the city centre before being moved to the Severn Estuary at Avonmouth; Royal Portbury Dock is on the western edge of the city boundary. In more recent years the economy has depended on the creative media, electronics and aerospace industries, and the city centre docks have been regenerated as a centre of heritage and culture. There are 34 other populated places named Bristol, most in the United States, but also in Peru, Canada, Jamaica, Barbados, and Costa Rica, all presumably commemorating the original. People from Bristol are termed Bristolians.
Archaeological finds believed to be 60,000 years old, discovered at Shirehampton and St Annes, provide "evidence of human activity" in the Bristol area from the Palaeolithic era. Iron Age hill forts near the city are at Leigh Woods and Clifton Down on the side of the Avon Gorge, and on Kingsweston Hill, near Henbury. During the Roman era there was a settlement, Abona, at what is now Sea Mills, connected to Bath by a Roman road, and another at the present-day Inns Court. There were also isolated Roman villas and small Roman forts and settlements throughout the area.
The town of Brycgstow (Old English, "the place at the bridge") appears to have been founded in c.1000 and by c.1020 was an important enough trading centre to possess its own mint, producing silver pennies bearing the town's name. By 1067 the town was clearly a well fortified burh that proved capable of resisting an invasion force sent from Ireland by Harold's sons. Under Norman rule the town acquired one of the strongest castles in southern England.
 

The area around the original junction of the River Frome with the River Avon, adjacent to the original Bristol Bridge and just outside the town walls, was where the port began to develop in the 11th century. By the 12th century Bristol was an important port, handling much of England's trade with Ireland, including slaves. In 1247 a new stone bridge was built, which was replaced by the current Bristol Bridge in the 1760s, and the town was extended to incorporate neighbouring suburbs, becoming in 1373 a county in its own right. During this period Bristol also became a centre of shipbuilding and manufacturing. By the 14th century Bristol was one of England's three largest medieval towns after London, along with York and Norwich, and it has been suggested that between a third and half of the population were lost during the Black Death of 1348–49. The plague resulted in a prolonged pause in the growth of Bristol's population, with numbers remaining at 10,000–12,000 through most of the 15th and 16th centuries.
The Diocese of Bristol was founded in 1542, with the former Abbey of St. Augustine, founded by Robert Fitzharding in 1140, becoming Bristol Cathedral. Traditionally this is equivalent to the town being granted city status. During the English Civil War the city was occupied by Royalist military, and they built the Royal Fort House on the site of an earlier Parliamentarian stronghold.
Renewed growth came with the 17th century rise of England's American colonies and the rapid 18th century expansion of England's part in the Atlantic trade in Africans taken for slavery in the Americas. Bristol, along with Liverpool, became a centre for the Triangular trade. In the first stage of this trade manufactured goods were taken to West Africa and exchanged for Africans who were then, in the second stage or middle passage, transported across the Atlantic in brutal conditions. The third leg of the triangle brought plantation goods such as sugar, tobacco, rum, rice and cotton and also a small number of slaves who were sold to the aristocracy as house servants, some eventually buying their freedom. During the height of the slave trade, from 1700 to 1807, more than 2,000 slaving ships were fitted out at Bristol, carrying a (conservatively) estimated half a million people from Africa to the Americas and slavery.
The Seven Stars public house, where abolitionist Thomas Clarkson collected information on the slave trade, still exists.
 
Fishermen from Bristol had fished the Grand Banks of Newfoundland since the 15th century and began settling Newfoundland permanently in larger numbers in the 17th century establishing colonies at Bristol's Hope and Cuper's Cove. Bristol's strong nautical ties meant that maritime safety was an important issue in the city. During the 19th century Samuel Plimsoll, "the sailor's friend", campaigned to make the seas safer; he was shocked by the overloaded cargoes, and successfully fought for a compulsory load line on ships.[
Competition from Liverpool from c. 1760, the disruption of maritime commerce caused by wars with France (1793) and the abolition of the slave trade (1807) contributed to the city's failure to keep pace with the newer manufacturing centres of the North of England and the West Midlands. The passage up the heavily tidal Avon Gorge, which had made the port highly secure during the Middle Ages, had become a liability which the construction of a new "Floating Harbour" (designed by William Jessop) in 1804–9 failed to overcome, as the great cost of the scheme led to excessive harbour dues. Nevertheless, Bristol's population (66,000 in 1801) quintupled during the 19th century, supported by new industries and growing commerce. It was particularly associated with the noted Victorian engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who designed the Great Western Railway between Bristol and London Paddington, two pioneering Bristol-built ocean going steamships, the SS Great Britain and SS Great Western, and the Clifton Suspension Bridge. John Wesley founded the very first Methodist Chapel, called the New Room, in Bristol in 1739. Riots occurred in 1793 and 1831, the first beginning as a protest at renewal of an act levying tolls on Bristol Bridge, and the latter after the rejection of the second Reform Bill.
By 1901, some 330,000 people were living in Bristol and the city would grow steadily as the 20th century progressed. The city's docklands were enhanced in the early 1900s with the opening of Royal Edward Dock. Another new dock – Royal Portbury Dock – was opened in the 1970s.
Its education system received a major boost in 1909 with the formation of the University of Bristol though it really took off in 1925 when its main building was opened. A polytechnic was opened in 1969 to give the city a second higher education institute, which would become the University of the West of England in 1992. With the advent of air travel, aircraft manufacturers set up base at new factories in the city during the first half of the 20th century.
Bristol suffered badly from Luftwaffe air raids in World War II, claiming some 1,300 lives of people living and working in the city, with nearly 100,000 buildings being damaged, at least 3,000 of them beyond repair. The original central shopping area, near the bridge and castle, is now a park containing two bombed out churches and some fragments of the castle. A third bombed church nearby, St Nicholas, has been restored and has been made into a museum which houses a triptych by William Hogarth, painted for the high altar of St Mary Redcliffe in 1756. The museum also contains statues moved from Arno's Court Triumphal Arch, of King Edward I and King Edward III taken from Lawfords' Gate of the city walls when they were demolished around 1760, and 13th century figures from Bristol's Newgate representing Robert, the builder of Bristol Castle, and Geoffrey de Montbray, Bishop of Coutances, builder of the fortified walls of the city.
The rebuilding of Bristol city centre was characterised by 1960s & 70's Skyscrapers, Mid-Century Modern architecture, and the improvement of road infrastructure. Since the 1980s another trend has emerged with the closure of some main roads, the restoration of the Georgian era Queen Square and Portland Square, the regeneration of the Broadmead shopping area, and the loss of one of the city centre's tallest Mid-Century Modern towers.
Bristol's road infrastructure was altered dramatically in the 1960s and 1970s with the development of the M4 and M5 motorways, which meet at an interchange just north of the city and give the city direct motorway links with London (M4 eastbound), Cardiff (M4 westbound across the Estuary of the River Severn), Exeter (M5 southbound) and Birmingham (M5 northbound).
The removal of the docks to Avonmouth Docks and Royal Portbury Dock, 7 miles (11.3 km) downstream from the city centre during the 20th century has also allowed redevelopment of the old central dock area (the "Floating Harbour") in recent decades, although at one time the continued existence of the docks was in jeopardy as it was viewed as a derelict industrial site rather than an asset. However the holding, in 1996, of the first International Festival of the Sea in and around the docks, affirmed the dockside area in its new leisure role as a key feature of the city.


As can be seen, Bristol is a city with a long and varied history and I was very excited for the chance to explore a place that I'd never visited. After an easy but very blustery drive from Long Eaton, I arrived at Matt and Jess' flat in the suburb of Hanham and the day began. After lunch and cocktails (you read that right) at Turtle Bay, we began our journey around the city centre with Matt as a very useful guide. Our first location was The Crown, a very old traditional pub situated on All Saints Lane at the heart of St. Nicholas Market. The building is Grade II listed and dates from at least 1741. The traditional appearance continues inside with a split level layout and low-beamed ceilings. There is lots of seating in the form of comfy sofas, low and high tables and wall-mounted shelves for those that prefer to lean. The walls are decorated with old photos of the surrounding area and the curved bar is located to one side of the main room. There are 4 handpulls on offer and these include Crown & Glory, Green Duck Duck Turpin, Stunner and High Voltage from Bragdy Heavy Industry Brewery. I went for the High Voltage (4.5%), which is golden in colour, with fruit on the nose and a very hoppy flavour with zest underneath and a smooth finish. It was certainly a good start to the day and the pub surroundings were very nice too with a distinct alternative atmosphere and a very intense man in camouflage trousers who may have been on the angriest date ever. The Crown regularly hosts gigs in the old cellar and this area of the building is allegedly haunted by the apparition of a 17th century gentleman in a Periwig who only appears to women.
We didn't have a set plan for the day so it was very much a case of wandering around until we saw some places we liked the look of. This did not take long at all, as our walk brought us to the Bristol BrewDog! This glass fronted building is on a smaller and busier scale than it's Nottingham equivalent and it is very busy for a Saturday afternoon, no doubt helped by a live performane from a very impressive acoustic duo. We decided that popping in for a half wouldn't do any harm (famous last words) so we eased our way to the bar. Jess went for Punk IPA, Matt went for a guest cider called Bifrost and I worked my way through a half of 5am Saint, whilst enjoying the entertainment.
We decided that our next destination would The Old Fish Market, a Fuller's operated premises almost opposite. As its name suggests, this was formally a fish market and now operates as a pub that also houses a Thai restaurant. The building is large, long and made of old brick. Inside there is lots of seating and separate areas divided by internal walls. One wall is covered by a large mural. The bar is located against the wall directly facing the entrance. The 10 available hand pulls are doubles of Chiswick Bitter, London Pride, ESB, Front Row (a 6 Nations special edition) and Butcombe Bitter. Matt opted for the Front Row which I think he soon regretted and Jess decided on a half of  Frontier craft lager. I decided that ESB was as good a call as any and it was very well kept, which is what you'd expect for a pub in the Good Beer Guide. We managed to find a small vacant booth awayfrom the main area. The reason for it being empty soon became clear as it smelled strongly of damp and mould was apparent inside some nearby picture frames. We soon worked out that we were in close proximity to the toilets which explained the smell, even if it didn't quite explain the damp. This was a down side to an otherwise very nice place.
For our next destination, we turned back on ourselves slightly and headed for a pub that Matt recommended, The Mother's Ruin. This is a very alternative pub with a distinct grungy feel which I thoroughly liked. It reminded me of a very similar place in Cambridge. The layout is split level, with stairs leading up to the bar and a further level above that includes comfy sofas and is more open plan. The 2 hand pulls present here offered a choice of either Doom Bar or Old Rosie. Not wishing to go blind this early in the evening, I felt that Doom Bar was a wiser option. It was very nice too which is always a plus. After a few minutes lounging about on the sofas, we finished our drinks and decided what we would do next. Matt did then then realise that he meant to take us to the Irish bar next door instead of to Mother's Ruin but I was having a good time so I wasn't that fussed.
Our next experience certainly belongs in the category designated 'Seemed like a good idea at the time'. Matt had been talking about the Bavarian Beerhouse, an authentic German bierkeller in the heart of the Bristol and we were all determined to check it out. On the way, I popped into a shop for a pasty which I ate outside the beer house before we went in. This did not prevent a very good-natured German lady from good-naturedly accosting me before we even went in. She only came out to have a laugh because she was bored but I was 5 seconds away from surrendering. Inside, things did slightly improve. The general appearance was essentially a series of wooden picnic benches with a bar to one side and a small stage to the back of the room. It's strictly table service only so Matt and I both ordered steins of quality German beer. I went for the Erdinger Dunkel which was very dark but very very tasty. I thoroughly enjoyed it, which is just as well considering what happened next. Despite my pasty break, we had decided that we would eat here so we happily perused the food menu, which was essentially various sausages presented in various ways. Jess chose more wisely than Matt and I. Whilst she had a frankfurter with mash, Matt and I had ordered what was essentially 2 white sausages served in a bowl of chive water. The sausages were nice enough but we were very confused. The arrival of Matt's friends Pete, probably the most Bristolian man ever, was very timely in the context of what happened next. The only other people in the venue by now were a group of very drunk guys who may have been on a stag do. They enjoyed the following event much more than we did. A large German man (think a lighter, sober Mickey Rourke), took to the stage in short trousers and pedal pushers and began using an electronic keyboard to perform his own renditions of songs such as 'County Roads', 'Is This The Way to Amarillo' and, as we were leaving 'A Little Respect'. I realise that this isn't ale-related but it needed to be shared, as the image is now seared into the back of my eyelids every time I blink.
To detract from the horror we had just witnessed, we visited the fabled Apple, a bar located on a boat. This is no ordinary bar, this is a cider bar which, amongst a vast range of real ciders, also offers cider cocktails. I'm not generally a cider drinker but, when in Rome and all that. I went for a pint of Wilkins which is one of Matt's favourites. As ciders go, it wasn't bad and I was able to drink the whole thing which I'm claiming as a small victory. The Apple is certainly worth a visit for any fans of real ciders and, although there isn't much on offer for ale drinkers, it has a fantastic and friendly atmosphere that a lot of places would struggle to replicate. And it's on a boat!
What happened at this point becomes quite hazy I must admit. We ventured back on ourselves again and placed ourselves in an outdoor seating area between 2 pubs, The Old Duke and The Llandogr Trow, a Welsh bar. I'll be honest that I don't remember much about either venue, other than that The Old Duke was hosting a very good swing band and that there was Hobgoblin, which wasn't bad. I don't think we went into the Llandoger Trow but subsequent research has revealed that the pub is haunted by a ghostly sailor with a severely injured leg. A TV crew and psychic that visited the site claimed that as many as 14 entities haunt the premises, one of which may be a young boy.
Bristol is certainly a very interesting place, for its history and its sites alone, and it also has a myriad of great pubs that cater for those with an appetite for good beer. I plan on making a return visit later in the year, during which I will endeavour to place more of a focus on some of the other pubs, including some that appear in the Good Beer Guide. Hopefully, this will allow me to amass even more information on the ale scene in this fabulous city. For now though, I feel that this brief visit is a good start and certainly gives me somewhere to jump off from in future. Again, apologies for the lack of pictures accompanying this blog. I'm having some technical difficulties which I hope will be resolved in time for my next trip, which I plan to be the Winter Ales Festival in Derby. That's all for now though folks. Keep drinking!

Birthday Beer in Buxton

For my birthday this year (I'm 25 again), I decided that it was about time that I made the trip north to the Peak District market town of Buxton, which has become something of a haven for real ale drinkers. A last minute change of plan meant that I would be solo for the Friday night before being joined by George on the Saturday morning. This gave me plenty of time to explore the various pubs on the town's ale trail, as outlined by a very helpful leaflet that Matt had procured for me when he had last visited. Whilst I never made it to all of the pubs on the trail, we certainly attempted most of them and found some others along the way!
Buxton is a spa town in Derbyshire, close to the borders of Cheshire to the west and Staffordshire to the south. Described as the 'gateway to the Peak District', Buxton has the highest elevation of any market town in England. Buxton is home to Poole's Cavern, an extensive limestone cavern, named after a notorious local highwayman and open to the public, and St. Ann's Well, fed by the local geothermal spring bottled and sold internationally by the Buxton Mineral Water Company. The town also houses Buxton Opera House, which hosts several music events and festivals each year. The Devonshire Campus of the University of Derby is located within one of the town's historic buildings. Buxton is twinned with two other towns, namely Oignies in France and Bad Nauheim in Germany.
The town developed from a Roman settlement known as Aquae Arnemetiae (or the spa of the goddess of the grove). The discovery of coins has suggested that the Romans were in Buxton throughout their occupation. The origins of the town's name are uncertain, although it is thought to derive from the Old English for 'Buck Stone' or 'Rocking Stone'. The town grew in importance in the 18th century when it was developed by the Dukes of Devonshire, with a resurgence a century later as the Victorians were drawn to the reputed healing properties of the waters.
Built on the River Wye, and overlooked by Axe Edge Moor, Buxton has a history as a spa town due to its geothermal spring which rises at a constant temperature of 28 °C. The spring waters are piped to St Ann's Well (a shrine to St. Anne since medieval times) opposite the Crescent near the town centre.
The Dukes of Devonshire have been closely involved with Buxton since 1780, when the 5th Duke used the profits from his copper mines to develop the town as a spa in the style of Bath. Their ancestor Bess of Hardwick had taken one of her four husbands, the Earl of Shrewsbury, to "take the waters" at Buxton shortly after he became the gaoler of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1569, and they took Mary there in 1573. She called Buxton "La Fontagne de Bogsby", and stayed at the site of the Old Hall Hotel. The area features in the poetry of W. H. Auden and the novels of Jane Austen and Emily Brontë.
Instrumental in the popularity of Buxton was the recommendation by Dr Erasmus Darwin of the waters at Buxton and Matlock to Josiah Wedgwood I. The Wedgwood family often went to Buxton on holiday and recommended the area to their friends. Two of Charles Darwin's half-cousins, Edward Levett Darwin and Reginald Darwin, settled there. The arrival of the railway in 1863 stimulated the town's growth: the population of 1,800 in 1861 had grown to over 6,000 by 1881.
Each summer the wells are decorated according to the local tradition of well dressing. The well dressing weekend has developed into a town carnival with live music and funfair. In 2013, the Academy of Urbanism named Buxton as one of the three most attractive towns in Britain.
After battling my way through the Friday evening traffic clogging the town centre, I found my B&B, checked in and enjoyed a welcome shower before deciding my plan of action for the evening. I decided that on my first night, I would try out approximately half a dozen of the pubs on the trail before making a more concerted attempt once George was present.
Handily, the ale trail leaflet included a map so I knew exactly where I needed to go to begin my journey. Admittedly, the map isn't the best and I did change direction several times before I located my first port of call for the evening: Ramsay's Bar at the Buckingham Hotel. Unfortunately, I've had issues uploading photos of this particular location. Ramsay's Real Ale Bar is a public bar situated inside the Buckingham Hotel and much loved by guests and general public alike. Named after local artist George Ramsay, the interior is L shaped and relatively open plan with the U shaped bar central to the wall and an area of low, round tables to one side, suitable for dining. The overall appearance throughout is more bar-like. As an added bonus, at the time of my visit, the bar is crewed by 2 STUNNING bar maids (emphasis both intentional and necessary). Of the 8 available handpulls, 3 are in use, providing Thornbridge Kipling, Whim Ales Hartington Bitter and Yankie Driver from Sheffield's Tool Maker brewery. My first pint in Buxton was the Yankie Driver and it was a wise choice. At 4.2%, this is pale in colour with a zesty aroma, top notes of peach and a fruity flavour with a smooth, citrusy finish and a soft, hoppy aftertaste. Given the quality of the beer and, if I'm honest, the view, I felt it was only fair to stay on for a second. This time I opted for the Kipling (5.2%). This is a pacific pale ale with a grapefruit flavour accompanied by aromas of mango and peach. The smooth, creamy flavour and zesty aftertaste are backed up by a citrus kick. Both of these beers are of excellent quality and it's easy to see how this bar made it into the 2014 Good Beer Guide. I decided that it was time to move on to a second venue, mainly through fear of embarrassing myself.
My next destination was back the way I had come and not too far from my B&B. This was The Old Clubhouse. Again, I've had issues uploading pictures for this particular blog entry so I apologise for the lack of visual clarity. The Old Clubhouse is a former gentleman's club the sits alongside the Opera House. The layout is very traditional with a central bar and a raised seating area around the edge and a mix of high and low seating. Of the 5 handpulls, 2 are in use providing Old Peculier and Abbot Ale. As I reach the bar, the Old Peculier has run out so I'm limited to Abbot Ale, which is thankfully in very good condition. I took the opportunity to grab some food whilst I was here and thoroughly worthwhile it was too. A chicken and bacon burger with home cooked chips went down very well indeed!
My next stop was just down the road at the Old Hall Hotel. This smart hotel was originally known as the New Hall and was built by the Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury with the sanction of Elizabeth I, in order to provide accommodation for the captive Mary Queen of Scots. Ghostly activity has been reported from the hotel, in the form of footsteps and indistinct apparitions and these phenomena have been attributed to Mary herself although this has not been substantiated. The interior is very traditional and the bar is open to the public as well as guests. When I arrive, there is some kind of party happening so I felt slightly out of place as I was by myself amongst 30+ other people. Ale-wise there is a choice of Doom Bar, Buxton Moor Top and Thornbridge Lord Marples. I went for the latter and it was very well kept. Whilst I sat perusing recent events and slowly enjoying this delicious beer, I was gradually aware of the fact that the party was now into the buffet stage. An older lady who was sat next to me asked me if I was by myself. Expecting this to lead to a conversation, I said that I was. It turned out that she just wanted the extra chairs around my table............
My next stop involved an uphill walk towards the market place, where the next pub sits on a corner. The King's Head was originally built in 1725 as a Presbyterian Chapel and is a large, comfortable pub with a friendly welcome. The interior is expansive and open plan with mullioned windows and lots of seating. There are 4 handpulls on the central bar offering Marston's Bitter, Ringwood Scuttle Butt, Marston's Pedigree and Brakspear Oxford Gold. Being a big fan of Ringwood beers, it didn't take long for me to make my choice. Scuttle Butt is golden in colour, very hoppy and with hop flavours underneath an initial citrus aroma. The finish is zesty with a hint of malt on the tongue. All this at only 4.0%.
By now, following a long day at work, a long drive to Buxton and a general heap of stress, I was rather tired, so I decided that one more pub would be enough for tonight. This was literally a stone's throw away. The Eagle Hotel dates back at least 2 centuries and is thought to be the oldest pub in Buxton. Operated by Hyde's, the atmosphere is decidedly local and I was a bit apprehensive upon entry as I wasn't quite sure what to expect, especially as the pub was so quiet for a Friday night. Hyde's Bitter was available on hand pull and it was well kept, which lessened my fear a little. A small group of lads who were playing pool were very welcoming and friendly so I guess you shouldn't judge a pub by it's exterior and/or décor. I was done in by this stage so I wandered carefully off to the B&B for a nice sleep.


The following day was Saturday so, following a full English, another shower and a chance to wake up and clear my head, I decided that a little recon was in order to prepare for George's arrival and make a plan for the evening. I had a wander around the town identifying the location of pubs that formed the basis of the trail and any others that I thought could be worth a look. This proved to be a fruitful exercise and I formed a coherent plan in my head for later that day. With time to kill before George arrived, I decided that I would pay a visit to couple of pubs that were at the other end of the trail, away from the area we would be visiting. The first of these was the local Wetherspoons, the Wye Bridge House. This former Midland Railway hotel is on a slightly raised grassy area near the bank of the River Wye which flows nearby. The building boasts a slate brick exterior and is relatively square in layout with bay windows to the side, French windows to the front and an extensive outdoor patio area. The bar is L shaped and off centre and the overall layout is the standard Spoons open plan with a mixture of high and low seating. The bar includes 10 hand pulls. 1 is not in use but the others feature Abbot Ale, Hobgoblin, Ruddles Bitter (2 of each), Old Rosie cider, Ein Stein from Lymestone brewery, Life of Riley from the Wincle Beer Co., and a California Session IPA, brewed as part of the current UK/US collaboration. After a period of thinking, I decided that Life of Riley would be a good call. This is 4.2%, very pale in colour and with a fruity aroma tinged with a touch of hops. On the tongue, there is lemon and peach and a citrus finish. Overall, it was a very nice way to start the day!
I next ventured to a pub that lies just around the corner, underneath the railway arches. Imaginatively named The Railway, this is a Greene King operated stone and brick building that extends back beneath the imposing arches above. There is a small, central bar with seating and dining areas off to either side. 3 of the 4 handpulls are in use, offering a choice of Greene King IPA, Olde Trip and Railway Bitter, brewed especially for the premises. I went for the Olde Trip, which was in very good condition.
Following a brief detour back to the B&B, I made a swift return to The King's Head for another pint of Scuttle Butt, in hope that they were showing the Liverpool v Arsenal game. They weren't but the Queen's Head Hotel, further down the street, were. I wandered down to this pub, which also features on the trail, with the decision in my head not to drink more beer until George arrived. The Queen's Head has been in the same family for half a century and has a well stocked bar that offered Old Speckled Hen and a couple of beers from Buxton Brewery. I stuck to my initial decision though and lost man points by ordering a coke, whilst I watched Liverpool pull Arsenal to pieces.
Shortly after leaving the Queens Head, George informed me that he had arrived! After a quick snack, the day began properly. Retracing my steps from the Queen's, we headed to our first planned destination, The Swan. Regularly featuring in the Good Beer Guide, The Swan is renowned as a proper drinkers pub. This square, stone building is just off of the main market place. There are 3 rooms served from a central bar. 5 hand pulls are present, providing Doom Bar, Tetley's and Hurricane Hubert from Macclesfield's Storm Brewery. I instantly opted for the Hubert, whilst George ordered a coke to help with his hangover (which made me feel better). The beer was very good, 4.5%, chestnut coloured, with a nutty aroma, creamy head and a soft, malty taste with a smooth finish and hints of chocolate malt.
Helpfully, the first few pubs I'd pencilled in for the day were in close proximity which meant that whilst lots of walking would be required later, at least we could ease ourselves into it. The next place on our list was almost opposite The Swan. The Cheshire Cheese is owned and operated by Titanic Brewery, operating almost as an unofficial brewery tap. The bar is diagonal and located at the back of the room and there is a mix of high and low seating throughout. 7 of the 10 handpulls include offerings from Titanic Brewery, in the form of Anchor, Plum Porter, Capt. Smith's, Iceberg, Steerage, White Star and Compass. Chocolate Stout is available on draught from wall-mounted taps. The remaining 3 handpulls feature Everard's Tiger, Ilkley Black and Cumberland Cumbria Bitter. I went for the White Star at 4.8%. This beer is pale golden in colour, honey flavoured and fruity on the nose with a zesty taste and a smooth finish. George decided on a pint of the Anchor. We thoroughly enjoyed this pub, which features on the trail but had changed hands since the guide was written. During our time here, we heard the barmaid make a joke as bad as one of mine after smashing a glass and I somehow accidentally flirted with George's girlfriend Shellie over the phone. I don't think he minded that much and to be honest, I don't really know how I managed it.
Sadly, we realised we had to move on and ventured 2 doors down to the Old Sun Inn. This is an old, traditional building with low beams, flagged floors and open fires. Lots of rooms are arranged around the central entrance. The small bar has 5 handpulls, 3 of which are currently in use and offering Pedigree, Marston's Bitter and Sun Inn Ale, brewed for the pub. We both decided on a pint of the Sun Inn Ale which, despite only having an ABV of 3.6%, was very nice with a good hop/bitter balance, a pale appearance and a smooth finish with a hoppy kick. It being a Saturday in February, the Six Nations was in full swing. Our next task became finding a venue in which we could watch the England v Scotland game.
To that end, we were directed back down the hill to the London Road Inn, which would definitely be showing it. This is a one roomed traditional street corner boozer with a small amount of furniture an open dance floor space and an L shaped central bar. 4 hand pulls were present, with 3 in use that included Tetley's, Courage Director's and Manchester Pale Ale. George and I both went for the MPA at 3.7%. This was pale and hoppy with a fruity aftertaste. We settled down to watch the rugby, which had already started and which England went on to comfortably win. The atmosphere in the pub was very friendly with lots of chat, conversation and banter. George's beard was a subject of discussion and he was asked jokingly (I think) if he was a Muslim. I, on the other hand, was eyed by a not unattractive girl and separately by a considerably older, considerably less attractive woman. Something for everyone it seems!
Following the rugby, the walking properly began and we made our way back up the hill to a pub I'd spotted just off of the Market Place, The New Inn. This brands itself as a cask ale house and is small inside, consisting of a single room with seating around the room and the bar against the back wall and a coal fire making the place nice and warm. The 8 hand pulls contain a variety of different brews including Titanic Cherry Stout, Stout and Full Steam Ahead, Robinson's Unicorn, Trooper, Blonde and Old Tom and Hartley's Cumbria Way. It's this last option that I eventually went for, copper coloured, malty in aroma and zesty in flavour with a hoppy finish. The general feel of this pub was a disappointment as it seemed to be full of mainly older people keeping to themselves. Of all the pubs over the weekend, we enjoyed this one the least.
Our next location was further downhill, and tucked off the main streets. The Buxton Tap House is the brewery tap for Buxton Brewery and very nice it is too! Modern and shiny inside with a small rectangular bar and 8 handpulls, most of which (obviously) feature Buxton products. On offer are Buxton Bitter, Moor Top, Rednik Stout, Axe Edge and a couple of others. The Rednik Stout was very nice, with a deep browny-black appearance and a creamy latte head, at a strength of 4.1%. It was getting to the stage of the evening where serious conversation began to take place, which should have been a sign that it was time to go home. However, I was determined to drag George to Ramsay's Bar to get his verdict on the attractiveness of the bar staff. We arrived and only one of them was working but it was the best one so all was fine. I never did pluck up the courage to talk to her though. That may be something I'll regret! Whilst here, supping our final pints, we sampled the cuisine, in the form of the steak and ale pie, which was fantastic! With our appetites sated and our blood safely diluted by alcohol we wound out weary way back to the B&B.
It had been a very good day, to top off an excellent weekend. Buxton certainly has a lot to offer the seasoned drinker and even those who are new to the ale scene. If you don't mind walking and lots of wind, a trip to Buxton is something that everyone should try at least once. I do intend on a return visit in the future, to visit the pubs that we missed out but also to go caving as George assures me that it's brilliant. All in all, this was a successful trip and certainly one of the most interesting that I've done since this blog was conceived. A happy birthday indeed!