Monday, May 11, 2015

Let's Hear it for Heanor

Sometimes, since beginning this blog, I'm genuinely surprised with the range and quality of pubs in locations that, at first glance, don't appear to offer much. This was certainly the case with my most recent trip, in which I took advantage of a Bank Holiday Monday off work to once again journey across county lines into Derbyshire to investigate the town of Heanor.

Heanor  is a town and civil (administrative) parish of the town of Heanor and Loscoe in the Amber Valley district of Derbyshire. It is 8 miles (13 km) northeast of Derby. According to the census of 2011 the town's population was 22,620.
Heanor was mentioned in the Domesday Book with the following entry:
6M In CODNOR and Heanor and Langley [in Heanor] and 'Smithycote' [in Codnor Park] 8 thegns had 7 carucates of land to the geld [before 1066]. [There is] land for as many ploughs. There are now 3 ploughs in demesne; and 11 villans and 2 bordars and 3 sokemen [heads of household who were freemen] having 5 ½ ploughs. There is a church, and 1 mill [rendering]12d , and 35 acres (140,000 m2) of meadow, [and] woodland pasture 2 leagues long and 3 furlongs broad. TRE worth 4l ; now 41s 4d [2.2 pounds per year]. Warner holds it.

Coal mining and textiles used to be the major industries of the town, but both of these declined as a major force in the second half of the 20th century.
The Matthew Walker factory, famous for the production of Christmas puddings and situated on Heanor Gate Industrial Park, was sold in 1992 to become part of the Northern Foods Group. Other companies on the park include Advanced Composites Group, Cullum Detuners Ltd and Isolated Systems Ltd. In 2011 the 2 Sisters Food Group purchased Northern Foods. The Matthew Walker factory is now a part of the 2 Sisters Chilled Division.
Heanor merges into Langley Mill and is served by Langley Mill railway station.

The day of my excursion out was a nice one, with a slight breeze but bright spring sunshine with warm temperatures for the time of year. This certainly made the 2 bus journeys to get here much more bearable, as well as providing ideas for future locations to visit. With a distinct Bank Holiday feel in the air, I got off the bus in the main market place, which is elevated on a hill at the certain of the town with steep roads going downhill to 3 sides. It was towards one of these hills that I now had to walk in order to reach my first destination. Intrigued to see what was to come, I began my day at the local Wetherspoons, The Red Lion.

Image result for red lion heanor
The Red Lion is a former Home Brewery pub, which had been closed for several years before it was reopened by Wetherspoons in 1998. The present building dates from the turn of the 20th Century. It replaced an earlier Red Lion on the same site, which gave its name to the now demolished Red Lion Square, in front of the building. Internally, the pub is quite small with a bar to the left side of the central room and a dining area down a couple of small steps which also lead to an external smoking area to one side. The back end of the room features original beams and a high ceiling, giving the appearance of a barn or hayloft. The atmosphere inside is jovial, filled with a few locals. The bar features 6 handpulls, 5 of which happen to be in use. Amongst the standard Spoons fare of Abbot Ale, Abbot Reserve and Ruddles, are 2 guest ales, in this case Milestone American Pale Ale and Lymstone Stonefish Mild. I opted for the American Pale Ale (4.8%), from Milestone which is based is Cromwell, near Newark. I took a seat in the dining area with my pint and perused my surroundings. Due to the listed nature of the building, not much refurbishment has been done, making this one of the least impressive Wetherspoons outlets that I've visited. Fair play to them for maintaining the traditional features though as lots of chains these days are far too keen to tear down and build from scratch. The beer is still good though. The APA certainly lives up to its name, being very dry and very hoppy with a big hit of good old American hops. It was certainly a refreshing way to start the day after my fairly long journey and it went down very well indeed.

Next up was a pub that sits opposite the central Market Place, which meant a brief back up the short hill I had traversed previously. My next destination was The King of Prussia.
Market @ Heanor - Heanor

This recently refurbished establishment was the principal pub in the town prior to the outbreak of the First World War. A few weeks following the beginning of the conflict, a meeting of the Heanor Tradesman's Association expressed concerns with the name given that Britain was now at war with Prussia/Germany. The name was hastily changed to the Market Tavern for 'patriotic reasons', a name that it held up until very recently when a change of ownership and the aforementioned refurb led to the reintroduction of its previous moniker. (NB: The above photo shows the pub as the Market Tavern. A more recent photo was not available). Inside, the pub is a hustle and bustle of activity. The bar is tucked into one corner with seating placed more or less around the edges of the room, giving an overall open-plan layout. There are a large number of TVs, on walls and in booths, as well as above the bar, at this time of day showing snooker and horse racing. The bar boasts 4 handpulls but just the one is in use during my visit and this is offering Thwaites' Wainwright which is in very good condition. Upon paying for my pint, I took a standing position near to the main door and browsed through the current issue of Derby Drinker. Lots of items of interest in there, which is always good to see. It was nice to see that the refurb of the pub has been sympathetic to the original features and exterior.

Moving from the King of Prussia, my next location sits further back down the hill up which the bus had travelled on my journey to the town, across a road junction and just down the road from the church. Perched on a tight corner is The Crown Inn.

Crown Inn - Heanor

This compact but cosy pub is dog friendly and has a curved bar directly opposite the entrance, with seating areas to either side. The pub is clearly proud of its real ale status and has the pump clips and advertising signs to prove it. On the bar, 1 of the six handpulls is having its line cleaned. The other 5 feature local ales, including 3 from Stapleford's Full Mash Brewery: Warlord, Wheat Ear and Man-hat-on Pale. Also available are Castle Rock Elsie Mo and Dancing Duck Gold. I decided on the Wheat Ear, 4.2%. This is an occasional brew and is a pale, wheat beer with strong flavours as you would expect. It is certainly very tasty and I was very impressed to find this gem of a pub in an area I had been unsure about. This theme of unexpected success would become a recurring for one for the rest of the day, as will soon become clear. After taking a leisurely time drinking my delicious beer, it was time to move on. The next half of the itinerary involved walking down nearby Ilkeston Road to the Marlpool area of the town, an approximate 7-8 minute stroll, if that. The next pub in mind is one that I had heard very good things about in the past but never had time to visit. I was not to be disappointed as I ventured to the Queen's Head.
Image result for queens head marlpool

This is a former Shipstone's pub which is now owned by the Pub People Co., who have steered the pub back into popularity and carried out a tasteful refurbishment. The pub is a beautiful 5-roomed building with the bar roughly central and a split level layout that has stayed true to the pubs original features, with lots of exposed beams and varnished woodwork, including the flooring. The pub hosted beer festival over the weekend prior to my visit and so had lots of guest beers available at reduced prices. All 6 of the available handpulls were occupied, featuring Shepherd Neame Spitfire, Blue Monkey Infinity, Barlow Betty's Blonde, Brampton Best, Brampton Jerusalem and Dancing Duck Nice Weather. I decided on a pint of Brampton Jerusalem (4.6%) and took a seat in one of the back rooms, near a fellow drinker with a Staffie that really wanted to say hello. The Queen's Head is a proper ale pub with a very nice atmosphere and I always love any pub that is dog friendly. The Jerusalem is delicious, its pale colour is defied by rich, roasted malt notes. The rich maltiness is a contrast to its traditional pale ale appearance. It's essentially a pale ale that tastes like a darker ale!

My next stop was just around the corner at Marlpool Ale House.
Image result for marlpool ale house

Previously a butcher's shop, this quaint little building on Breach Road is billed as Derbyshire's first micropub. Family run, it is the brewery tap for the Marlpool Brewing Co. but also features beers from lesser known and further afield breweries. The pub is another that is dog-friendly. The bar sits just inside the door next to a small corridor that leads to a seating area at the rear. The bar boasts 4 handpulls and beer is also able to be dispensed directly from casks in the cellar. The handpulls are predominantly and unsurprisingly Marlpool Brewing Co., with Scratty Ratty, Otter's Pocket and Blind Boris, alongside Wembley Way from Mouselow Farm. In the cellar on my visit were Stockport Heaton Rifles, Fell AAA and Rammy Craft Rammy Xtreme IPA. I thought it was only fair to sample the local offering so went for a pint of Scratty Ratty (4.4%). This is a clear golden coloured beer with a hoppy aroma. The flavours are floral and hoppy with a dry and slightly floral finish. This little place confirms once more my love for micropubs and the unique, welcoming atmosphere that they offer the drinker. The growth in number and popularity of pubs of this sort can only be a good thing and they will continue to be a big part of the real ale resurgence.

The last pub on the list for the day was something of a wildcard as I discovered it by accident whilst visiting the previous 2. It sits slightly further down, and over the road, from the micropub. Last stop, the White Lion.
Image result for white lion marlpool heanor

This is very much a locals pub with a pool/darts area to one side, a central bar and a smaller, open lounge area, all in a single room. Despite not having received a refurb in the way that other local pubs have, the atmosphere is friendly enough at the time I'm there. There is also a large garden to the rear with a swing set, presumably reserved for younger visits. Only one of the 3 available handpulls are in use and this proffers good quality Bass. I took a seat by myself in a quiet corner and, as usual at this stage, reflected upon the day's events.

Heanor is certainly something special in terms of the real ale establishments on offer and this is something of a surprise. Many of the pubs here are not too well known outside of the local area, which if anything helps them to do such a good job. There is something for all visitors at the majority of the pubs here, from the standard offerings of the Red Lion to proper drinkers havens of Queen's Head and Marlpool Ale House. It may be exaggerating to state that Heanor's pubs are something of a hidden gem but the quality and range is truly something to behold. Well run pubs that cater for everyone, in a well known area that aren't suffering from their own self-importance and truly value their customers. What more could a real ale drinker want?

Monday, May 4, 2015

An Enjoyable Bath

With the urge to get the blog back on track on a more regular basis fresh in my mind, last week I ventured out on an excursion to a place that will always have a special place in my heart due to its picturesque location, fantastic atmosphere and thoroughly wonderful feel. With its preponderance of fish and chip shops and arcades, it has the distinct feel and appearance of a seaside resort despite being ensconced in the heart of rural Derbyshire. I am, of course, talking about Matlock Bath.

Matlock Bath is a village situated south of Matlock on the main A6 road in Derbyshire, England, approximately halfway between Buxton and Derby. Originally built at the head of a dead-end dirt road running alongside the valley of the River Derwent from Matlock itself, the locality developed in the 19th century as residential and a spa town and still thrives on tourism. Development was and is very restricted due to the steep hillsides, with the majority of buildings on one side of the valley with only footbridges across the river. The road was upgraded and made into a through-way, now designated A6, avoiding the previous old coaching road approach to Matlock from Cromford over very steep hills near to the Riber plateau area.
In 1698 warm springs were discovered and a bath house was built. As the waters became better known, access was improved by the building of the bridge into Old Matlock and in 1783, the opening of a new entrance at the south of the valley. Princess Victoria of Kent's royal visit in 1832 confirmed Matlock as a society venue of the time. Victoria's party visited a pair of museums and a petrifying well. John Ruskin and Lord Byron were visitors, Byron comparing it with alpine Switzerland, leading to a nickname of Little Switzerland. Erasmus Darwin had recommended the area to Josiah Wedgwood I for its beauty and soothing waters, and members of the families vacationed and settled there. Edward Levett Darwin, son of Francis Sacheverel Darwin, lived at Dale House in Matlock Bath, where he was a solicitor.
When the North Midland Railway opened in 1840, carriages plied for hire from Ambergate station. The Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway ran a number of excursions, taking the passengers onward from Ambergate by the Cromford Canal.
Matlock Bath is now a designated conservation area with an Article 4 Direction in relation to properties, predominantly along North and South Parade.
Andrew Asibong's phantasmagorical novel Mameluke Bath is set in a futuristic version of Matlock Bath, and Eleanor Bowen-Jones' film Return to Mameluke Bath explores both real and fictional versions of the town.
Matlock Bath is known as a tourist destination, with attractions including the Heights of Abraham park, Gulliver's Kingdom theme park, the Peak District Mining Museum, the Life in a Lens Museum of Photography & Old Times and an aquarium.
On the opposite bank of the river Derwent stands High Tor, a sheer cliff popular with climbers and walkers. High Tor features Giddy Edge, a narrow winding path along the cliff edge. Cable cars link the base of High Tor rising to the Heights of Abraham.
In autumn of each year, the "Venetian Nights" are held with illuminations along the river and illuminated boats.

I've visited Matlock Bath numerous times before, always by car and I've been in 2 or 3 of the pubs in the past. So I decided, on a quiet Wednesday, that I would make the train journey from Nottingham to do a proper survey of the fine drinking establishments of this fine place. I was a little bit apprehensive first thing that morning as it was raining and Matlock can get quite chilly when the weather is inclement. Thankfully, by the time I was getting ready to leave, the weather had brightened considerably and it was dry with the sun appearing periodically to add some much needed warmth to the proceedings. I arrived in Matlock Bath just before 12.30 in the afternoon and immediately headed to my first destination, situated opposite the bridge the leads over the river from the train station car park. This was a new destination for me: the County and Station.
Image result for county and station matlock bath

The County and Station is a former Marston's premises that changed hands in December 2014 and is now operated on behalf of Derby's Shiny Brewery. The interior of the pub retains many of the original Victorian features including the sweeping central bar and the wooden effect walls. The seating is arranged around the edges of the room and takes the form of wooden tables and benches. The bar is well stocked, with 8 handpulls. 5 of these are in use on my visit, offering Great Heck Blonde, Redwillow Seamless, Tap East Coffee in the Morning, Coastal Spring Hop and Shiny Cathedral Ale. They also offer a very nice line in craft keg beers, on this occasion providing Late Knights APA, Tiny Rebel Urban IPA, Tiny Rebel Hadouken, Shiny Tomahawk and Shiny Wrench. Real ciders also feature in plastic kegs behind the bar and these are Burrow Hill, Thundering Molly and Wilkins. After a few moments to peruse the wide range of products on offer, I opted for Great Heck Blonde (4.3%). This is a rich, golden and satisfying ale hopped with a blend of British and Slovenian hops that combine for a zesty finish. It is brewed with Maris Otter and wheat malt and was winner of Yorkshire's finest taste award in 2008. It's easy to see why as it is certainly very tasty and goes down easily. This pub is certainly a hidden gem and worth a visit. More from this place later!

The next location on my trip is a mere stone's throw away, on the other side of the main road that runs through the village. Named after the nearby railway line, next up was The Midland.
 Image result for the midland hotel matlock bath

This is a pub/hotel which I has visited in the past. The interior is a good mix of original features and modern additions, including a conservatory to the side and a nice riverside seating area for both diners and drinkers. The bar is opposite the entrance from the main road and is broad and curved at both ends. I can vouch for the quality of the food here, having eaten here before, most recently last summer. The pub is dog friendly in all areas except the conservatory which tends to be reserved for diners. The pub also has a very nice husky that lives on the premises although the dog is nowhere to been on my visit. The bar has 5 handpulls, 4 of which are in use on the day in question. The choice is decent, with Dancing Duck Dark Drake, Howard Town Hope, Peak Ales Swift Nick and Rosie's Pig Cider. Having had Swift Nick in the past, I decided this time that Howard Town Hope (4.1%) was a good choice. This is a light citrusy ale made from pale, rye and crystal malts and Pacific Gem and Cascade hops. The brewery itself is based in Glossop. The beer is smooth and fruity with a very nice zesty aftertaste and the perfect antidote to the slightly eclectic mix of music of the pub sound system. Nowhere else would I expect to hear Rita Ora followed by Lionel Richie then followed by Kenny Loggins......... It's almost like a wedding DJ has been let loose. The Midland is one of my favourite pubs in this area but sadly, I was bound by duty to move onto the next location.

Further down the main promenade, on the other side of the road this time, is Riva @ Rose Cottage.

Image result for riva rose cottage matlock bath

This long, brick, ivy-covered building is now operated by Marston's. The outside area is a series of picnic benches elevated above the pavement behind a stone wall. The interior is a collection of small rooms, divided up by thick partitioning walls with square window-like openings for light and a view into other areas. The bar is small and tucked into one side of the central room, next to the stairs that lead up to the toilets. Half of the 4 handpulls are in use, offering Brakspear Bitter (3.4%) and Thatcher's Heritage cider. For a Marston's premises, the range of ales is disappointing. On a previous visit, a couple of guest ales were also available. I can only assume that this is a feature of the bar during busier periods of trade, such as the summer peak seasons. The Brakspear is well kept and tasty but a greater selection of choices would have been appreciated, although Mansfield Smooth and Marston's Oyster Stout were available on keg.

The handy thing about Matlock Bath is that, with the exception of The Midland, all of the buildings are on one side of the road, with the river opposite. This meant that it was a short walk up the road to the next pub, the Princess Victoria.

Image result for princess victoria matlock bath

Named after Princess Victoria of Kent, who visited the area in 1832, this picturesque little pub boasts a ground floor bar area and an upstairs restaurant function room which looks out over the river. The pub is operated by Bateman's brewery and this is evidence on the single bar which is tucked into the corner of the main room. The 4 handpulls feature Black Sheep Golden Sheep, Bateman's XXXB, Bateman's Best Bitter and Sharp's Doom Bar. I opted for the XXXB (4.8%) which is a superb classic better with a robust palate of hops balanced with a malty bitterness. I took a seat in a corner of the room and admired the interior with its traditional Victorian shop front windows, wooded floors and furnishings and tankards hanging from the ceiling. There is a large TV screen against the back wall showing Indian Premier League cricket to a backdrop of rock music from the pub's sound system. The atmosphere was nice and relaxed and the beer was delicious but my excitement level was rising as I knew that the next destination was my favourite pub in Matlock Bath.

At the top of the main road into the village, opposite the famous Pavilion which now encompasses a mining museum, is The Fishpond.

Image result for the fishpond matlock bath

Built on the original site of The Fishpond Hotel, The Fishpond is a dynamic and modern-looking pub and restaurant with modern features. The interior is a mix of high and low tables and there are bookcases at either to add a touch of quirkiness to the overall design. The bar is L-shaped and very well equipped. There are 8 handpulls, 5 of which are in use at the time of my visit. On offer are Thwaites' Wainwright, Blue Monkey BG Sips, Sharp's Doom Bar, Rosie's Pig Cider and Old Rosie. In busy periods during the tourist season, all of the handpulls are occupied, usually with a wide variety of beers from near and far, often Nottingham and Derbyshire. I've always been a big fan of this pub, due to its beer range and the general atmosphere of the place. On this occasion, I decided on the BG Sips. As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of Blue Monkey beers and this was very well kept, as it should be. Given the day I'd had so far, I decided that food was a good idea. After a look over the extensive food menu, I decided against the fish and chips and went for the lasagne, which was very tasty. With time to kill until my train home, I finished my pint and went for a second pint of the same, enjoying the music being played into the pub as it went through Jake Bugg, Fleetwood Mac and Ben Howard. Matlock Bath certainly loves its alternative music. That works for me! Matlock Bath even hosts an annual music festival which was actually happening the last time I was here. Whilst the pubs seem devoid of spirits of a ghostly kind, the Pavilion opposite is notorious for strange goings-on. The figures of a man and 2 children have been spotted in the mining museum, believed to be victims of a mine collapse nearby. Poltergeist activity has been reported from both the museum and the nightclub that occupies the upper floor. Disembodied footsteps and voices are heard and strange mists have been reported. The Pavilion was even featured in an episode of Most Haunted.

The time had come to leave The Fishpond and start walking back down the main road towards the train station. I arrived with 40 minutes to spare so I decided that I had time for another pint. I headed back to the County and Station and treated myself to a pint of Tap East Coffee in the Morning (5.5%). This is a traditional dark, smooth stout with the unusual added ingredient of freshly ground coffee beans, leading to an intense aromatic flavour and a strong, almost peppery finish. It was very nice indeed and a good addition to my growing list of dark beers. I made my weary journey back to the train station ready for the journey home. The day had been superb. The weather had held out and resulted in a dry and pleasant day. This trip has reaffirmed my love for Matlock Bath and proves that small villages are often worth a visit for the pubs and beers on offer as these can often eclipse the range found in bigger settlements. The reliance on the tourist trade to keep the place ticking over obviously benefits the pubs and this is the clear driving force behind the desire to keep a good range of good quality beers on the bar at most of the outlets. Matlock Bath can teach a few other places a thing or two about how to do real ale and do it well. More than anything, this trip has given me another reason to return in the high season and see what has been added to the range. Farewell for now Matlock! We both know I'll be back.