Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Having A Lough

Last week, once again afforded a Bank Holiday Monday free from work, Amy and I decided that we would bring forward a proposed trip to a place that is becoming something of a haven for real ale, and a place that Amy knows well as she once lived there and both her mother and grandmother are still residents. Taking advantage of the easily accessible bus network, we made our way, on a not unpleasant day, over the Leicestershire border to explore the town of Loughborough.

Loughborough  is a town within the Charnwood borough of Leicestershire, England. It is the seat of Charnwood Borough Council and home to Loughborough University. The town had a population of 57,600 in 2004, making it the largest settlement in Leicestershire outside the city of Leicester. The town is close to the Nottinghamshire border and is within a short driving distance of locations such as Nottingham, the East Midlands Airport and Derby.
In 1841, Loughborough was the destination for the first package tour, organised by Thomas Cook for a temperance group from Leicester. The town has the world's largest bell foundry — John Taylor Bellfounders, which made the bells for the Carillon war memorial, a landmark within the Queens Park in the town, Great Paul for St Paul's Cathedral, and York Minster. The first mention of Loughborough is in the 1086 Domesday Book.
To the north of the edges of Loughborough, Dishley Grange Farm was formerly the home of agricultural revolutionist Robert Bakewell. The farm was also once home to the annual Leicestershire County Show. Loughborough's local weekly newspaper is the Loughborough Echo. The town is also served by Leicestershire's daily newspaper, the Leicester Mercury.
The first sign of industrialization in the Loughborough district came in the early years of the 19th century, when John Heathcoat, an inventor from Derbyshire patented in 1809 an improvement to the warp loom, known as the twisted lace machine, which allowed mitts with a lace-like appearance to be made.
Heathcoat, in partnership with the Nottingham manufacturer Charles Lacy, moved his business from there to the village of Hathern, outside Loughborough. The product of this "Loughborough machine" came to be known as English net or bobbinet. However, the factory was attacked in 1816 by Luddites thought to be in the pay of Nottingham competitors and 55 frames were destroyed. This prompted Heathcoat to move his business to a disused woollen mill in Tiverton, Devon.
The character of Loughborough as a whole began to change after 1888, when a charter of incorporation was obtained, allowing a mayor and corporation to be elected. The population increased from 11,000 to 25,000 in the following ten years.
Among the factories established were Robert Taylor's bell foundry John Taylor & Co and the Falcon works, which produced steam locomotives, then motor cars, before it was taken over by Brush Electrical Machines. Inn 1897, Herbert Morris set up a factory in the Empress Works in Moor Lane which become one of the foremost crane manufacturers by the mid-20th century.
There was also strong municipal investment: a new sewage works in 1895, then a waterworks in Blackbrook and a power station in Bridge Street in 1899. The corporation took over Loughborough Gas Company in 1900.
Loughborough was referred to in the 1086 Domesday Book as Lucteburne.

I had never been to Loughborough before and so I was very excited to see what was on offer. With a list of pubs to hand, but no particular route in mind, this was very much a trip in which we intended to make it up as we went along. We identified our first location immediately upon arrival into the town, as it was just around the corner for the bus stop we arrived at. Recently reopened following an expensive refurbishment, we arrived at The Phantom.

Image result for the phantom loughborough

Operated by Stonegate Pub Co., The Phantom was formerly part of the Scream brand of student bars until this particular brand was disbanded a month or so ago. As a former Stonegate employee, I'm always intrigued to see how the pubs are doing, especially as this one is run by an old boss of mine. Inside, it's clear that the money expended on the refurb was money well spent. The interior is modern and stylish with a welcoming atmosphere and large seating areas around the bar, which sits horizontally between the 2 entrances. There is also a large, outdoor seating area. The bar is equipped with 5 handpulls, 4 of which are in use, offering Marston's Pedigree, Thwaites' Lancaster Bomber, Old Speckled Hen and Old Golden Hen. There are also 2 craft beers on draught, in this case Grimbergen and Revisionist craft lager. I opted for the Lancaster Bomber, a beer that I'm familiar with and this is well kept and very tasty. Amy decided to start off on lager but I knew she'd make a stab at some ale later as I've been able to introduce her to a few that she enjoys. I was pleased to be able to have a chat with my old boss John who, when I arrived, had been watching some kind of police incident happening in the next street. It's always nice to catch up with old friends in situations like this and he deserves an awful lot of credit for how successful The Phantom is.

The day had started promisingly and we'd already spotted the next place we planned to visit, just around the corner. Pints finished, we made our way to The Organ Grinder.

Image result for organ grinder loughborough

This is the sister pub to The Organ Grinder on Canning Circus in Nottingham and both premises act as brewery taps for the excellent Blue Monkey brewery. The Loughborough pub is the smaller of the 2 and is situated on a street corner. Inside is the same mix of rustic charm and modern features that can be found in its Nottingham equivalent. The bar is tucked into one corner of the room and there is a small snug-like area to the left of the door. The seating consists of low tables and benches and the pub in general has a very cosy feel to it. The bar hosts 8 handpulls, all featuring Blue Monkey beers as you'd expect. It's an impressive range offering, at the time of our visit, Ape Ale, 99 Red Baboons, Right Turn Clyde, Sanctuary, Marmoset, Guerrilla, BG Sips and Infinity. Being familiar with the majority of these, I went for one of my favourites, 99 Red Baboons which, unsurprisingly, is excellent. Amy went for a pint of Symond's cider which is available on draught along with a couple of craft products. This is the kind of pub in which it would be tempting to spend the whole day and, had our stay not been dependent upon Bank Holiday bus times, we may have done just that. Amy was thoroughly enjoying herself at this stage and it was really nice to have her with me as this is the first time that she's accompanied me on an excursion. I have a feeling she'll be joining me again in the future.

Our next destination was further into the town centre proper and is actually the sister pub to The Phantom. Next up, The Unicorn.

Image result for the unicorn loughborough

This large, former hotel on Biggin Street has retained much of it's charm with it's traditional exterior frontage and expansive interior. The bar is long and takes up most of one side of the large, single room with the rest of the space given over to a variety of separate seating areas. There are 5 handpulls on the bar offering a choice of Pedigree, Robinson's Twisted Sister, Bass, Greene King IPA and Courage Best Bitter. Amy was curious as to how the Twisted Sister was, as was I as this is a new one on me. We decided to have a pint each and took up a seat on a table in roughly the centre of the room. The beer turned out to be a good choice. At 4%, this is a sister brew to the excellent Dizzy Blonde. Twisted Sister is a blonde beer with a floral aroma, created by the use of Amarillo, Cascade and New Zealand's Nelson Sauvin hops. It's a fruity brew with a very moreish taste and certainly a good way to mark the halfway point of our visit to Loughborough.

Upon leaving the Unicorn, we bumped into Amy's grandma's partner who was randomly on the phone to Amy's mum. After being handed the phone, Amy was pointed in the direction of a pub which I was assured that I would like. Making our way down a nearby road known as The Rushes, we found the pub in question: the Tap & Clapper.

Image result for tap and clapper loughborough

This premises was formerly known as Hobgoblin and was renowned for selling Wychwood beers. Before this, the pub was known as The Black Lion, a name that is still visible on the gable end of the building. Recently refurbished, the pub is named after parts of a bell in honour of the historic bell foundry in the town. Four bells have been commissioned from the foundry especially for the pub and these can be seen behind the bar. The pub markets itself as a good place to watch sport and the 14 TVs, at least one of which is visible from anywhere in the pub, are testament to this. 5 handpulls are present, 4 of which are in use, and these offer Bombardier, Tetley's, Tetley's Gold and Navigation Brittania. Although tempted by the Brittania, I instead decided on Bombardier which was in very good condition. We grabbed a booth opposite the bar, under a light fitting designed in the style of a bell and had a chat about whatever sprang to mind. It's always easy to talk to Amy about anything which is one of the reasons I was glad that she had joined me on this particular trip. By the time it was decided to move on, the jukebox was playing Rage Against The Machine which was unusual but not unwelcome.

Slightly further down The Rushes but on the opposite side of the road, is the local Wetherspoon's which was our next stop. I wondered what to expect from The Amber Rooms.

 Image result for the amber rooms loughborough
The pub takes it's unusual name from the fact that The Rushes retail development, which it is part of, occupies the site of what used to be the Loughborough Electricity Works. Electricity takes it's name from the Greek word 'elektron' meaning amber, hence The Amber Rooms. The interior is in the similar Wetherspoon's vein with lots of local history information adorning the walls. The bar is long and to the left of the entrance, and features 8 handpulls consisting of Marston's Old Empire, Hobgoblin Gold, Purple Moose Dark Side of the Moose, Oakham JHB and doubled up Abbot Ale and Ruddles. I swung, in the end, for the Hobgoblin Gold, particularly as the JHB had just gone. The Gold was very tasty and it was at this point that we decided that it was a good time for some food. We perused the menu and took advantage of one of the excellent burger deals, accompanied by another pint of course! Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm, in general, quite a big fan of Wetherspoons for their dedication and determination to feature and maintain real ale to a high standard. They deserve a lot of praise for how keenly they are fighting the good fight.

The final stop on our tour of Loughborough (at least for now), was back over the road at Castle Rock's only pub in Loughborough, The Swan in the Rushes.

Image result for the swan in the rushes loughborough

Part of the Castle Rock chain for over 25 years, the pub was previously known as the Charnwood. It was closed and unable to find a buyer until Castle Rock saw its potential, gave it a new name and reopened the doors. It has remained an integral part of Loughborough's real ale scene and regular stocks a range of 10 cask ales at any one time as well as up to 5 real ciders and over 30 single malt whiskies. The Swan also regularly serves ale from the area's newest brewery, Charnwood. The interior of the pub is divided by a corridor which leads to one of 2 areas, either side of the entrance, both served by the same bar. 10 handpulls offer 9 ales and a cider, on this occasion Castle Rock Sheriff's Tipple, Harvest Pale and Elsie Mo; Adnams Southwold, Ossett Silver King; Charnwood IPA, Old School, Try Hopped and Vixen as well as Old Rosie cider. I'm still a fan of Castle Rock beers despite a healthy professional rivalry, and I decided on a pint of Elsie Mo, which was excellent. As much as I like Castle Rock pubs, the atmosphere in The Swan didn't feel as welcoming as some of their other pubs. Whether this is due to my familiarity with the venues I have visited more often or that the clientele during our visit is mostly older men I'm unsure. The pub isn't too bad in itself and I can imagine when it's busy that the pub is buzzing.

We were tired by this stage so came to the decision to call it a day with the prospect of a bus ride home during which we could analyse what had happened on our trip. Loughborough has a lot to offer and a promising ale scene which will only improve. There are a significant number of pubs in the town that warrant a visit so this is by no means our last exploration. All in all, Loughborough has been interesting. Stay tuned for a return trip in the future. Who knows what other hidden gems may be lurking in this charming Leicestershire town. Having Amy with me only made the experience more enjoyable so expect more of the same in future.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Long & Short of Long Eaton

I decided to visit another of my old stomping grounds for a recent trip. In this case, it was another area that I had once lived in and frequently visited when I was with She Who Must Not be Named. Anyway, on an unsettled but warm Monday afternoon, I made the 2 bus journey to Long Eaton.

Long Eaton is a town in Derbyshire, England. It lies just north of the River Trent about 7 miles (11 km) southwest of Nottingham and is part of the Nottingham Urban Area (the conurbation around Nottingham) but not part of the City of Nottingham. Since 1 April 1974, Long Eaton has been part of Erewash borough.
Long Eaton is referred to as Aitone, in the Domesday Book. Several meanings are associated with this name, for example "farm between streams" or "low lying land". This agricultural settlement grew up close to the lowest bridging point of the River Erewash.
In 1228 the village gained the "Long" prefix due to its length. The cottages and farms straggled along the Market Place, High Street and Main Street.
The "Great Fire of Long Eaton" ripped through 14 houses and several other building in the Market Place destroying them in 1694.
The village remained a constant size until the coming of the railways in the nineteenth century. The Midland Counties Railway in 1839 and the Erewash Valley Line in 1844 provided transport links which encouraged growth. Two industries came to employ many people in the growing town, lace-making and railway wagon manufacturing. A large railway yard at Toton Sidings grew just north of the town.
By 1900 the town had grown to have a population of over 10,000. It had expanded with the construction of many new houses, business premises and factories throughout the Victorian period. In 1921 Long Eaton's boundaries were extended bringing Wilsthorpe and parts of both Sandiacre and Sawley into the town.
A notable building in the town is the Palladian Long Eaton Hall. This was originally a private residence, but is now occupied by the borough council, and is attached to the Long Eaton Town Hall complex, which opened in 1991.
The Parish Church of St. Laurence stands to the east of the Market Place. Local tradition dates the church to the 11th century, possibly built under King Cnut. However, it is more likely that it dates to after the Norman Conquest, possibly into the 12th century. It was originally a daughter church of All Saints, Sawley, but gained its independence in the 19th century.
There are several fine examples of industrial architecture in Long Eaton. Most are connected with the town's development as a lace-making centre. By 1907, the town housed almost 1,400 lace machines and the industry employed over 4,000 people (a quarter of the population). One of the largest lace-making mills, Harrington Mill, was built in 1885. It took one and a quarter million bricks to build the 167 metre long factory and it has 224 cast-iron windows down one side. Harrington Mill is a traditional, four-storey, red lace mill, built by a consortium of lace manufacturers. The turrets on the sides of the building house the original staircases.
A glance above the shops on High Street and the Market Place can reveal some interesting architecture. A large part of the centre is made of Victorian and early twentieth century architecture. The New Century Buildings are a good example of late Victorian architecture.
In general Long Eaton's main shopping streets have retained more character than those of most towns of its size.
The High Street and Market Place were pedestrianised during the 1990s and in 2010 work to enhance and improve the layout and paving of Long Eaton town centre was completed.

My previous experience of Long Eaton means that I know where all of the pubs on my planned itinerary are located and the quickest way to get to them all. My first stop was situated on the edge of Long Eaton's market place. Formerly known as The Lockstone, the pub is now called The Oxford.

The Oxford - Long Eaton
The pub underwent a significant refurb and name change in August 2014 and is now operated by Amber Taverns. The interior is fairly expansive with a large amount of seating and a large number of TVs showing sports highlights. The long bar has 3 handpulls, 2 of which are in use on my visit. These offer a choice between Caledonian Golden XPA and Navigation Back of the Net. Deciding to show some brand and employee loyalty, I opted for a pint of Back of the Net (4.5%), a golden, seasonal ale brewed to commemorate the start of the football season. It's packed with fruity aromas, sweet flavours and delicate hop and fruit tastes. It's a refreshing start to the day and the pub is quiet apart from a few regulars.

Being back in Long Eaton is a strange experience but I've weirdly missed the place at times like this. My next stop, tucked away down a small, side street further down the high street, is the local Wetherspoons, The Twitchel Inn.

 Image result for the twitchel long eaton
The pub takes its name from the nearby footpath known as 'The Twitchel' which connected Long Eaton with the village of Sawley. The footpath, leading from the junction of High Street and Station Road has since been widened and is now West Gate. The Clifford Street factory, alongside these premises opens onto both Clifford Street and West Gate. This is one of the smaller Wetherspoons pubs that I've been in, taking up the ground floor with a raised section to the rear and the obligatory upstairs toilets. The kinked bar features 12 handpulls, with a wide range of beers on offer. The choices for me on the day are Bateman's Gold, Tring Kotuku, Doom Bar, Springhead Drop O' The Black Stuff, Grainstore Steelback IPA, Pedigree New World (x2), Greene King IPA, Abbot Ale, Ruddles, Old Rosie and Old Rosie Fruit. I decided, after much deliberation, to go for a pint of the Steelback (4.2%), from Oakham's Grainstore Brewery. This is a full bodied beer with characteristic English ale flavours thanks to the use of Goldings and Fuggles hops. I don't often get the chance to enjoy Grainstore beers so it's always good to be able to try them. They certainly know what they're doing as the beer is delicious.

It was, once again, time to move on and my next location was situated at the end of nearby Main Street is a Marston's run premises called The Tappers Harker.
Image result for the tappers harker long eaton

Named after a famous train, the Tappers Harker is a large single roomed building with eating areas divided by wooden banisters and partitions, including a raised area in one corner. The bar sits at the back of the room and is a backwards J shape. There are 4 handpulls offering Pedigree, Hogoblin, Hobgoblin Gold and Jenning's Cumberland. I decided on the Cumberland which is in excellent condition. I took a seat in a small snug area which is equipped with 2 TVs showing Sky Sports News. I took my time with this pint as my next proposed location doesn't open until 2 on a Monday. Despite this, I still managed to arrive before the doors were open so I looped back round, made friends with a cat and then made my way back to the next place on my list.

Situated on Tamworth Road which runs through the town is the previously Good Beer Guide listed, The Barge Inn.
Image result for the barge long eaton

The pub has previously been renowned for its ale and live music scene so I was excited to see what was to offer. Then however, came the big snag. Despite the advertised opening time of 2pm, 10 minutes after this, the door is still closed and the lights appear to be off. The lack of external advertising is also a worrying sign, forcing me to conclude that the pub is closed, at least temporarily. Fingers crossed this isn't a long term measure.

Not to be deterred, I turned my attention instead to a pub further down the road, back towards the town centre, The Stumble Inn, which immediately wins comedy points for funniest pub name.
 Image result for the stumble inn long eaton
This is a family run freehold premises which offers a small lounge and larger bar area. As well as being known for having a good range of local ales, the pub featured in 3 consecutive editions of the Good Beer Guide (2011-2013) and now brews on-site with its Songbird micro brewery. 4 of the 6 handpulls were in use during my visit, offering Greene King IPA, Old Speckled Hen, Abbot Ale and their own Alehouse Rock. I decided to try the offering from the pub's own brewery and this turned out to be an excellent and very tasty porter with a lot of complex malt notes and a syrupy, chocolaty aftertaste.

I had one destination left on my list and it was the one that I'd been the most excited about throughout the day. On Regent Street, opposite a doctor's surgery, is The Hole in the Wall.
Image result for hole in the wall long eaton

Privately owned and a regular entry in the Good Beer Guide, The Hole in the Wall offers 2 distinctive drinking areas, a bar with a pool table and a quieter lounge with an old school serving hatch. The bar is central and serves both areas and the walls throughout are adorned with breweriana. The pub has been run by the same individual for many years. 6 handpulls are present, offering Bass Nottingham EPA, Oakham Citra, Doom Bar, Oakham Bishops Farewell and Thirsty Farmer Scrumpy cider. Anyone whose ever read this blog knows that I'm a big fan of Oakham beers so Bishops Farewell was an obvious choice. This was excellently kept and served as a very good end to what I feel is a productive day. As I enjoyed my thirst quenching final pint, I had a chat with the bar maid who offered to pass on my blog details. Hopefully this has meant that a few more people have been reading the recent entries. Welcome to any newcomers!

My day in Long Eaton had been very good. The pubs were pleasant, the beers were good both in quality and quantity and the weather had held out. It's nice to see that ale is keeping up appearances in the area and certain pubs can certainly be commended for their commitment to maintaining this. The Hole in the Wall deserves special praise for the length of time that they have been going strong and The Twitchel carries on the high standards of most Wetherspoons branches elsewhere. In short, Long Eaton is another place that has a growing ale scene. We can hope that this continues into the foreseeable future.

Next time, I'll be bringing you a report into a Bank Holiday trip to Loughborough which turned out to be very good indeed. Until then, take care!