Monday, April 24, 2017

Just Say Ches!

Last week, I once again took advantage of the local rail network and headed north, this time for a slightly shorter journey than my previous trip to Sheffield. My destination on this occasion was 2 stops closer down the line in the neighbouring county of Derbyshire as I sought out the offerings of the town of Chesterfield.

Chesterfield is a market town and a borough in Derbyshire. It lies 24 miles (39 km) north of Derby and 11 miles (18 km) south of Sheffield, at the confluence of the rivers Rother and Hipper. The borough – which includes the settlements of Whittington, Brimington and Staveley – had a population of 103,800 in 2011. Chesterfield is the second largest town in the ceremonial county of Derbyshire, after the city of Derby.
Archaeological examination of the town has traced its beginnings to the 1st century AD and the construction of a Roman fort, which became redundant and was abandoned once peace was achieved. Later an Anglo-Saxon village grew up on the site. The name Chesterfield derives from the Anglo-Saxon words caester (a Roman fort) and feld (grazing land).
Chesterfield received its market charter in 1204. It still has a moderately sized market of about 250 stalls held three days a week. The town sits on a large coalfield, which formed a major part of the area's economy until the 1980s. Little visual evidence of the mining remains today.
The town's best known landmark is the Church of St Mary and All Saints, popularly known for its "crooked spire", which was originally constructed in the 14th century.
Chesterfield was in the Hundred of Scarsdale. The town received its market charter in 1204 from King John. The charter constituted the town as a free borough, granting the burgesses of Chesterfield the same privileges as those of Nottingham and Derby. In 1266, it was the site of the Battle of Chesterfield, in which a band of rebel barons were defeated by a royalist army.
Elizabeth I granted a charter of incorporation in 1594 (or 1598), creating a corporation consisting of a mayor, six aldermen, six brethren, and twelve capital burgesses. This remained the governing charter until the borough was reformed under the Municipal Corporations Act 1835. The borough originally consisted only of the township of Chesterfield, but it was extended in 1892 to parts of some surrounding townships. In 1920 there was a major extension when the borough absorbed New Whittington and Newbold urban district. Chesterfield's current boundaries date from 1 April 1974, when under the Local Government Act 1972, the Borough of Chesterfield was formed by an amalgamation of the municipal borough with the urban district of Staveley and with the parish of Brimington from Chesterfield Rural District.
Chesterfield benefited greatly from the building of the Chesterfield Line – part of the Derby to Leeds railway (North Midland Line), which was begun in 1837 by George Stephenson. During the work, a sizeable seam of coal was discovered during the construction of the Clay Cross Tunnel. This and the local ironstone were promptly exploited by Stephenson, who set up a company in Clay Cross to trade in the minerals.
During his time in Chesterfield, Stephenson lived at Tapton House, and remained there until his death in 1848. He is interred in Trinity Church. In 2006, a statue of Stephenson was erected outside Chesterfield railway station.
Chesterfield is located on the confluence and valleys of the River Rother and River Hipper at the Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire Coalfield. The town also lies in the eastern foothills of the Pennines, and is also known as a gateway to the Peak District National Park or "The Gateway to the Peak" lying to the west of the town.

Chesterfield is perhaps best known for the "crooked spire" of its Church of Saint Mary and All Saints and is why the local football team is known as The Spireites.
The spire is both twisted and leaning, twisting 45 degrees and leaning 9 feet 6 inches (2.90 m) from its true centre. Folklore recounts that a Bolsover blacksmith mis-shod the Devil, who leapt over the spire in pain, knocking it out of shape. In reality the leaning characteristic has been attributed to various causes, including the absence of skilled craftsmen (the Black Death having been gone only twelve years prior to the spire's completion), the use of unseasoned timber, and insufficient cross-bracing. According to the curators of Chesterfield Museum, it is now believed that the bend began when the original wooden roof tiles were replaced by heavier slate and lead. The bend in the spire (the twist being deliberate) follows the direction of the sun and has been caused by heat expansion and a weight it was never designed for. There is also no record of a bend until after the slate change. The tower which the spire sits upon contains 10 bells. These bells were cast in 1947 by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, replacing a previous ring. The heaviest weighs 25 long hundredweight (2,800 lb; 1,300 kg).

I was excited about this trip, particularly as I'd never been to Chesterfield and so would be discovering the town as I discovered the pubs and beers. I arrived just before midday and made my way into the town, using the aforementioned spire as a means to get my bearings. Luckily, being able to locate this imposing structure made my first pub for the day easy to find, as it sits opposite. My day began at the White Swan.
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The first of 4 Good Beer Guide listed pubs on the trip, this is a contemporary twist on a traditional pub, affectionately known by locals as the 'Mucky Duck'. The interior is spacious and comprises a single room, divided into drinking and dining sections through the use of a partition wall. The décor is modern and bright with the bar along the back wall. The emphasis is on local breweries and the pub is the tied house for local Raw Brewing Company. There is also an upstairs function room that is available to hire. As well as the 12 handpulls, the bar offers a wide choice of bottled and international beers, ciders, perries and wines. The ale choice is varied and mostly local. Available on my visit were Raw Mucky Duck, Dark Star Espresso, Hartington Bitter, North Yorkshire Summer Ale, Kelham Island Pale Rider, Ashover Zoo, Raw Anubis Porter, Abbeydale Deception, Stockport Cascade, Magpie Thieving Rogue, Abbot Ale and Barlow Betty's Blonde. Regular readers will be aware of my appreciation for Abbeydale beers so Deception was my choice here and very good it was too! I took a seat at a high table facing the bar and enjoyed my first beer of the day as I had a quick perusal of Google Maps to determine the best route to my next couple of locations.

My next stop was not very far away at all, located as it is around the corner on the other side of the church. Another GBG entrant, this was the Rutland Arms.
Image result for rutland arms chesterfield

Located, quite literally, in the shadow of the church with the graveyard next door, this popular pub is operated by Pub People and has the appearance of 2 buildings joined together with a partially castellated roof line. Inside, there are 2 rooms, divided by steps and the overall décor is one of traditional wood with low seating and tables throughout and a snug-like area to the right of the door. The bar sits almost opposite the main entrance in a corner of the first room and features 9 handpulls, 8 of which are in use whilst I'm there. On offer on the day were Old Rosie cider alongside Thornbridge Jaipur, Oakham Citra, Dark Star Hophead, True North Pale Ale, Stockport Crown Best, Hilltop American Pale and North Yorkshire Yorkshire Porter. I opted for the American Pale from Conisbrough based Hilltop brewery. At 4.5%, this is an incredibly easy drinking golden beer, with a creamy head and a nice bitter flavour that combats the big hit of American hops. I sat at a long table directly facing the bar and admired my surroundings. The day was only 2 pubs old and it was shaping up very nicely indeed.

It was another short walk to pub number 3 as I merely had to leave the Rutland and turn left to find it at the end of the road. Next up, The Burlington.
Image result for the burlington chesterfield

This large pub sits near the main shopping district and has recently been refurbished by owners Stonegate following a prior spell as a branch of Yates'. It has since been rebranded and boasts a large interior with a bar down one side towards the back of the room with lots of seating throughout. On the bar can be found 6 handpulls with 5 of them in use during my visit. The selection isn't too bad, offering Thwaites Wainwright, Wychwood Hobgoblin, Old Speckled Hen, Timothy Taylor Landlord and Adnams Ghost Ship. I hadn't had Ghost Ship on draught for a while so this was my natural choice and it was a good one, tasting just as it should. It was quite busy here, even given the time of day and I've no doubt this is helped by the location and the fact that the kids were still off school at this point. It definitely seems to have benefited from its change of appearance.

There was a slight change of plan with regards to my next stop. My original plan was to visit the Spread Eagle, a short walk away at the end of a nearby street. Upon entering though, the 3 handpulls were barren so I quickly made my way to the next place on the list. Somewhat off the beaten track and tucked into an old street known as The Shambles, my travels now brought me to the Royal Oak.
Image result for royal oak chesterfield shambles

This Grade II listed building is the oldest pub in Chesterfield and believed to be one of the oldest in Derbyshire, with one of the earliest references being in a conveyance report from 1772, though a previous incarnation existed as part of a cattle market in the 12th century. The building has two entrances, both leading to a central bar which serves both sides. Unusually, there is no internal connection between the 2 sides and this is due to them previously being separate buildings with the top bar having at one time been a butchers. The pub was renovated into its current form in 1897 after being purchased by Stones' Brewery. The top bar and windows are largely untouched from that time. There is an extensive cellar below the bar floor with the butchers slab still extant, as well as a trapdoor that allegedly leads to one of Chesterfield's many underground passages. The building is also allegedly one of the most haunted in the area with the phantom of a murdered coachman believed to stalk the site. It's into the bottom bar that I wander. The bar area itself is quite small with the bar central to the wall and toilets in one corner. Beer-wise, this side offers 4 handpulls with a choice between Moorhouse's Spring Watch, Young's Special, Young's Double Chocolate Stout and Faversham Steam Whitstable Red IPA. The Whitstable Red has recently gone down rather well at work so I decided to give it a go myself and wasn't disappointed. This is an auburn coloured 4.5% beer with citrus and pine notes on the nose and a hint of sweet malt. The taste is of rich toffee and fruits and it goes down very well indeed. This is a lovely little pub and it's unusual layout makes it unique. It's definitely worth a visit if you're passing by!

My next destination took me across the market place as I headed for the customary local Wetherspoons, although this one was a bit more unusual than most as it is one of the hotels in the chain. This was the Portland Hotel.
Image result for portland hotel chesterfield

Named after the Earl of Portland, whose estate used to include the land on which the hotel stands, this started life as a traditional railway hotel, serving passengers from a now non-existent line that used to run nearby. The interior décor is as you'd expect from a Spoons with its casual seating, a number of smaller areas off of the main room and photos of historic Chesterfield adorning the walls. The bar is long and takes the majority of the rear wall. All 10 of its handpulls are in use, offering an interesting choice of beers including the usual Spoons suspects, namely Doom Bar, Ruddles, Abbot Ale, Old Rosie, Black Dragon, Kelham Island Pale Rider, Little Critters Blonde Bear, Oakham Citra, Bradfield Farmers Brown and Derventio Eagle Porter. I'd never heard of Little Critters before so, in the name of further study, I decided on a pint of Blonde Bear. Little Critters are a Sheffield based small batch brewery that brew beers themed after animals. The Blonde Bear is their equivalent of a session ale and it's easy to see why. At 4.2%, it has a bready, slightly malty character that pays complement to the hoppy undertones. It's light body makes it drinkable, moreish and satisfying with hints of tropical fruit and earthy bitterness. It was a very enjoyable beer and I'll definitely be looking out for more of their brews in future.

There was another change of plan in the offing with my intention initially to now visit the Sun Inn, which sits virtually opposite. Again I was to be disappointed a none of the trio of hand pumps were in use, which was a mite disappointing in a pub that I'd previously heard good things about and has a reputation for being haunted following an incident in 1957 when bottles were smashed and barrels moved around by unseen hands in an otherwise locked cellar. A ghostly coachman who met his end in a nearby well in the eighteenth century has been blamed for this and continuing activity, including that of footsteps that are frequently heard around the building. Still, with no reason to stay in this pub, I quickly moved on. Just down the road from here was my next stop, a cosy little micropub called the Chesterfield Alehouse.
Image result for chesterfield alehouse

Chesterfield's first micropub opened in 2013 in a former furniture shop and is now a split-level bar with a seating area leading up to the serving area via a short flight of steps. In addition to regularly rotating beers, it has a reputation for bottled world beers, ciders and wines. A stout or porter is always available, something that has no doubt helped the pub's inclusion in the Good Beer Guide. It also won Town Centre Pub of the Year for 2015. The 6 handpulls offer a variety of local brews, specifically North Yorkshire Temptation, Great Heck Snazzy Beer, Great Heck Styrian IPA, Wantsum Black Prince, Pigeon Fishers Cuban Espresso and Pentrich Black Ale. I decided that I would try a pint of Snazzy Beer from Great Heck, based in the Yorkshire village of the same name. This is a very hoppy golden beer brewed with Chinook, Columbus and Topaz and then dry hopped with Nelson Sauvin. This provides a very bold hop character with plenty of fruitiness and a resiny quality. It's certainly a delicious brew and the temptation to stay for another is strong but I manage to force myself to move on.

I retraced my steps slightly now, heading back to the market place where I found the aptly named, and GBG listed, Market Pub.
Image result for market pub chesterfield

This is a popular and friendly pub located on the market place. Inside, is a large L-shaped room with dark wood fittings, a flagstone floor and central bar. It's popularity and quirkiness are reflected in it securing the title of Town Centre Pub of the Year for 2011 and the fact that the staff are dressed as Star Wars characters and preparing to show A New Hope on what I'm fairly sure is the 40th anniversary of its release date. On the bar are 9 handpulls with a good mix of products, namely Abbot Ale, Daleside G&P, Blue Monkey BG Sips, Brunswick Black Sabbath, Acorn Azacca IPA, Castle Rock Harvest Pale, Kelham Island Easy Rider, Timothy Taylor Landlord and Rosie's Pig cider. I opted for the Azzaca IPA, from Wombwell based Acorn brewery. With an ABV of 5%, this part of the brewery's recent series of US hopped IPAs. This is a rich, golden beer with an intense tropical aroma and hints of citrus and mango. It's somewhat of a fruit explosion and very refreshing. It would have been easy to stay in this friendly and welcoming pub for longer and watch Star Wars for the rest of the afternoon but there was work still to be done so on I pushed.

The next pub was just behind the Market Pub in a neighbouring street. The penultimate stop of this adventure was the Barley Mow.

Image result for barley mow chesterfield

This is a traditional wood panelled pub located just on the edge of the town centre. The interior features lots of seating areas arranged around a bar that sits opposite the entrance. It's nice to see that all 3 of its handpulls are being utilised and all feature something different, with the choices between Bradfield Blonde, Black Sheep Best and Doom Bar. I swung for the Doom Bar on this occasion and this was as good as it should be. I took a seat under a window, facing across the bar as I psyched myself up for the final push before home.

The final stop took me almost back to where I'd begun, in the shadow of the crooked spire, and to a pub called The Rectory.

Image result for the rectory pub chesterfield whatpub

Formerly known as The Crooked Spire, this pub has not long reopened following an extensive refurbishment that has turned it into a modern gastropub with an emphasis on excellent food and great beer. As well as a strong real ale selection, craft keg beers are also available. The ales in question occupy 8 handpulls with the options during my visit being Ringwood Boondoggle, Thwaites Lancaster Bomber, Dancing Duck Ay Up!, Dancing Duck Dark Drake, Marston's Pedigree, Rectory Clericale and Thundering Molly and Lilley's Mango Cider for those of an appley inclination. With a few moments of pondering I was happy in my choice of Lancaster Bomber which was very nice indeed and certainly went down swiftly.

And that was that! My day in Chesterfield was complete! And what a day it had been. There had been a wide range of beers across an interesting variety of pubs. Give or take one or two disappointments (Spread Eagle, Sun Inn), my choices of pubs had thrown up a good cross section of what can be had in Derbyshire's second town. I went into the trip not knowing what to expect but came away pleased with what I had discovered and, more than that, also identified a number of drinking dens worthy of a visit for next time that just missed out on this occasion. The future of ale in North Derbyshire is certainly in safe hands.