Monday, September 21, 2020

Droning On.......

Greetings! This entry comes to you at a rather uncertain time as the relative new 'normality' of the past few weeks may about to be reversed in an attempt to combat a potential second wave. The vagaries of the government response and, what happens next, remain to be seen. On the plus side, last week saw me venture out again, taking advantage of some unseasonably pleasant September weather, to once again travel further afield. The subject of my trip was a location I had intended much before now but because of *gestures at everything* it had to be put on hold. This would be the first trip outside of Nottingham since March and the first solo since December's visit to Oakham. It would also see me returning to one of my favourite counties as I hopped over the border into Derbyshire to visit the town of Dronfield.

Dronfield is a town in North East Derbyshire, which includes Dronfield Woodhouse and Coal Aston. It lies in the valley of the River Drone between Chesterfield and Sheffield. The Peak District National Park is three miles (4.8 km) to the west. The name means open land infested with drones (male bees).

The town existed before the 1086 Domesday Book, and has a 13th-century parish church. In 1662, Charles II granted the town a market, although this later ceased. The industrial history of the town includes coal mining, the wool trade, the production of soap and steel, and engineering. Today a range of manufacturing firms still operate in the town.

Dronfield's population increased dramatically in the post-war years from 6,500 in 1945 to its current size of just over 21,000.

The football ground to the north of the town is currently the home of Sheffield F.C., the world's oldest football club.

Dronfield was in existence before the 1086 Domesday Book, though little is known about its early history. It suffered after the Norman conquest when William the Conqueror sought to bring the north of England under control. Its name derives from the Old English drān and feld, meaning open land infested with drones (male bees).

The Church of St. John the Baptist was built by 1135 when Oscot was rector and the parish of Dronfield covered Little Barlow, Coal Aston, Povey, Holmesfield, Apperknowle, Dore and Totley. The Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary was established in 1349 in the hall of the chantry priests. However, due to the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the subsequent suppression of the guilds and chantries in 1547, it became a local inn which still operates today as the Green Dragon Inn.

During the 16th century Dronfield with its sheep farmers had a significant number of families working in the wool trade, engaged in spinning and weaving and also the production and selling of cloth. Soaper Lane, being next to the river, was the centre of the soap-making and tanning industry in the town, with a dye works also situated there. In 1662 Dronfield was granted a market by Charles II, but in the 18th century, due to the proximity of Sheffield and Chesterfield, the market went into decline however it is still held every Thursday in the rear car park of the civic center on Farwater Lane.

Between the 16th and 19th centuries Dronfield grew around various industries, the most widespread of which was coal mining, with pits at Stubley being mentioned in the 16th century and a map of Hill Top in the 17th century showing some workings. Further mines were opened at Coal Aston in 1785 and Carr Lane in Dronfield Woodhouse in 1795. The town also benefited from trade with the lead mining and grindstone industries in the Peak District. The wealth of the Rotheram family, who became the Lords of the Manor of Dronfield, was based on the lead trade.

The Wilson-Cammell steelworks was built in the town in 1872-3, following the completion of the Midland Main Line through the town in April 1869. Bessemer steel was first blown at the site in March 1873 and the plant was soon capable of producing 700 tons - mostly as rails - every week. Dronfield became a boom town, but its prosperity was short-lived; although more efficient and profitable than other works in the Sheffield area, its site had limitations that couldn't compete with low-cost coastal locations, and in 1883 production moved from Dronfield to Workington in west Cumbria. Steelworkers and their families moved too. It is estimated that 1,500 townspeople made the trip to Workington. 'Dronnies', as the people of Workington called the newcomers, formed Workington AFC in 1888.

In 1993 Dronfield Henry Fanshawe School (formerly the 'Dronfield School' and previously 'Dronfield Grammar School') suffered major damage when its 1960s system-built blocks were completely gutted by fire, requiring all firefighting resources from all nearby towns and Sheffield to control the blaze. The historic Victorian quadrangle and library, as well as the sixth-form block, survived. The remains of the modern school were subsequently demolished and mobile cabins were used as classrooms until 1996 when the school was rebuilt.

As well as the above, Dronfield is notable for being the birthplace for several sporting figures, largely footballers, but also boasts a former Apprentice contestant and, best of all, Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen as former residents.

I arrived in Dronfield by train, just after 1pm, on a pleasantly warm Thursday afternoon and immediately set about trying to get my bearings. I did a Masters degree at University of Sheffield and used to commute there by train so, whilst I had passed through Dronfield many times, this was my first opportunity to explore the town up close. Leaving the station, I took a left and then a right, past The Forge shopping centre. This led slightly uphill towards the High Street and the area of my first few stops. My dive into the pubs of Dronfield began at the Manor House Hotel.

This 15th century, Grade II listed building is situated roughly in the centre of the town, alongside the main thoroughfare. It benefits from 2 entrances, one to the front which leads into the hotel reception area and another to the rear which leads directly into the bar. I entered through the main entrance where I found a reception desk directly in front of me. To the left is a small restaurant space and to the right, a curved room that I soon learned was the bar. I sanitised my hands and wrote my details down on a form for NHS track & trace purposes before ringing the bell on the desk as I wasn't entirely sure where I was going. I was promptly greeted by a female staff member who escorted my through into the right hand room. The bar space is curved and relatively narrow with the bar itself taking up most of one wall. The interior of the room features bare brickwork, exposed beams, subtle lighting and seating consisting of low benches and tables. A small TV hangs in a small alcove off to one side. The hotel clearly prides itself on its original features and it's a nicely atmospheric and comfortable place to start my day. The bar holds a solitary handpull but, on this occasion, it happened to hold one of my favourite beers of all time and one that helped me make the switch to drinking real ale after a long time lost in the lager drinking wilderness. The beer in question is Abbeydale Moonshine (4.3%). This is a well balanced pale ale with a full hop aroma and pleasant traces of grapefruit. Finding this beer here made me feel like it was going to be a good day as long as the beer was up to scratch. I'm pleased to report that it was excellent. I enjoyed it sat on a bench just inside the entrance to the room, out of sight of the bar but within earshot of a trio of regulars who were discussing what it might be like to be tasered. 

So far so good at my first stop and it was now a moderate walk to my next location. There was a fair amount of toing and froing between pubs that weren't necessarily overly close together. This was done in order to ensure that I managed to reach one but several opened a bit later than the others and it was midweek which can always be a funny time with regards to opening hours. Regardless, I knew my next stop was open by the time I reached it. Leaving the Manor House, I turned left and continued uphill, taking a right towards the local Sainsbury's. Crossing the road, I headed to the left branch of a fork in the road where pub number 2 sits on a corner plot. Next up, The Victoria.

Situated on the junction of Victoria Road and Stubley Lane, The Victoria was voted Most Improved Pub by Dronfield & District CAMRA in 2013. This is very much a local's pub with a well appointed interior full of quirky slogans. Hand sanitiser was available on the wall as I entered through the pub's single door. The bar sits opposite the entrance and is roughly L-shaped with seating throughout the room, largely confined to the edges. Plastic screens have been erected at the bar along with a sign warning against standing at it. Ordering must be done first and then customers must immediately take a seat until their drink is poured. The interior is light and airy. To the right of main door is a slightly raised area that features a pool table and jukebox. To the right, a corridor leads to the toilets. The layout is effectively a single room with the bar at the approximate centre. I perused the hand pumps, of which there are 6 to see what was available. 3 of them were in use on my visit, offering a selection of Courage Best Bitter, Marston's 61 Deep and Stancill United are Back. I always enjoy trying beers that I am unfamiliar with so I opted for the United are Back from Sheffield based Stancill. Brewed to commemorate Sheffield United's return to the top tier of English football, this is a 4% pale ale. It's flavour is delicately hoppy with a grassy and piney aroma and a soft, delicate mouthfeel. I enjoyed it whilst sat at a round table directly opposite the bar, where I witnessed a delivery from Nottingham brewer Castle Rock. It seems that my adopted city follows me wherever I go! This was certainly a very tasty beer but I can't help but wonder, as the Blades go into their 2nd season back in the top flight, will it be discontinued if the worst were to happen? It doesn't seem likely any time soon but it's something worth thinking about.

I needed to retrace my steps in order to reach the next stop of the day. Turning back on myself, I once again found myself on the High Street, virtually next door to the Manor House Hotel. I had now arrived at the Blue Stoops.

Reputedly the oldest pub in the town, the Blue Stoops is believed to take its name from the Medieval custom of daubing blue paint on door posts or bollards (known as 'stoops') to indicate the presence of an inn to travellers. Nowadays this has been replaced by a pub sign showing ale being poured into blue goblets. Having been closed and near derelict for two years, the Blue Stoops reopened in November 2016 following purchase and an extensive refurbishment by True North Brewing Co., out of Sheffield. The main entrance is on the high street and a one way system has been implemented so that customers must enter through this door and then exit through a door that leads out into the car park and also provides beer garden access. Internally, the pub is very well put together. The bar is large and faces the entrance. To the left is a smaller extension area known as The Orangery with a further room for dining to the rear. The decor is modern with nice touches such as taxidermy pheasants posed artistically in glass cases, old brewery memorabilia and a quote from a Lord Byron work emblazoned above the windows in the form of a neon sign. There are some traces of the old building visible in some of the exposed brickwork and the layout of the beams. Upon entering I sanitised my hands and was directed through to the Orangery were my details were taken by a member of staff at a greeting station. I was then talked through the ordering process. No bar ordering is permitted here. QR codes are attached to all tables, both inside and out which, when scanned, allow access to an online menu for both food and drink. Staff are on hand to help if any difficulties arise. I took a seat in the Orangery are and scanned the code which directed me to a very smart and easy to use menu. It offers the opportunity to set up an account for future visits or to checkout as a guest. I did the latter, after I made my choice from the ale list. 4 were available, matching up with the 4 handpumps I had spied on the bar on my way in. My options were Abbeydale Moonshine, Atom Schrodinger's Cat, True North Blonde and Eldon Pale. It would have been rude not to try something from the stable of the owning brewery, so I selected the Blonde (4%). This was swiftly delivered to my table and very nice it was too! A hazy, easy-drinking golden ale with smooth floral flavours and hints of vanilla, it went down very well indeed. The Blue Stoops is a cracking place for a beer. True North have worked wonders!

It was another about turn to my next destination as I again turned uphill and retraced my steps. My next stop sits opposite the local parish church. Onwards to the Green Dragon.

An inn since 1547, the Green Dragon is one of the oldest pubs in Dronfield and began life as a hall for chantry priests which housed the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary until the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Rumours abound of an underground passage at the pub which leads to the nearby church, itself allegedly containing another passage linked to the site of an old Georgian farmhouse in the Bowshaw area of the town. The pub itself has been family run since 2013 and attracts a mix of clientele from the local area. There is a large car park to the front of the pub, including a smoking shelter. Inside, a small central room houses the bar and a couple of high tables. Another snug-style room is off to one side, connected to the entrance corridor. Another corridor to the rear leads to both the beer garden and the toilets. A one way system is in place here with visitors instructed to enter through the main door and exit through the toilet corridor. Again, sanitiser was readily available along with a sheet for customers to sign in with name and number. This I did before turning my attention to the bar. Of the 4 available handpulls, 3 were in use, providing a choice between Bradfield Farmers Blonde, Theakston Best Bitter and Abbeydale Moonshine. As tempting as it was to go for Moonshine again, I don't often find Bradfield beers so the Farmers Blonde seemed like the logical choice. At 4%, this is a pale, blonde beer with aromas of citrus and summer fruits. I took my beer into the aforementioned snug, which was empty, as I wanted to soak up some of the atmosphere of the place. There were a small number of regulars in the bar area and a larger number of people outside enjoying the September sunshine so I could enjoy my beer undisturbed. The pub is decorated in a traditional manner and, in the snug in particular, artefacts abound. Alongside bric-a-brac and local memorabilia are paintings of the local area as well as the pub and, mounted on the wall, the eponymous dragon, bathed in a green spotlight. This is a comfortable pub with a feeling of history soaked into its walls. That history is still present in both physical non-corporeal ways. A white lady has been seen in the pub, believed to be linked to the alleged underground passage. Occasional poltergeist phenomena such as moving objects, disembodied footsteps and items being broken are attributed to her, although activity was reported to be much more prevalent in the 1980s. Interestingly, a similar (or perhaps the same) figure has also apparently been sighted at the Manor House Hotel and the local library, suggesting a connection between all 3 and enhancing local theories that the ghost is a former landowner. The local church also carries a strange legend. It is claimed that every April 24th (St. Marks Eve), the apparitions of every resident who will die within the next 12 months are seen to enter the church at midnight. Whether this strange, unearthly parade has been seen recently is not quite clear.

Back in the land of the physical, it was once again time to make a move. The journey to the next stop on the excursion was the longest of the day and saw me making the trek towards the north end of the town. The next pub sits on the side of the A61 Sheffield Road. Following my extensive walk, it was very much time for a beer at the Good Beer Guide listed Coach & Horses.

The pub is located directly next to Sheffield F.C., the world's oldest football club, which was founded in 1857. The name of the football club reflects an attempt to incorporate Dronfield into Yorkshire and effectively make it a suburb of Sheffield, an attempt that was resoundly rebuffed by locals, although the name of team stuck. The Coach & Horses is owned and operated by Thornbridge brewery and is renowned for being busy on Sheffield F.C. match days, at least before the pandemic. The pub benefits from a large outdoor drinking area which faces the main road. Inside, the pub has a small, central room with a bar to the rear. The open plan layout is broken up slightly by pillars between the bar and the entrance. Various tables take up space throughout the main room with a smaller room to one side with plusher furniture. To the right is a door that leads to the toilets and also provides access to outside. Upon arrival, I noticed that a one way system was in place through the outside space, with entry through one gate and exit from another. I was greeted by a female member of staff who showed me to a table and gave me a form to fill out with my details. I was not allowed to order until I had completed this form, which is absolutely the right way to do things in the current environment. I was given a paper, disposable drinks menu to look through and I was also sat at a high table with a good view of the bar so I could easily see what beers were present on the pub's 6 handpulls. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the options are from Thornbridge with 4 of their beers available in the form of Jaipur, Lord Marples, Brother Rabbit and Otter's Tears. The remaining 2 are taken up by a guest beer, on the day Rooster's Highway and a cider or perry with Lilley's Bee Sting being present during my visit. It did not take me long at all to go for the Jaipur, which I don't believe I've ever had a bad pint of. True to form, this did not disappoint. It was in perfect condition which is just what you'd expect from a pub run by the brewery. My only complaint is that it always goes down far too quickly.

There was a touch more walking now as I had to make my way back towards the centre of town. I achieved this by heading south, straight down Sheffield Road which brought me back towards the train station. It wasn't time to leave just yet though and I carried on past the station and hung a right onto Chesterfield Road where my final trio of stops for the day sit in close proximity to each in an almost triangle. The first point of this triumvirate was the White Swan.

On site since 1678, the pub was closed for a considerable time before reopening in November 2018 following a major refurbishment. It was awarded Most Improved Pub by the local CAMRA branch for 2019. It occupies a split level position on a hill with an entrance facing the main road. Internally, the main bar area sits on the ground floor with a central bar serving a lounge to one side and another area to the other which includes TVs for showing live sport. There is a function room upstairs with it's own bar and a substantial outside drinking space to one side. There are old car parking spaces at the front but these are now out of use and cordoned off with a combination of chains and empty casks. Food sales were introduced to the pub in August 2019 in the form of Pieminister pies. I entered the pub through the main entrance where I was greeted by a sanitiser station and a sign on the bar telling me to wait. After around a minute, a female member of staff appeared, took my details and signed me in using a laptop on a high table set up by the door. I was also allowed to order my drink directly from her and pay before sitting down. Once again, no bar service is allowed here. I took a seat at a low table to my left, opposite the bar, in the part of the pub set up for showing sport. A number of tables were already reserved for later in the evening as Sheffield United were live on TV in a cup game. I noticed that a one way system was also in place with black and yellow arrows taped on the floor to show the way. In terms of beer, there was a choice of 2 from 3 handpulls. The options were Triple Point Gold and Pennine IPA. It was the latter of these that I had chosen and it soon arrived. Whilst it's weaker than a traditional IPA at 4.4%, it was certainly no less tasty. It pours a crisp, golden colour and features balanced fruitiness, mild liquorice notes and fruity undertones. This was an excellent thirst quencher after my walk from the north end of town and a nice place in which to enjoy it with a modern interior that does not detract from the character of what is clearly an old building. The lighting is soft and the decor minimal with nice little touches that add character. Once my beer was done, I made my way out, following the one way system out into the beer garden and then through a low gate out onto the main road.

I merely had to cross the road to reach both the penultimate and final destinations on this trip, situated as they are, right next door to each other. The first of these is the Dronfield Arms.


Formerly known as both The Sidings and The Midland due to its proximity to the railway line, the Dronfield Arms became the town's first brewpub when a brewery kit was installed downstairs in the former restaurant in 2015. Known as Hopjacker, the brewery has since been disbanded but the kit is still in situ and can be viewed through glass panelling in the floor of the bar, whilst the name is still visible throughout the premises including on the front window. The kit is being rented for use by Gravity Brewing Co., who are brewing without a tie to the pub. The pub itself features a very long bar to one side with a small step leading up to a rear raised area which features plenty of seating, as well as access to outside. When I arrived, I signed in on a clipboard on the bar and made my way to the top end where the real ale handpulls are located, 7 of them in total, though only 4 of them were in use at the time. The range available was mostly Abbeydale, featuring Serenity, Hop Back Citra & Hibiscus and Moonshine again although there was also Silver Brewhouse Grey Ghost on the remaining pump. It was to this last choice that I turned. Silver Brewhouse brew a range of beers with different themes, including some from the portfolio of the now sadly defunct Raw Brewery, formerly of Chesterfield. Grey Ghost is one of these. This is a heavy hitting IPA that weighs in at 5.9%. It's bitter, well hopped and very easy to drink. I'd recommend not having too many in quick succession! I enjoyed it whilst sat on a high table near the bar, with the brewery vessels visible through a panel beneath my feet. Every table here is equipped with a bottle of hand sanitiser to make it as accessible as possible, something which I thought was a very sensible approach. The decor here is modern, light and quirky with a combination of local photos, posters and a cartoon strip dedicated to Henderson's Relish. I still have no idea what this particular condiment is but it appears to have near god-like status in parts of North Derbyshire and South Yorkshire. 

I had one more venue to explore before my short walk back to the station for the train ride home. The venue in question was the Underdog.

The Underdog opened its doors in September 2019, following an extensive refurbishment of Smiffy's Real Ale bar. Operated under the principles of a micropub but a little bit larger than some, it is known for a wide and varied beer choice in cask, keg, can and bottle. When I arrived, the door was propped open and the large windows at the front had been fully opened to provide as much ventilation and light as possible. I was greeted by a member of staff, wearing a face shield, who took my details, asked me to sanitise and, for the first time all day, checked my temperature. With checks complete, I was pointed to an available table with the instruction that it would be needed in about 3 hours time. No issues as far as that was concerned! Here again, each table was equipped with its own bottle of sanitiser, although these ones were automatic and motion activated, thereby reducing contact. There was also an interesting procedure in place with regards to the toilets, which I will go into in more detail shortly. But first, the pub and the beer! The Underdog is basically a large, single room with a high ceiling, wood flooring and contemporary design features including some industrial style ducting and an emphasis on canine theming. The bar is long and sits at the back of the room and features 5 hand pumps and a bank of keg lines on the rear wall, including 1 or 2 national brands. My choice of beer from the 5 pumps was between the 2 available, namely Fyne Ales Jarl and Abbeydale Moonshine. It made perfect sense to bookend my day with one of my favourite beers so Moonshine it was! Once this had been safely dropped off at the table, the member of staff from before instructed me in the ins and outs of the toilet system. In a nutshell, each table is equipped with 2 wooden blocks with a hole in the middle, with the table number written on. When using the toilet, the customer hooks one of the blocks onto a hook on the outside of the toilet door (themed as dog tails - a nice touch). This enforces a 'one in one out' system without being intrusive, ensures that customers know when the toilet is occupied and allows staff to prepare to clean it as and when it has been used. Simple and efficient and, actually, quite a stroke of genius. The Underdog is a cracking little place and I was glad that I'd stopped in before I had to go home. As tempting as it was to sneak another beer in here, I instead made my way out and headed the short distance back to the station.

I'll freely admit that I hadn't quite known what to expect from Dronfield. As much as I make an effort to research pubs and locations and plan a route, there's only so much that can be gleaned without physically being at a place. And I have to say, that I was impressed. Stand out pubs were definitely the Underdog and the Blue Stoops but each pub was making a huge effort to welcome people and to increase confidence and comfort. Whilst each pub was very different and all had different interpretations of the new safety measures that best suited them, they all felt safe and welcoming and, best of all there were customers in each one. Sometimes it was just one or 2 but it was mid afternoon on a Thursday. Any customers in any pub should be celebrated, especially in the face of the uncertainty that the country and, in particular, the hospitality industry is still facing. Particularly in smaller, close knit communities, it's important that pubs are not left to fall by the wayside. Supporting pubs in any way I can is my own contribution in trying to keep everyone's heads above water. It truly was a great experience exploring somewhere that no doubt has been easily overlooked for beer, sitting as it does in the shadow of one of the great British beer cities. I hope that I've done something at least to put this corner of Derbyshire on beer maps. It certainly deserves to be.

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