Monday, August 23, 2021

Draycott Away Day

It's good to be back! Let's face it, it's been a while. By my calculations, it's been almost exactly 11 months since my last entry and things weren't exactly ideal at the time. However, whisper it gently, things now finally look like they might be moving in a positive direction which means that, after so many months and so much time spent in limbo, there may be some semblance of actual normality that resembles how things were in the before times. Given the length of time since I last ventured any distance for the purposes of 'market research', you'd be forgiven for thinking that I'd go completely overboard and fire myself off to a long distance destination in celebration. I'm pleased to confirm that this is absolutely not the case and, instead, I've stuck to the veritable tome of locations that I've had planned for trips in future. This means that my first trip in almost a year was to a location considerably closer to home. Regular readers of my exploits will be aware that I am a huge fan of Derbyshire, the neighbouring county to which I reside and it was to this area that I would be breaking my fast. First, a disclaimer: the title of this entry is something of a misnomer. Whilst I would indeed end my adventures in Draycott, my day would begin in the adjacent village of Breaston.

It was more than two weeks ago, August 6th to be precise, that I decided to finally make my way out to explore the pub and real ale scene in areas beyond my proverbial backyard. I have no shame in admitting that I felt like a child at Christmas. I was brimming with the same sense of excitement, coupled with expectation and nerves, that would normally feel. It felt superb to be out again and exploring. The day in question was a Friday and the weather was rather unsettled and, as will become clear, it became apparent that I'm very much out of practice. Word to the wise: if you're relying on public transport to get you to places, make sure you've got your timings right. It's all too easy to get on the wrong bus and end up going halfway to your intended destination before going in a loop and coming back again. Check the front of the bus! After circumnavigating Long Eaton twice (twice more than anyone should have to), I finally realised my mistake, disembarked and, an hour behind schedule (as much as there was one), arrived in the first of two locations for my afternoon out. I had arrived in Breaston.

Breaston is a large village and civil parish in the Erewash district, in the south-east of Derbyshire  near Long Eaton and close to the M1. The population of the civil parish as taken at the 2011 Census was 4,455. Breaston was mentioned in the Domesday book as belonging to Henry de Ferrers[3] and being worth four shillings.

Originally an agricultural village, Breaston has continued to grow for centuries until it has reached its current size, separated from neighbouring Long Eaton only by the M1 motorway.

Breaston today is mainly residential. There is a church (St Michael), a primary school, a Methodist chapel, three pubs (still named as they were in 1846 - The Bulls Head, Chequers Inn[5] and The Navigation Inn); a medical centre and a comprehensive range of shops, including a Co-op, located in the centre of the village around the church and the village green. The green (known as Duffield Close) is said to be one of the largest in the country and an annual May Day Fete is held there. If foreshadowing is not your forte, the aforementioned pubs will feature heavily in the following narrative. Upon arrival in Breaston via the Trent Barton Indigo, I got off at Breaston church and immediately headed up Risley Lane in search of my first stop for the afternoon. At the end of the road, slightly elevated above street level, I found it. My day's activities would begin at The Navigation Inn.

Originating from the 18th Century, The Navigation served the Sandiacre-Derby canal which is now a footpath. There is a grassed area abutting the pavement which includes picnic style tables and a large beer garden to the rear. Access is from a side staircase or a street level entrance to the front. Inside, there is a small bar area with split level seating to one side and a snug style area opposite the bar. A restaurant area behind is accessed via a corridor that also leads to the toilets. Seating takes the form of scrubbed wooden tables and banquette style benches. Both areas are served by a small central bar upon which are 4 handpulls. When I arrive, the pub has not long opened and I am one of two customers, which gives me plenty of time to assess my options beer wise. My choices are between Wainwright, Draught Bass, Timothy Taylor Landlord and Marston's Pedigree. I opted for the Landlord (4.3%) and took a seat at a round table opposite the bar. It may have been the feeling of euphoria from being on a pub excursion for the first time in many months but I'd be willing to go so far as to say that the Landlord was on par with the best I've ever tasted. It certainly didn't seem to last very long!

Before I knew it, it was time to proceed further into the village. Exiting through the side door and down the stairs into the car park, I retraced my steps onto Risley Lane and followed it to the end where it forms a junction with Main Street. In the shadow of the church stands a pub that I had already passed but would now investigate fully. Next up, the Bull's Head.

This moderately sized Marston's pub benefited from a significant refurbishment in 2013 but still managed to retain some of its original features as a traditional village local. Inside, a small drinking area near the bar is flanked by a restaurant style space and a carpeted area for families with young children. A quieter, lounge style area is behind the bar. I arrived at lunchtime and the pub was moderately busy with families and locals. The bar holds 4 handpulls, of which one was in use during my visit. The Pedigree (4.5%) that was available was very nice indeed. This place certainly has the friendly atmosphere and service you would expect from a community pub and would ultimately turn out to be the busiest venue I visited throughout the day, no doubt helped by it being lunchtime on a Friday. 

Leaving the Bull's Head, I turned right and continued along the main A6005 road, passing the church on my left. After a couple of minutes walk, my next stop and my final Breaston location, was in sight. I had now reached the Chequers Inn.

Entering this pub from the main road is like entering somebody's lounge. To the left is banquette style seating with a couple of high, scrubbed, wooden tables. A smaller area with a pool table is next to this. Directly opposite the door is a narrower space with more seating that serves as a dining area. At the time of my visit, the remnants of COVID-19 restrictions are still evident, with a Perspex partition mounted on the bar and a nightclub style barrier designed to mark out a queuing system just in front. I soon determine that bar service is fine and approach the bar with its 4 handpulls offering a choice of Theakston Lightfoot, Sharp's Sea Fury, Marston's Pedigree and Theakston Best. Lightfoot it the least familiar to me so this is what I entertain myself with and take to a small, round table roughly opposite the bar. It soon becomes clear to me that Lightfoot was completely the right choice. This is a refreshing blonde ale, 4.1%,with very low bitterness and very good drinkability. I took my time finishing it whilst I listened to the male member of bar staff recount stories from the prior weekend regarding people's inability to act decently since lockdown. His experiences included being told to 'fuck off' because he told someone to stop swearing, and being the victim of an inaccurate, but no less offensive, racial slur for asking someone to stop playing Vera Lynn at full volume. He seemed to have taken it all in good humour but that is absolutely not the point. On behalf of everyone in hospitality, just because you've not been out properly for a bit, please don't be a dick.  

With that, the first half of my day was over, but there was more to come. I would now venture to the neighbouring village of Draycott to continue my enquiries. A quick check of Google Maps suggested a 25 minute walk. The weather had settled down again and it wasn't cold so, armed with a ham salad roll (cob if you're from t'Midlands), I headed on my way. 15 minutes later I had arrived at the primary focal point of the day's quest.

Draycott lies around 6 miles east of Derby and 3 miles south-west of Long Eaton. Draycott is part of the civil parish of Draycott and Church Wilne. The population of this civil parish was 3,090 as taken at the 2011 Census.The meandering course of the River Derwent forms the southwestern boundary of the parish.

The route of the Derby Canal can still be traced across the parish. Trains on the Midland Main Line pass through the village but Draycott railway station is now closed. Elvaston Castle is nearby. The name Draycott derives from resembling words dry coat, as the village resides north of both the River Derwent and Church Wilne, a reservoir. In particularly rainy season the village used to flood, hence the name 'Dry Coat'.

A prominent local family, which took its name from the village, included the eminent Irish judge Henry Draycott (1510-1572).

Draycott was once an industrial town, in which the Victoria Mill was based. 
Built in 1888, the mill shut down in 1970 but the building is intact and has, like many old mills in Derbyshire, been converted into flats.

Upon my arrival into Draycott, which is largely centred around its main street and, what appears to the casual observer to be an inordinate number of flag poles, it did not take long at all to reach the next stop on my tour. Next up the Olympic hotel.

Another Marston's owned premises, The Olympic is focused around two rooms; a small, room containing a pool table and TV and a larger room with more seating which also accommodates live bands. Both areas are served by a small central and their is a side beer garden adjacent to the car park. I arrive to a genuine welcome and see that, other than a couple of locals drinking lager, I am the only customer. There are 5 handpulls across both sides of the bar with 3 in use, one of which is doubled up Pedigree, with the other offering London Pride. I once again opted for Pedigree here and took it to a seat at the only table in the smaller room with my back to the radiator which, given that it was early August, had the heating on full, and took in my surroundings. I heard a member of staff mention that a refurb is upcoming which, I have to say, is badly needed. The welcome was great and beer was great but the decor, and the building itself, are definitely showing their age. Curiously, for a hotel called the Olympic, with Olympic medals on their A board and posters from prior Olympics on the wall, the TV was tuned to a dance music TV channel.

After finishing my beer, I left the Olympic and continued my walk into Draycott where, after a couple of minutes, what would turn out to be my penultimate stop of the trip appeared on my right. I had now arrived at The Victoria. 

An unchanged local pub, run by Marston's, The Victoria still features a lot of its traditional features such as low ceilings, wooden beams and real fires. Entry is to the side which leads to the largest of two bar areas, with a smaller snug area to the rear. The aesthetic is very much bare boards, scrubbed wood and banquette seating with wooden beams and minimalism throughout, although the occasional breweriana artefact or old photo are thrown in for good measure. Of the 4 handpulls that grace the bar, half of them are in use, and I am choosing between Pedigree and a guest beer from Sheffield's Fuggle Bunny. I ultimately chose the latter, Fuggle Bunny Chapter 2 - Cotton Tail (4%) is a very refreshing session pale ale. It's genuinely like drinking sunshine which this summer could definitely do with more of. It was a thoroughly enjoyable thing to drink as I sat in the snug bar watching the world go by out of the bay window. 

The next destination on my tour was mere feet away and, for clarity, the only pub on the opposite side of the road thus far. Travelling ever so slightly back on myself, I now ventured to the 2020 Good Beer Guide listed Coach & Horses.

Located in the heritage part of the village, the Coach & Horses is a deceptively large venue with two rooms and an informal atmosphere. The central room, opposite the bar, leads through to a smaller, but wider, room with a pool table and a door to the outside space. A corridor to the side provides toilet access. Seating is once again scrubbed wood and banquette seating with a TV positioned in one corner. This place already feels welcoming and homely. 4 handpumps adorn the bar, of which 3 are in use. After a moment's deliberation, I decide between Blue Monkey BG Sips, Doom Bar and Bass by choosing the former. The landlord serves me and, pleasingly, despite me being the only customer, service is excellent. The beer is cracking too. I haven't had BG Sips (4%) for a while but it's as good as I remember: golden, hoppy, fruity and bitter. It's made even more delicious by watching Team GB win medals in their respective 4x100m relay events at the Olympics on the aforementioned TV screen. I had planned to end my day the Draycott Tap House, situated on the neighbouring corner and the tap house for Draycott Brewing Co. I was already aware that this opened later in the day however, my plans were thwarted somewhat by discovering that the pub was temporarily closed due to urgent repair work required for the floor. My thanks to the landlord of the Coach & Horses for the information. The Draycott Tap House will no doubt get a visit at a later date.

What's to be said of my first pub trip for almost a year? Well, for one, there are no known ghost stories for either Breaston or Draycott, although the nearby village of Church Wilne tells tales of phantom organ music coming from the church at night, thought to be the work of a local whose love affair failed, only for him to hang himself in the church one night. He has also been seen as an apparition in the adjacent car park by a couple who allegedly saw him pass through the solid matter of their car. 

From a less ethereal point of view, the pubs in this part of Derbyshire, being just over the border with Nottinghamshire, can certainly be said to have character. The beer, by and large, isn't bad and the pubs are welcoming enough. As a tester for getting back into things, from a personal perspective, this can be seen as a success. Travelling out and getting to places is certainly as easy as it used to be (as long as you get the right bus!) and it's relit the fire that needed kindling after the last 18 months of utter madness. 

I'm very glad to be back and I hope you'll enjoy me being back. I genuinely hope you'll be hearing from me again in the very near future. Until next time, raise a glass for those who sadly weren't so lucky.