My third visit to the Three Valleys event. It's a beer festival with a difference as it is spread out over 16 pubs in the Dronfield area and regular free buses run between them all. Each pub has its own events, outdoor food at many, and of course extra beers. This time I went with my wife and had a slower run round, rather than trying to get to as many pubs as possible in one day.
The trip was delayed by cancelled train services from Sheffield. We didn't get on a train until just after 2pm, finally reaching Dronfield at 2.15pm. Needless to say it was packed, standing all down the aisles and in the doorways on a 2 carriage train that was obviously not adequate after two missed services. Some people may have gone to Chesterfield and then to Dronfield from there, down to come back. Our tickets didn't allow that option.
The number of pubs taking part has shrunk for some reason. One that was on the original list for this year was Barlow Brewery but by the time the event took place it had been dropped due to failing safety checks. I was told there was a big haystack that had been deemed a fire risk. They've had a haystack there for years but this year it was the reason they failed. A pity, Barlow Brewery was one I never got to in previous years and I'd marked it for a run out this time. We also noticed that the Blue Stoops was fenced off and had for sale signs outside as we passed it.
We started this time at the Miners Arms, Hundall. Dronfield CAMRA Pub of The Year 2016 & Cider Pub of The Year 2015. I didn't try to get to the indoor bar, the place was packed. Their extentive rear garden had a beer tent and an entertainment tent. I had a pint of Saltaire 'Pride' (3.9%), a traditional brown bitter, which soon vanished - it had been a long-ish bus journey on top of the train problems. I followed that with a pint of Waen 'Pampelmousse' (4.2%), and despite it's name (French for grapefruit) was not overpowering with the citrus content. My wife decided she would have the RAW 'Honey Bee' (4.5%) and against her original desire to have just a half at each pub, she went back for more. Before heading for the bus we got a burger each, the 'Miners Classic' from the stand near the exit.
The bus came and we hopped on, destination the Horse & Jockey at Unstone. Yet again a beer tent and this time a burger van, which we decided against as soon as we saw it. I didn't write down what I had there as I had no pen with me and had aimed to use the published beer list for the event. This venue's beers were not on the list... There was a DJ blasting out happy hardcore music and rap (with a capital C) including some very strong language in the lyrics. We decided not to stay and hopped on the next bus.
Our next stop was the Three Tuns. The Dronfield Genquip brass band were playing, they represent Yorkshire in the national finals this year after coming second in the county. As in previous years they had food available on the car park, and this year a beer tent was available too. I had the local Drone Brewery 'Dronny Bottom' (3.7%), staying with lower gravity beers - unlike a few who seemed to have consumed a lot of Drone Velley 'Enigma' at 6.4% and decided to take their beers on the bus - but were turfed back off as each bus had a security guard this year, after problems in previous years with these 'less experienced beer drinkers'.
My wife had dropped to cola by now, she does not drink a lot and had had three or four halves at this stage. Next stop was the Green Dragon where I had a pint of Kelham Island 'Easy Rider' that wasn't particularly on form but, as with all pubs that day, plastic drinking vessels were in use and it was an outside bar on a warm day. We decided to get some chips from the van on the car park and found out these were cheap chunky frozen ones that were undercooked.
Not as enjoyable a visit as in previous years.
We then bus-hopped up to the Talbot who also failed to add their beers to the main beer list but I remember it being Peak 'Summer Sovereign' (4.5%) as we ended up making this our last pub of the day. Not of our choosing but partly due to the bus breaking down with a cloud of steam from the over-worked radiator, it had been all uphill from Dronfield itself. The next bus we got on gave us the longest journey of the day as it completed the circular run round Dronfield back to the Three Tuns and then headed into the outskirts of Chesterfield before looping back to the Derby Tup. In hindsight we should have got off at the Tuns and caught the other circle bus in to Dronfield instead of the extra half hour spent going out to the Tup.
We knew we did not have time to stop as we had already missed one train and didn't want to miss the next so stayed on the bus until we finally arrived at the train station, an hour and 20 minutes after boarding the bus at the Talbot :-( That's the only thing we had no control over, how long it would take for the bus to get anywhere as there would be a mass exodus at each stop with people getting off and then the bus filling to capacity again, all of which took time. In previous years copies of the bus timetable had been given out at Dronfield station, this year it was just a basic map of which bus stopped where.
We had already decided not to visit the two town centre pubs, the Dronfield Arms and the White Swan, as they had been so packed out in previous years that it took far too long to get to a bar and be served. We had been past on the bus a couple of times during the day and saw the people spilling out onto the roadside which reinforced that view. That left us with a 25 minute wait for the train.
One of the venues we really missed this time was the Travellers Rest at Apperknowle (aka The Corner Pin !). In previous years this pub had had an extensive outside bar and a trailer stage for the entertainment. OK, so last year it rained, a lot, and people were packed into the marquee, but that was part of the day. We went past on the bus this time and got waves from some who had got there by other means and were enjoying a quieter pint. Not sure if they've had a change of landlord or something as their website was still promoting last years beer festival...
Yes, it's a very popular event but perhaps the number of people turning up for it have outgrown the town and pubs it promotes. At every pub on the run the bars were packed and not everyone was waiting their turn, more so those desperate for that lager stuff. Some temporary bar staff who didn't seem to appreciate the legal requirement of 'a pint' too, yank yank yank on the pump and plonk a tumbler of foaming stuff down then vanish before you have time to request that they 'top it up'.
Most places seemed to be charging £3 a pint, one or two less. Can't say I noticed any higher prices but we didn't make it to the Coach & Horses, which is mainly Thornbridge Ales. That tended to be the most expensive in previous years.
Maybe next year I'll look back on this experience and decide to do something else, I've done this one three years running and had the opportunity to get the flavour of the event. It has been different enough to have me do that so must have some appeal to me and the many others who made the trek. But when I compare it to the nearby Barrow Hill event it's chalk and cheese.