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Gordons Travels - Three Valleys Beer Festival, Dronfield

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.

Gordon's Travels - Rail Ale Festival, Barrow Hill

Bombardier Bus at Barrow HillOne of my favourite days out of the year, a trip to Barrow Hill Roundhouse at Staveley near Chesterfield. A train ride from Doncaster to Chesterfield then there are free heritage buses provided every half an hour to the festival itself, but don't forget to drop a few quid in the collection bucket to help keep these buses running.

I went with Dave, David and Tony again. Dave is the one on oxygen and Tony carries the spare tank. Because of this I arranged for us to get straight in on arrival, despite the 12 noon opening time, and get us seated at the Bombardier double decker bus, thanks to Mike who looks after that. Some people in the queue wondered what was going on as we squeezed past them to get in.

I sorted out our tickets at the gate and we got our programmes and glasses then headed into the main roundhouse building to get some seats as they are very limited at this event. I appreciate that priority is given to safety and they have to leave room for people to walk round and get to the bars. There is some seating in the marquee at the entrance, more outside around the food concessions stands and they had a couple of brake vans on the platform you could sit in too.

Beer of the Festival had been announced as Shiny Brewery's 'Affinity'. A further 16 beers had awards in various categories from the Thursday judging. We tried a few and, as tends to happen with us, nobody agreed that the winners we tried were any better than other beers we had that day. In fact Tony gave the first 5 beers he had 8 out of 10, and after that much lower scores.

Bar OneI usually try and get a reference point so will start with a beer I already know. That meant a short wander to bar one and the Timothy Taylors handpumps where I had Le Champion followed by Boltmaker. Through the afternoon I had various beers, I can't remember in what order but here's the ones I had of the 250+ on offer. Fuggle Bunny 'Cotton Tail', then their new one 'Mystic Makrut'. To be honest, I couldn't tell much difference. Both had a heavy Grapefruit taste. Dave tried the Cotton Tail and didn't like. I popped back out to the bus and had Wells Bombardier and had a chat with Mike and his staff.  I'll be heading for the Great Central Railway beerfest in September and was delighted to find Great Central beers on offer. I had marked 'Peak' as one to try, but it wasn't ready. So I had their 'Hymek', looking very much like used diesel but not a bad drink. I also have Kennett & Avon 'Rusty Lane' and Church End 'What the fox's hat' on my list of ones I went for.

There is a dedicated Derbyshire bar, featuring beers from the county. Apart from the Shiney 'Affinity', I had Boot Beer's 'Boot Bitter' and Barlow Brewery's 'Bettys Blonde'. The others had their own choices, between us we covered about 50 of the brews on offer. There were ciders and world beers and a racket they called entertainment. In a big cavernous place like that the acoustics are terrible. The sound was just mush unless you wre stood in front of the speakers. No escape to the marque, they had a jazz band on in there.

Why beer festivals have to have this extra noise annoys me. We are there for the beer, we'd like the bar staff to be able to hear what we are ordering and what they say to us, likewise at our table when we are discussing the beers. We were having to wait for breaks in the "music"/din and that's our only gripe with these things.

Part of the admission included free train rides during the day time, last run about 4.45 to finish by 5pm, which is also the time where children must leave. They have a couple of of BR carriages with an 03 shunter at one end and this time it was a small green tank steam loco on the other end. There's a three-quarter mile run at 20mph to a dead end and then you come back. Lots of other loco's on show in the roundhouse itself and in the extensive yards, although a lot are closed of during the festival. You can get to see a lot in the far side of the yard from the train ride.

Bar OneThe food stands 'out the back' include someone who's become an old friend at this event, Jeff Gaunt was a local butcher who retired, but carried on taking his stand to events and providing some real meaty treats. I had the tomato sausage first, very tasty and of a style I can't find anywhere locally. Later I went for the liver and onions, in a roll, very tender and no gristly bits at all. Before I left I had one last trip to Jeff and had a beefburger, home made of course.

Also out there was a stand with a pizza oven making fresh ones all day. One doing Chinese noodles or Lincolnshire sausages with onions in massive paella pans. Next to them was a pie stand, lots of varieties and their own pork scratchings too. A veggie curry stand seemed to be stuck out on it's own, with few customers. Another stand did pulled pork sandwiches, another was doing Derbyshire Oatcakes. Inside the roundhouse they have their own cafe/canteen which does the usual whatever with chips, tea, coffee and all that.

Seated Admission costs are £6.50 for the main two days, if you buy tickets in advance, otherwise £8.50 on the gate. If you're going in 2017 then the Corner Pin should be selling tickets again, they were a late addition to the list of outlets for 2016. CAMRA members can take their membership card and programme to the CAMRA stand and get a sticker that's worth £1.50 off your first, or next, drink. Beer Tokens were £5 a card and beer prices ranged between £1.50 a half to £1.90 (Thornbridge Jaipur !)

They promote the event as the most atmospheric beer festival of the year and there's certainly an atmosphere through the day. I'm already looking forward to next year!


Gordon's Travels - Radcliffe-on-Trent

Something a bit different as I visited the 5th Great Radcliffe Beer festival. A bank holiday weekend event held at the Chestnut pub in Radcliffe-on-Trent, Nottingham. I went on day one, Friday.

A train ride from Donny, change at Sheffield, to Nottingham then a frequent bus service from the railway station to a stop almost directly opposite the pub - except I missed it and had to walk back from the next one.

I arrived just after 12 noon and met David, one of the gang I often go to beer festivals with. No Tony this time as he was in N Ireland looking at butterflies but Dave joined us about 1.40. We also had the company of Neil, one of David's local friends as he lives nearby.

The beers were varied, 24 over the weekend with St Austell Tribute the only regular remaining on the bar.
Bar, Stillage or 'Not available until Saturday' noted
Abbeydale 'Absolution' (5.5%), Sheffield (SAT)
Adnams 'Mosaic' (4.1%), Southwold (Still)
Ashover 'Citra' (4.1%), Derbyshire (Still)
Batemans 'XXXB' (4.5%), Wainfeleet (Bar)
Black Iris 'Snake Eyes' (3.6%), Nottingham (Bar)
Blue Monkey 'Infinity' (4.6%), Nottingham (Still)
Brewsters 'Hophead' (3.6%), Grantham (Still)
Catstle Rock 'Black Gold' (3.8%), Nottingham (Bar)
Crouch Vale 'Yakima Gold' (4.2%), Essex (Still)
Darkstar (American Pale' (4.7%), West Sussex
Elland '1872 Porter' (6.5%, Yorkshire (Still)
Frontier 'Helmsley IPA' (5.4%), Derby (Bar)
Great Heck 'Black Jesus' (6.5%), Yorkshire (Still)
Ludlow 'Gold' (4.5%), Shropshire (Still)
Ludlow 'Stairway' (5.0%), Shropshire (SAT)
Marble 'Pint' (3.9%), Manchester (SAT)
Oakham 'Bishops Farewell' (4.6%), Peterborough (SAT)
Pheasantry 'Bitter' (3.8%), Nottinghamshire (SAT)
Sarah Hughes 'Dark Ruby' (6.0%), Dudley (Still)
Salopian 'Lemon Dream' (4.5%), Shropshire (Still)
Thornbridge 'Crackendale' (5.2%), Bakewell (Still)
Tiny Rebel 'Fubar' (4.4%), S Wales (Still)
Totally Brewed '4 Hopmen' (5.2%), Nottingham (SAT)
Timothy Taylor 'Dark Mild' (3.5%), Keighley (SAT)

At least three ciders too, I think there were actually 5 on the bar but a I'm not a cider drinker I didn't look too closely

I had (in order of drinking) Black iris (3.0), Castle Rock (2.5), Ludlow Gold (2.0), Crouch Vale (2.0), Ashover (2.5), Brewsters (3.0) and Batemans (3.0) with my out of 5 scores in brackets. All perfectly drinkable but none quite perfect is how I'd describe them. I went mainly as they had Timmy Taylor's on, but then didn't as it wasn't ready. Last year they had an Ossett as well, but not this time. Elland and Great heck were represented although I'm not into strong dark beers. We decided that we'd go for pints and save too many trips to the bar. All festival beers were on at £3.40 a pint, not cheap and no discounts. The beer from the stillage was a bit warm, no cooling in use that I could see although they had jackets. From the handpumps was much better, but should be of course.

I also ate there, having my usual steak pie & chips. The pie was a bit over-done with more than crisp shortcrust pastry, not light to the bite as expected. It was a similar looking thing to the Marstons 'Generous George' range, a bit over 3 inch square and a couple of inches deep, all pastry covered and pinched edge top. The internal content was better than Marstons though, at least you could tell this was steak and it was chunky in places, not slush. Some of it was a bit hard where the portion had bene nuked in the kitchen. It came with three times dipped chips in a little bucket of their own, meaning there were not many, with some strips of carrot and garden peas. There was also a little pot of gravy, which I prefer rather than the plate being flooded when served.

We spent the afternoon discussing life in general, cricket, beer, barstaff, other beer festivals and illnesses. Both David and Neil were carrying oxygen tanks, although for different reasons. I'm a COPD sufferer myself but don't need oxygen - yet. We compared noted about struggling to do things, then went back to the beer to lubricate the throat when we got breathless.

I'm happy that I can still get about now and again, but what a lot of people don't see if that I have to push myself at times to get out there. With this particular trip I had a taxi from home to the station, was on the train then a bus outside the station direct to the pub. I had been resting for a good hour on the public transport so was about to walk a little, but was only too happy to collapse into a chair as soon as I got to the pub. I had been to a presentation night during the week but was far from 'OK'. The question in my mind is how much longer I can keep doing my Travels around. I'll keep doing them simply because I don't want to give up yet, there are still places to go and beer to be drunk.


Gordon’s Travels – Brighouse

A long time ago I lived in Brighouse>  I left in 1990 and hoped I’d not be returning. But that was under different circumstances which I’ll not go into here. I’ve recently had a few trips back there and although I’ve only bought ale in two pubs they are worthy of mention.

If I’m out for a drink or two I take the train, there is a direct service from Doncaster but not very often. Other options are change at Wakefield, taking into account the need to swap between Westgate and Kirkgate stations, or go via Leeds at increased cost. Actually, you can make a saving by booking Doncaster to South Elmsall at £3.20 anytime return then South Elmsall to Brighouse, £9.50 anytime return or £6.70 off-peak return. A bit of a saving on the £17.00 anytime return for the full journey. For that to be effective you must catch the slow train though.

If you prefer to go by a faster service you book to Wakefield at £9.70 anytime return then have a choice. Go via Leeds for £7.10 anytime return or via Wakefield Kirkgate at £4.40 off-peak or £6.00 anytime. But beware, if you book a return the last connecting train back from Brighouse is 9.30pm. I usually time it for a night where I can get a lift home, which I’ll explain shortly.

Having arrived at Brighouse station and climbing the stairs out of the station you take a left and left again for the main Huddersfield Road into the town. But not too far. Just over the railway bridge is a pub with two names – it’s been the Commercial for many years but also seems to be called The Railway. They normally have 2-3 real ales on, one of which is from Ossett Brewery as they are one of Ossett’s “OBE Club” pubs.

I have had quite a few nice pints of Ossett ales in there, although on my last visit the Silver King had just gone off and they had not got the Bosbury Bitter settled enough. I ended up having a couple of jars of Merrie City Crystal Gold (4.2%). They were also selling Copper Dragon Golden Pippin plus one I forget now, but hadn’t appealed to me.

When I visit the town I am usually there for a disco night out. Not that I boogie on the dancefloor you understand, I am an ex DJ but know quite a few of the guys who are still active and two of my friends happen to work doing that job at The Calder in Brighouse on Friday and Saturday nights. I’m therefore able to stop until the end at that venue and get a lift back home. Sadly, they are not running a taxi service so I can’t sort you out there.

The Calder is a Stonegate house, big and loud when the disco starts, usually after 9.30pm. They do pretty standard pub food but also have 4 hand pumps on the bar. These are normally Greene King IPA (sorry, can’t win ‘em all), Black Sheep Bitter, Elland Pale (rebadged as Calder Pale) plus a guest. For special events, like Halloween, they had Hobgoblin as the guest, with the flashing pumpkin pump clip.

I can happily down several glasses of Calder/Elland Pale while I’m there. They’ve had a lot of the popular guests, one time they had both Timmy Taylors Boltmaker and Landlord at the same time. Alongside the house Elland offering I was very happy that night. I’ve had other Elland brews there, all of which have been spot on.

The Calder is Cask Marque accredited but does not seem to have been recognised by the local CAMRA branch, despite me sending email to let them know when it re-opened after a £500,000 refurbishment a year ago. It is located directly opposite the big Sainsburys at the bottom of Huddersfield Road, with a big Wetherspoons opposite their side door. Several other pubs in the area, but I’ve not ventured very far as there is an incentive to stop in The Calder.

Pints of real ale that are 4% or less were on at £2.80. In Autumn 2015 they introduced a 10% discount on real ales for CAMRA card carrying members so it came down to £2.52 a pint. They also have a collector card for real and keg ales only, buy 7 and you will get your 8th free. That worked out at £2.45 a pint if you fill a card or an amazing £2.205 if you paid CAMRA member prices. Above 4% the price increases according to strength.
(** Since writing this they’ve changed, along with other Stonegate outlets, to a card that gives you the 9th pint free when you’ve bought 8)

As I said at the start, a long time since I lived there and I’ve fond memories of some pubs, many of which are no longer it seems. I was a DJ around there for 12 years, I didn’t drive so was able to enjoy the odd pint. Not there was much to speak of back then, nearly all bland electric dispense stuff unless you went looking for hand pulled.

I have made one afternoon trip to The Calder, simply to take advantage of the 8 for the price of 7 beer offer and use a free train ticket. I left there earlier than the last train so that I could call into Dewsbury Railway station and the West Riding bar on the way back. 


Gordons Travels - Barnsley Beerfest 2016

Several years ago I lived in Barnsley, in a pub with 9 hand pumps that won pub of the season twice and pub of the year once in the 5-6 years we were there. That’s where I met Barnsley CAMRA’s Nigel Croft, now their branch secretary and probably the only survivor of the team that used to call at our pub mid-week to fill up oversize Lucozade bottles, 10% extra or something, that held half a pint of ale. These would be filled and labelled, put into cardboard tubes and carefully put into a carry case to take back for the member who wasn’t able to get to the pub, but wanted the certain ale we had.

It’s over 20 years since I last saw Nigel but we recognised each other instantly as he met me at Elsecar station to make the short run to the Elsecar Heritage Centre where the festival is held. A large marque with several smaller gazebo type tents surrounding it was the venue. Free entry, souvenir glass just two quid and a double sided photocopy page of the beers on offer. 83 of them in all, although a few were on reserve. That’s not including a wide range of ciders plus a world beer bottle bar.

I was thirsty and needed a reference point to start with so went for Doncaster’s own Hilltop Classic Bitter, which went down well. I try not to go for the strong beers, knowing that I’ll be at a festival for a few hours and will be drinking half pints. The festival glass was oversized and had markings for pint, half and third. The beers were reasonably priced at £2.60 or £2.80 a pint, at least for the lower strength ones I had. I did note that thirds were £1 on all of these.

So, my afternoon was filled by Abbeydale ‘Endeavour’ (3.9%), Blackjack ‘Curse of Mexico’ (3.5%), Jolly Boys ‘Jolly Beer’ (4.2%), Magpie ‘Hoppily Ever After’ (3.8%), Ossett ‘Maypole’ (4.2%), Rat ‘Ratcher in the Rye’ (4.4%), Raw ‘Independence’ (4.1%), Spitting Feathers ‘Thirst Quencher’ (3.9%), Timothy Taylors ‘Ram Tam’ (4.3%) and Jolly Boys ‘Jolly Amber’ (5.0%) before finishing off with another Hilltop and a final Ram Tam then heading for the train home.

During the afternoon I took a ride on the train, a short one mile stretch that’s been restored and was steam powered. The Heritage Centre team are working on a further mile, which will take them through to Cortonwood and the shopping centre there. Plans are to build a small station. A slow 10mph run through mostly light wooded surroundings before reaching the terminus and coming back.

I had two beers from the new Jolly Boys brewing company based in Barnsley, they had three on offer. Not bad to say they have not even built the brewery yet. All the equipment was on its way so they would have the brewery up and running early in May. They don’t use finings so the beer is cloudy by design and they class it as vegan too. I had a little chat with them and they are keen to sell to the Doncaster area once they are in production.

On the way there the train was hit by a hailstorm which stopped just before I was due to get off. We had got to the beer tent OK then another hailstorm came along and the marquee got ever so cosy as people crammed inside it. Despite those couple of heavy showers I did manage to spend a good half hour with a glass of beer and a hot dog on a bench on the platform in quite nice sunshine and little wind.

It’s usually the case with beer festivals that the catering is a hot dog van, this one also had a pie stall inside the marquee doing a large pie with peas for £3.50. They had sausage rolls too, very much home-made as they were meatier than any shop bought ones. I’m not keen on mushy peas so got a cold pie on its own and ate that during my train ride.

The beers were on form and well looked after. Congratulations to Barnsley CAMRA for what is turning out to be a very popular event. Word has it that they may even have a social to some place called Doncaster…