for many yeas myself and Wees Keefy and Fatha, sometimes with Tash and Matty, have been heading out to the Derbyshire, North Staffordshire border for a meal and a few pints at three excellent local pubs. In the last three years though making both of the last two has proved impossible, as per this post from 2015. Different pubs have been our starting place but after leaving Cliff's we have recently ended up somewhere else on the way home. Last Saturday that changed.
We met before 17.00 and picked Wee Fatha up and headed out via Bakewell to Monyash and then through Needham Grange to Crowdecote. The sun was shining and it was warm and the Packhorse pub wasn't too busy when we got there. Having said hello to Nick who may actually be called Mick (I will listen more carefully next time....) we set about ordering.
We all went for pints (WF a half) of Storm Silk of Amnesia, a darkish ruby pint with plenty of flavour and somewhere around 5%. The beer was impeccably kept and we stayed on this for the duration, apart from WK getting a soft drink since he was driving, and me trying the Derby fruit salad fruit pale which was far better than its name suggested. All pints cost £3.40 which is good value for the area. We also ate - WF having a fish pie, me gammon and WK a steak. The food was excellent. The beer was too.
Next, given recent early closing incidences, we headed up the lane past the pub to Earl Sterndale. The Quiet Woman was open, and there was a couple in the bar enjoying the last of their pints when we arrived. I had a pint of dark, alas I can't recall whose it was, and WK and WF each had a half of the Marstons bitter from a range of three. WK dutifully bought a now more expensive box of beers and we sat near the entrance.
One interesting fact is that the pub door has a sign on it saying No dogs. Royal Cottage regulars claimed this had been there for years but three large groups of potential customers turned up whilst we were there and read the sign out loud - all of whom had dogs. One group put their dog in the car and sat inside enjoying their beers and the pub, and the other two groups sat briefly outside with far less beers than they would otherwise have had if they had been able to come in. I know that Ken had two or perhaps three dogs since I have been going, all of which have now sadly passed away but not taking the sign down is restricting trade further in this already quiet pub.
After a good sup and loo breaks we had to leave Ken to it and headed off to the Royal Cottage for about 21.00. There were a few customers in already when we arrived, and we had a quick chat with Cliff - unusually he don't say he thought we'd died, two which WF would have responded with "I nearly did". Instead he asked us how we were and WK bought our drinks - Manns for WF, lemonade for WK and a bottle of Old Speckled Hen for me.
We sat in our usual spot and got talking to a guy who may be called Dave and regular visitor Ivel - a proper old fashioned name if ever I heard one. As well as the interior not changing its pleasing to note that the conversation topics also never change. Local farms, farmers, families, relationships and land sales once again were the feature, including the Salt family who allegedly lived in the mines years ago. As always, the conversation was interesting, and the atmosphere was excellent. And it was good to see Cliff in good health.
Shortly before we left a large group of people turned up and having ordered drinks stood and sat over by the back window. It was notable that for the second or third time in recent years there were more than ten people in when we left late on a Saturday night. This may not sound many, but the pub is quite small and for many years there were never more than three people in, so this is an improvement.
For information, in nearby Longnor, the Grapes has reopened following many years of closure, so there are now two pubs open in Longnor - unless the Horseshoes has reopened, which looking at it am guessing it hasn't. We didn't have time to visit but I understand it sells a few real ales so will hopefully pop in next time we are out that way.
I wrote in 2012 about the large number of local pubs in the area closing or changing hands but the Red Lion at Thorncliffe has also recently reopened so there seems to be small improvements in the pub scene in the Staffordshire Moorlands area. All of which means more trips out and different routes await in the months ahead.