Being made of sterner stuff, I prepared for the coming festivities with breakfast and beer at Wetherspoons. This proved crucial in the long day ahead. On arrival we immediately made a beeline for the brewery. This was a small, compact affair, with a beer stand opposite serving 3 Thornbridge beers. Disappointingly, these proved to be the only beers available between both bars-it would have been ideal if one bar sold a different selection.
White Swan (3.5%), despite not being clear, was quite tasty for its strength, with a bitter-lemon finish. Lord Marples (4%) was more of your bog standard bitter. Not bad, but obviously the poor cousin of the three. The third, was of course, Jaipur IPA. This 5.9% well hopped (actually dry hopped here), multi award winner, was in good condition and seemed to be the favourite amongst our party. But just how much of it can you sup before weariness sets in and you’re all Jaipured out? Apparently, for me anyway, the answer is 5 pints.
By now the rain, and the lack of shelter, was proving a real pain in the Kelvin MacKenzie. Stopwatch Sid called a meeting for later to decide if we should move on ahead of schedule. However, by the time of the meeting we were basking in sunshine and, judging by the way people were gripping their plastic glasses, the Jaipur was kicking in. So we gave it a bit longer. And yes, I said plastic glasses. Tandleman had come prepared with his own glass. I had considered liberating one from JDW but couldn’t be arsed in the end. Have to say that the live act-Junkyard Dog-were a pretty good covers act with an excellent sound system.
We left just in time as the downpour started again. Our next stop was Ashover, a very picturesque village in North East Derbyshire. It was no surprise to learn that the village centre is a conservation area. There was a mass wilder beast like stampede to the nearest pub-all of 10 yards away. The more experienced drinkers avoided the bar melee by making the short journey up Church St to the other two pubs in the village.
Right at the top was the Black Swan which was serving a range of beers, all, much to Tandleman’s chagrin without a sparkler. It was here he first outlined a horrifying theory-that the sparkler was in decline. I was a little puzzled by this. After all, aren’t the Southern Softies always complaining that all their beer is now being served a la sparkler? Perhaps they have more than their fair share? In which case, give them back, now. I shall watch out for this worrying development. We did try Spire Land of Hop and Glory (4.5%) but this proved to be a rather insipid golden ale which even a sparkler couldn’t have saved. For trivia buffs, the Swan was the pub featured in the TV show Peak Practice.
The Crispin Inn further down the street was a very cosy Jennings hostelry. The Cocker Hoop (4.6%) was a very crisp golden beer with only a hint of honey to detract from it. Served in excellent condition, it was very enjoyable. We made our way down to the Old Poets Corner, only to find that our party were well and truly ensconced there. Or were they just well and truly pissed? Either way we threw ourselves into the thick of it with the knowledge that the clock was ticking down. Quite a scene; with the likes of Stopwatch Sid, the Wallsend Wonder, Tandleman, Morris Minor Mike, Galadriel and Charlie Jolly all tucking in with abandoned gusto.
The lack of sparklers led Tandleman to question the landlord over the issue and I don’t think he was convinced by the answer. Ashover Lane Coffin Stout (5%) was dark with initial sweet caramel notes that quickly died off. Their other beer that we tried was also disappointing. Poets Tipple (4.1%) was amber, quite watery, with only a slight fruit tang to tickle the palate. Dark Star Summer Solstice (4.2%) was much better, being very pale and good zesty bitterness. Finally we tried Landlord-with a hastily produced old fashioned sparkler. This got the thumbs up from our resident Landlord expert who had tried the non-sparkler version beforehand.
Then it was home-via the long way. A journey of nearly three hours did mean an unusually long sobering up time. Thank God I had Burl Ives to keep me company. It also meant that, after many years, I finally got to try the delights of the onboard loo. Back in Bury the situation had deteriorated even further in the Trackside with only 3 beers on. And no Cheddar Valley! Some people who should know better settled for the 3% Honey Porter whilst the real men went straight on Jever.
More substantial food would have been good at some point. Apart from JDW’s breakfast, my only alcohol defence was a packet of freshmint chewing gum. Summing up: a rather mixed start to the day, but improving as the day wore on and a very strong finish.