Friday, late afternoon. Stranded in Chesterfield waiting for The Beer Widow, who is attempting to come up the M1 from London to meet me before we go on to the Great Peak Weekender
at Thornbridge. The journey will eventually take her seven hours (it should take no more than three), so sitting in Chesterfield station’s dispiriting concourse isn’t an option.
I follow signs to the town centre and walk for about ten minutes without seeing a single shop, pub, restaurant or commercial premises of any description. I’m dragging a suitcase. It starts to rain, hard, and I’m getting desperate. There is no one on the streets: it’s like 28 Days Later
, only less pleasant.
Eventually a find a pub. In the window it advertises a ‘wide range of cask ales’. I smile to myself and go in. On the bar there are just two handpumps: one serving Doom Bar, the other Greene King IPA. But there’s a half pint glass over the GK pump, so my ‘wide range’ consists of Doom Bar. As I occasionally do at times like this, I order a pint of Kronenbourg. It’s utterly undrinkable, so I drag my suitcase back into the rain.
A little further down the street, I spy a Marston’s logo outside another pub, the Crooked Spire. Oh well, a pint of Pedigree will do. I walk in. Once again, there are just two handpumps on the bar. They look like they haven’t been used for some time. It’s not that the pumpclips are turned around: there are no pumpclips at all. The keg fonts are Budweiser, Becks Vier, Strongbow.
“Do you have any cask ale?” I ask.
“No,” replies the barman.
“Do you have any Marston’s beers at all?” I follow up.
He just shakes his head.
For only the second time in recent memory, I say apologetically that I’ll have to try somewhere else because there’s nothing on the bar I want to drink.
I walk a little further, starting to feel desperate, and finally I find the Blue Bell, advertising not just cask ales, but also craft beers on a permanent sign just outside the door. Relieved, I go inside.
The whole pub stinks of BO. Undeterred, I walk to the bar. Here is the standard selection of two handpumps: this time Hobgoblin and Jenning’s Cumberland Ale. The weighty pump clips suggest they are permanent and unchanging. I look along the bar for the craft keg fonts. Finding none, I scan the fridges, but there’s only Bud, Becks, Bulmer’s and Koppaberg.
“Are you looking for anything in particular?” asks the very friendly barmaid.
“There’s a sign outside saying you sell craft beer,” I reply.
She looks confused. “Sorry?”
“What? CRAP beer?”
“No, CRAFT beer.”
“Oh. What’s that?”
“There’s a sign by the door saying you sell it.”
“I’m sorry love, I don’t even know what craft beer is. I’ve never heard of it.”
“I think they mean that,” says one of the regulars at the bar, pointing to the Hobgoblin.
But that would come under cask ale. They say they sell both craft beer and cask ale outside, I want to say. But I’m too confused. Could it be that someone who works here has never read the signage outside the front door? And why is it there anyway?
“I’ll have a pint of Kronenbourg thanks.”
Over an excellent weekend at Thornbridge, I’m informed by many people that Chesterfield has some brilliant pubs selling a fantastic range of beers. I have absolutely no reason to doubt them. I just managed to pick a very unlucky route through the town centre.
On our way back home on Sunday, we decide to try again, and find a nice country pub on the outskirts of the city that advertises food served from 12 noon to 3.30pm. It’s now 2.30pm. The pub is about half full – certainly not busy.
“I’m sorry, we’ve run out of food,” says the bar person.
“What, no food left at all?”
“No, absolutely none.”
Some pubs simply don’t deserve to stay in business. And I really need to get my pub radar fixed.