Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Peak District: Pilsley to Bakewell - 19th September 2012

The main reason I'd chosen Chesterfield for my overnight stay was the easy access by public transport to The Peak District National Park. My plan for today was to get the bus into Pilsley, walk up to the spectacular Monsal Head viewpoint and then walk back to Bakewell on the Monsal Trail to take the tour around Thornbridge's Riverside Brewery. I then hoped to be sober enough (and dry enough) to eventually meet a couple of relatives in Bakewell for some well deserved sustenance.

View Bakewell in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Bus: Chesterfield to Pilsley (170, Hulley's - 05 on the hour)

The 09:05 was a busy bus - full of ramblers on the way to their mid-week walk and a couple of PhD students researching at the library & archive at Chatsworth House. I got off the bus at 'The Cuttings' bus stop just before Pilsley and walked back a couple of hundred yards to the Barn Brewery, home of Peak Ales.

I'd e-mailed beforehand so they were quite happy to have me about, but I also knew that it was delivery day so they couldn't spend too much time with me (which was absolutely fine - the last thing I want to do is get in the way of people making beer!). Louise gave me a quick history of the place (operating since 2005), a run-down of the beers (I think I'd only ever had the Chatsworth Gold before), and their tie-up with Chatsworth Estate (they are completely independent and only supply André's Ale and other beers for the Farm Shop).

Brewer Tom then showed me around the 10 BBL brewplant, 4 full fermenting vessels (they therefore brew 4 times a week) and the 6 conditioning tanks.

They use mostly English malt & hops - today they were brewing their winter ale, Noggin Filler, with lots of Fuggles hops for the spicy bitterness, but they did brew a strong 6.0% abv IPA for the Jubilee with masses of Cascade hops which seemed to go down better than Jaipur in some pubs - hopefully they'll brew this again. It's a nicely thought-out brewing operation but they're now at full capacity (even with sub-contracting the bottling) and looking to expand the cold-store.

I didn't want to outstay my welcome so I bade my thanks after dropping off some Scottish shortbread and headed into Pilsley to pick up the path to Hassop (hint here - don't take the path down to the Pilsley Scout hut, take the next path otherwise there will be a few scrambles over walls). I crossed over the A619 road and then took the narrow path through the wonderfully named Toost Bank Wood to the village of Hassop. Here I came across perhaps one of the most jaw-droppingly pretty pubs I think I've ever seen, The Old Eyre Arms.

It was (very, very unfortunately) far too early for the place to be open so I had to content myself with a couple of pictures and a promise to come back some day (the food, beer & atmosphere are meant to at least come close to the exterior vision).

Also in Hassop is the Greco-Roman style Catholic Church of All Saints, all pillars & stained glass and quite a contrast to the the 17th Century Coaching Inn that is The Old Eyre Arms.

After Hassop it was a walk along the narrow B-class lanes through Great Longstone to Little Longstone for lunch at the Packhorse Inn.

This is a fairly rustic place with 3 small rooms - a central bar area, a lounge/sitting room and a more traditional dining room. The bar had 3 Thornbrige beers on (Jaipur, Kipling and Wild Swan) as well as Black Sheep Bitter and a whole load of black-boards displaying the standard food fayre and the daily specials.

I ordered a Kipling and a posh fish-finger bap/roll and went to wait in the lounge. It's a nice place - low beams, mirrors, kettles, old bottles & jugs and a great old sideboard along almost one side of the room - I just wish they could have stopped the background muzak.

Out the back there are some steep steps up to the beer garden but once there it must be a great place in the summer sun.

Suitably refreshed I left the Packhorse for the short walk to Monsal Head (it was literally only a 10 minute walk). The Monsal Head Hotel and the its associated Stables Bar are located at the very edge of the Head of the Dale along with a large car park - I dread to think how busy it gets in the height of summer.

I went into the Stables Bar even though I probably didn't need to. It's really only set-up to offer food for the steady stream of walkers looking for sustenance and hot chocolate (there were no seats at the bar at all - I had to skulk away at its edge). Interesting enough Buxton provide the house beer (the really nice Stables Bitter, although I think it's a re-badged Buxton Bitter) and there were some beers from Wincle Brewery that I hadn't seen before (and simply couldn't carry with me).

When the rain stopped the views from Monsal Head down the length of Monsal Dale & the River Wye with Headstone Viaduct visible are seriously impressive.

I needed to get down to the viaduct so I took the tarmacked road down to the valley floor, crossed the River Wye and then clambered up a steep path to the viaduct's level. As soon as I got there I found out that I hadn't needed to do this - there were (steep) steps & a path from Monsal Head that I hadn't noticed when I was up there - drats! The whole route from Bakewell to Buxton following the old Midland Railway line is called the Monsal Trail and it's only recently that a number of the tunnels which form part of the route have been repaired, resurfaced and lit to allow the complete trail to be walked (or cycled or whatever). Headstone Tunnel extends from Monsal Head for approx. 1 kilometre towards Bakewell and takes a good 10-15 minutes to walk through.

After the tunnel it was a fairly straightforward walk along the flat surface of the trail. I passed through a disused Station (I think this was Thornbridge Hall)...

and then took a bridleway south off the Monsal Trail towards the outskirts of Bakewell. This gave me a great view of Bakewell and the surrounding hills and dales.

The path brought me down on the banks of the River Wye beside the Lumford Cottages (used by cotton mill workers in the 19th Century) and just before the Riverside Business Park, home of Thornbridge's Riverside Brewery.

I've put my tour of the Riverside Brewery on a separate blog page here.

After the tour I wandered into Bakewell which is, of course, famous for the Bakewell Tart (or Bakewell Pudding as I think it should be called). There are certainly enough shops in the town centre ready and willing to sell you the locally baked produce.

I was meeting my relatives at the Felicini Italian Restaurant just across the river from the main town centre.

I normally resign myself to drinking either Peroni or ginger beer when I'm eating out at an Italian, but this evening I had a pleasant surprise - bottles of Peak Ales Bakewell Bitter (as well as Thornbridge beers), where I'd been to this morning, and most pleasant they were indeed.

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