CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> Castle Hotel, Castleton

Previous Pint Pleasures - January 12, 2004

guinness eileen

The Castle Hotel, Castle Street, Castleton, Derbyshire

I suppose it's from having grown up in the United States, but I've always thought of bizarre roadside attractions as an American phenomenon. I'm referring to those irresistible signs you see on highways bidding you to take a detour to see The World's Biggest Furball, The Mysterious Hamster Caverns, or the Birth Home of Malcolm Butts, inventor of the glow-in-the-dark toilet brush. Just outside my mother's home town of Seaside, Oregon I have been awed by the World's Largest Sitka Spruce, and on a regular drive from Seattle to Oregon we would pass enticingly close to the Mysterious Mima Mounds. (Since I had a friend named Mimma I did pause a moment to wonder why her mounds would be considered so mysterious...but I decided not to dwell on it.) And, of course, my own birthplace of Long Beach, California is home to the world's most famous permanently drydocked ship, the Queen Mary, which gave rise to many of Long Beach's homages to Merry Olde England: double-decker buses, pseudo-English pubs, and plenty of shops in which to purchase t-shirts, coffee mugs, and mouse pads emblazoned with Union Jacks or portraits of the Royal Family.

But why didn't I realize that caravan-loving Britain would be filled with a wealth of roadside attractions as well? There is even one located remarkably handy to where I live. In the Peak District, halfway between Sheffield and Manchester on A625, is the town of Castleton, the "Gem of the Peaks". Nestled in the hills dividing the Dark Peak to the north and the White Peak to the south, Castleton is dominated by the ruins of Peveril Castle, built by William the Conqueror's son to oversee the King's Royal Forest of the Peak. Although the castle was erected around 1066 what remains of the keep dates from 1175. And beneath this castle is the once-in-a-lifetime holiday draw to which I've alluded: the Devils Arse, a cavern boasting the largest natural cave entrance in Britain and the second largest in the world. I can't quite figure out where the anatomical reference comes in, but I suppose I'd need to delve deep down into -- er, I should say, visit the cavern to find out.

For more conventional holiday seekers the biggest attraction to Castleton -- apart from the castle, St Edmonds Church, the town's annual Oak Apple Day, and the annual lighting of the Christmas lights -- is Speedwell Cavern, one of the four nearby caverns. Originally a lead mine it closed in the 18th century and subsequently flooded, so today it can be explored only via a mile-long underground boat tour which ends up at a bottomless pit. Supposedly the cavern is haunted as well.

It was a misty November day when we drove through Castleton with an American friend, and we stopped at the Castle Hotel for a pint and lunch. A large, pretty pub, the Castle offers nine bedrooms of accommodation and is supposedly home to four ghosts. Barb had her customary pint of Stella, and Andrew and I had pints of Black Sheep Best (3.8% ABV, Black Sheep Brewery, Ripon, North Yorkshire), which were okay but not brilliant -- but considering how close we were to the Devil's Arse I suppose "okay" would be a relief. The food was a bit disappointing as well; not bad, mind you, just a bit of a let-down when compared to the enticing menu descriptions. I wonder if this had anything to do with the fact that when we ordered our food we received a wooden spoon as a table marker. As wooden spoons are traditionally given to the losers of a contest, was this a warning? Or perhaps some sort of in joke with the staff?

I shouldn't be so mean: The Castle Hotel is a pleasant venue in which to have a pint while enjoying the wondrous sights of Castleton, along with all the walkers, cavers, hang gliders, paragliders, and cement factory enthusiasts.

And I'm not trying to be sarcastic.

I'm not!