Pint Pleasures: Two Pubs in Derbyshire / Searching the Peaks for Sunday Lunch

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Previous Pint Pleasures -October 17, 2005

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The Plough Inn, Leadmill Bridge, Hathersage, Derbyshire

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The Queen Anne, Main Street, Great Hucklow, Buxton, Derbyshire

Last spring, while I was recovering from being squashed by a bus, my mother flew over from California to take care of me, even though I was already getting around quite adeptly on my crutches. One Sunday while she was here we decided to drive out into the Peaks for a pub lunch. Friends had recently recommended the Plough in Hathersage, raving about the homemade food and the lovely range of fresh meats, including game, and fish.

The limestone village of Hathersage was once a lead mining centre, and the post office used to be a toll house on the road from Hathersage to Loughborough. With the Tudor House dating from 1615, Hathersage also features a Norman-Saxon church, adjacent to which is the grave of Little John, one of Robin Hood's Merry Men. The moorlands surrounding Hathersage inspired Charlotte Brönte when she wrote Jane Eyre. And there are some interesting rock formations nearby, not to mention the historic graffiti at Stanage Edge.

Our drive from Sheffield to Hathersage on the A625 was very scenic, the rocky hills marked with random splashings of snow: just enough to make me happy to be alive, but not enough to worry my elderly mother with her Southern California wardrobe. When we pulled into the car park we were pleased by the look of the 16th century pub, and we were looking forward to enjoying a pint in a nice pub and then ordering some food. But as we entered it felt as if we were in the waiting lobby of a restaurant. The main room was filled with diners chowing down at proper dining tables, and there were no barstools at the bar which was crowded with people standing elbow to elbow, looking rather uncomfortable as they balanced their drinks and waited to be seated. As I was on crutches the barman promptly found me a chair and sat me in the middle of the crowded room, right next to a table mobbed with Sunday lunchers, while my mother and Andrew stood next to me. Although we felt a bit conspicuous and invasive, I must say that the quick pint we had (a half for driver Andrew) of Adnams Best (3.7% ABV, Adnams and Co., Southwold, Suffolk) was superb, well kept and extremely drinkable. I just wish the place felt more like a pub, because I would happily return here for another pint. Perhaps it's only food-dominated like this on Sundays.

We decided to leave and find a more publike environment for our lunch. In the carpark a woman recommended another place -- a "proper" pub -- that was not too far away and offered good food, good beer, and spectacular views of the countryside. Nevertheless it took us what seemed like ages to find the Barrel in Bretton, a tiny village somewhere to the southwest of Hathersage. The woman was right: the snowy view was spectacular. But since it was already 1:30 and the three of us were about to faint from hunger we decided to save the view for later and hurried inside.

The barmaid started to pour one of our pints and had nearly finished pouring when she told Andrew we were too late for lunch. Now, wouldn't one think it obvious that the three of us -- a man jingling his car keys, a woman on crutches, and an elderly woman -- would be entering a remote village pub at Sunday lunchtime in order to have lunch? I mean, come on! Would anyone honestly think a driver, an injured person, and one of their mothers would drive for miles out into the tulies at lunchtime, to a pub highly recommended for its Sunday lunch, just to have a drink with no food? Sure, anything's possible. But in my book the odds are on a trio like this being out for a Sunday lunch in the country. Okay, no matter. But when Andrew replied as quickly as he could to this news by telling the barmaid to cancel the drinks, she complained that she'd already poured one pint. So he tossed her two quid, snarled, "Thanks for the pint!" and we left.

I've since heard more about this pub, what a nice friendly place it is and how great the beer and food is. I'm sure that's probably true, and I would like to try it again some time. But we'll remember to inquire about the food before we say anything about drinks.

Outside in the garden a sympathetic patron told us about another pub not too far away that we could try. With the possibility of lunch diminishing with each minute to the consternation of our harmoniously growling stomachs, we piled into the car and tore off down the road toward the west in search of the village of Great Hucklow. Another village famous for its lead mining past, Great Hucklow is home to the Derbyshire and Lancashire Gliding Club and is located just 3 miles from Eyam, the famous Plague Village which went into voluntary quarantine in 1665 when the plague was imported from London. After a long search winding around through the snowy hills and dales of Derbyshire we finally found Great Hucklow and the Queen Anne, an oak beamed pub which had just celebrated its 300th anniversary. Originally called the Queens Head, the present name was adopted in the 19th century. The pub is supposedly haunted by the friendly ghost of a previous landlord who died in the cellar while he was tending his ales.

And the Queen Anne was just what the doctor ordered: it had cask ale, it was serving food, it took cards, it had smoking and no-smoking rooms, it had a roaring fire, it offered a great view, and it had a friendly landlord. And this family run pub had just won CAMRA's Pub of the Month Award. What more could we want? While waiting for our fish and chips we had pints of Golden Globe (4.5%, Shaw Brewery, Dukinfield, Greater Manchester) which were very nice, very light and crisp like the snow outside. And our meals were good. Yes, this was exactly the pub lunch we had intended in the first place.

The Queen Anne also offers accommodation, which is good to know if you're visiting the Peak District and need a place to stay. It's not often you can find a bed, good food, good beer, a nice pub, and a great view all in one. I'd say this was a real find. And I'd say we'll be returning -- if we can only figure out just how in the hell we managed to get there.