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Previous Pint Pleasures -July 31, 2005

guinness eileen

The Leopard, 1 West Street, Doncaster, South Yorkshire

guinness eileen

The Waterfront Inn, The Marina, Canal Lane, West Stockwith, Nottinghamshire

guinness eileen

The Cross Keys, High Street, Wroot, Doncaster, South Yorkshire

If you live in South Yorkshire and go out to hear local bands you may already be aware of the Leopard. Situated within spitting distance of Doncaster Rail Station, this pub features a selection of cask ales, a bizarre cast of regulars, and a live music venue upstairs featuring local and touring bands as well as frequent appearances by Lord Bishop. What more do you need on a Saturday night?

I've only ever experienced the Leopard on Saturday nights, so I can't tell you what the pub is like on, say, a typical sleepy weekday afternoon. The closest I've come to "sleepy" was probably the last time I was there, on a blisteringly hot Saturday evening when only the terminally crazy or foolish would dare to move too quickly in the thick steamy heat. Even so, the pub was quite packed, mostly with scantily-clad young people crowded round the tables quaffing pints of cold lager. To maximise the possibility of enjoying an occasional movement of air, we sat at the bar in one of the two downstairs rooms, close to the doorway. We had pints of Pearler (4.3% ABV, Glentworth Brewery, Doncaster, South Yorkshire), which is light and moderately hoppy and just the thing for refreshing ourselves after the sluggishly long hot train ride from Sheffield.

We had come over to see Solar Cell, the last of four bands scheduled for the evening. (Even though I'm probably a bit biased from knowing lead singer Calder well, I can highly recommend this band. Just thought I'd throw in a plug...) After our first pint we adjourned to the upstairs music room which was surprisingly cool and breezy. It's a great little room, very basic with black walls and just a tiny scattering of tables amidst the standing room. It reminds me of some of the live music clubs I used to frequent in the States, such as the now-defunct Blackie's in Hollywood and the Crocodile Cafe in Seattle. Sadly on this particular evening the music started so late that by the time the third band had finished and Solar Cell were setting up, we had to leave to catch the last train to Sheffield. Don't you just hate it when that happens?

Several months earlier, when my mother was visiting from America, we took a leisurely drive out into the countryside southeast of Doncaster near Misterton. We ended up in the village of West Stockwith, on the west bank of the River Trent. The Trent, which has been a trade route since the Bronze Ages and was used by the Romans and the Vikings, originates in the Staffordshire hills and flows through Burton-on-Trent, finally joining the River Humber. West Stockwith is famous for its huge lock which connects the Trent with the Chesterfield Canal.

Across from the lock, marina, and yachting club we found the appropriately named Waterfront Inn. As we ordered our pints of Landlord (4.3% ABV, Timothy Taylor & Co. Ltd., Keighley, West Yorkshire) we chatted with the very friendly staff about the Sunday lunch options. As a vegetarian I'm always happy to find a pub which caters to vegetarians on Sunday: accompanying my spinach ricotta tarte with white wine sauce were all the roast vegetables and trimmings. Our pints were pleasant enough as well.

Apparently the Waterfront holds frequent beer festivals and live music events, although on this particular Sunday afternoon it was fairly quiet. After our lunch we had a bit of a scamper around the lock -- or, I should say, I had a bit of a scamper, as I know my mother and Andrew aren't much into scampering. I even threw in a frolic or two. And after I felt well scampered we headed off across the Isle of Axholme

Yes, I know: an island in Yorkshire? Even the Sheffield locals are confused when we mention this place. But Axholme is technically a river island, 18 miles by 6 miles at its longest and widest points. Originally probably a forest, Axholme eventually became an island bounded by the Trent, the old part of the Don, the old rivers Torne and Idle, and the ancient Bykersdyke, which might suggest images of lesbian biker bars to those readers who don't know about all the dykes and fens in this part of South Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire. In the 1600s the Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden drained all the Fens, which is why the Isle of Axholme doesn't seem much like an island anymore.

We were scheduled to pick up a relative in a nearby village in three hours, so we had some time to kill. Sadly the day became very misty and not very pleasant for a leisurely scenic drive -- so after wandering around aimlessly in foggy circles we found ourselves in Wroot.

Wroot, whose name translates as "Out of England", is a small village out where the long flat roads harbour deceptively invisible bumps capable of launching speeding cars into the stratosphere. About the only thing interesting about Wroot is the fact that John Wesley was the local curate for two years and taught at the Free School. Alas, gone are those glory days when Wroot was famous for its rhubarb and celery...

We decided to kill our remaining two and a half hours in Wroot's only pub, the Cross Keys. The pub was very very quiet on this Sunday afternoon. Since I was just starting to feel poorly from a sinus infection I managed to make my pint of Bombardier (4.3% ABV, Charles Wells Brewery, Bedford, Bedfordshire) last the entire time, while my mother did the same with her vodka and tonic and driver Andrew nursed a half pint of Bombardier. I'm afraid I can't say much for my pint, allowing for the fact that my taste buds could have been adversely affected by my infection. But Bombardier is one of those beers that needs to be kept just right or it can be quite an unpleasant experience. And I suppose the tiny village pub that can turn over enough cask ale is sadly rare. I think it's time for CAMRA or somebody similar to spread the Gospel of Cask Ale to more isolated rural communities...