For a change, we thought we would head to the famous Sheffield Valley of Beer, with a list of pubs to visit and one day to do it. Unlike the infamous beer tickers, our rules state that at least one pint must be consumed, no halves here. So off we went on the early train to Sheffield, arriving about 11.30 and a brisk 15 minute walk brought us to our first pub.
Just outside of Sheffield City centre, past the old Whitbread Exchange Brewery and across the river is The Harlequin and the start of our trail. This pub is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but was still pretty busy when we arrived at 11.45 despite only opening at 11.30. With approximately 10 different real beers on, and probably countless more underneath in the cellar, this was an excellent starting point. A small beer garden at the rear completed a very nice first trip and an excellent early morning pale ale was taken.
Out of the Harlequin, turn right and over the lights and we come to the Riverside. This is one of those type of places that looks like it is still being decorated, where sparse is the acceptable minimum requirement. It does however have a lovely beer garden overlooking the (fairly dirty looking) river, and is a nice place to while away a couple of hours, however we were on a schedule, so just the one pint (excellent beer) it was and we moved on.
Just down the road and hidden away from the main road, is a pub which isn't usually on the beer trail, but we thought we'd try one in there anyway. We soon found out why its not on the trail, as corrugated iron sheeting was found covering all doors and windows and has clearly been shut for sometime. The "For Sale" sign above the door indicated that the building had been sold though, so we'll revisit it at a later time to see if its been returned to its former glory and become a pub again (don't hold your breath)
Kelham Island Tavern
Not to be deterred by the matter of a closed pub, its straight back across the road and into the Kelham, this being the CAMRA nationwide pub of the year for 2010. It didn't disappoint. With an excellent selection of ales, nice but simple food, and superb paved area at the back for sitting, you can see why this pub is so popular. Its also next to the Kelham Island Brewery and you really have to marvel at the foresight of the landlord of the premises to see what you could do with a run down pub in a mainly industrial area. A quick pint of excellent stouty Mild later and once again we were on our way.
Two minutes round the corner, and its in to Fat Cat. Another real ale emporium. Huge selection of beers, cosy little multi roomed pub and a good sized beer garden and sun trap. Its amazing to think that anywhere could have so many quality pubs in one area. This is also a must visit place if you are in the area, and is almost as good as the Kelham.
A quick wander down the street, to what appeared to be more of a restaurant than a pub, but it served beer, so we thought we'd give it a go. The bar manager was welcoming, but if I'm honest, this place was the letdown of the day. Two different real ales on, one served too cold, the other too warm. Neither particularly well kept and a bit lifeless. A quick look at the menu and specials board, indicated what we feared that we were in fact in a swanky gastro pub rather real beer establishment (though it was the Blue Bell, a proper pub back in the day), so it was sup up and sod off time. Also the dearest pint of the day at £3. As we moved on we noticed this huge old masonry:
Two minutes up the road and normal service was resumed, as we turned into the house come pub that is the Wellington. Lovely little pub, excellent selection of beers in again a cosy little roomed pub with statutory weirdy beardy at the bar. Another fine little beer garden (Sheffield really have got this sussed) and a couple of pints were consumed as we were ahead of schedule at this point. Knowledgeable barman and the cheapest pint of the day at £1.90 for the wonderful Little Ale Cart Kenilworth (4.0%), completed a fine visit for this exemplary little pub.
Next up was our only real proper walk for the day as we made the half mile trek up hill to the University Arms. Right on the edge of studentville, this imposing looking building was remarkably quiet when we got there, but was still welcoming enough. Once again as always a decent selection of real ales was to be found, and the grassed gardens out back completed an excellent boozer. Whether it would be quite as nice rammed with students and when it was wet and miserable outside is debatable but for one day and a couple of pints it was more than adequate.
Back across the road and towards the campus, we come across another little hidden gem that was the Bath Hotel. Very much an old mans pub I suspect, the beer was top notch and the landlord was a friendly chap. Near to the nearby West Street, with its Brannigans, Wetherspoons, Walkabouts and similar hell holes, this was a little oasis in a sea of shite. Again, couple of excellent pints before we started the downhill journey home.
Almost on the homeward run now, and we stop at the rocking"music pub" that is the Washington. Only, i don't think there was any music on and it was anything but rocking. There was however real ale which surprised us, and again a good beer garden. The beer was excellent, lost a few quid on the quiz machine (our reaction times were beginning to slow by now) and an enjoyable half hour was spent before staggering down the hill to the Devonshire Cat.
We had high hopes of this place and had heard great things, but alas it didn't measure up in reality. Yes, the beer selection was excellent, the barman seemed to know what he was on about, and it aint too far from the station, but something was just not quite right. For starters it was too bright and light, despite being dusk time, which made you feel more like you were in a Table Table type restaurant pub place, and the big open pub with no booths or alcoves and tables everywhere had more of a Wetherspoons feel to it. Finally the two chairs and table in the outside area just weren't enough. Shame really, because the beer selection as I say was excellent. Maybe if we do the crawl the other way round next time, it might be better when its quieter, and it doesn't have quite the canteen feel to it.
With our senses dulling by the minute, and our walking becoming more laboured, we decide to discard the Rutland and walk a different way to the train station, only to walk round a corner and come across it, lost as we were in our addled state. As we're here now, it'd be rude not to go in, and again a decent little pub with quality beer is found. The first proper food of the day is now consumed with pickled eggs with Tabasco sauce only adding to the experience. A quick few pints later (and piece of chocolate cake for some reason ) and its off to the last of our pubs, The Station Taps.
Final pub of the day and what an excellent addition to Sheffield station. Built on the side is a huge pub with loads of real ale on. Situated so close, you can virtually booze right up until a couple of minutes before your train. A big alfresco drinking area to the front completes the picture of an excellent start or finish of the day pub. And finally special mention must be made of the two pint boxes of beer you can buy for your train journey home, which in our case are just enough for the 1 hour journey!