A rare visit to the East Midlands, taking in some great pubs, a bit of history, and some football....
I had been interested in going to Leicester ever since the skeleton of Richard III was found in a car park there a few years ago and a museum subsequently established, even though, particularly in this part of the world, there is an overwhelming view that as the last king from the House of York, his remains should have ended up here in Yorkshire rather than there. I had checked the Beer Guide and discovered that Leicester has a large number of pubs, and then I saw that Halifax Town had arranged a friendly with nearby Coalville Town as part of the deal that saw long time club stalwart Scott McManus leave the club after 8 years for a club near to where he lives, and so everything fell into place.
So last Friday, I headed off down the M1 to the East Midlands. It was drizzling, and the journey was a typical Friday afternoon stop-start affair. After around 2 hours 40, l arrived in Leicester and followed the satnav to the recommended car park, which was above the huge Highcross Shopping Mall. I got parked and took the lift down to street level, and then quickly realised I had gone out on the wrong side of the shopping centre! After a frustrating 15 minutes walk, with the rain coming down again, I arrived at the Travelodge. I got checked in, dropped the bag off, and after a quick wash and change, 15 minutes later, I was on my way.
I had spotted a pub on a street corner on my trek to the hotel, and a quick check revealed it was in the Beer Guide! So I retraced my steps to the Salmon....
|Catch of the day...so far|
And what a great pub it was. A street corner local just out of the town centre, a proper pub serving beers from Black Country Ales, who are based near Dudley. Maybe it was because of the frustrations of the day, but at that moment when I took my first sip, the pint of BFG was the best beer I had ever tasted. Well, not quite, but it was pretty good. I sat down in the far room, where three older gentlemen were discussing when their taxis were due. Shortly afterwards, at 10 to 6, consternation set in when a taxi pulled up outside. "Mine's not due till 6" said one. "Mine's not due till quarter past", said another. (It transpired the 3rd was on the bus, if you're interested). Mr 6 O'clock went out to check whose the taxi was, and it turned out it was his, but the guy was OK waiting. He had, though, come back embarrassed as the first person he had asked whether the taxi was his was a punter from the other room who had gone out for a smoke. As this mini drama played out, I was enjoying my pint and the pub. Welcome to Leicester, if they're all as good as this....
Next up, it was a call in at the High Cross, just up the road from the hotel. Now this is a Wetherspoons but, despite being pretty busy, I have to say the service was pretty efficient, and the beer, badged English Pale Ale from Milestone, was pretty good too. I needed to eat, so I decided to try out one of their much-vaunted pizzas that they have gradually been rolling out over the past year or so. Sadly, I have to say that the Wetherpizza was a bit disappointing, a Spicy Meat Feast with not enough spice and odd bits of leftover meat sprinkled over a thin base with insufficient tomato sauce and nowhere near enough marscapone My First Pizza? Still, it filled a hole, and in terms of Spoons I have been to, the High Cross is up there.
A few minutes walk away was the Globe. This has been a pub since 1720 and is owned by Everards, whose beers are currently being brewed out of town as the brewery awaits planning permission to open a new site in Leicester. The Tiger, currently brewed in Stockport by Robinsons was fine, but I have to say the pub had a rather pub-chain feel about it, so a bit of a let down.
Just down the road was the Leicester branch of Brewdog. Here you always know what you getting, and this was no disappointment. Wetherspoons for punks, maybe? I ordered half of Elvis Juice and chatted to the friendly staff, before moving on to nearby Millstone Lane, where three CAMRA pubs awaited. First up, the Blue Boar. Now this is not the pub where Richard lll stayed before the fateful Battle of Bosworth Field, but a lively micropub which opened in 2016. It looks like it has been here for years, though, and the atmosphere was friendly and lively, and the beer, a very dark bitter from Leatherbritches, was spot on. I liked it so much that I popped in for a quick half the following day.
|Cars not included: The Blue Boar, Leicester|
50 yards away at most is the Rutland and Derby, another Everards pub. What set this apart from the Globe was the great service and welcome from the staff. I ordered a Tiger, and had a very pleasant half hour chatting to the girls behind the bar, both students at nearby DMU(De Montfort University), who served the customers quickly and efficiently, and still managed to keep up a good conversation with those like me who were in on their own. I moved on to the next pub, the Criterion, just around the corner and highly-rated, but it didn't do it for me. The pub was very quiet, the lad behind the bar disinterested, and the pint I had from Dhillons of Coventry was disappointing. I went back to the R&D, ordered a half of Tiger, and then it was time to head home. A most enjoyable evening in a city where I have only scratched the surface.
|Friendly: The Rutland and Derby|
Unfortunately, the noise from passing traffic woke me up early, but it did mean I was up and out quite early. I went up the road for a Spoons breakfast - Traditional English with black coffee, if you're interested - and then it was time for some history. The sun was beating down as I walked the short distance from the High Cross past the medieval guildhall and the cathedral on my way to the Richard lll Visitor Centre. I went for a look around, my ticket now allows me to return as many times as I want over the next 12 months, which was a plus. In the centre itself, plenty of history, with murder, mystery, and skullduggery surrounding R3, with the main man eliminated in what was the last decisive battle of the War of the Roses. Plenty of informative displays and videos, but I found the sections on the painstaking archaeology, forensics, and computer modelling which led to the identification of the former monarch absolutely fascinating. If you are in Leicester, make sure you check it out....
|"Daddy, why's that man up there waving a tambourine?"|
Final port of call was Coalville, about 13 miles north west of Leicester, for the football. Coalville - the clue is in the name - used to be part of an important coal mining area until its demise in the 1980's. What you may not realise is that it is also the place where Action Man originated, courtesy of Palitoy, who had evolved from a company originally formed by one Alfred Edward Pallett back in the 1920's. The company was taken over by US food giant, General Mills, in 1968, and eventually became part of Hasbro, who closed the factory down in 1994. I am sure Action Man still retains a trace of his roots, his tough upbringing in the Leicestershire coalfields serving him well in whatever is thrown at him.... So, where's the train connection? Well, pretty tenuous, really. The last passenger service through Coalville ran in 1964, although the line is still open for goods traffic. Despite various plans to restore a service over the years, nothing has materialised.
I had no beer in Coalville, although a friend at the game said the local Spoons was OK, but was frustrated that Coalville's very own micropub didn't open till 6. I have to commend Coalville Town FC. A friendly club, parking at their picturesque Owen Street ground was free, food was good value and decent quality. The game was a typical friendly, (Halifax) Town ran out 3-1 winners but it could have gone either way. It was strange seeing Macca in black and white stripes rather than a Halifax shirt, but it is a move that makes sense to him, and I wish him all the best for the future. As I drove away from the ground, I drove past a former mine, Snibston, which had been a museum since the mine closed in the '90's, but sadly shut down a couple of years ago. And with it, another part of the area's history.
It was, though, a lovely afternoon, in fact it was a lovely trip, and if you are looking for somewhere to go for a weekend, I can definitely recommend Leicester and the surrounding areas....
|Football at Owen Street, Coalville|
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