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Enchanted by Elsecar....

The trains are running again on Saturdays, and so I have decided I will make up for lost time and get out and about as much as I can this year. And so the other week I took a trip to deepest South Yorkshire....
I had never been to Elsecar before.

For those who don't know, Elsecar (pronounced 'Elsica') is situated a few miles south of Barnsley and can be reached via the rail service that runs between Huddersfield and Sheffield, or alternatively Leeds-Sheffield trains pass through. Why go? Well, there are a couple of pubs in the Good Beer Guide, but there is also a Heritage Centre there as well. All around the village, as befits a former pit village which also produced steel, there are plenty of reminders of its industrial past.

I caught the train at Huddersfield, and after passing through the suburbs of Lockwood and Berry Brow, the train soon hits some of the attractive and somewhat underrated countryside to the south of Huddersfield. Hidden valleys appear, the odd attractive property, wooded slopes. At one point the train has to stop to give right of way to an oncoming one as the line becomes single-track. Huge bridges, and tiny stations dot the line so the train stops regularly to drop off and pick up, with Barnsley the only big town en route. 10 minutes past there, and about an hour after setting off, the train pulls into Elsecar.

I alighted, not sure quite which way to go, so good old Google Maps was put to use. Fortunately I was able to work out which way to go quite quickly, so I was able to switch off and preserve my battery. Basically I needed to turn right and head down the hill from the station. I passed a pub called the Fitzwilliam, an old guy walking up the hill bade me hello in true friendly village-style, I passed a pet shop on a corner, and then spotted the first pub on my list, The Crown, a solid-looking stone-built pub set slightly back from the road.
The Crown: the embodiment of a friendly village local
I walked in to the small room to the left, which had several customers enjoying a Saturday afternoon drink. A girl appeared behind the tiny bar to say she wouldn't be a minute, she was just serving in the other room. No problem, I thought, friendly place, as I looked around the room. Several people were sat watching the latest one-day international between the England and West Indies which was showing on a large TV screen in one corner. There were 3 hand pumps on the bar. The room was comfortable, several small tables, and a couple of stools at the bar, one occupied by a friendly old chap. The girl came back to serve me and I opted for a Pricky Back Otchan, Great Newsome's beery tribute to the humble hedgehog. I retreated to a table, just as an England batsman's off-stump was sent cartwheeling by one of the Windies' quickies. As I enjoyed my pint, the England wickets continued to fall, much to the irritation of the landlord who had appeared behind the bar. I decided I had time for a quick half, so I went for the Iron and Steel Bitter, a classic 4% Yorkshire session beer from Chantry Brewery just down the road in Rotherham. I enjoyed the Crown, and if you were abducted by pub-loving aliens who demanded you took them to the embodiment of a classic friendly village local, you could do a lot worse than guiding them here....

The CAMRA app said it was about 6 minutes walk to my next scheduled point of interest, the most un-South Yorkshire-sounding Maison du Biere. I walked down the hill passing a mix of old and new housing, with one or two points of interest. A classic old local garage here, a restored miner's hostel there, interspersed with several pubs. I was enjoying the feel of the place.
Classic local garage and cars
A few minutes later I arrived at the Heritage Centre, situated in former works buildings in what was a historic industrial area. Yet Elsecar came relatively late to the industrial age. The first colliery didn't open until 1750, and whilst coal had been mined in the area since the 14th Century, it was still essentially a rural area dominated by farming. But with rich seams of coal and plenty of iron underground, the local bigwig, Earl Fitzwilliam, who owned much of the land, got in on the act and many new buildings and several pits subsequently opened in and around Elsecar. There were also a number of forges established in the area to exploit the local ironstone. The last pit, Elsecar Main, opened in 1908 and was the last to close in 1983, leading to a subsequent decline to the village as experienced in so many former coal mining areas up and down the country. Apparently there are still applications lodged to mine the extensive coal seams that still exist; time will tell if the political and economic climate changes sufficiently to allow a once-proud industry to re-emerge in one of its traditional heartlands.
Elsecar Heritage Centre
I didn't have time to explore the Heritage Centre as it was late afternoon when I got there - a good reason to go back in the future - so I just had a quick wander around and looked at the various buildings, many featuring period-style shops. And here's one for the lovers of industrial machinery: one of the buildings contains the only Newcomen Steam Engine in the world to have remained in its original location. Round the back of the centre is the Elsecar Heritage Railway and nearby there is a canal, which were originally used for moving the coal and steel onwards. So on to Maison du Biere....
A glass of beer, Maison du Biere
Based within the buildings of the Heritage Centre, the Maison du Biere is unusual in that it is one of the few entries in the Good Beer Guide that doesn't sell cask beer. It originally started out as a bottle shop, then expanded into cans and now has 10 lines of beers on tap, as well as cider. It is a low, rambling building, with several rooms. I ordered a half of Chameleon, from Sheffield's excellent Little Critters, and sat down in the main room opposite the bar. Couples were sat here, guys on their own there, some with dogs. A family wandered in, and were ushered into a room beyond due to the licence. There was an extremely friendly atmosphere, encouraged by the avuncular manner of the landlord and his pleasant assistant. I went for another half, this time a dark one from Shindigger, and followed it up with a further half of one from Blackjack. I liked Maison du Biere, another friendly and relaxing place. I looked at my watch and thought I'd better be making tracks for the train....

But not before visiting the Market. I had spotted this traditional-looking pub on my way down to the Heritage Centre, and as I went out through the main entrance it was just across the road. I walked in to a heaving drinking corridor. I squeezed into a tiny room to the left, which was rammed. A guy got up from his perch beside the bar to let me through to get served. A friendly girl asked me what I would like. I pointed to the nearest pump clip and ordered a half. It was Acorn Barnsley Gold, reasonably priced at under £3 a pint. I retreated back to the corridor, and squeezed through to see if there was any space in any of the other rooms of what was a deceptively large pub. There wasn't, so I re-traced my steps, and found a spot near the door. I looked around. There was a real mix of people: lads out for a few beers, returning shoppers laden with bags from the emporia of Sheffield and Leeds, older guys out for a tea time pint. A couple of kids came in to see their dad who was having a laugh with his mates. The beer was good. A tray half full of sandwiches was ferried from one room to another. The atmosphere was tremendous; smiley, happy people enjoying themselves. It was that infectious I felt myself smile at one point. Sadly, I had to make tracks....
The Market...another cracking, friendly pub....
I reckoned it was about 10 minutes walk back to the station, so I reasoned I had just time for a quick half at one of the other pubs I had walked past earlier. I approached the Milton Arms and went in. It was busy, but very much geared to those out for a Saturday night meal. I got to the bar, relieved to see 3 hand pumps. I ordered a half of True North Session Pale. The girl behind the bar apologised as it was really lively, and she spent what seemed like ages topping it up and checking it. Sadly after all that effort, it was easily the worst beer I had had all day, but even though that was disappointing and it was much more of a foodie place, I couldn't fault the service or the greeting I had recieved. I apologised to the girl behind the bar for having to rush for the train after the time she had spent pouring it, but she smiled and said no problem, see you next time....

And she may well do. I'd had a brilliant afternoon. Great pubs, decent, good-value beers, friendly people, and I didn't really get chance to have a proper look around, so I will have to go back soon. I can highly recommend a visit, I am sure that like me you will be enchanted by Elsecar....

Twitter: @realalemusic


Former miners' hostel, Elsecar....

Comments

  1. 3rd to 6th may 2019 elsecar heritage railway, back of the heritage centre, with the help of Barnsley Camra are holding the 8th annual beer cider and music festival. Over 80+ real ales, 40+ ciders, craft beer, bottles and gin. Great time to return

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Many thanks for the tip-off, may well just do that.

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