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A Dip Into Derby ....

I visited Derby recently, a trip that gave me a chance to try out a number of excellent places in a city that punches well above its weight in terms of decent pubs....
I had got my ticket out in readiness for the guard to check it. I was on the 15.11 out of Leeds, due into Derby at 16.24, the 4th stop of 24 on a marathon journey for the train  that wasn't due into Penzance until 22.43. As the guard approached and checked the tickets, he advised every customer what time they were due at their destination - so Totnes 20.17, Birmingham New Street 17.07, Bristol Parkway 18.29 - a constant refrain. And a few words of caution - Are you sure? Have you ever been to Tamworth in daylight hours before? Advice - You're on the wrong train, love, change at Derby, usually Platform 2, the London St Pancras will be about 10 minutes after we arrive. And the frustrations of his employment - I'm getting too old for this job. When I said I wanted to retire, they said you can't, Kev, you make the rest of us look good....a refreshing change to the usual Tickets, please!
Alexandra, complete with decorative diesel installation....
I duly arrived in Derby - which I pronounce 'Darby' but Kev insisted was 'Durby' - at 16.24. I set off for the Premier Inn, which looked about 10 minutes walk away. I passed through a historic-looking area of brick buildings, passing the Brunswick Tavern, but just after I walked past I felt a few spots of rain. There in front of me was the Alexandra Tavern, an attractive solitary tall white building with the front of a Diesel engine in the car park. We were, after all, in the Railway Village. With the spots getting more incessant I walked in just as the heavens opened. I ordered half of Nomadic Dragon Fire, 5% golden ale, NBSS 3, as the rain crashed down outside. The Alexandra is an excellent pub, good beer, and a good atmosphere, and, as I discovered the following day when I called in for a quick half before getting the train home, has the unusual feature of a rabbit living in one of the rooms!
"I love living here 'cos there's hops in beer!"
I followed the road towards the Intu Shopping centre, waiting for what seemed an eternity to cross the road before the lights changed to pedestrian-friendly mode. I was staying in the Riverlights Premier Inn, situated between the bus station and the courts. I received a friendly welcome when I checked in, and after I dumped my bag in the room, I was back down at ground level in 15 minutes.

The hotel is situated beside the River Derwent, and so I had a short stroll along the riverbank path before crossing a bridge over the river. I soon spotted the Exeter Arms, but decided to save that for later. I followed the road round to the right and five minutes later, opposite some small industrial units, I came to the Smithfield (see top picture), an attractive round-fronted building with a white exterior. A sign proclaimed it was the local 2019 CAMRA pub of the year(as it was in 2018). I went in to a tastefully-decorated room to the right. I ordered a half of Happy Daze from Poynton Brewery, a very pleasant pale session ale which I took outside to the covered terrace beside the river. The beer was very pleasant, I gave it a NBSS 3, which in a nutshell stands for 'National Beer Scoring System', a method of rating beers created by CAMRA with the aim of getting a consistent approach, with 5 being the rating for a beer that was out of this world down to 0 for undrinkable.

I really liked the Smithfield, there was a friendly, relaxing atmosphere. Good beer in good surroundings, and well worth a visit when in Derby. I checked the GBG app, and just beyond the Exeter that I had passed on my way to the Smithfield was another pub, the Peacock. This was about 10 minutes walk away, situated just off a busy bypass on what had probably at one time been a main road.
Welcome to the Peacock....
I walked in to what I found to be a pleasant local's pub, with 6 hand pumps on the bar. I opted for a half of the Whim Hartington IPA, which I hadn't seen around for ages, probably the last time I was in Leek in the Staffordshire Moorlands, not far from where it is brewed. It was pleasant enough, a 4.5% pale golden ale, a bit sweeter than you would expect for an IPA these days, but I gave it a 3 on the NBSS scale. As I drank my beer, a dog wandered over to sniff me out. I got chatting to the owners, as you do. The Peacock was a pleasant locals' pub, and with its somewhat cut-off location, it felt further out of the city centre than the 10 minutes' walk it took to get there.

I braved the bypass again, and made my way to the Exeter Arms. Now this tie-up between local brewers Dancing Duck and a local food entrepreneur is highly-praised in the Good Beer Guide and elsewhere, although on first appearance it didn't look anything special from the outside....
The Exeter Arms, charms well under wraps....
However, when I entered, I was taken into a comfortable, traditional pub with many interesting features and little nooks and crannies. The bar, which has an open fire, was off to the right, with a choice of around 7 beers on hand pump at the bar. I opted for a pint of Dancing Duck's Ay Up, which I had particularly enjoyed on a visit to Chesterfield a few months ago. The place was pretty busy, but friendly. I found a table in a separate room, but with the subdued lighting, I struggled to read the copy of 'Derby Drinker' I had just picked up. I found a small table by a window near the entrance to the kitchen, which was doing a roaring trade with what appeared to be, going by the plates being ferried past, some pretty top-notch food. I got talking to an old couple who said they enjoyed going to the Exeter and Smithfield every evening for a few halves, and recommended a place near the hotel for breakfast. The Exeter was another excellent pub, the only disappointment coming when, having succumbed to the temptation of the food, I was told there was a 45 minutes wait. So I declined, but got another half of Ay Up, a refreshing and easy-drinking pale at 3.8% ABV, which I rated NBSS 3.5, the best of the day so far in another excellent pub.
The Exeter Arms: interesting features.... 
I was getting hungry by now, so when I arrived at the next pub, The Silk Mill Ale and Cider House, taking its name from the old mill nearby and close to the cathedral, I ordered a burger and chips to go with my half of Black Hole Cosmic. The pub is quite an attractive building, stone-built but with a mock Tudor facade. It is split into several areas, with a separate dining area where I sat to eat. The food was OK, but I kept thinking I should have been more patient and hung around at the Exeter. The Cosmic, a malty 4.2% golden ale with a dry finish was the most disappointing beer of the day and I only rated it NBSS 2.5. The Silk Mill was friendly enough and there were plenty of people there, but it couldn't compete with the Exeter and the Smithfield.
The Silk Mill
I didn't have far to go to the next pub, the Olde Dolphin, as it was situated diagonally across the road from the Silk Mill, in the shadow of the cathedral. This is claimed to be Derby's oldest pub, and with its white-walled exterior, wooden beams and low ceilings inside, it certainly looks the part. I went into a deserted lounge, and ordered a half of Draught Bass, a step up from the Cosmic, rated NBSS 3. There were a few people in another bar, but otherwise it was much quieter than the previous pubs I had visited over the evening.
Derby's oldest pub?
Next on the list was a pub I had definitely been in before. This was just a few minutes walk away. The Flowerpot, which I had visited around 20 years ago on a bus trip organised from the Red Rooster by Russ Baron. It is a well-known music venue, featuring mainly blues artists and cover bands going by the listings displayed outside. I couldn't remember exactly what it had looked like then, but it looked like it had been refurbished in the last few tears. It too was fairly quiet. I ordered a half of Bluebird, from Nottingham's Lenton Lane Brewery. This was the second best beer of the day, a delicious 3.5% session pale which was well worth the NBSS 3.5 score I gave it. I went for a wander around. The venue appears to be in an upstairs room, and on the walls there were several photographs of bands and artists who had appeared over the years. One wall had several photos on it and I captured in a picture as an example. I wandered back to my seat to drink some more of my beer, and go through the photos I had taken over the day. I arrived at the one I had just taken and zoomed in on one that caught my eye. I went back to the wall and realised it was a familiar face!
It was none other than my friend Chantel McGregor, former British Blues Guitarist of the Year, captured on one of her appearances at the Flowerpot. I finished my beer, having enjoyed my return visit to the Flowerpot.

I had just time for one more pub, so I retraced my steps, headed back into the city centre, past the cathedral, and made my way to Sadler Gate, which was probably not much over 5 minutes walk from the Flowerpot. My destination was the Old Bell, a lovely-looking half-timbered pub, as befits an 18th century coaching inn. The interior was opened out and a bit of a disappointment, but there were several hand pumps on the bar and, as it turned out, the beer was pretty good. I managed to squeeze in a couple of halves before going back to the hotel, a 4.5% Peaky Blinders Golden Ale from Dancing Duck (NBSS 3) and King George's Bitter from Littleover, very pleasant and well-rounded, another 3.
The Old Bell, stunning outside, great beer inside....
And then it was back to the hotel, about 10 minutes away. I had had a cracking evening....

Twitter: @realalemusic


  1. Great Post.

    Nice to see done honest beer scores, Chris. Probably the scores I'd have expected. Some might be surprised at the lack of 4s.

    Oddly, I drove young BRAPA back to Derby Station yesterday and must have passed most of those

  2. Thanks, Martin. I do try to be honest with the scores, I only rate beers as a 4 if they are exceptional - and more often than not I forget to rate the beer anyway!


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