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Ye Olde Trip to Nottingham....

The first away trip of the football season, and a visit to Nottingham brought the opportunity to try some of the city's pubs and bars....
Nottingham is a city I have visited many times through work, but one where I have rarely been able to stop and have a drink. So when the National League fixture list threw up Notts County v Halifax Town, it was a great opportunity to pay a visit to some of the city's pubs.

My mate Gary did a sterling job, booking train tickets, hotel room, and match tickets, so all the rest of us had to do was make sure we were at Huddersfield Railway Station in time to catch the 10.12 to Sheffield. So after a pleasant trundle down the Penistone Line, and a quick change of trains, we rocked up in Nottingham just after 12.30.

And we didn't have far to go to the first pub, in fact there is even an official railway station sign to it! Follow the signs for 'Micropub' and you will arrive at BeerHeadz, situated in an out-building attached to the station. It was painted in pastel shades, with a few hand pumps and taps on offer. We ordered our beers, a few of us opting for the rare chance these days to try a Buxton beer on hand pump. The Low Tor was amber, malty, and very traditional, and was just about OK. Maybe it's me, but it seems that sometimes that some of the breweries that have moved away from cask and then returned in the wake of Cloudwater's Damascene conversion have then tried to re-create their take on traditional beer but end up doing it badly. Likewise, BeerHeadz was OK but lacked any real character.
Welcome to BeerHeadz.....
Our next port of call couldn't have been much more different. This was the Vat and Fiddle, just down the road from the station, set back slightly from the main road, with tables outside. Round the back is the Castle Rock brewery, who since being formed by an ex-CAMRA chairman, Chris Holmes as Tynemill way back in 1977, have built up a fine reputation for both their beers and pubs. Their estate has grown to over 20 pubs, mainly in and around Nottingham, but with outposts in places like York, Sheffield, Lincoln, and Derby.
Castle Rock - the brewery
The Vat and Fiddle was busy, with the pre-football crowd including fans of both teams eagerly drinking pints of Harvest Pale and tucking into what looked to be pretty decent value food. The atmosphere was excellent, and sat with a pint in the warm sunshine was a most pleasant way to pass an hour. As well as the tables to the front, there is a beer garden round the back adjoining the brewery yard, and adjoining the pub is the brewery visitor centre.
The Vat & Fiddle, Nottingham
From the Vat and Fiddle it was about 15 minutes' walk to Meadow Lane, the home of Notts County, who lost their Football League status at the end of last season for the first time since they were one of the league's original 12 founding clubs in 1888. Life so far in the National League had been mixed and they were languishing in mid-table. Town, by way of a contrast, had been enjoying a good run and had topped the table for a time. But form on this occasion meant nothing, Town put in a below-par performance, and County, despite having a man sent off, ran out 1-0 winners.
Meadow Lane, the home of Notts County
We were staying in a hotel on the Mansfield Road in Carrington, about a mile and a half northof the city centre. Whilst we were waiting outside the hotel for some of the lads to finish titivating themselves, someone spotted what looked suspiciously like a pub on the opposite side of the road. Closer inspection revealed that this was Doctor's Orders, housed in a former pharmacy, and displaying attractive retro graphics. So we crossed the road and entered a small long attractively-decorated room with a raised seating area towards the back, beyond which a number of hand pumps were set against the wall. With no bar as such, beers are brought to your table by the friendly staff. We sat outside and enjoyed our beers in the evening sun. My pint of Wanderers from another local brewery, Magpie, was spot-on. The bar, which opened in 2015 as an independent, is now run by Magpie, but still retains the feel of a micro. If you are ever in this part of Nottingham, it is a must-visit; friendly staff, friendly customers, chilled-out vibe, and excellent beer.
Just what the doctor ordered.....
We decided to walk back into Nottingham, and after just over a mile, we came to our next pub. This was the Lincolnshire Poacher, another Castle Rock pub, set amongst a suburban mix of shops, takeaways, and tanning centres. The pub is so-called because back in 1989 it was taken over by Batemans, based in Wainfleet, Lincolnshire. The beer scene in Nottingham back then was dominated by three local brewers, Home, Shipstones, and Hardy Hansons, so a rival, real ale brewer from another county taking over a pub in the city was very rare indeed. Batemans asked the relatively-new Tynemill company to run it for them, and whilst the pub is now wholly-owned by Castle Rock, it was fitting that when the pub celebrated its 30th anniversary a few months ago, Stuart Bateman was amongst the guests at the event when beers were sold at 1989 prices!

Despite the majority of the lads opting for Castle Rock, I spotted a pump clip from North Riding, and so I went for a pint of Nelson Sauvin. The pub was heaving with the early evening Saturday evening crowd, and so we went out to an enclosed beer garden at the back. We found a table, enjoyed our beers, and caught up on the day's football news. A passing cat stuck its head through the railings as Teemu Pukki scored Norwich's 3rd goal in their evening fixture with Manchester City. The beer garden was pretty full, and all around people were enjoying this fine, traditional pub, which was one of the highlights of the evening for many of us.
The Lincolnshire Poacher...a  fine traditional pub
From there we headed into the city centre in search of the Crafty Crow, but it took us a while to find it. Everyone's phone seemed to suggest we went in a different direction, which didn't help.We eventually found it, situated on a corner in an older part of the city, not far from the castle. Another of Magpie Brewery's pubs, it was a smart modern-style split-level bar. There were 8 pumps selling beers from a number of other breweries as well as Magpie, 2 pumps for cider, and a number of taps. I went for Magpie 6 for Gold, and we went and sat in a quiet lounge area, featuring a large mural incorporating a map of the location of the brewery's pubs. The beer was fine, but not as good as Doctor's Orders, and overall the bar was a bit too brightly lit. And whilst the music played was pretty decent, the sound system was not worthy of a bar of that size; it was as if someone had left a tinny transistor radio blaring at full volume in an adjoining room!
The Crafty Crow, not so crafty sound system....
Our next port of call was to one of the best-known pubs in Nottingham, if not the country. This was Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, which dates back to 1189 and claims to be the oldest pub in the country. And it certainly is old; built into the rock below the castle, with a rabbit warren of wood-panelling and glazing spread over a couple of floors. A narrow staircase leads here, a stone corridor leads there. A tiny bar serves a choice of beers including, on this occasion, Titanic Plum Porter, which we drank in the beer garden to the front of the pub. Myths and legends abound as befits the oldest pub in the country. Or is it? Two other Nottingham pubs, the Bell and the Salutation claim to be older, whilst another couple of pubs I have visited, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans, and the Bingley Arms in Bardsey, near Leeds, claim to be older. Up and down the country, there are plenty of places that claim to be the oldest. We'll probably never know for sure, but Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem certainly knows how to put it out there. And it certainly is a historic place, atmospheric, with owners Greene King doing a fine job in maintaining the character of the place. Well worth the trip, as it were.
Atmospheric: Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem
Our final pub of the evening was, ironically, the afore-mentioned Salutation. This is less obviously historic, with heavy rock playing over the speakers to an appreciative crowd which much leather and denim in evidence. I ordered a pint of Harvest Pale which was pretty decent, one of around 4 beers on hand pump. We finished our drinks, ordered taxis, and headed back to the hotel, stopping off at a takeaway just down the road where we tucked into donner, pizza, and chips.

So a good day in Nottingham, despite the football. We did only scrape the surface of the city's pubs, and a further visit is warranted. I'll be back....

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