There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..



Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Return to Crowdecote: Pies at the Pack Horse Inn

As I mentioned in Cowpat Walk 6, I left my cap in the Pack Horse Inn last Saturday.

On reaching home I called to check it was still there and to ask them to look after it for me. We returned on Wednesday to fetch it.

As on Saturday, we were welcomed as we came through the door. This should be a hospitality industry basic, but does not always happen. I asked for my cap, and the young man who had greeted us went to fetch it. ‘I thought I recognised you,’ said Mick the landlord.



Wearing my restored cap
Outside the Pack Horse Inn, Crowdecote
And that story is not worth a blog post. What is, though, is Good Food. This is a travel blog not a food blog, but I like to eat, and I like to eat well, and frequently record the experience. Occasionally I open up my wallet and indulge in Fine Dining [see ‘Dandly’s idiosyncratic system of food classification’ below] but I cannot afford that every day and I do not think I would want to. What I am lucky enough to be able to afford on a daily basis is Good Food, whether cooked at home or eaten in restaurants.

Few (possibly none) of this blog’s food related posts involve pubs. Pubs usually serve Comfort Food, and there is nothing wrong with that, but - almost by definition - it is not interesting enough to write about.

As I entered the Pack Horse on Saturday a stranger coming out held the door open and said to me, ‘Excellent pies. You must have one of their pies.’ We were walking so I only wanted a sandwich, but the sausage sandwich (a ‘serious sausage’ from Bagshaw’s in nearby Butteron, not sausage from a mass caterer) encouraged me to think a pie might be worth trying.

On our return Lynne and I both ordered ‘pie of the day’ which turned out to be one chicken and leek and one pork, apple and cider as we hit the day when ‘pie of the day’ changes.

The pies arrived with chips and mushy peas; no, this is not Fine Dining, and it is certainly not Pretentious. ‘Which is which?’ I asked. ‘The pork,’ the lad said, ‘is the one with a pastry pig on the top.’ To his credit, he managed to say this without sounding patronising, so it was entirely my fault that I felt a pillock.
 
The pastry coffins were stuffed with meat: chunky pork, tender and well flavoured with apple in my case, a sumptuous blend of leek and chicken that really tasted of chicken (so much of it does not) in Lynne’s. The pastry had been cooked with the filling inside, as pies should be. They were, we decided, masterpieces of the pie maker’s art, qualifying with ease as Good Food.



Lynne, a chicken & leek pie and a half of Hop Gun
The Pack Horse Inn, Crowdecote
I went to fetch more beer and asked Mick where he gets his pies. ‘We make them here,’ he told me with more than a little pride in his voice. He said that when he took over the pub the chef would put a spoonful of stew in a bowl, stick a flat piece of catering-pack pastry on the top and bung it in the microwave until the pastry fluffed up. ‘That’s not a pie,’ Mick told him. ‘It’s what we call a pie round here,’ the chef replied. He does not work there anymore.

But the chef was right, that is what they call a pie round here (and by ‘round here’ I mean the affordable end of the catering market, not the Upper Dove Valley). And Mick was right too, that is not a pie. The pie is one of the many noble British culinary traditions that became debased during the twentieth century and that chef was one of the debasers. We have seen the rebirth of craft brewing, artisan cheese making and artisan sausage making. There are now signs of a renaissance in artisan pie making, and the Pack Horse Inn, we were delighted to find, is in the forefront.
 
Having mentioned craft brewing, I should note that there was a choice of four real ales, one of which changed between Saturday and Wednesday. Hop Gun from Church End Brewery in Nuneaton is the sort of magnificently bitter hoppy brew that God Himself would choose to wash down a pie.

Crowdecote is a tiny out of the way place and yet the Pack Horse was busy on a cold Wednesday lunchtime in March. Pubs everywhere are closing in alarming numbers, but the Pack Horse proves that if you get the welcome, the beer and the food right, people will make the effort to come to you, wherever you are.
 
Dandly’s personal, idiosyncratic, unscientific and deeply prejudiced food classification system.

Presented in descending order of desirability.


 

1


Fine Dining
Always expensive, always an occasion.
We like to splash out to celebrate our wedding anniversary.
Abergavenny and The Walnut Tree
Ludlow and La B├ęcasse
Ilkley and The Box Tree

2

Good Food
Good Quality ingredients well cooked. Available on a daily basis at home (we try) and in good restaurants, which are easier to find in some countries than others. Many posts, so I will link to just two:
Out to Lunch in Corsica, Tamil Nadu and the Western Desert
Breakfast in Kerala, Lunch in Libya, Dinner in Chengdu

3

Comfort Food
Toad-in-the-hole, baked beans on toast, fish & chips and  the produce of most pubs.
We all need these occasionally.

4

Pretentious Food
A growing sector in the pub trade.
Differs from good food in that the flowery menu and the use of trendy ingredients is more important than the quality of those ingredients and chef’s ability.
5 Refuelling A sandwich bought in a supermarket or motorway service station. A necessary evil.
6 Macfood
Kentucky fried pizza-whoppas and the like.

 

Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Cowpat Walks: 6 Crowdecote

This was the first ‘Cowpat’ since August and again there were only three participants; Alison, Francis and myself. In the days when everybody worked it was easy to know where people were on a Saturday and it was usually possible to choose one when most were free. Now that the majority of potential participants have retired it has become harder to find a Saturday when everybody is in the same country, or even on the same continent, never mind available.

The Cowpats are a circle of circular walks within easy reach of Stafford, and after climbing Shutlingsloe in number 5, we again headed for the White Peak but this time aiming a little further south and east. Drizzle fell throughout the drive and as we came over the rise at Ipstones, the looming bulk of high land before us was shrouded in mist and looked as inviting as the land of Niflheim.

We did not reach Fawfieldhead, a hamlet that appears as a dot only a very large scale map, until well after 10. It had taken an hour to drive from Stone, and Alison had previously had to make her way there from Cheltenham.

The theme for the day, mud - or rather MUD – made itself felt from the start as I became bogged down while trying to park on the verge. Francis got out to push. ‘Where do you want to be?’ he asked. ‘Anywhere except where I am now,’ was the only answer I could think of.

We eventually found a place where the car could be largely off the road and still on firm(ish) ground. As we pulled on our boots the drizzle miraculously stopped and did not resume until after we had set off home. At some points during the day there was even a little watery sunshine. It was hardly Mediterranean, but it was less worse than could have been.

Francis & Alison ready to set off from Fawfieldhead


With Crowdecote, our intended lunch stop, away to the northeast, we set off westwards down the minor road through the hamlet – circular walks make you do things like that. We would eventually circumnavigate the much larger village of Longnor, but as we never went there, only glimpsing it in the distance, I have called the walk after somewhere we did go.

Leaving the road we followed a farm track to The Slack and then over some very wet fields to Shining Ford, where we crossed Oakenclough Brook on a bridge. The name may be out of date, but with only a little more rain the brook would rise above the bridge and turn it back into a ford.

Approaching Shining Ford
Oakenclough Brook is the largest of the streams that come together to form the River Manifold and it has gouged itself a sizeable little valley. Our path, slippery with mud, followed a wall along the valley side to Hardings Booth where we crossed the minor road and followed a well surfaced path straight up the side of what could now be called the Manifold Valley.

A well surfaced path up the side of the Manifold Valley

After climbing the stile at the top.....

Alison leaps over the stile at the top

.....and crossing a couple of fields, we began the long descent into Hollinsclough.

Starting the descent to Hollinsclough
Across the valley we could see the rugged outline of Chrome Hill, adorned with a patch of snow remarkably like Jemima Puddleduck.

Chrome Hill
To the west is gritstone country, but Chrome Hill and the land to the east is limestone. The hill and its neighbours are the remains of an ancient coral reef and our approach to Hollinsclough was along what had once been the edge of a tropical lagoon. Times have changed.

The population of Hollinsclough peaked at around 400 in the mid nineteenth century. Although now without a shop or a pub, it retains a primary school and the last surviving Methodist chapel on the old Wetton and Longnor Methodist Circuit. Hollinsclough was once the home of a silk weaving industry and John Lomas, who built the chapel in 1801, made his money transporting its produce by packhorse to Macclesfield, once the world’s biggest producer of finished silk (and now a world leader in silk museums per head of population). Rather later a church hall was built opposite, where a couple of wooden seats and a table are thoughtfully provided for those who might like to break their walk and drink some coffee.
The Methodist Chapel, Hollinsclough
Hollinsclough is at the northernmost point of the Dove Valley, and after coffee we crossed the flat valley floor to the foot of Chrome Hill before swinging right towards the strange rocky pyramid of Parkhouse Hill.
Parkhouse Hill
As we approached the hill the path forded the River Dove, though given the high rate of flow we happily took the footbridge option. For most of its 72 km the Dove marks the boundary between Staffordshire and Derbyshire, and once over the bridge we were in foreign territory and would stay there until we re-crossed the river after lunch.
Ford and footbridge below Parkhouse Hill
At this point we could have carried on along the valley floor and arrived in Crowdecote in good time for lunch, but a more interesting route was to take the path that swung left around the base of Parkhouse Hill before climbing a grassy ramp up the side of the more rounded Hitter Hill.
Up Hitter Hill
Hitter Hill is the start of the shelf limestone, and from its flank there was an excellent view back over the reef limestone of Parkhouse and Chrome Hills.
Parkhouse Hill with Chrome Hill behind it
We could also look down on Glutton Grange at the mouth of the narrow defile of Glutton Dale, which may have been a natural channel through the coral or could be glacial in origin. The name is said to derive from the local prevalence of the glutton, a voracious and oversized weasel relative also known as the wolverine. In Western Europe the glutton is now confined to northern Norway and there is little evidence for it living in the Peak District at least since the ice age.
Glutton Grange

Round the back of Hitter Hill we did not have to drop far to reach Earl Sterndale, a village set in a high, shallow valley. The setting is good but, as Francis observed, it is not the prettiest of Peak District villages, with too many modern buildings constructed with too little attention to their setting.
Earl Sterndale
The village pub is called The Quiet Woman and the sign sports a biblical quotation (Proverbs, chapter 15, verse 1) and a headless lady. There are several other Quiet Womans around the country, one of them in nearby Leek, and they have similar signs. There is a tentative suggestion that the name refers to a beheaded female saint from the Roman era, though nobody really knows. This woman looks Tudor to me, perhaps Anne Boleyn, but that may be reading too much into an inn sign.
The Quiet Woman, Earl Sterndale
We walked through the pub car park, around the other side of Hitter Hill and stood looking down into the Dove Valley.
The Dove valley from Hitter Hill
The descent was muddy and slippery. Watching Alison and Francis slithering downwards I took the time to extend my poles before following them. It was a good decision, but even with four points of contact I found myself slipping and sliding. I may have been better off with a pair of skis as well.
Once down, the path along the valley bottom was easy, being first a farm track and then level field paths all the way to Crowdecote.

Francis arrives in Crowdecote


Crowdecote (spelled Crowdicote on OS maps) is a metropolis of some 30 souls nestling on the Derbyshire bank of the River Dove. Like most places it looks better in the sunshine, but the Packhorse Inn is always a pleasing sight, particularly as lunch was well overdue. The welcome was warm, the choice of beers excellent and the sausage sandwich outstanding. Master butchers S Bagshaw and Sons of nearby Butterton produce serious sausages.
We started what promised to be a brief but chilly afternoon by crossing the River Dove back into Staffordshire, and then climbing straight up the side of the valley, always a welcome manoeuvre straight after lunch. The path to Edge Top led us up a muddy field recently dressed with manure that sucked at our boots with every step. ‘It’ll get drier further up,’ Francis asserted, though in fact it did nothing of the sort. Above the field boundary the final part of the ascent required us to struggle up a series of muddy gullies, often sliding one step back for every two forward. I am not sure I would have made it without my poles.
Struggling up to Edge Top
From the top there was a good view back to Crowdecote.
Crowdecote from Edge Top
I felt much warmer after the climb and then realised why I had felt cold at the start, I had left my cap in the pub.  This was not, I decided, a good time to go back for it.
The descent into the Manifold Valley was much gentler. The Manifold and the Dove rise about a kilometre apart and then flow roughly parallel for 19 kilometres before joining up south of Ilam. On their way they pass through gorges far deeper and dramatic than might seem appropriate for rivers of modest size. The southern part of the Manifold Valley, especially, is wildly out of proportion for a stream which has a tendency to disappear underground in even a moderately good summer. The rivers, geographer Francis tells me, did not make the valleys, they merely take advantage of clefts gouged out by ice age glaciers.
Down to Boothlow Hayes and then Over Boothlow
Here, at the start of the southward journey, the Manifold Valley is only a gentle crease in the ground. We descended to Over Boothlow and then turned right to Waterhouse Farm, crossing the infant river as we went. The river gets its name from its ‘many folds’, but here it is dead straight.
To Waterhouse Farm
From the farm our path rose gently across fields before dipping to the source of one of the Manifold’s many feeder streams. Then we were back in Fawfieldhead where my car, I was pleased to see, had still not sunk into the soft earth.
The infant River Manifold belies its name
As we left the uplands we watched the storm clouds moving towards us, and finished the journey home in even heavier rain than the journey out. It had, though, been dry throughout the walk.
I arrived home and told Lynne about my cap. ‘We’ll have to go back,’ she said. ‘You can take me out for lunch.’ And so, on Wednesday we returned to Crowdecote.