There’s life in the old dog yet

My week so far. Returned from New York on Monday after an 18 hour journey with little sleep. Jet-lag on Tuesday but back to work; body zombified, mind aslumber. Knackering football on Wednesday – an act constituting my first exercise in two weeks but feels like two months. Thursday – a nice quiet night in – surely!Then it dawns upon me that I have agreed to be guest of honour this evening at a very special event where I have a ribbon to cut and a speech to make. OK, that’s a little licentious. Technically I have been blagged an invite to this auspicious VIP preview by a (now also very special) friend with a slightly less illegitimate claim to be in attendance. It starts at 6pm. It’s 5pm now. Can I make it? While the rest of my body said no my mouth went and said Yes please and due to the lack of proportional representation asserted by my physiology the mouth got the nod. What an earth am I talking about?

The Greyhound is an iconic Derby pub, situated on the beautiful Friar Gate stretch of Ashbourne Road. Or at least it was until four years ago when it closed. But now it’s back…

The great and the good await the grand opening
The great and the good await the grand opening

Furthermore, it’s not just back – it’s new, improved, better than ever. You see The Greyhound has a fabulous pedigree. It was built in the 1600s and served ale to its first customers in 1734. The thick stone walls and ancient wooden beams have played witness to many fascinating events and people over the years. In recent decades the inn has arguably been one of the two best known pubs (The other being The Wardwick) situated on the famous “Derby Mile”. I know these things because I have drinking history in these parts and also because I’m holding the press release issued to all the listed guests on entry.

The Greyhound returns
The Greyhound returns

My last visit was probably 5 years ago and I remember what a charismatic albeit tired place it was. That the lighting was poor was a bonus because the sticky beer infused carpet, stereotypical lumpy off-white pub wallpaper and nicotine stained ceiling were not its best features. The beer garden was nothing more than an old brick wall enclosed patio with a few bench tables, accessed via a dark brick corridor. It’s closure, along with a number of other pubs on the mile, was symptomatic of the diminishing returns for publicans in the face of the economic downturn and cheap supermarket booze, plus I dare say the lure of new city centre pubs.

That’s all history. Today the pub is reborn and we have Trevor and Paul Harris of the Derby Brewing Company to thank for this divine intervention. This organisation and these people are brewing deitys in this city. I’m sure many people aside from myself would be happy to see Trevor enshrined as a latter day patron saint of beer.

A brief history… (click on the DBC link for full details)

  • Trevor rescued the vacant Brunswick Inn and transformed it into a legend. He brought a fabulous old inn back to life (it originally opened in 1842) and started to brew some of the best award winning beer you will find anywhere. His achievements were recognised in 2001 when the pub won the title of UK Beer Pub Of The Year.
  • Founded The Derby Brewing Company, produced yet more tremendous award winning ales and sold them via numerous local pubs and supermarket outlets.

    Old Intentional - Derby Brewing Company's successor to Old Accidental
    Old Intentional – Derby Brewing Company\’s successor to Old Accidental
  • Sold up and rescued another superlative old (1862) pub The Royal Standard in Derby which he converted into arguably Derbys hottest real ale venue (aka “The Brewey Tap”) – no mean feat in a city blessed with a many tremendous pubs, local real ale breweries and tipples. It won the Derby CAMRA pub of the year award in 2009.
  • Acquired The Greyhound transformed it into what we are seeing for the first time today. After one evening here I have a sneaky idea where the Derby CAMRA pub of the year award is going in 2010.

Can you see a trend here? Iconic old pubs in distress. Sympathetic re-imaginations. Amazing beer. Packed out.

Tonights invited VIPs (plus me) are marvelling at the complete transformation The Greyhound has undergone within a barely plausible three (?!) months. Transformation is the right word – the venue is bright, accessible, attractive, seemingly more spacious and yet it retains it’s sense of history and charm. This isn’t an identikit chainy style redecoration. There is a stylish coherent brand, thanks in large part to the considerable design input of Derby designer Martin Hyde. Characters from his darkly humorous Dead good Kids theme pop up on signage, stationary and in decorative contexts: they subtly fuse themselves into those old walls and beams. It’s not the safe or conventional option but boy does it work!

Drinks Menu
Drinks Menu
Dead Good Kids - great fun!
Dead Good Kids – great fun!

First impressions on entry – a bright front lounge with clean lines served by a curved bar. Feet moving freely on an attractive old stone floor – no more unsticking of shoes from an ancestoral peat bog style beer soaked carpet. Onward to the seemingly extended rear lounge with a continuation of the curved bar.

View of rear bar
View of rear bar

Graham the Greyhound watches thirstily over the punters.

Graham the Greyhound looks on
Graham the Greyhound looks on

And if this wasn’t enough you realise that the unaccustomed visibility in this area is courtesy of natural light with a long glass door section opening up on hot days (like today) onto the sun-trap of a courtyard. Indoor and outdoor come together.

The courtyard (if that’s the correct term) looks so clean and inviting. The brick walls appear to have been blasted and remortared. The space seems to have been extended substantially with the removal of … I can’t remember what exactly, but there is a cleverly retained and opened up chimney structure that suggests a room has been demolished.

Beer Garden - a view that does it no justice
Beer Garden – a view that does it no justice

The subtext here is quality and style. This is the kind of space you want to meet friends in, to spend time, to talk, drink and chill.

A toast to Mine Host
A toast to Mine Host

Just add people. Build it and they will come. And when the doors open to the eager public at 8:30 they come in great numbers. And behold, it is rammed. I realise that my intentions to do photographic justice to the place have just gone down the pan because it is no longer possible to get a clear photo of anything!

Things are heating up
Things are heating up

The truth is that since the champagne reception and BBQ I have spent over 2 hours doing important networking and drinking so I could present this report with the integrity and authority it deserves. You will have to make do with the few lazy shots I took when it was still light and there was room to move. You will for instance have to envisage the triumphal roof terrace that takes this already formidable hostelry to (literally) another level. For some reason I managed to get a shot of the old roof slates but not the terrace itself.

A night on the tiles
A night on the tiles

And then it went dark and the imaginatively illuminated chimney stack took on a character of its own.

Chimney after sunset
Chimney after sunset

Everybody bar none is staggered with what has been achieved here. I’m not the least surprised because Trevor and Paul have long since proven their innate understanding of brewing, hostelry and the Derby drinking public. I hear a voice saying that the Greyhound was an obvious choice – the history, the location (students, office workers and the city centre nearby), but nobody else came forward to take on the challenge and it is hard to imagine anybody else pulling off the venture with such flair and attention to detail. It’s going to be a deserved roaring success. I will be back. Regularly.

It’s 10:30pm. I’m shattered. Again. Still. I have enjoyed a wonderful evening with some great people while quaffing the sublime Mine Host – a new light summery ale courtesy of Derby Brewing Company. I have work tomorrow. Thank you and Good night!

Friday. Tired. Strange that. Another lovely hot sunny day. No plans tonight – I can relax at last! Must just post this blog entry while it’s fresh and current and then I’ll chill.

Midnight – finished. Bugger.

Thursday – build me an ark

I’m woken by a cargo plane buzzing over the campsite as it prepares to land at the adjoining airstrip. It’s mercifully dry and I prepare to undertake the activity I have dreaded most, before the other campers wake and are able to watch. Yes, it’s time to put away the “2 second” tent that I pitched yesterday in 2 minutes (I opted to attach the optional guy ropes). It was perfect for one night but far too pokey for anything longer, and not for claustophobes or (laughably) the second occupant they suggest it would additionally accommodate. My only previous attempt to wrestle the tent back into its bag was in my back garden. It took 15 minutes and lots of industrial strength swearing. Progress – today its back in the bag within 5 minutes with only moderate foul mouthed mutterings. Next time I will challenge myself to 2 minutes and light cussing.

Next on todays agenda, in as far as there is one, is breakfast at Jamie’s “Fifteen” restaurant at the beach. It’s first come first served from 8:30am whereas lunch and dinner require booking months in advance. Out of sheer optimism (in retrospect that’s all I can put it down to) I decide to trot down hill without any waterproofing or umbrella. It will stay dry by the power of positive thought. For such a high profile restaurant (google it if you don’t know about it) it’s very hard to find the way in! There’s a sign in the general beach car park pointing in the wrong direction and that’s it. Turns out you have to walk to the dingy far corner of the car park and descend some unheralded staircase which I only found after 5 minutes. Perhaps this is some deliberate ploy to deal with the over-demand, by ensuring 50% of their potential customers just give up trying to find it in the end. There is still plenty of space when I arrive and I am ushered to a window seat though most of the tables are window facing due to the open plan design. Full English doesn’t appeal today – though it looks “pucka” – so I go for a cereal / yoghurt / fruit compote thing which is very nice, although the Beach Hut Café downstairs does something similar for half the price with views almost as good. In fairness it’s a pleasant environment and the staff are great. It would undoubtedly be a special place for an evening meal as the sun sets. Instead I’m about to leave and it’s cats and dogs outside.

A 20 minute walk up a steep hill in the rain doesn’t appeal so I wait for a bus under the canopy of a surf school. A couple of young families are getting suited up for a lesson and today is probably a good day to jump in the sea. When the Newquay to Padstow bus finally arrives I’m almost too embarrassed to ask to travel one stop up the hill. Fortunately the driver is too embarrassed to ask me for a fare so he lets me travel for free in return for me clearing the mist from his window that is obscuring his wing mirror.

What do you do on an unremittingly wet day in Cornwall? Well here’s what I did – drove to some pretty coastal villages, saw some great looking gnarled old pubs (from the outside only) and parked up in Newquay in an effort to find shops that didn’t sell surf gear. Fat Face and Animal would go bust if Newquay iced over. Eventually I found a gentlemens outfitter stuck in a wonderful Grace Brothers style musty time warp where I purchased some ludicrously cheap waterproof overtrousers. Suits you sir! The weather forecast is for rain forever so at least with the final element of body waterproofing in my armoury I can go walking in the face of whatever is thrown at me.

Onto Tollgate Farm campsite at Perranporth where I pitched my large tent for the final time this week, and then sat down to incongruously listen to the first day of the second ashes test match at sunny Lords. The farm sits on a hill and apparently has a range of animals for visitors to visit & feed, though my only sight was of a soggy llama with a look of bemusement if such a thing is possible. I wonder whether this is a sign and I should start building an ark.

Tollgate Farm - today
Tollgate Farm – today

Quick camp stove food does the job but only just. It’s mid evening and further canvas internment will only lead to death by dampness so I conjure up the image of a cosy country pub with an open fire and see what my OS map has to say on the subject. Many of the pubs in Cornwall are hundreds of years old and full of character – the sort of places you could happily spent an evening. The first two I find however have full car parks and the notion of a 50m dash from some space further afield is not tempting. I’m pulled over to check the map again for barely 15 seconds and the passenger door is opened by a single toothed man materialises from nowhere to ask if I am lost. In Nottingham this sequence of events is a prelude to car jacking, soliciting or a drugs score but I think this is a selfless act of kindness to a stranger from a local – something that used to exist further north. He advises me about where to go and I advise him never to visit Nottingham. The Plume Of Feathers in Penhallow is a marvellous eatery, except I’ve eaten. Luckily it has real ale, 80s music, cosy seats and a roof. Confusingly it also has a covered pool table with a sign stating “please do not use this pool table” and a dart board sporting the notice “sorry no dart games”, but despite these paradoxes I’m sold. I sit down with a yummy pint on Magik ale from the local Redruth brewery and it occurs to me that after taking 190 photos in the previous 4 days I have taken none today. Tomorrow I will walk and take photos regardless of the weather. And drink beer. Hmmm beer.