I'm drawn to pubs - there, I've said it. Not flashy bars with their even flashier bar staff producing cocktails of dubious colors and doubtful pedigree, not expensive hotel lounges with their dress codes and staff who often seem to exude disapproval when you select a wine from the lower reaches of their rarified wine list, but honest to goodness village pubs, the ones that, along with a church, a village store/sub Post Office and an elementary school, form the heart of an English village.
It used to be the chance to drink alcohol that was the draw when I was a young man, but with advancing years, and strong medical reasons to avoid all alcoholic beverages (some of the many drugs I am forced to take react strongly with alcohol), I still find that the convivial atmosphere, delightful 'pub grub', and congenial company more than make up for the inability to imbibe alcohol.
Back where I am from - Derbyshire - there are many types of 'public house' . You find tiny, run-down places, in small, run-down ex-mining villages, which can barely hang on; unloved, with no money to even redecorate sometimes, they are a reflection of the collective psyche of the place. Then there are the bustling, well-appointed new-style pubs, often built by a brewery at a strategic location to catch the 'passing trade'. On entry, these often have a strange feel. As my late brother-in-law put it, 'all fake plastic beams in the ceiling, serving plastic food and plastic beer'. I know what he meant; beware this sort of place. When they put up a sign saying 'Home Cooked Food', it means literally that - they have a microwave around the back, in which they put 'ready-to-serve' meals that they buy in bulk.
Then there are the genuine village pubs, sometimes evolved from a simple 'front room' in a dwelling that has been there for a century or more and has expanded, sometimes a genuine coaching inn from the 19th century or one associated with a particular trade. The 'Scotsman's Pack' in Hartington, Derbyshire celebrates the intinerant 'packmen' who travelled the local villages and farms selling their wares. Packmen (sometimes called 'jaggers') came down from Scotland, leading their laden ponies along the Pennine trails and offering Tweed cloth to the local farmers, hence the name.
'The Old Nag's Head' in Grindsbrook Booth, Edale is a very famous hostelry, with accommodation in two refurbished cottages nearby, 'Kinder Cottage' and 'Grindsbrook Cottage'. There is a cryptic note to the effect that 'Grindbrook Cottage', as well as sleeping 6 persons, can accommodate 'one small/medium (25 kilograms) well-behaved dog' at £5 a night'. What I want to know is - is the dog weighed? Is he/she interrogated by the landlord about that plate of cold meats that went missing last Christmas, perhaps?
The holstery is owned by a pub chain, the Dorbiere Pub Group, and that can bring some disadvantages. For example, despite being listed as one of the 'Hundred Greatest Pubs in England', there is little of the 1577 structure remaining, and the interior has been 'modernized to death'. Also, in my humble opinion, if you want to flaunt your status as a great pub, I wouldn't go listing 'alcopops' as one of the drinks on sale. The food is adequate - probably the best value is the 'Bangers and Mash' with choice of sausage (yes, even vegetarian) and choice of three flavors of mash - buttered, garlic or mustard.
The Nag's Head has one over-arching claim to fame. It marks the official start of the Pennine Way, that incredible long-distance walking trail up the Pennines - the rugged central spine of England - all the way to Scotland. Designated as a National Trail, you pass through three National Parks, starting in the Peak District, then the Yorkshire Dales, then Northumberland National Park, before you enter Scotland, and end your 268 mile journey in the Cheviots at The Border Hotel, in Kirk Yeltholm. Hikers are drawn to this fabulous walk as bears to honey, and you will always find some in the Nag's Head - and therein lies the rub. This is a pub that claims to be, and I quote 'muddy-boot friendly', and yet.........
I don't like to be classified. I'm a bit of a generalist, really, and I HAVE been known to do some serious walking in my time, so it took me aback to see TWO entrances to TWO bars at this pub, one marked 'Hikers Bar' and one marked 'Locals Bar'. I was wearing hiking boots (I was headed towards the Kinder Plateau at the time, so they weren't muddy yet), so, do I go into the 'Hiker's' or into the 'Locals'?. If challenged in the 'Locals', should I say, 'Well, I was born in Derbyshire, and I've got family in Matlock, just down the road. Does that count?' I opted for the 'Hiker's Bar'.
I left feeling that I had just been subjected to some kind of 'hiker's apartheid' - and it didn't feel good.