As kids living in rural Leicestershire, we knew everything there was to know about life within a 20-mile radius. That’s because, equipped only with a bike, a sense of adventure, and an inbuilt intuition as to when dinner or tea would be ready, we’d regularly set off to explore anywhere within reach to check out the best recreation grounds, trees or rocks to climb, and hedgerows from which to plunder birds eggs from. The cost was minimal – maybe a few pennies for some sweets or a couple of bob for a crafty packet of fags from external vending machines we’d pinpointed along the way. But we knew about everywhere. If somebody had trimmed a hedge since the last time we passed, that fact wouldn’t escape us for one minute.
Since I moved to Long Eaton just over 20 years ago, I no longer have a bike, my sense of adventure revolves only around pubs, breweries and football grounds, and I’ve given up climbing trees. So there are some towns and villages within just a few miles of where I live that I barely know by name, let alone ever having set foot in them. Take Heanor for instance. According to the internet it’s 7 miles from my house. Might as well be 70 miles, as I can only ever recall going there once, and that would have been at least 20 years ago. As for Langley Mill railway station – in between Nottingham and Chesterfield – never. Until today.
Because I’ve got a financially heavy couple of weekends coming up – Scotland next and Brighton (with the missus) the week after – I decide to stay local and Heanor Town is my target. I’m initially thinking of driving until I spot on the map that Langley Mill rail station is only a couple of miles or so away. A quick trawl of internet pub sites throws up the small brewery tap for Marlpool Brewery, and that’s where my off-the-beaten-track walk from the station is headed until I spot an interesting pub sign en route. More of that in a minute, as first I check out the pub opposite Langley Mill station, a free house called the Middle Inn. It has been extensively refurbished and is the sort of place you COULD take your mother-in-law too. It also has its earthy elements, and a large group of Forest fans exits one door as I enter the other.
What’s different about this place is that the three cask beers it sells are not the big brewery brands you might expect. There’s one from the Cheshire-based 4T’s Brewery, and a couple from Derby’s Dancing Duck, and my pint of Ey Up is not as citrusy as most golden beers you might encounter.
So then off on my ‘off-piste’ walk through a residential area, guided by a google map, which takes me past an old farmhouse-turned-pub called the Butchers Arms on Hands Road, technically in Langley but officially in Heanor according to the internet. The pub sign features images of microbrewery beer pumpclips so I venture in. The only person present is the pub landlord, who turns out to also be the brewer at Coppice Side Brewery. Along with Leadmill Brewery, they have leased the pub and sell up to ten of their own beers plus guests. Over a pint of Coppice Side Deception we chat about all things beer, to the tune of a roaring fire. Sadly I only have time for the one, as I need to get to the Marlpool Brewery Tap which is a winding, uphill mile or so further on.
This cosy pub features three very compact rooms and a small beer garden out back. The toilet is unisex and would not leave much to the imagination should the occupant have suffered a particularly dodgy curry the night before! But that apart, it’s a gem of a pub, with four Marlpool beers on handpump and several more – including guests – fetched from the cellar to order. Conversation is the name of the game, and I get chatting to a couple of locals plus the Marlpool brewer, who is fetching and carrying in between enjoying a pint. The pub used to be a butcher’s shop, with the slaughterhouse at the back now housing the tiny 2-barrel brewery. The brewer says he sells virtually all the beer he produces in the pub. I try a Blind Boris Mild and an Otter’s Pocket traditional bitter, the latter particularly to my tastes.
From here it’s just a fifteen minute walk to the Town Ground, the home of Heanor Town FC, who arrived in the Northern Counties East Premier Division having won the East Midlands Counties League last season. The clubhouse is quite comfortable and has big screen TV for the live game. I am amused as Arsenal score a late consolation and the guy opposite me is absolutely shattered. I’m guessing he had some money on Man Utd to win 2-0! Sadly they don’t do any interesting beer here, and the snack bar behind the goal only has meaty pies, so once again I make do with chips and peas. The ground itself has an elevated covered stand behind one goal, featuring 50 seats or so which nobody wants to use. Down one side is a substantial covered terrace which provides respite from the wind, so is well patronised. Opposite is a cricket pitch, and the whole playing surface has a distinct slope from end-to-end and side-to-side.
Mid-table Heanor are today entertaining struggling Nostell Miners Welfare, and the first hour of the game typifies an also-rans match, with neither side showing any expertise in front of the net. Then we get a ten-minute flurry of four goals – all headers from set-piece plays – which leaves the game locked at 2-2 until a sensational strike right at the death from Heanor’s Jordon Hall, worthy of winning any match. Having worked hard for what they thought was a nailed-on point, you have to feel sorry for the visiting Miners but that’s football!
So despite going local, I have a particularly enjoyable day as I head back to the train station and the promise of a couple of en-route-home pints at the Vat & Fiddle in Nottingham. It’s only then I realise that I’ve forgotten to check out possible birds nesting sites. Oh well, maybe I’m getting too old and politically correct for THAT game.
Programme: £1 from the gate. Quite a bit in it but mainly the usual League website stuff. A full page dedicated to the actual minute that each of the season’s goals have been scored in is quite unusual.
Floodlight pylons: 4 – techically two pylons and two mobile phone masts
Parakeets: Just a flock of starlings inhabiting one of the phone masts.
Toilets: Either in the clubhouse or just outside, in the cricket pavilion
Club shop: No
Music the players run out to: None
Vocal Locals (aka Kop choir): Quite a few in the covered terrace, with the occasional supportive chant
Away fans: Didn’t spot any
What’s In A Name: Nostell fans would have been disappointed to see Josh Hope’s head go down, although teammate Wayne Ball seemed to be getting a kick out of proceedings.