I gave Mrs RM a couple of enticing choices for the day – Camden Town or Mansfield and she looked at me like I was daft. I obviously chose my wife well.
She probably had equally fond memories of our memorable weekend there 20-odd years ago. It must have been our anniversary as I distinctly remember paying £15 (fifteen !) for a room in one of the market square pubs. To put that outrage in context, I still pick up a Travelodge for £19 now. At least that pub had chicory coffee and some magnificent Old Baily.
The Mansfield pubs and beers were among our favourites then, but once the brewery closed the town itself lacked appeal compared to those west of the M1 (Chesterfield and the Amber Valley particularly). The area still had a lot to offer children though, and our boys enjoyed Wheelgate Park and the hands-on museums. Not much for adults, though, once they’d shamelessly made Field Mill all-seated and denied away fans the pleasure of standing in the coldest ground I’ve ever been to (colder than Oldham).
Recent trips had seen a Beer Guide scene built around three central Wetherspoons, a Hungry Horse with guest beers, and just one great pub – the cosy Railway Inn.
Mansfield looked far better than we remembered. The railway viaduct isn’t in Stockport’s league, but does add some character to a reasonably interesting network of streets around the central square, with it’s enticing hot peas competing poorly with Wetherspoons breakfast offer. The Spoons dominated the centre, and some very cheap prices were drawing in the crowds. The Steak Club here looked a good £3 cheaper than my nearest one. I won’t claim the shops were equally busy, but I didn’t see as many boarded up shops as I see elsewhere.
As I’ve seen in Thanet and the Fens, struggling shops in decent-sized towns are fertile ground for micro-pubs. The most striking I’ve see so far is the White Lion (top), part of a small development built into the caves, which I’d never noticed before. We loved this place. Cosy seating, musty smells, chatty young owners, Welbeck and Moonshine (both NBSS 3.5), Bee Gees as the soundtrack. Probably gets as cold as Field Mill in January if you’re down there late evening though.
Micro No.2 is a few steps away, and much closer to the norm, but lacked nothing in quirk. The Beer Shack (above) has Spinners LPs, robust conversation about lifestyle choices, and the beer of the day from Dowbridge (NBSS 4).
Just outside the centre the Brown Cow was the most attractive pub of the day, and a great advert for Everards’s Project William. Smarter than anywhere in Cambridge, with a good Mucky Duck (NBSS 3.5) from Raw, who operate the pub. Superb coffee as well.
The final new Beer Guide entry was the most unusual, but Il Rosso was the pub that forces me to make an apology to Mansfield & Ashfield CAMRA now. This is a very modern, smartish Italian restaurant near Sainsbury that also served a superb Harvest Pale (NBSS 3.5) alongside it’s upmarket tapas and coffee menu, bringing real ale to new audiences.
I wrote here and here about my astonishment that Mansfield had eight Beer Guide entries, but the beer in these four newbies was all superb, and a repeat visit is a must. I’ll still be comparing you with Chesterfield though.