Lottie Gross puts her preconceptions aside and discovers why Derby might be one of the UK's most misjudged cities.
When I told my friends I was planning a trip to Derby I got one of two reactions: mocking laughter, or looks of utter confusion. I have to admit, it’s never even been a consideration on my UK bucket list, let alone anywhere near the top of it. So I took a leap of faith, encouraged by the presence of the CAMRA Winter Ale Festival, and took the train from London to find out what was on offer. I’m glad I did. In just two days I was astounded by the creativity thriving throughout Derby, and today I’d happily champion the city as a worthy weekend break. Here’s why...
Why should I go to Derby?
Because the beer is brilliant and the heritage runs deep. One of Derby’s main surprises is its burgeoning brewing scene. The county of Derbyshire has more breweries per capita than any other in the UK. There are twelve breweries alone in the city centre – almost every independently owned pub has its own brew, either on-site or somewhere in the vicinity – and a total of 25 throughout the county.
This year saw the second annual CAMRA National Winter Ale Festival in Derby’s stunning Roundhouse (with a third set to take place in 2016 before moving on elsewhere). The city was chosen as a host for its sheer diversity of beer – you can sip everything from a refreshing pale ale to a cloyingly rich stout or porter. Hops from the USA, Europe and New Zealand are shipped in, alongside UK-grown yields, to brew beers from across the spectrum, so there really is something for everyone.
Granted, Derby isn’t the most attractive urban space in the country; its sterile high street leads south towards the grey eyesore that is the intu shopping mall. But little pockets of English charm can still be found: boutiques line the streets of the old town around Sadler Gate, and the Market Hall still has its original Victorian fixtures. Most people use Derby as a gateway to the rolling green landscapes of the Peak District nearby, but those who pass through without a second look miss out on great beer, good food and a fascinating industrial history.
What’s this about industrial heritage you say?
Derby’s growing beer industry shouldn’t really be that much of a surprise – after all, the city has a history of invention, engineering and production. It’s a city of planes, trains and automobiles, with big names like Rolls Royce and Bombardier building transportation here since the early 1900s.
Derby is also home to Lombe’s Mill, the world’s first fully mechanised factory, and is generally considered one of the birthplaces of the Industrial Revolution. The mill sits at the southern end of the Derwent Valley, a UNESCO Heritage trail of cotton and silk factories that were integral to industrial-scale production in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
A workshop in the Silk Mill
Today, known as the Silk Mill, Lombe’s Mill is one of Derby Museums’ collection of buildings throughout the city, and in keeping with the “history of forward thinking” has been renovated by the people of Derby – right down to the chairs in the foyer. It’s now a buzzing exhibition space and runs innovation and engineering workshops for all ages.
So, back to the beer, what and where should I drink?
For a touch of haunting history alongside your pint, head to Ye Olde Dolphin Inne on Queen Street. It’s Derby’s oldest pub, open since 1530, and claims to be haunted by all-manner of ghosts, including a young girl who you’ll ‘feel’ on the stairs, apparently.
The Brunswick, The Falstaff and Mr Grundy's Tavern all brew their own beers, but to get stuck in and see Derby brewing at its best, head to Derventio at Darley Abbey Mill. Run by two ex-railway engineers Pete and John, Derventio brews 2000 delicious litres of the brown stuff every week. They have six to seven different cask ales on offer each month, ranging from the hoppy Emperor’s Whim to their refreshingly light, apricot-flavoured Cleopatra, and you can spend a morning watching them brew the stuff to perfection – followed by a tasting, of course.
Where can I feed my hangover?
To soak up all that hoppy booze, there’s a grave need for some serious comfort food and Derby has it in droves. You can’t visit the city without trying Derbyshire’s traditional version of the English crumpet: the pyclet. Head to the the Derby Pyclet Co wholesale barn, conveniently next door to Derventio, for a simple toast-your-own experience, or visit the Pyclet Parlour in the Market Hall where locals perch on stools to devour salmon and cream cheese or Welsh rarebit variations.
If you’ve got more of a sweet tooth, Jack Rabbit’s Deli opposite Derby Cathedral serves scores of delectable cakes – mostly made with locally sourced ingredients. Try the Guinness cake to get your fix of beer and chocolate.
And finally, for the ultimate Sunday roast to quash that morning-after ache, eat at the Exeter Arms. The beautifully rare-cooked roast beef with all the trimmings is sure to knock the socks off your hangover, and if you’re up for a bit of hair of the dog, there’s excellent beer from the local Dancing Duck brewery too.
Lottie stayed at the Hallmark Hotel, conveniently located opposite the railway station, and travelled with East Midlands Trains from London St Pancras. For more information, go to www.visitderby.co.uk. Explore more of England with the Rough Guide to England. Compare flights, book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.