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Posted Sunday, June 3, 2007
The Barley Mow - Bonsall
A Weird and Wonderful Night Out at a Derbyshire Theme Pub!
Derbyshire’s Peak District National Park boasts around fifty million visitor -days per year – and the majority of tourists come for the spectacular scenery and natural beauty of the counties varied landscape.
But as well as having its fair share of well-known popular tourist attractions, Derbyshire also has some weird and wonderful places!
`The U.F.O. capital of Europe!'
I went to visit one which fits that description, being both weird and wonderful - the Barley Mow at Bonsall, which has become famously known as the U.F.O. Capital of Europe!
Visitors have been flocking from all over the globe in recent years following world-wide television coverage of the strange lights-in-the-sky story, and the celebrated photo of an authentic flying saucer which was caught on film by a local resident.
Television crews, radio interviewers and journalists have all joined the media-circus centred around the sprawling white peak village – and specifically around the current inn - place to be – the quaint little country pub at the end of The Dale where enterprising landlord Alan Webster has become something of a minor media celebrity.
Alan, who has appeared a number of times on television claiming, along with other village residents to have seen the strange lights over Bonsall, admitted, “We’ve had visitors and U.F.O. enthusiasts from all over the world since the saucer picture hit the headlines two or three years ago, and they all seem to make a bee-line for the Barley Mow. In fact you could say that we now have a sort of cult following”, - and of course, business is booming for Alan and his wife Ann who bought the pub some fourteen years ago.
As you lift the latch and walk through the door of this old, stone-built inn you get an immediate sense of the character of the place, warm, friendly and inviting; with its low-beamed ceiling, and the flickering of flames from its cosy log fire reflecting in the gleaming brasses which surround the open -hearthed fireplace. A fascinating array of artefacts and memorabilia decorate the walls and window ledges, books fill various shelfs, plants thrive in south-facing window bottoms–the landlord’s flambuoyant influence is everywhere!
Alan, who was born in the nearby village of Elton and whose ancestors populate the churchyard there, used to run guided walks from the pub around Bonsall on weekends during the summer months. He still does, every Bank Holiday Monday and an extra one in June, but these days, since the furore over the famous U.F.O. sightings, Alan also takes guided tours around Bonsall and the surrounding hills on a U.F.O. Trail!
The first such walk was held on April 1st 2004 and was featured on the BBC Television’s Country-File programme, and ever since Alan has had countless ufologists following in his footsteps - from the Barley Mow to the unfolding mysteries of outer space – up on Bonsall Moor!
“It’s all good for business, says Alan wryly, casting a furtive glance at the inflateable purple alien hanging near one end of the bar, “people come here mainly out of curiosity, either because they’ve seen it on television or read about it in some magazine or newspaper. Our aim is to turn their curiosity into genuine interest and affection for the place, so that they feel at home and like it enough to want to come back again”.
Annual Derbyshire Hen Racing Championship!
And come back they do, in droves – and not only out of alien interest – for there are many other attractions at the weird and wonderful Barley Mow! For example (or should that be eggsample?) the Annual Derbyshire Open Hen Racing Championships are held here on the first Saturday in August.
The rules are simple; anyone with a hen can enter, but only hens hatched and reared in Derbyshire are eligible to race; flying is not allowed and any hen taking flight will be disqualified. It’s free to watch, and is good, fun-loving entertainment – but if you’re a serious hen-racer and think that you might have a chance with your speedy chick, be warned - for I have it on good authority that Alan Webster has reputedly bred the fastest hen on two legs in the entire county!
More traditional entertainment is provided on a concealed stage cleverly contructed by Alan at one end of the bar, and a whole variety of musicians play here, including the landlord himself who is an accomplished keyboard and accordian player. “Musicians love to play here because of the intimate atmosphere, said Alan, “and weekends here are very special”.
But the unique atmosphere is not simply a product of the landlord’s endeavour, for the Barley Mow is also south-facing and built between two hillsides at the end of The Dale, thus sheltering it from the wind and creating a natural sun-trap - surely the best of all positions for a balcony or terrace. In the summer months the balcony is the most popular part of the pub, with people travelling for miles to spend an afternoon or evening relaxing in the sun – and of course being a free house, listed in the Good Beer Guide, and CAMRA Pub of the Year, the Barley Mow is a favourite haunt of thirsty walkers too!
But the aliens, the ufologists, and the eccentric and enterprising landlord are not all that carry the out-of-this-world tag at the Barley Mow – so does the food – as I discovered to my delicious pleasure!
Landlady Ann Webster and her team provide an extensive range of superb home-cooked dishes. “Many of the meals come from recipes handed down from grandparents and great-grandparents, said Ann, “and they are all prepared on the premises in the traditional way”.
Whatever the secret of the pub’s attraction it is doubtless the inn-place-to-be, for as Alan told me: “The exposure on national television and in the world press has brought the media and crowds of curious people here, but we also have a growing band of mainly local writers, artists and actors who have become `regulars’ – and some minor celebrities from further away too,” he added. As if to prove his point, and right on cue, actor David Sterne from the popular `Down to Earth’ television series arrived for dinner with his wife.
Later, best-selling novelist Wendy Holden came in and was warmly greeted by mine host.
Alan, Ann and the Barley Mow are featured in Wendy’s best – selling novel, Pastures Nouveaux.
“Wendy comes in occasionally when she’s at home, said Alan, she’s away a lot, but lives in the village”.
The last mouthful of braised steak was melting in my mouth as Alan greeted a mutual friend, actor David Sterne, who had just ended a season playing in pantomime with Matthew Kelly at the Nottingham Palace Theatre.
I also learned that Alan is an experienced walker with a vast and intimate knowledge of the surrounding landscape and its history.
He and David Sterne are old “walking buddies” – and his popular Landlord’s Walks are both interesting and entertaining for Alan is a natural story-teller and weaves his own magic, with information on the history and wildlife of the area interwoven with colourful accounts of crime, passion, and just about everything else – including ufo’s and aliens!
Outside in the dark night a million stars twinkled overhead, not a UFO to be seen as I drove home across Bonsall Moor. I’d had a very enjoyable evening and meal at the weird and wonderful Barley Mow, and promised to return on the first Saturday in August – along with my turbo-charged super-hen!