Tuesday, 14 December 2010
Travelling in search of decent beer is not a new interest of mine; it's something I have been doing, on and off, for most of my adult life! Here's a contemporary account of a trip I made to Edinburgh, back in the late 1980's, in order to visit the Caledonian Brewery, then known as Lorimer & Clarks.
How do you fancy a trip round Lorimer & Clarks Brewery? my friend John asked in the pub one night. When? I enquired. In a fortnight's time, my friend replied. Knowing that John worked for British Rail, and travelled everywhere by train, I gathered that our proposed trip would be by rail. Even so I was of the opinion that it would involve an overnight stop, so was somewhat taken aback when John informed me that we would be travelling to Edinburgh and back in a single day. What’s more he had managed to obtain a complimentary return ticket from Tonbridge to Edinburgh for me.
On the allotted day I was up early in order to meet my friend on the platform at Tonbridge station. We boarded the 06:20 train to Charing Cross, alighting at London Bridge. From there we caught the Northern Line tube to Kings Cross, where we boarded the 08:00 service to Edinburgh. This was my fourth visit to the Scottish capital, but was my first train journey from London during daylight hours. Previous visits to Edinburgh had either been at night, or had involved starting my journey from places such as Manchester or Sheffield.
We were joined at Stevenage by several other railwaymen, all of whom were friends or colleagues of John's. After being introduced, we settled down to enjoy the rest of the journey and admire the scenery. The trip was made all the more interesting by my friends’ commentary, and lively banter, but of particular interest to me was the section of line which runs along the spectacular Northumbrian coast. The castle at Bamburgh looked splendid against the backdrop of the sea, and as we crossed over the border into Scotland at Berwick, with its three bridges over the River Tweed, our spirits rose in anticipation of the brewery visit that awaited at the end of our journey.
We arrived in high spirits at Waverley Station, just after one o'clock, and immediately hailed a couple of taxis to take us to Lorimer & Clarks Caledonian Brewery. I recognised the brewery facade as soon as we arrived, as this was not actually the first time that I had visited the brewery. Whilst in Edinburgh, for the 1984 CAMRA AGM, me and a group of friends had been privileged to enjoy an impromptu tour around the brewery. Our guide for the occasion had been none other than the late Dan Kane. Dan was one of the pioneers of CAMRA in Scotland, at a time when Real Ale was very thin on the ground, and was later instrumental in helping to save the Caledonian Brewery when it was earmarked for closure by its then owners, Vaux of Sunderland.
We were offered a drink as soon as we arrived at the brewery; our hosts knowing that we would be thirsty following our long journey. Caledonian 80/- was the order of the day, and every nice it tasted too. It tasted even better with the sparkler removed from the beer pump, something that caused considerable amusement to our guides, but from our point of view, something which added to our enjoyment of this excellent beer.
The tour was every bit as good as the one I had enjoyed some two years previously. The last direct fired coppers in the country were especially interesting. Of particular interest to my railway companions were the sidings and associated loading dock. In days gone by raw materials were brought to the brewery, by rail, and the finished product was also dispatched by the same means. Before being led back to the sampling room, we were shown the old maltings, where the Edinburgh Real Ale Festival takes place
After drinking our fill of 80/- Ale it was time to thank our hosts and say farewell. We headed by taxi back into the city centre in order to catch the train home. John and I caught the 17:00 train; the others in the party, who faced a shorter journey than us, decided to stay on in Edinburgh, no doubt to enjoy a few more drinks!
Our journey back was enlivened by my friend describing various points of interest en route. We crossed the border back in to England, at Berwick travelling once more through the spectacular scenery of the Northumberland country side. The sea was on our left this time, and we could see across to Holy Island and Lindisfarne Priory. Shortly after, we were rewarded by the view of picturesque Alnmouth.
Upon leaving Newcastle, we took our seats in the dining car for a well-earned evening meal. We remained there for most of the journey watching as the countryside became progressively flatter as we travelled south. Arriving back at Kings Cross we re-traced our morning's journey back to London Bridge. We decided that there was time for a quick drink before catching the train home. The historic, National Trust owned George, in Southwark High Street, formed the ideal venue, and the Greene King Abbot we enjoyed there was in fine form, if a trifle expensive.
We arrived back in Tonbridge, shortly after eleven o'clock; some 17 hours or so since leaving that morning. It had been a long and somewhat tiring day, but an extremely enjoyable and interesting one all the same.
Wednesday, 29 September 2010
I returned late on Saturday evening following three days walking completing the final part of the Wealdway long-distance footpath. The path runs for 82 miles from Gravesend on the River Thames to Eastbourne on the south coast. After completing the first 50 miles of the walk earlier this year, my friend Eric and I were determined to complete the trail before the weather worsened with the onset of winter.
The final stage of the walk took us from Uckfield, just south of Ashdown Forest, to the end of the trail in Eastbourne. Unlike the first part of the walk, which took place in 30 degrees of June heat, September's temperatures were much more conducive to walking. In addition, there was less distance to cover over the three days, making for a less hurried and more relaxed walk. This had the added bonus of allowing for more time in the pub, so the following is an account of the excellent hostelries we visited along the way.
Our first port of call was the excellent King's Head in East Hoathly which proved a welcome refuge on a rather damp Thursday lunchtime. This was my second visit to the pub, which is also home to the 1648 Brewery. The latter is housed in the old stable block behind the main building and like my first visit the King's Head did not disappoint. The quarry-tiled floor was a welcome bonus for two slightly bedraggled walkers, as it meant we were spared the task of removing our boots. The second bonus was the cheerful welcome we received from the friendly and chatty barmaid. We sampled two of the house brewed beers; the 3.9% Brew Master and the 4.6% Bee-Head which incorporates honey in the brew. I also gave the 4.5% Dark Star Sussex Extra Stout a go -purely for research purposes of course!
By early evening we were close to our overnight stop; the un-inspiring, but cheap Travel Lodge at Hellingly. We popped into the the King's Head at Lower Horsebridge to check whether it would be suitable for our evening meal later on. It was a large old pub, with a plainly furnished bar to one side and a spacious restaurant to the other. Harvey's Best and 1648 Brew Master were the beers on sale, and both seemed in reasonable condition. However, despite being early evening there were only a couple of people in the pub and furthermore the menu looked rather un-inspiring.
On our way to the Travel Lodge we passed Horsebridge's other pub, the Wheatsheaf. Peering in through the window the pub looked much more homely and welcoming, so after checking in to our hotel and changing out of our walking clothes we returned to the Wheatsheaf and were glad we did. There was a games area at one end of the pub and an eating area at the other. The serving area was in between. Harvey's Best and the dreaded Doom Bar were the beers on sale, but we stuck to the Harvey's which was the perfect accompaniment to our evening meal of liver and bacon. It certainly proved a wise decision to call in at the Wheatsheaf that evening.
The following lunchtime we visited the picturesque, but food-oriented Yew Tree at Arlington. As on the previous day we had been caught in a heavy rain shower, so yet again the pub formed a welcome refuge. Although quite characterful inside, with a fair-sized plainly furnished bar to the right, and a plush, comfortably furnished room to the left, the pub was largely given over to diners. Harvey's Best and Armada were the beers on sale, but I'm sorry to report that they were way past their best. I ended up leaving most of my second pint, but really I should have returned it and asked for my money back.
It was not all doom and gloom, as that evening we arrived at our second over-night stop, the excellent Giant's Rest at Wilmington. Here we had a comfortable and well-appointed room and after showering and changing into something more comfortable, we made our way downstairs to the large bright and airy bar. There were three beers on sale; Harvey's Best, Hopback Summer Lightning and Taylor's Landlord, and we sampled all three along with some excellent food. The Giant's Rest seemed an extremely popular place, so it was a good job the landlord had reserved a table for us. It was certainly good to see a village pub full of happy customers on a Friday evening.
After a hearty cooked breakfast, the following morning, we left the Giant's Rest and walked up through Wilmington, under the shadow of the famous "Long Man" - a mysterious figure carved into the chalk. We then began our ascent of the steep chalk escarpment which marked the start of our walk across the Downs to Eastbourne. Approximately halfway we found ourselves in the tiny downland village of Jevington, a place we had passed through a couple of years previously whilst walking the South Downs Way. On that occasion there wasn't sufficient time to stop, but this time we were able to call into the Eight Bells, an ancient village inn with a timeless feel to it.
There were some attractive looking women on both sides of the bar and after a bit of friendly banter we settled down at one of the tables to enjoy our beer. Unfortunately I must have copped the last pint out of the cask, as my pint of Charley's Angel from Springhead Brewery was flat and un-inspiring. I couldn't really take it back as the barmaid had earlier given us a sample, and it had tasted ok then. After switching to Adnams Bitter all seemed right with the world and we continued with our "people watching". A wedding party arrived, and it was interesting seeing them in their suits and best frocks inter-mingling with the walkers, riders and dog walkers that made up the bulk of the pub's clientele.
After leaving the Eight Bells we climbed back onto the downs to complete the walk to Eastbourne. It was a perfect mid-autumn day, with bright sunshine and a bit of a breeze blowing. Once we had climbed Combe Hill we were rewarded with some fantastic views, and eventually could see the sea in two directions. With Eastbourne spreading out below us, it was worth getting the binoculars out in order to see further afield. They allowed us to see right across towards Hastings and beyond to Dungeness in the far distance.
After linking up with the South Downs Way for a while, we eventually descended down into Eastbourne and made our way to the Lamb, in Eastbourne's Old Town. The Lamb is Harvey's show pub, and is a place I had wanted to visit for many years. This late 12th Century pub certainly lived up to its reputation, with two bars and plenty of old beams, as one would expect from a building of this age. We were served by an attractive and friendly barmaid who advised us that they had Harvey's Old on sale - the first brew of the season no-less! This excellent dark ale proved a fitting beer to end to our walk with, but as it turned out it wasn't quite the last drink of the day! Travelling back to Tonbridge by train we decided to break our journey at Frant in order to call in at the Brecknock Arms in Bells Yew Green. The pub was a bit quiet for a Saturday night and landlord Joe hadn't yet got the Old on sale, (the Brecknock is another Harvey's pub), but we had a couple of pints of Best before catching the train home and back to our respective families. It had been an excellent few days away, with some excellent pubs to boot. All we need do now is to work out what walk to do next year.
Tuesday, 31 August 2010
There is an old Japanese proverb that says "It is better to travel in hope than to arrive disenchanted." I wouldn't say at all that our trip to Bamberg, in northern Bavaria, earlier this summer, was in any way disenchanting, far from it - we had an absolutely brilliant time. What I am saying though is that whilst our journey there wasn't the most straight forward of affairs, it was still an interesting one nevertheless.
The easiest, and quickest way of reaching this wonderfully unspoilt Franconian city from the UK is to fly to Nuremberg, from Stanstead, and then take the train. Air Berlin are the only budget carrier I know that operate this route, and I have used this option before, but this year, possibly because I left our booking a little late, their flights seemed rather expensive. Looking at alternatives I discovered that Easy Jet flights to Munich were considerably cheaper, so being someone who prefers to spend money on the important things in life ie. beer, I decided to explore this option further.
I knew from past experience that Deutsche Bahn offer their excellent Bayern Ticket, which allows up to five adults to travel by train, anywhere within the state of Bavaria for just 30 Euros. This ticket would also have been the cheapest option had we chosen to take the train from Nuremberg, so financially the Munich route looked by far the better deal. The only slight snag was the increased journey times; four and a half hours travel from Munich, as opposed to one and a half hours from Nuremberg, (I have included the time taken to travel to and from the airport).
Taking the time factor into consideration, we decided to go for the Munich option; after all a journey by train, with DB, would afford the chance to view the Bavarian countryside and, what's more, we had full days at the beginning and the end of the holiday to make the journey. All that remained to be done was book the flights with Easy Jet, and check on the Deutsche Bahn website for a detailed breakdown of our journey.
They say the best laid plans sometimes go astray and so it proved on the day of our departure. We arrived bright and early at Stanstead, only to discover there was a delay to our flight. In the end the delay only turned out to be a 90 minute one, but it still meant that the train times I had so carefully researched and printed off were rendered useless.
Leaving a wet and windy Stanstead behind and arriving in 30 degree heat at Munich's Franz Josef Strauss Airport, we made our way to the Deutsche Bahn booking information centre, where I proceeded, in my best German, to enquire about travelling to Bamberg by means of a Bayern Ticket. The gentleman behind the desk explained that if we caught a bus to nearby Freising, we would be able to board a direct train to Nuremberg, thereby negating having to travel into Munich Hauptbahnhof. The short bus section of the journey was covered by our ticket, and to assist us even further, along with our ticket, he kindly printed us off a detailed journey-plan, giving details of train departure and arrival times, platform numbers etc. Now that's what I call service - UK Train Operators please take note!
It was a short walk to the bus stop just outside the terminal, and then an equally short wait for the bus. We then had a ride out passed the various airport out-buildings and car parks and out into some very pleasant open countryside, before arriving in Freising some 20 minutes later.
Freising is an ancient ecclesiastical town to the north-west of Munich, and is home to several breweries, including the world-renowned Weihenstephan Brauerei. I had visited Freising five years previously, on my first visit to Munich, and had our original schedule gone to plan there would have been time to sample the wares of one the aforementioned breweries. Unfortunately time was not on our side, so after alighting at the station, and with only half an hour to wait before our train, we just had sufficient time to nip into the local REWE supermarket and buy some bottled water, plus nibbles to consume on the train, before hastily grabbing a couple of rolls from a kiosk at the station.
Our journey took us roughly north-eastwards towards Regensburg, through some pleasant country-side, but unfortunately it was rather hot on the train as the air-conditioning didn't appear to be working. Pulling into Regensburg brought back memories of an excellent holiday two years previously in this pleasant eastern Bavarian town and as we continued towards Nuremberg, the air-conditioning miraculously sprang back into life so we ended up enjoying the rest of the journey in comfort.
It was the start of the rush hour when we arrived in Nuremberg, and our onward train to Bamberg was very crowded. We ended up standing most of the way, but fortunately the journey time was only 45 minutes. We reached our destination just after 5.30pm, local time, and after checking into our holiday apartment, unpacking and freshening up, were soon ensconced in the pleasant beer garden at the rear of Greifenklau Brauerei.
The homeward journey was more or less the reverse of the outward, except that we caught the RE Nuremberg - Munich Express, which instead of running via Regensburg, took a more direct, and very scenic route via Ingolstadt. There were some high rolling hills to admire, and consequent long tunnels to travel through. We also got a good glimpse of Germany's main hop-growing region, the Hallertau, which lies to the north of Munich.
This time we journeyed right into the centre of Munich, and after depositing our bags in the left luggage lockers at the Hauptbahnhof, had the afternoon free for some last minute shopping, plus a bit of drinking. We made the obligatory visit to the Hofbraeuhaus, and after a spot of lunch spent the afternoon in the shady beer garden of the Augustiner Keller. This turned out to be a good means of escaping the high temperatures which, by this time must have been in the mid thirties!
All in all then, it was a most successful trip and whilst not the quickest route to our holiday destination, certainly turned out to be an interesting one.
Thursday, 29 July 2010
We made a brief stop over in Munich on our way back from Bamberg last month. Whilst the logical thing would have been to fly in and out of Nuremberg, It worked out considerably cheaper to fly Easy Jet to Munich. Then, making full use of the good old Bayern Ticket (rail travel for up to 5 people throughout the state of Bavaria, for only 30 Euros), we were able to travel by train to Bamberg. It was a journey of over 3 hours, and involved changing trains at Nuremberg. It didn't matter though, as our schedule allowed plenty of time for this, and on the return journey we arrived in the Bavarian capital with a whole afternoon free.
If we thought it had been hot in Bamberg, then Munich was doubly so. We perhaps got an inking of this when we changed on to the Regional Express in Nuremberg, but being transported in comfort, in an air-conditioned train gives one a false sense of what the temperatures are really like outside, and when we alighted from the train at Muenchen Hauptbahnhof then the heat really hit us. The first thing we did was to deposit our cases in one of the left luggage locker. That done, we headed off towards Marienplatz through the sweltering heat.
My son wanted a look round Saturn, a large electrical retailer just off Marienplatz. Fortunately it was air-conditioned in the store, but after he had seen what he wanted, we exited into the baking heat, taking care to try and keep in the shade.
Our first port of call was the Hofbraeuhaus; well it's got to be done hasn't it when one's in Munich? Fortunately it wasn't too busy inside, but it was still uncomfortably warm. I was aware that the waitresses normally like to press litres (Mass) of beer onto customers, and under normal circumstances I would gladly have accepted one. However, I knew that later that evening I would be driving back from Stansted, so needed to moderate my intake. I therefore explained the situation to our waitress, and she was happy to oblige with a couple of half litres of Hofbraeu Original. Priced at 3.45 Euros each, it was a Euro more expensive than what we had been paying in Bamberg. It wasn't as tasty either as some of the beers we had been drinking in Franconia, but having said that it wasn't that bad either.
My son had wanted to eat in the Hofbraeuhaus, but I wasn't feeling terribly hungry. I find that high temperatures dull my appetite, and also I rarely eat large meals at lunchtime. I therefore persuaded him that whilst I appreciated his offer to buy me a pub lunch, hearty lumps of pork were not what I was after on what must have been one of the hottest days of the year. Instead we adjourned to a VinzenMuir outlet (basically a chain of bakers, selling filled rolls and the like) , and ordered ourselves a schintzel roll each. We sat in the shade at one of the tables outside the shop and thoroughly enjoyed what was still a substantial snack.
After that we decided a shady beer garden would be the best option to while away the rest of the afternoon. Neither of us were in the mood for sight-seeing, especially in this heat, so we boarded an S-Bahn train at Marienplatz and alighted at the Hauptbahnhof. From there we made the short walk up Arnulfstrasse to the Augustiner-Keller. There were a couple of other reasons for visiting this particular establishment; first it is close to the station and we wouldn't have to go far to retrieve our luggage. Secondly, out of the city's major breweries, Augustiner brew by far the best beer in my opinion.
The beer garden was quite busy, it was after all a Friday afternoon, but we managed to find a table in the self-service area to the rear, and were soon tucking in to a nice cool glass of Augustiner Edelstoff. We had made the right choice in coming to a beer garden; the whole area was shaded nicely by the large horse chestnut trees, and given the outside temperatures, it was relatively cool there. The Edelstoff was in top form too, dispensed straight out of a large wooden barrel. The only downside was that I had to drive later on, so had to limit my consumption. As the time moved on, more and more people started to arrive drawn, no doubt, like ourselves by wanting to escape the heat of the city and to refresh themselves with a glass or two of the excellent beer on sale.
We, unfortunately had to leave. We had a few last minute gifts to buy, and also wanted to make sure we arrived at the airport in plenty of time. After retrieving our suitcases, we caught the S-Bahn out to the airport. It was evening rush hour and the train was hot and crowded. It was a relief therefore to reach the air-conditioned comfort of the airport terminal, even though we had a bit of a wait before check-in opened.
Although it had only been a brief stop-over, it was good to spend a bit of time in Munich again. Despite its relatively high prices (certainly compared to Bamberg), I'm certain it won't be too long before we return.
Wednesday, 21 July 2010
Many beer travellers will know that
On our recent visit to
Starting alphabetically with the brew-pub Ambraeusianum, which is a couple of doors along from the world-famous Schlenkerla pub. We sampled their Helles and their Dunkles. For me, the former was one of the best beers I tasted on the trip, and that is saying something for a region that produces some superb beers. The Helles was fresh tasting with an almost herbal hoppiness; it certainly was perfection personified. Unfortunately the same could not be said of Ambraeusianum's Dunkles, which I struggled to finish. This was a pity, as I am normally a fan of the darker beers. To find such a contrast between two beers from the same brewery is unusual, to say the least, but just goes to show how beers can vary.
Brauerei Faessla comes next in the A-Z of
Moving on next to Greifenklau, which is the smallest of the city's breweries, and only available at the Brauereigasthof on Laurenziplatz. We visited this excellent establishment on both our first and last nights in
Brauerei Keesmann is next on the list, and the company's brewery and adjoining tap are situated in the suburb of Wunderburg, which is about a 25 minute walk from the city centre. We visited Keesmann twice, sitting out on both occasions in the covered area between the rear of the pub and the brewery itself. I tried both their "Sternla" Lager, which is an unfiltered, pale, hoppy lager, and their Herren Pils, which is a very satisfying bitter beer,
Returning to the city centre, and Klosterbraeu, which is
Mahrs Braeu is next alphabetically, although as the brewery is virtually opposite Keesmann in Wunderburg, we first sampled their beers when we visited this part of town. We sat out in the small, shady courtyard, in front of the brewer,y that doubles up as a beer garden, and sampled the 4.9% Helles along with mine, and everybody's favourite, Mahrs Braeu Ungespundetes or "U". We also enjoyed a lunchtime meal of
That leaves two more breweries in the town, both of which produce versions of
Brauerei Spezial is the final
The beer we sampled that evening was Spezial Rauchbierl Lager, served in stoneware mugs. As stated earlier, the smokiness was a lot less pronounced than Bamberg's better known Rauchbier producer, but it could still be tasted lurking in the background. Later in the week we visited the Zum Spezial, the brewery tap, right opposite Faessla on Obere Koenigstrasse. Here we were able to sample some of the brewery's other beers, including Spezial Rauchbier Maerzen and Spezial Ungespundetes.
I will describe the best ways of getting to Bamberg in a later post, but in the meantime I would thoroughly recommend a visit to this beautiful city in order to sample its beery delights!
Sunday, 9 May 2010
I had a trip to the sea-side yesterday, Whitstable to be precise. The reason for my visit was that I had volunteered to represent West Kent CAMRA at the Kent Regional Meeting (KRM), that was being held there.
KRM's take place every couple of months, and provide a chance for members from all over the county to get together, report on their branch's activities and discuss things such as campaigning issues, beer festivals and Kent breweries (more about the latter later). There are 10 local branches within the county, and each branch takes a turn at hosting the meeting. The pre-requisite for these meetings is a pub (or club), with a separate meeting room away from the main part of the pub, so that the business can be conducted without interruption from juke-boxes, fruit machines, TV's etc. It is also important that the meeting should not disturb the pub's own customers. It was Canterbury, Herne Bay & Whistable Branch's turn yesterday, and the venue for the meeting was Whitstable Labour Club. This was quite ironic, coming just two days after the inconclusive General Election result, and the place seemed quite quiet and subdued when we arrived.
Whitstable isn't the easiest place to get to by public transport from where I live, and the journey took over two hours, and involved two changes of trains. Still the weather was unseasonably cold for early May, so it wasn't as though I was missing out on a day in the garden! Whitstable Labour Club is a converted, former pub, so it was good to see the building still being used for the sale of food and drink. There were four hand pumps adorning the bar, but only three beers on sale. Unfortunately two of them weren't of much appeal to CAMRA members (Courage Directors and Shep's Master Brew); but the other beer, Rudgate Mild, was the saving grace so far as most of us were concerned.
I hadn't been to such an event for over a year, so it was good to meet up with colleagues from other branches and catch up as to what was occurring in their neck of the woods. As West Kent's representative I was able to inform the meeting about the two breweries that are about to start production in our part of the county. Wearing my other hat, that of Brewery Liaison Officer for Larkins, I gave a short update as to what's happening at the brewery. About two thirds of the way through the proceedings, we adjourned for lunch; lunch being a buffet of sandwiches, sausage rolls and pork pies. After that it was pretty much plain-sailing through to the end of the meeting.
Once the day's business had been concluded, it was farewell to the Labour Club and off to sample a few of Whitstable's pubs. First port of call was the Ship Centurion, a one bar free-house and a former Kent CAMRA Pub of the Year. Several cask beers were on sale; I opted for Hopdaemon Incubus, whereas others opted for Elgoods Black Dog Mild.
On leaving the Ship, we made our way to the Smack, a Shepherd Neame house, tucked away down the myriad of narrow lanes and alleyways between the High Street and the sea. At the meeting the Shep's Brewery Liaison Officer had told us about the pilot scale brewery the company have installed. She also described some of the interesting beers being produced on the plant. One of these was on sale at the Smack; Crab & Winkle Celebration Ale is brewed using a proportion of smoked malt, which was evident in the flavour. It was rather good, as was the pub itself; a quirky sort of place with an island bar, comfortable seating and all manner of posters and other adornments on the wall.
From the Smack it was a short step to Pearson's, a Good Beer Guide-listed pub that was shown as selling a range of Gadds (Ramsgate Brewery) beers. Unfortunately there was no Gadds available and the bar-staff were unable to tell us why, but the Harveys was quite tasty all the same. The main thing that struck me about Pearsons though, was that it was full of Whitstable's answer to the "beautiful people"; and that, more than anything else was my lasting impression of the town, an impression that was reinforced by the next two pubs we visited.
The Royal Native Oyster Stores is owned and run by the Whitstable Oyster Company Ltd, and this "gentrified" establishment, housed in the firm's original premises, is now their flagship outlet. Oysters galore were in abundance, being split open and served up on dishes of flaked ice by a couple of chefs. Crabs and lobsters were also being prepared behind this glass counter, ready to be served up to the "beautiful people" in the dining room next door. The Whitstable Oyster Company is associated with the Whitstable Brewery, who brew some extremely good beers. The Royal Native had a cask of East India Pale Ale behind the counter, to complement the keg taps offering Whitstable Bohemina Pilsner and Oyster Stout, so we settled for the former and stood watching the proceedings with a certain fascination.
Our last port of call was the Duke of Cumberland, another Shepherd Neame pub, and one that also seemed home to Whitstable's "Nouveau Riche". I remember this pub from 25 years or more ago as a rambling old hotel, full of character. One of my companion's recollections were much the same, including having to pass through the billiard room en route to the gents! Still, our window seat did give us a good vantage point from which to watch the comings and goings along the High Street.
What appears to have happened is that in recent years, Whitstable has become second home territory for an increasing number of affluent Londoners; colour supplement readers Guardianista's and the like! There has been the inevitable rise in property prices, and this influx of high-spending "outsiders" has led to a sharp increase in what pubs and restaurants are charging their customers. Whitstable isn't quite Southwold (yet), but it's fast becoming so. I'm certain this is good for local businesses and, hopefully, local people, but when such "gentrification" takes place then I can't help feeling that much of the local character and individuality (the very things that attracted the newcomers in the first place), disappears.
The journey home was long and tedious, and again involved a couple of changes of train. Still, at least I got the chance to travel on one of the new High-Speed Trains (but not along the high speed tracks). I am not sure when I'll next get the opportunity to visit Whitstable, but when I do I'll be interested to see how much further the town has progressed in its upmarket direction.
Sunday, 25 April 2010
It's probably the best part of 30 years since I last visited Liverpool, but my recent trip to the Isle of Man afforded me sufficient time in this vibrant port city to see a few of the sights and, more importantly, sample some of its pubs. I say sights; apart from the Albert Dock complex, down on the Mersey, I didn't do a lot of sight-seeing. Walking back from Albert Docks, I could see both the Anglican and the Roman Catholic (Paddy's Wigwam) cathedrals dominating the skyline, but I had visited both on previous trips, and this time I was more concerned with some serious beer drinking!
I had a lot more time to spare on the outward journey than on the return leg, and quite a bit more cash available as well, so after making my way down to the Mersey, and viewing the aforementioned Albert Dock, I carried on along the waterfront to visit Liverpool's only brew-pub, the Baltic Fleet. With its red and black-painted chimneys, this wedge-shaped pub looks like a ship, and is very in keeping with its location. It didn't seem that busy when I called in on a bright and sunny Wednesday lunchtime, but once the language barrier was overcome (broad scouse!), I was soon enjoying a pint of the well-hopped, 3.5% Hurst Street Bitter, one of four house-brewed beers on sale that day. All the beers are brewed on the premises, and when I arrived at the pub I noticed the cellar hatch was open with the pleasant aroma of mashing wafting up from below.
There wasn't a shortage of tables, so I made myself comfortable and ordered myself a plate of the day's special. For the princely sum of just £4.95 I was tucking in to two tasty Lincolnshire sausages, served with petit pois on a bed of mashed potato with the whole thing drenched in onion gravy. I thought another beer would be a good idea, and what better than a pint of 5% Smoked Porter to help wash the meal down. The porter wasn't as highly smoked as its name might have suggested, but was still very pleasant all the same. The other thing that needs mentioning were the very keen prices charged at the Baltic Fleet; £2.25 and £2.65 respectively!
After leaving the Baltic Fleet I headed back into the city centre, heading for a pub called the Richmond Hotel. In the previous pub I had picked up a copy of the local CAMRA news magazine, Mersey Ale which informed me that the Richmond normally had Southport or George Wright ales on tap, but after looking through the pub window I could see no sign of these, and whilst Bass, Cains and Timothy Taylor's were on sale, I decided to put plan B into action and visit the unspoilt White Star instead.
I was glad I did, as this excellent traditional Victorian pub certainly ticked all the right boxes. I sat in the comfortable back room admiring the early Beatles memorabilia on the walls. I also enjoyed a couple of pints of White Star Pale Ale, brewed specially for the pub by the Bowland Brewery. After leaving the White Star I popped in to Boots to take advantage of their "Meal Deal" offer, thereby securing myself a sandwich, packet of crisps plus bottle of water to sustain me on the sea-crossing to Douglas. That done I thought it best to slowly make my way towards the ferry terminal.
En route I called in at Thomas Rigby's, one of two adjacent pubs in the city belonging to Okells. As would be drinking a lot of Okells later on the Isle of Man I gave their beers a miss and instead opted for a pint of Molly's Chocolate Porter, brewed by the College Green Brewery in Belfast. As I sat in the outside courtyard, enjoying my pint, I was please to see a good number of people drinking Weiss Bier. I had noticed that the Thomas Rigby offers a range of these beers, as several Belgian ones, so it was good to see the good citizens of Liverpool enjoying these.
It was a fifteen minute gentle stroll from Thomas Rigby's, down to the ferry terminal, but I arrived in good time for the 19:30 sailing to Douglas. I arrived in the Manx capital at around 10pm, and made my way straight to my pre-booked guest house.
After spending four, very enjoyable days on the island, I did the trip in reverse, catching the 07:30 fast cat, Mannannan from Douglas to Liverpool. Unfortunately the vessel developed engine trouble an hour or so into the voyage and we were 45 minutes late in docking. Even without the delay I had less time to spare as I was booked on the 13:48 train to Euston. Fortunately Wetherspoons came to my rescue, in the guise of the Richard John Blackler, a huge, cavernous JDW outlet right in the city centre and just a stone's throw from Lime Street station.
After a coffee, I got stuck into a couple of the festival beers, before leaving in good time to catch my train. These two brief visits had been a good re-introduction to Liverpool and its pubs, and whilst I would have liked to visit a few more (the Dispensary, Philharmonic and Peter Kavanagh spring to mind), I was quite content with those that I did manage to take in. I'm not quite sure when I'll next be passing through Liverpool, but whenever that may be I will certainly give these other outlets a try.
Saturday, 24 April 2010
I made the right decision 10 days ago, when I journeyed to the Isle of Man in readiness for the CAMRA members weekend. My pre-booked Apex Super Advanced Saver ticket on Virgin Trains allowed me to travel from my home town of Tonbridge to Liverpool and back, for just £14 each way. On top of this I had booked a return crossing from Liverpool to Douglas for £37. courtesy of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.
I say the right decision, because on waking on Thursday morning I received a text from my wife alerting me to the chaos that was unfolding in the wake of the Icelandic volcanic eruption, and which would soon ground all flights within UK airspace, and indeed beyond. As I had return ferry and train tickets this did not, of course, bother me, but I knew that several friends had flown over the day before and some others were supposed to be flying over the following day. Their travel plans would obviously be affected, and lots of other people were in the same boat. Whilst some were unable to make it across to the Island, many did by switching to the ferries..
Those of us who had made it to the Isle of Man had a brilliant time. The weather was fair, the island scenery was a delight to behold and the pubs, the cheap beer and the friendly locals only added to a most enjoyable stay. As for my return journey, that passed as smoothly as the outward one.
I have posted, in more detail, about the member's Weekend on my main blog but I will be writing in more detail about some of the places I visited on my recent trip. Watch this space!
Monday, 29 March 2010
The Red Lion at Snargate features on CAMRA's National Inventory of unspoilt Heritage Pubs .Known locally as Doris's, after its legendary and long-serving landlady it is a pub where time really has stood still. The building itself is believed to date back to 1540, but unlike many old pubs of a similar age, the inside has not been modified and there are a series of inter-connecting rooms. The walls are decorated with a series of original World War II posters, and other memorabilia, and the rooms are also home to a selection of traditional pub games, such as "Devil Amongst the Tailors" and "Shut the Box". Although there is a set of three handpumps on the bar-counter, they have not been used for many years. Instead all beers are served direct from casks kept stillaged behind the bar. Local beers feature prominently on the menu, with Maidstone brewer's Goachers being a firm favourite.
I have known the pub over many years, and whilst I don't often visit it, I do so whenever the opportunity arises. Last Saturday, my son Matt and I joined a couple of friends in travelling by train down to Romney Marsh in order to visit the Red Lion. After alighting from the Marsh-Link train at Appledore Station, we had a slightly hair-raising, 30 minutes walk along the busy A2080 before arriving at the pub shortly after opening time.
Doris's daughter Kate was behind the bar, and we were pleased to see a good selection of Kentish ales on tap, awaiting our attention. Eric went straight in on the 6.5% Audit Ale from Westerham. The rest of us plumped for a beer called Red Top, from the Old Dairy Brewery. The latter is a brand new micro-brewery, based somewhere in Kent (their website doesn't specify where), that only commenced production at the beginning of the year. The Red Top was a copper-coloured, quite malty brew, with a distinct hoppiness to balance. It certainly seemed to slip down well. Later on that lunchtime I also sampled the Goachers Mild as well as their Imperial Stout, before returning to the Red Top for my last pint of the session.
The pub was packed; a mini-bus party from Whitstable having arrived shortly before us. There was also a good sprinkling of "locals", including a chap from Tunbridge Wells plus a cyclist from nearby Warehorne. Doris herself put in an appearance shortly afterwards, although she left the serving to Kate and her partner. Apart from crisps and nuts, the Red Lion doesn't serve food, but Doris was quite happy for us to sit in the games room and eat the sandwiches we had brought with us.
We stayed until closing time at 3pm. We were not particularly relishing the prospect of waking back along the busy A2080, so were therefore extremely grateful when we were offered a lift back to Appledore Station by a group of regulars. We piled into two cars, and in next to no time were deposited safe and sound back at the station. We had nearly half an hour before our train was due, so we popped into the adjacent, and very welcoming, Railway Hotel for a quick pint of St Austell Tribute before catching our train.
That wasn't quite the last pint of the day. We had decided to travel back to Tonbridge via Hastings; breaking our journey in the seaside town. I won't recount our afternoon and evening in Hastings apart from saying that we ended up in the FILO (First In Last Out), an old established home-brew pub in the Old Town. It was a good place to finish up at after what had been a most excellent day out.