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.