For the last couple of years I've used my final day off in the year to have a walk around a number of the breweries and pubs surrounding Carlisle. This year I wanted to go slightly further afield and as a new brewery had started production this year in Penrith, the Eden Brewery (not to confused with the admittedly, confusingly similarly named, Eden Brewery St Andrews!), I'd contacted them and hoped to try some of their beers in or around Penrith.
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Outward travel was as follows:-
Train: Glasgow Central to Penrith
Bus: Penrith Train Station to Stainton (105 or X4/X5)
The way the train & bus times had worked out I had 3/4 of an hour or so before my connection to Stainton, just to the south-west of Penrith, so decided on a very short walk around Penrith. Almost overlooking the train station car park is the ruined Penrith Castle, which played a prominent role in the defence of England against the Pictish hoards.
I then found a good selection of interesting craft and food shops at the bottom of Brunswick Road towards the west of the town centre including this eponymous Deli - the special today was turkey, stuffing, chipolatas & cranberry sauce - all of Christmas in a single baguette!
Back up towards the train station I battled my way through the shoppers on full auto-pilot in Morrisons car park and decided to try the next-door Agricultural Hotel for a quick pre-noon half.
The hotel used to host Penrith's cattle auction in years gone by (which has re-located just out of town at the M6/A66 junction) and is now a Jennings pub (and as such part of the Marstons empire). The main bar is dominated by a fantastic high bar canopy/gantry complete with glass panels and this gave a nice intimate feel when at the bar. Available today were the Jennings regulars, Sneck Lifter, Cumberland Ale & Lakeland Bitter as well as Ringwood Old Thumper, English Pale Ale & Wychwood Bah Humbug, (all Marstons), so I got into the festive spirit I tried the Bah Humbug (just a bit too over-the-top spicy for me).
It's a nice place - they do lots of 'lite-bites' (Cumberland Sausage, Barms (floury buns with fillings) etc...) hold pub quizzes & raffles, have lots of papers available as well as a juke box and a real fire. However there was a definite sense of anticipation from the bar staff - they were on edge and waiting for the influx of diners for their sold out Christmas Lunch session. I also learnt that the staff call this Friday before Christmas 'Black-Eye Friday' (for obvious reasons) and were getting specific instructions on who not to serve. Hanging above the seating area for the Lunches were some serious saws & other bits of agricultural paraphernalia as well as a pretty scary Father Christmas!
Half pint finished I then walked back down to train station to wait for the local bus. Given the amount of traffic on the roads I though this could be fairly late, but I only had a wait of a few minutes before it turned up. This took me onto the A66 for a short distance and then into Stainton before dropping me off (very conveniently) almost at the door of the long Kings Arms public house.
The pub has been extended recently with the lower section now housing the local Post Office and newsagent - it's part of the Pub is the Hub initiative and seems to have the support of the entire village and further afield. Even though the Post Office was closed for lunch when I was around there were still people dropping off mail into a box in the pub - it's a great way to help out-of-town pubs stay open.
As I expected the Kings Arms was also set-up for a large number of Christmas meals (the restaurant certainly seemed fully booked) so rather than take up an entire table on my own I took a seat at the bar and ordered a beer and some food. The 3 hand-pulls were dispensing Black Sheep, Doom Bar and Brains Fir-King Good so I took a pint of the festive Fir-King Good (a pretty decent malty bitter) and waited for my meal. The bar was a mixture of old and new with lots of brass farming equipment & pictures of Ullswater in amongst a more modern dart-board clock and some sensible tables. The beams were interesting - covered with pump-clips (from Tirril, York and I spotted an Eden Best one as well), old paper currency, glass tankards from the Stainton Beer Festival in the summer and also lots of Christmas Cards in amongst the twinkling Christmas lights and tinsel.
Although I had the choice of a number of different soup-and-sandwich deals for lunch I went 'local' for the Cumberland Sausage & Chips, complete with massive onion rings and runny fried egg - absolutely superb.
The 2 young members of staff (kids, almost) were great - friendly, helpful and they were so pleasant & patient in dealing with the customers ("Usual table", "Remember your discount" etc...). In amongst all this the owner flitted about keeping things ticking over - it really is a very well run true community pub.
I then needed to walk off my huge lunch (at least to some extent). I first of all took a look at a hotel just down the road from the Kings Arms, the Brantwood Country Hotel. This seemed a classy & decent enough place but my worry was that if I went in I'd probably just sit at the bar and wait for the next bus back to Penrith Railway Station - not really what I wanted at that time, even though the mizzle was starting to make its damp appearance.
So instead I walked out of Stainton in the direction of Penrith. After passing the fairly large Lakes Free Range Egg Company premises I came to a road junction close to the A66. The impressive structure on the other side of the junction is the Rheged Discovery Centre, the largest grass covered building in Europe - somewhere in there are shops, a kids castle playground and a multi-screen cinema as well as a half-hidden petrol/service station for the A66.
Just to the south of the Rheged Centre I found a sign-posted path which eventually led me down to the banks of the River Eamont. This was very muddy, leafy & slippery in places, especially in the downhill sections close to the river - Wellie Boots would probably have been a better choice of footwear. However I eventually came to the 'Ironbridge' over the River Eamont - this was damaged by debris back in the floods of 2009 and a new elevated bridge put in place in 2011. Just as well since there wasn't another crossing for some miles in either direction.
I crossed the bridge and tramped my way over the sodden common ground (minding the sheep) into the village of Sockbridge and then further on to Tirril and the welcoming sight of the Queens Head Inn where I was hoping to take shelter from the increasingly persistent mizzle.
I'd been to the Queens Head before when visiting The Lakes quite a few years ago - back then it had been an independent free house with an attached microbrewery, but now it is a Robinsons establishment and the Tirril Brewery which used to be behind the pub has moved to Appleby. There's a large restaurant on the left of the building and a separate entrance for the bar on the right. The bar still has a nice traditional feel to it - really solid walls, a number of separate little alcoves, masses of dark wood, low beams with pewter tankards, a roaring fire and lots of books around the fireplace.
On at the bar were Robinsons Unicorn, Dizzy Blonde, Tom & Berry and Hartleys Cumbria Way - not a 'true' guest ale (again), although kegged Hawkshead Lakeland Lager was available. The Tom & Berry (ouch!) was really quite nice, a blend of their Old Tom with a rich tang of winter berries, and definitely one of the better winter ales I've had this year. The staff were welcoming and polite, but just seemed to be a bit too formal compared to the banter at the Kings Head.
Somewhat warmed up (inside and out) I headed up the road to the bus stop. This was situated opposite a very distinctive building - The Tirril and Sockbridge Reading Room and Library.
The bus to Penrith came dead on time, and would have dropped me back off at the Railway Station but because of the traffic jam going back into the centre of town I decided to get off early and walk through a housing estate to the Cranstons Cumbrian Food Hall, located on busy Ullswater Road on the south-west side of town.
Cranstons were originally formed as a butchers but have now expanded to provide a large range of local food and deli produce over a number shops. The Cumbrian Food Hall is huge - I don't think I've ever seen a more comprehensive selection of meat products - just the number of different types of sausages and cold meat were incredible.
In amongst all this was Jason Hill, co-owner of Eden Brewery - he'd been manfully holding a tasting in the Food Hall since 11:00am and I caught him just before he was due to clock off at 4:00pm.
Eden Brewery are another very new microbrewery - started in 2011, their beers are brewed on brand new 5 BBL plant at a former brewhouse in Brougham Hall, just outside Penrith. Since their beers appeared early in 2012 they've built up a nice range of cask and bottled beers with some interesting specials. Jason's a really enthusiastic guy with some great ideas and we chatted for quite some time whilst Jason led me through a tasting of all of their beers which were available today. The Eden Gold had a nice light citrus aroma & taste (Jason thought it had lost a bit of bite from the cask beer) whilst the Emperor IPA was an all-English dry & bitter IPA without too much of a floral flourish. The Raspberry was one of their special editions - with a sourish raspberry aroma & taste this was a great first-off attempt at the much neglected UK fruit beer style. Jason wants to do a real sour fruit beer, but is going to wait until next year's fruit crop since it seems to take an incredible amount of fruit to do this properly (and it's a pain to clean the brewing kit). Lastly there was the Route 66 Lager (the name works out well since they're just off the A66) which Jason had just collected the day before. I needed a first sip to clean my palate from the Raspberry but then I got a taste of a dry, crisp and bitter pils - really nice! This certainly had more bitterness than the St Andreas I tried a couple of weeks ago, but was perhaps not quite as smooth. Nonetheless both were were great lagers and it is so good to see more of this style of beer. Jason explained that this was a true bottom fermented pils, lagered for 5-6 weeks, with lots of Saaz hops and it had also been also dry hopped. It's only available in bottles at the moment, but Eden plan to keg it in the New Year where their competition will be in the serious form of Hawkshead Lakeland Lager - that's nothing if not ambitious. It was great to try Eden's beers and I left Jason to his final customers of the afternoon. I obviously had to take some beer away with me so I bought 3 bottles of Eden beers and also one from Hesket Newmarket on the recommendation of Jason from the large choice at the Food Hall in Cranstons - Cumbrian Legendary bottles & mini-kegs were also available.
With a small amount of free time still available I did try the Royal in Penrith (for a half of Otter Bitter) and drop back into the Agricultural for a quick Jennings Sneck Lifter (dark, malty - not bad) but by then Back-Eye Friday was definitely in full swing and I was happy to get out of the town centre and grab a coffee for my train journey back.
Bus: Tirril to Penrith (108)
Train: Penrith to Glasgow Central