Thursday, 23 July 2015

A short halt at Haltwhistle: 18th July 2015

This weekend I had hoped to head down to Stranraer where The Grapes pub was holding its annual beer festival, but the winds that had postponed the Open Golf at St Andrews had also decided to play havoc with the overhead lines on the train services to Ayrshire; summertime in Scotland can be (trying)interesting. Instead with my refunded fare I decided that an acceptable substitute for my day out was to travel down to Carlisle and then further on to Haltwhistle where I could visit a couple of pubs in Hadrian's Wall country.

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Central to Carlisle (Virgin Trains, frequent)
  Train: Carlisle to Haltwhistle (Northern Trains, 11:38)

The train to Haltwhistle was full of revellers starting off on their day-out to Newcastle so I was glad to leave after just 1 stop and find my way into the pretty small town of Haltwhistle (named after the land at the confluence of 2 rivers rather than anything to do with the railway, drats!). It bills itself as the town at the Centre of Britain (from a north-south and an east-west perspective) and there were a number of shops and a hotel extolling that 'fact'. In addition the market square in the centre of town was immaculately turned-out...

...and I loved Mr George's Museum of Time, a small watch/clock museum & gift shop on the east side of town (I'm sure Mr George reminded me of an Ayr-based ratebeer person of my acquaintance...).

I needed to head up north towards Hadrian's Wall and so took the Shield Hill road after the small Haltwhistle Burn. This was pretty steep (20 degrees according to the sign at the very top) and took me out into the rolling Cumbria/Northumberland farmland. From this vantage point I could clearly see the crag & quarry as well as the Roman Fort/Milecastle of Cawfields out in the distance.

The road then dropped slightly to the junction of the B6318 where I found the appealing sight of the stone-clad Milecastle Inn, with a fantastic beer garden out at the rear and some adjacent self catering cottages.

I walked in through the very low entrance-way door and found a deceptively large place inside, with a restaurant to the back left, a smaller snug at the front right and a central bar area with a few seats at the bar & a small number of tables around the sides.

I decamped at the table opposite the bar and took in the thick stone fireplace (the owner indicated that it had almost been lit today, in the middle of July), the black-boarded menu of starters & main courses (there was a lot of game available), all the stone cladding on the bar, rows of brass medallions, the low (probably false) ceiling with dark beams and even more medallions - all told it was a very cosy bar area indeed. From a beer point-of-view they have 3 hand-pulls which dispense only Newcastle-based Big Lamp Brewery beers, today the Bitter, Summer Daze and the Prince Bishop Ale were all on. I ordered a pint of Summer Daze (a bit yeasty off the top, light with some definite bitter lemon citrus; not bad at all) as well as a ham & cheese sandwich which was excellent - full of ham and with loads of pickle for that spicy finish.

I then (due to the way the train times had worked out) had to make a decision about where to go next - either to have a look at the Cawfields Roman site (which I'd last visited more than a decade ago) or take a longer walk to another pub, the Twice Brewed Inn, just over 2 miles away. Unsurprisingly the pub (and more than anything its name) won out and I headed out along the arrow straight B6318 Old Military Road. This was fairly busy with cars and cyclists but at least there was a decent enough verge outwith the white lines of the road to walk in. This took me past a number of small camp sites with some of the tents struggling in the strengthening breeze, but it wasn't too long before I was in sight of the sign for Twice Brewed (I was coming from the east, from the west the sign is actually for Once Brewed), with the pub/inn definitely named the Twice Brewed Inn.

The origin of the names of the hamlets seems to have been lost a bit in the mists of history - take your choice from having to brew beer twice to increase its strength for either the Yorkist Army in 1464 or the navvies building the Military Road in 1751, or from the fact that there are 2 brows (or brews) of hills where the Wall passes through the nearby drovers trail. In any case the hostelry was the Twice Brewed Inn well before the nearby Youth Hostel was built, and since this was designated to be tee-total, beverages were therefore only Once Brewed (as tea or coffee). All of this beer related history from the local signs had left me with a definite thirst and in the large narrow bar/lounge of the Twice Brewed Inn (with a huge restaurant at the rear) I could see 6 hand-pulls on at the central wooden bar, with local beers from Yates, Sonnet 43 (their Bourbon Milk Stout is lovely), Firebrick and Olde Potting Shed.

I decided I had to try the house-beer, the Twice Brewed Bitter from Yates', and it was... disappointing to say the least - a quite bland, very smooth, but only slightly bitter bitter.

Thankfully the Firebrick Pagan Queen pale ale was a lot more interesting (sweet & spicy, with a dry bitter-lemon finish), but the Twice Brewed Inn was just a bit too busy & hectic for my liking (although the staff were coping well), and so I decided to leave after the 1/2 of the Firebrick. Looking back on things there might have been a more direct route back to Haltwhistle but I decided to just re-trace my steps, this time definitely walking against the prevailing wind. Once I reached the Milecastle Inn I turned back south to Haltwhistle and this time with the steep slope in my favour I managed to get to the town centre in good time. I was therefore able to head along the High Street to Arkwrights (Off License, not Corner Shop) where I had hoped to pick up a few local beers for the journey back.

Sadly this was closed and it didn't seem as if it was just for a holiday; there was no stock and no fittings at all and the place looked as if it had been completely gutted. Instead I returned to the market square where a cobbled side-street led me the short distance to the Black Bull.

There's a huge partially walled-off beer garden across the cobbled lane at the front of the building and inside it's also an interesting, welcoming place. It's quite long & narrow with a central bar at the back, a seating area on the left with quite a few tables & seats and a large standing area on the right which was busy even mid-afternoon on a Saturday. I liked the low ceilings, the stone fireplace, the dark beams with horse brasses, all of the measuring jugs and the books strewn about the crevices in the walls, and I also liked the range of beers that was available, from High House Farm, Allendale, Jennings and Courage (and a coming next selection on the blackboard).

I ordered a pint of the High House Farm Nettle Beer (sweet & spicy, resiny, with a pungent herbal-bitter finish), a glass of water and some bacon-flavour fries and chatted to the barmaid about what had happened to Arkwrights. She indicated that it had only closed down in the last couple of weeks and hadn't been helped by some strange opening times and by not being willing to promote their differences or drink-related events in comparison to the local supermarkets (there's both a Sainsburys and a large Co-op in Haltwhistle). After a quick pint and an even quicker change of T-shirt I headed back along the High Street to Haltwhistle train station. It's a classic Victorian station with a number of still complete features including an old fashioned lever-powered signalling box high-up over the line (now replaced by an electronic one) and also a large be-titled water tank for the steam trains on the northern platform.

Return travel:-
  Train: Haltwhistle to Carlisle (Northern Trains, 15:18 + others)
  Train: Glasgow Central to Carlisle (Virgin Trains, frequent, although some can terminate at Carlisle at short notice!)

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

A walk down the Eden Valley from Lazonby to Armathwaite: 4th July 2015

With the continuing work in the Winchburgh Tunnel on the main railway line from Glasgow to Edinburgh it's actually been far quicker to get to Carlisle than to Edinburgh during this Summer of 2015, so this weekend I decided to head down that way and then get the train further down the River Eden valley to Lazonby & Kirkoswald where the 6th Kirkoswald Beer and Music Festival was taking place.

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Central to Carlisle (Virgin Trains, frequent)
  Train: Carlisle to Lazonby (Northern Trains, 11:51)

As I was coming into Carlisle train station I noticed a large van and signage for Border City Cycle Hire in one of the city centre car parks which I hadn't seen before. Since I had a bit of time to spare between trains I decided to go and investigate and headed out alongside the high railway arches to Town Dyke Orchard Car Park, only about a 5 minutes’ walk from the station. In the top section of the car park I found the van I was looking for and an accompanying fold-out tent/awning.

I popped my head into the tent and found the owner Mike, an engaging & enthusiastic guy, who beckoned me in for a chat. Mike explained that he'd only been going since April and had (eventually) managed to negotiate a decent deal with Carlisle Council for his 'patch' in the car park where he hires bikes on Fridays, Saturday, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays. He's only hiring out mountain bikes at the moment, not race bikes, but can provide a slicker tyre for these bikes for any longer distance cycle path rides. He's got a number of routes setup using Google Maps, and I certainly fancy both the route west to Bowness-on-Solway & Port Carlisle via the Drover's Rest and also east along the course of Hadrian's Wall. I told Mike that I had thought about hiring a bike to get to Kirkoswald today but the thunder, lightning & torrential rain during the early hours of the morning had made me decide against it. I really hope he does well; hopefully I'll be back to hire a bike down Carlisle-way sometime later in the summer.

By now I needed to get my train to Lazonby so I bade Mike farewell and retraced my steps back to the station. This Northern Line service is actually from Carlisle to Leeds, but it's known as the Settle Line and goes through some incredibly scenic countryside and amazing viaducts, but it does take an inordinate amount of time to get to Leeds, close on 3 hours! Thankfully I wasn't going that far, only 2 stops down the line to Lazonby, although the name of the station is actually Lazonby & Kirkoswald with the actual station in Lazonby and Kirkoswald a good 15-20 minute walk away. Train journey done, I headed through the main street of Lazonby and came to a small garage with a couple of classic cars in the showroom (on display only and not for sale the sign said)...

...and also the Joiner's Arms pub, which didn't seem to be particularly busy, or even open, at a fair time after midday.

The road between the two villages then crosses the river via the single-carriageway Lazonby Eden Bridge, a lovely red sandstone structure dating back to 1762. There are now motion sensitive traffic lights to control the flow of vehicles on the bridge and there are some passing places for pedestrians.

I walked up the hill into Kirkoswald and noted both the extensive Kirkoswald Estate and The Parish Church of Saint Oswals, the latter being somewhat unique in that the bell-tower for the church is situated on a hill about 200 metres away from the actual church - I assume higher up means that the bells are heard over a longer distance.

There's only really one main street in Kirkoswald and in it I found the old market square where a marquee had been put up for the live music later on in the day (held down by empty casks, a good use of these) and also the be-flagged Village Hall where the official part of the beer festival was being held.

There was a £4 entry fee for a glass, and then it was raffle tickets for the beers (£1.50 for a 1/2-pint) with a nice selection of fairly local beers (Fell, Lancaster, Allendale, Ilkley, Old School and Bridestones were all present) served on hand-pull by some cheery, chatty staff.

I took a 1/2 of the Allendale California Common (slightly sugary sweet, light lemon and a dry, not too bitter-lemon finish - nice) and had a look at the rest of the village hall. This Saturday they were showcasing some local arts, crafts and food producers with some interesting examples of needlework, pictures, pottery, home-made chutneys...

...and home-baking. I was really spoilt for choice here but decided on the maltesers-infused tiffin cakes, surely a contender for craft-baking here!

I checked that it was OK to wander about the village with my 'glass' glass and headed over the road where idyllic looking surroundings of The Fetherston Arms beckoned.

They were co-hosting and supporting the Beer Festival and so there were *a lot* of hungover and somewhat quietly spoken people in here. I headed to the bar where I was able to exchange another token for a 1/2 pint of beer (Wold Top Headland Red, a very good impersonation of a malty sweet Scottish 80/-) and established that the only food that was going to be served all morning & afternoon would be a cooked breakfast (meat or veggie) - who was I to argue with that, so I chose the meat option.

As well as the centrally located bar there is a child-friendly restaurant-area at the back of the premises (with an outside beer garden), what seemed to be a function-space/dance-floor at the right side and another smaller seating area at the front left - it looked like a classic, well-run country pub. I went to sit in the front section at the very corner, and as well as the large number of pump-clips adorning the wall, there seemed to be the possibility of someone playing darts just over my head.

My lunchtime breakfast arrived (just before a rush of further yellow T-shirted beer festival staff) and was extremely impressive; I wasn't going to need anything else to eat for the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening.

As well as The Fetherston Arms there's another great pub in the village, also adjacent to the old market square, The Crown Inn.

According to some of the locals the food provision is meant to be as good, if not better than The Fetherston Arms, but although the beer selection is more than acceptable, The Fetherston Arms probably shades it in terms of superior choice and turnover.

In addition they weren't accepting any beer festival tokens so I headed back into the sanctuary of the village hall to use up my tokens. I eventually finished off with a beer from Annan-based Andrews Ales, with their Into The Darkness strong mild probably being the best quality/conditioned pint that I'd had from them - good stuff indeed.

I wasn't 100% sure if I was actually going to be able to go on my walk since the Settle Line trains are pretty infrequent (my other option would have been to stay at Kirkoswald for another couple of hours, no real hardship) but my lunch had come in good time and I thought I would be able to make it OK. I left the village by the well-named Potters Bank hill and it was a bit of an undulating walk through the quiet backroads of eastern Cumbria until the well-manicured lawns of Staffield Hall upmarket holiday cottages. Here the road dropped towards one of the tributaries of the River Eden, the Croglin Water, but there was no sign of any Croglin Vampires of folklore or even a Croglin Vampire beer.

It was then a walk of another couple of miles past a lot of dense green woodland before the road dropped again towards the banks of the River Eden. Just after the Armathwaite village sign and before the bridge over the Eden I came to the lovely looking Fox and Pheasant Inn, a Robinson's pub.

It's setup as both a B&B/Inn with a number of rooms upstairs in the main building and in the ex-stable extensions, and also a country pub/restaurant. I entered from the side door and had to watch my head on the very low set of stairs which took me into the narrow bar area and further on into the narrow, but very long Stable Barn Restaurant. I ordered a glass of water and a 1/2 of the Robinson's season guest, Wizard amber ale (being heavily promoted, and not too bad, but which needed a bit more intensity) and sat down opposite the dark panelled wooden bar counter to recover somewhat after my fast walk.

Even mid-afternoon it seemed like a busy place, the staff were chatty & efficient, I liked the cosy bar area (all those hanging tankards) and there were lots of tables outside in the courtyard/car park within what must be a stone's throw of the River Eden. And when I crossed the river I could see that it had widened out and calmed down considerably compared to the crossing at Lazonby/Kirkoswald.

When I got into Armathwaite proper I had high hopes that the other pub in the village, the Dukes Head Inn, would also be open, but it seemed to be shut until 6pm, drats!

Instead I headed to the small post office/shop where I bought an ice cream and headed up the hill (another one) to the picture-perfect Armathwaite train station (it's a good walk up to the Carlisle side of the track under the bridge). Here I ate the ice cream in the company of one of my fellow passengers who was quite happy to chat away and give me some idea of nearby country pubs for food and beer - always great to get some local inside information for further trips out to this lovely part of the country.

Return travel:-
  Train: Armathwaite to Carlisle (Northern Trains, 15:11 + later)
  Train: Carlisle to Glasgow Central (Virgin Trains, frequent)