Monday, 31 October 2011

Linlithgow Loch and The Four Marys: 29th October 2011

After a long weekend in London last week I really only wanted a fairly quiet time this weekend. However with a small beer festival at The Four Marys in Linlithgow and the #glasgowbeer twissup I suspected this wasn't going to be the case.

Normally I walk along the Union Canal from either Falkirk or Polmont to Linlithgow, but I just didn't have the time today. So this time it was just a matter of going straight into Linlithgow and having a short walk around the Loch before seeing what beers were on at The Four Marys' Beer Festival.

View Linlithgow in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train : Glasgow Queen St to Linlithgow (15 and 45 on the hour)

As you arrive by train, the most prominent feature in Linlithgow is the impressive aluminium spire on St Michael's Church, which really catches the light.

I popped my head into The Four Marys just to check that the beer festival was on (yes - hooray!), but it was the height of lunchtime, really packed-out, so I decided to get some food somewhere else. Linlithgow's a pretty small place so it was only a short walk up the length of the High Street to the West Port Hotel, a very, very, very long Maclays pub.

The bar was quiet, but had a decent selection of wraps, sandwiches and main meals. And newspapers - I like newspapers in pubs! Lunch was a tuna-mayo wrap and salad with a pint of Landlord - don't think there's too much better for a quick and easy lunch (well - maybe a Laurieston pie!).

Afterwards I did try for a beer in the Black Bitch Tavern next door, but only Belhaven IPA was on. I decided I could live my life without trying another pint of that so just took a photo of the doorway.

If you look you can see the Linlithgow coat of arms on either side of the door - a black greyhound against an oak tree.The story goes that a criminal sentenced to death was chained to an oak tree on a small island in the middle of the loch. Instead of starving to death the chained man stayed alive and healthy for some time (as much as you can be when chained up). It was found out that the criminal's pet, a black greyhound bitch, had been swimming to the island at night with food for her master. When the town leaders discovered this they rewarded the dog’s loyalty by also chaining it to the tree! As time went by and the story was retold, the townspeople took the symbol of the dog's loyalty as their own and to this day any true Linlithgow local is supposedly proud to be called a 'Black Bitch' - a nice story!

Now it was time for my walk around the Loch. It's about a 2.5km circular route so only takes 30-40 minutes, depending on how often you stop (although there are not many real islands now - just the odd tree). The ruins of Linlithgow Palace are prominent just to the north of the town centre, located in a park on the lochside. The palace was frequently used by the Kings (and Queens) of Scotland until it was burned in 1746 by the government troops who were chasing the fleeing Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Now it was time to head to The Four Marys on the High Street.

The pub sign depicts the titular Four Marys - the four Ladys-in-Waiting of Mary Queen of Scots who was born at Linlithgow Palace.

I think I first came to The Four Marys close on 20 years ago after an Indian meal just up the road, and I was blown away by the fact that there were 6 real ales - what a choice way back then. It was indepedantly owned, but now it's part of the Belhaven/GK estate, but I have to admit they have looked after the place well. They still have bi-annual beer festivals and the choice of beer is pretty good, with only a few sneaky Belhaven/GK inclusions.

Today there were 20 ales on - 8 on the front bar

and 12 in the back (normally a dining room).

The back room probably only holds ~50 people and it was packed at 3pm. It has really thick stone walls and works well as a complete communications dead zone - no WiFi or 3G was possible. Good in some ways, but a pain in others.

The bar staff and locals I spoke to were all friendly (and really polite), with treats such as pies and tablet brought in for anyone who wanted it.

Beer wise there was a selection from Scottish and England, but I definitely preferred the Scottish beers this time - full selection here. Stewart's Pumpkin Ale was spicy, with a nice kick and not sweet at all, Harviestoun's Hoptoberfest was very bitter and the bitterness just lingered a bit too much for my liking, and then there was Williams Brothers October Zest.

First of all I could smell this from arms-length - different - it was a smell of concentrated lemon & lime cordial and sunshiny washing-up liquid. Then tasting it there was a mass of really bitter hops, accompanied by very sharp, but still smooth lime and grapefruit citrus - it really was a full-on explosion on my tastebuds. I wasn't sure at all that I liked this at first - there was way too much going-on, but my sub-conscious was already making me take another mouthfull. And this continued to the end of the glass - every time not quite sure if I could manage it, but always having to make sure that the extreme flavours I had tasted were still going to be there. I think by the end of the half pint I had decided that I really liked it, but I don't think I could have had more than one (or perhaps 2) pints. But it certainly was different and some way to showcase the Nelson Sauvin hops in comparison to some of the examples that I'd had previously.

Return transport:-
  Train : Linlithgow to Glasgow Queen St (03 and 33 on the hour)

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