Monday, 5 March 2012

Ayr to Robert Burns Beer Festival (A Peck O' Maut): 3rd March 2012

I was thinking of walking from Ayr to Alloway & the Brig'o'Doon at some point in the summertime, but the 1st Robert Burns Beer Festival (sub-titled A Peck O' Maut) caught my attention (graphic below). The reference is to "Willie Brew'd A Peck o' Maut", a Burns poem/song, roughly interpreted that William Nicol, one of Burns' friends, made a malted brew of ~23pints (I think), enough for the 3 people named in the song (including the legendary imbiber Burns himself) to get fairly drunk!
This gave me the perfect excuse to walk from Ayr to Alloway, visit a few hotels that I'd frequented when I was living on the Ayrshire coast and then drop into the Beer Festival at some point in the afternoon.

View Roberts Burns in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Central to Ayr (00 & 30 on the hour)

I managed to resist the (pretty strong) temptation to drop-in at the Glenpark Hotel, Wellington's & Geordies Byre (all great places & blogged about here) and instead turned left out of Ayr Station and found my way through a number of tree-lined streets to Racecourse Road and the Old Racecourse Hotel, an elegant Edwardian building.

The bar area was pretty busy with the early football game being shown and I'd normally be quite happy stay in there, but the approx. 90dB noise and my slight hangover took me into the lounge (thankfully nice and tranquil) for a very welcome chicken broth and some lovely warm bread - great! On hand-pull were a couple of beers - Kelburn Misty Law and Box Steam Chuffin Ale, the latter being a far tastier bitter than I remembered from a 1/2 pint last year. The large (and fairly colourful) lounge area can be split into 2, with a huge mirror in the front room - the waitress mentioned that it gets really busy on Sunday afternoons for the roast lunch, not surprising at all.

Almost directly across the road is Chestnuts Hotel, another really elegant hotel on this highly des-res street.

There's an efficient 'front of house' here with the main man directing people to the restaurant, bar or check-in desk. The bar was really busy today, with the majority of the elderly clientele in for lunch. On hand-pull were Old Speckled Hen, Suffolk Springer and Strathaven Timorous Beastie (difficult to read from an upside down pump-clip - I gave the barman some good-natured stick for that!). There's a lot of golf prints and associated memorabilia in the place, but the most interesting feature is the collection water-jugs, hung high-up on all 4 walls of the bar - unusual and most impressive.

As with the Old Racecourse Hotel there's a a great outdoor seating area here with a play section for kids - great in the summer.

Coming out of Chestnuts I skirted the playing fields at the edge of Belleisle Park where the old Ayr Racecourse used to be (hence the name of the street!). There is a popular youth football competition called the Land O’Burns Festival held here every August and I remember being utterly amazed at the number of football pitches and simultaneous games (8x 11-a-side & 8x 7-a-side) being held the last time I walked past this.

At the top corner of the playing fields is the Abbotsford Hotel, possibly even trumping the other 2 hotels in terms of ivy-coated elegance and finery.

I'd never been in before even though I'd spent over 10 years living in Ayrshire but I'll happily admit that I'd missed something special. The main 'Copper Bar' is seriously impressive - a large shimmering copper bartop and almost everything else in there is copper clad as well - table tops, ice-buckets, water jugs, decorative utensils etc..., the photo really doesn't do it justice. Add in at least three whisky/brewery mirrors (especially the fantastic Youngs/Fisherrow one), stained glass windows, clay masks of Burns characters and Andy Capp cartoons above the bar, and I'd have to say this is one of the most stunning small hotel bars I've ever been into - I was completely gob-smacked & grinning like a loon during my entire visit. The beer choice wasn't adventurous - Deuchars, 80/- and they'd just put in a new hand-pump with Pedigree, but the addition of that 3rd hand pull has at least meant the possibility of more interesting guest ales.

After this it was a straight walk along Monument Road past the Belleisle and Seafield golf courses (the former is a real challenge to play - just remember the anti-midge cream in the summer) and into Alloway. I thought the Beer Festival was going to be in the new Robert Burns Birthplace Museum but it was actually being held in the Education Pavillion next to the Burns Cottage in Alloway High Street.

I decided to walk up to the museum in any case - this is a new, modern, state-of-the-art, tourist attraction with a dedicated footpath from Alloway High Street peppered with statues of some of Burns' characters (this guy is not quite the 'wee, skleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie' of lore !).

When I got back to the Cottage I paid my £5 for entry (for a 1/2 pint tankard glass, a nice change) and went into the Pavillion. The Ayrshire CAMRA people were helping out with this (they do a great job with the Troon/Ayrshire Beer Festival) and it was then just a matter of buying some beer tokens (£1.50 for a half pint) before quenching my thirst.

The beer had come from 'local' Scottish breweries in the south-west - Arran, Ayr, Houston, Sulwath, Strathaven and Kelburn, with Ayr producing a special celebration beer for the event - Peck O' Maut Ale. This was a very dark, slightly bitter ale, almost a cross between a Porter and a 80/-, but there were certainly a few hops in there in comparison to a lot of the other 70/- type ales available.

The beers were being served on gravity in the main room, but there were also a couple of other rooms in which food (pies, chips etc...) could be bought - I had the haggis pie, not bad at all. You could also take your beer outside to some benches and even into the gardens, but not into the Cottage itself.

Whilst I was there there were a couple of short talks regarding Burns, his songs & poems and malting/brewing/distilling with the NTS staff more than helpful in providing explanations, further information and things to look at in the building. Wellington Boot throwing was meant to be happening in the garden at some point - I can't remember seeing that at any other beer festival!

There was a nice relaxed atmosphere in the place and I would love to have stayed for the Festival Ceilidh in the evening. However the likelihood of my making it back to Glasgow afterwards would have been pretty well non-existant, so I headed off (still in the daylight) back to Ayr train station full of local ale and verse from our National Bard.

Return transport:-
  Bus: Alloway to Ayr, Burns Statue Square (57 Stagecoach West, 51 on the hour)
  Train: Ayr to Glasgow Central (13 & 43 on the hour)

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