The Northern part of East Ayrshire has a bit of a harsh/rough reputation but I've always found the pubs there to be more than welcoming (although I don't go down in the evening too often). Today I decided to go to a number of pubs close to the Glasgow - Kilmarnock train line and see how some of them had changed since I last visited (probably 3-4 years ago), although due to reasons of time and associated connections I couldn't manage Kilmarnock itself or the town of Kilmaurs just outside Kilmarnock.
View N. Ayrshire in a larger map
Outward travel was as follows:-
Train: Glasgow Central to Stewarton (12 & 42 on the hour)
My first stop was the Millhouse Hotel (main web-site seems down) a distinctive stone-clad building with outside beer garden on the edge of Stewarton, but only a 5-minute or so walk from the train station.
I knew that the place had been up for sale for quite some time (a number of years I think), but it was now proclaiming 'Under New Management' and from talking to the friendly barmaid it seemed that this had only happened in the last few months. They'd built up a good reputation for real ale and thankfully that still seemed to be present - there were 3 hand pulls with 2 Arran beers on for £2.90/pint, Arran Blonde and Clyde Puffer (with Orkney Dark Island and Wylam Red Kite on next). I don't think I'd had the Puffer before on cask, a sort of cross between a traditional fruity 70/- and a darker porter - very nice and with a great design of Arran pump-clip.
There was a steady stream of people heading into the upper restaurant for lunch, but I stayed in the bar with its exposed stone walls (very Brewdog-like!), Arran pictures, barometers, spotlights and Sky TV (very un-Brewdog-like!).
The soup & sandwich deal for lunch was really good - only £5, with the spicy cajun chicken sandwiches probably making me almost unapproachable for the rest of the afternoon.
I walked back to the train station via Stewarton main street - there was a decent Deli on the corner of the main cross street (Borlands), but the only other place to get some interesting beer was likely to be the large Sainsburys just down from the station.
I got back on the train for the short journey to Dunlop and emerged into some serious hail and driving rain (the first of the year - not too bad!). I headed down the main street to what looked like a row of cottages, but hidden in there was a tiny pub called the Auld Hoose. Unfortunately my luck was out since there was a small notice on the door indicating 'Pub open today at 4pm' - a definite shame as it seemed like a great old-fashioned place.
After a few choice words to myself I decided that I wasn't getting any drier and so re-traced my steps back towards the centre of the village. Thankfully the only other pub within 5 miles, the Village Inn, was open.
This is another place which has also recently changed hands and the new owner has decided to experiment with and promote a real ale - today it was Houston's APA (American Pale Ale), a quite decent citrusy golden ale, but really needing a lot more hops and body to be classed as an APA. Only the bar was open this afternoon with the small space pretty busy with people sheltering from the rain and watching the Scottish football on the TV. Inside the place has some exposed brick work, a couple of brewery mirrors and a lot of hand-written signs and the banter between the locals got pretty 'earthy' at times, but nothing too serious. I took a quick look around as I left and the place has a decent lounge with a pool table and a restaurant which needs a bit (probably quite a lot) of work done to it, but it's an OK place to stop for a real ale and a packet of bacon flavour fries.
Next I had a short wait for the bus to Lugton. I got off at the junction of the main A736 road and the site of the old Lugton Inn. This was an Inn for over a century and also housed a small brewery from 1995-2000, but went out of business quite suddenly and then the whole place burned down in 2005. I only went there once, met the owner who was a 'bit of a character', and tried the Lugton Gold lager which I remember as being very sweet. I also remember having one of the chewiest steaks ever, which eventually had to be re-cooked at least twice, and which probably contributed to my one and only visit.
Across the road is the Canny Man (it was previously the Paraffin Lamp), now operated by the same people who have the Piersland House in Troon - both are really classy places.
There's a great beer garden/patio and kids play area outside, a number of separate partially walled-off dining areas, a nice long bar with comfy seats and great, well-trained staff in bright, modern surroundings. The only thing that seemed a bit strange was that they don't do food between 2:30-5:00pm on Saturdays (but do on Sundays) - a number of people were turned away just after 3:00pm.
Like the Piersland they have a decent selection of ales with Orkney Dark Island, Arran Blonde (with the old style of pump-clip) and the house ale Canny Man from Houston on today - although I suspect the latter might well have been a re-badged Peters Well.
Since I'd managed to make all my connections to Lugton there was now no choice but to walk up to Uplawmoor (technically in Renfrewshire, not Ayrshire, but I didn't think I'd need my passport) irrespective of the weather. There was no way I could walk up the main A736 road so my best option was to try a number of the farm roads and then head into Uplawmoor from an easterly direction. This actually proved to be fairly straightforward with the farm roads being narrow, but well maintained and completely traffic free. On a fairly dreich day like today there wasn't too much to see apart from the farm fields (it's not a 'real' moor like Eaglesham) so I just put my head down and walked the 3 miles or so until the Uplawmoor Hotel (another place which had previously been up for sale - don't know if it still is).
The lounge bar was pretty busy on a late Saturday afternoon with a fair amount of families in for an early meal. The staff were smartly dressed, mostly very, very young (and quiet), but still capable of pouring a decent pint of Kelburn Red Smiddy (the other choice was Houston Killellan), which seemed a lot maltier than on some of the previous occasions that I'd tried it, really nice. The last time I was in the Uplawmoor Hotel was probably about 7-8 years ago and I don't think it's really changed too much in the interim with the same copper bar-top, tartan decor, background music from The Carpenters and notices up for the Neilston Show in a couple of weeks time.
The heavens opened again as I was about to leave and so I waited for my bus under the canopy at the entrance of the Hotel taking in the great display of tulips.
The bus dropped me off in the centre of Barrhead and it was a short walk to Barrhead Station and the connection to Glasgow Central. I had hoped to visit the Cross Stobs Inn and the adjoining Cross Stobs Wine bottle shop just up from the Station but I'll leave that for another time.
Train: Stewarton to Dunlop
Bus: Dunlop to Lugton (Stagecoach West, 337)
Bus: Uplawmoor to Barrhead (Hendersons Coaches, 395)
Train: Barrhead to Glasgow Central