I seem to have visited the Falkirk & Larbert area quite often in the last 6 months - I guess that's partly because it's a natural intersection point between Glasgow & Edinburgh and partly because there are a number of decent pubs and beer festivals held around that way. Anyway this weekend was the Larbert Beer Festival organised by the Forth Valley CAMRA people and I was a bit stuck about how to combine a visit to the Festival with a pub visit/walk in the surrounding area that I hadn't been to before. The best compromise that I could come up with was to visit a couple of the nearby(ish) Wetherspoon's pubs (since their 'World's Biggest Real Ale Festival' was still on), including the new Wetherspoon's in Cumbernauld (the Carrick Stone) and then spend a couple of hours at the Festival.
View Larbert BF in a larger map
Outward Travel was as follows:-
Train: Glasgow Westerton to Coatbridge Sunnyside (Queen Street Low Level line)
Coatbridge Central to Cumbernauld (48 on the hour)
Bus: Cumbernauld to Croy (22, 52 - 43 Peter Canavan Buses)
Train: Croy to Larbert (05, 35 on the hour)
The last time I was in Coatbridge I visited the Summerlee Industrial Museum, highly recommended for anyone interested in the technology (some big machines) and lifestyle of the Industrial Revolution, but today I simply walked along pedestrianised Coatbridge High Street with the high-rise multis as my sighting point to the Vulcan - one of the first JD Wetherspoons pubs in Scotland and named after the first iron boat to be built in Scotland (which I just happen to have a photo of from last year).
It's fairly small for a Wetherspoon's with more dark wood panelling than normal, but the staff are certainly hard working (the hand-pulls were being polished until they gleamed) and friendly enough. There are only 6 hand-pulls here, but the Festival Ales (& Cider) were on at an incredible price - £1.30 a pint - probably the cheapest Wetherspoons around! I had 3 1/3rds of Wadworth Swordfish, Moorhouse APA and Cairngorm Wildcat, with the APA being the outstanding beer - light, citrusy and perfect for a sunny day.
I steered away from the racing on the TV and was magnetically drawn to sit beside the pillar of pump-clips - I don't think I'd seen that before in a Wetherspoon's and I definitely like it.
I then headed to the other station in Coatbridge, Coatbridge Central - unfortunately a fairly sad and derelict place with large black crows hopping around the platform gorging on the previous night's spilt takeaways. I got on the train from Motherwell to Cumbernauld (a connection which I hadn't know existed until this weekend) for the 15 minute journey through the North Lanarkshire countryside to 'New Town' of Cumbernauld. In the days before Sat Nav & Google Maps I've gotten lost a couple times in the warren or roundabouts & footpaths in Cumbernauld, but now there are countdown signs from the Station, e.g. 'Town Centre 12 minutes', although at present a large building site interrupts these signs which forced me into a slight detour, but nothing serious.
In the Civic Centre car park in centre of town I came across this, the first time I'd ever seen a set of electric car charging points - see here for more details.
The Carrick Stone is one of the newest Wetherpoons in Scotland, having opened in January this year (P.S. it's not a real cow out front!)
The place is situated at the tail end of a shopping centre (with great views of Poundland and Home Bargains). I liked the lights both at the bar (filmy) and in the centre of the room (multiple entangled spotlights) and there's an upstairs (which I didn't see).
There are 8 hand-pulls (although the Ruddles, Abbot & Deuchers seem fairly permanent) in here. This time my 3 1/3rds were £2.15 and I had the Burov Imperial Stout, Zulu Blonde and another Swordfish, with the Burov Imperial Stout being by far the most interesting this time. It was very smooth, with a bitter chocolate alcohol hit at the end. At 'only' 6.5% it may not be all that Imperial, but it was certainly more than worthwhile trying.
I then had a decision about how to get to Larbert. Walk back to the Station, get the train to Camelon and walk up to Larbert, or get the bus to Croy Station and hope I could get on the very tight connecting train to Larbert. I chose the latter, but should have known that the bus would be late on a busy shopping Saturday. I missed the train by a few minutes, but this meant I could get a coffee and a roll & sausage from the kiosk at Croy Station - really good prices and cheerful service here.
From Larbert Station it's only 5 minutes walk to the Dobbie Hall, an impressive ashlar stone building built in 1901.
They have a bit of a strange purchasing system here with your £10 for beer buying an almost scratchcard-like 'card' with a number of different value cash circles, which are then scored out as required when you buy a beer - you just have to remember to keep that card! Inside the main hall it was busy, but not completely packed with most of the beers still on mid-way through Saturday afternoon (I managed to get the very last of the Cromarty Brewing Happy Chappy - phew!).
I recognised quite a few people and it's always fun to have a chat or even just a quick word with people such as Dave from DemonBrew, Ronnie & James from the 3 Judges in Glasgow and a couple of the Forth Valley CAMRA guys. It's also nice to give the odd bit of advice, but I'll have to admit Ronnie's far better than myself at that!
Beer of festival for me was Farmers Golden Boar, brewed using a massive amount of cascade hops to give a very intense dry, bitter-fruit aftertaste - superb, but Otley Croes-O and Tyrst Dark Toffee Porter were also great to try. It's a really good Festival, with an interesting mix of local beers and those from further afield - well done to all involved and I look forward to the 'sister' Festival at Alloa in October.
Train: Larbert to Glasgow Queen Street (02, 32 on the hour)