Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Kippen & Gargunnock to Stirling: 21st July 2012

It's always great to try beer from a new Scottish brewery and I'd been wanting to try some from the recently de-cloaked Fallen Brewery just outside Stirling - see the Beercast for more details (although note that at the moment their beers are being brewed at the nearby TSA plant). By lucky chance I'd never been to most of the pubs in the Forth Valley where some of the first Fallen beers were likely to be found so a nice afternoon searching for beer in country pubs in rural Stirlingshire beckoned.

View Forth Valley in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen Street to Stirling
  Bus: Stirling to Kippen (12 First in Scotland, 00 on the hour)

The way the train & bus times had worked out I would have had a half hour wait for the bus out to Kippen from Stirling bus station so I decided to make use of the time by walking out to the newly opened Inn at Torbrex on the south-west side of Stirling.

It's owned by the same people who have the the Birds and the Bees on the north side of Stirling and since that place has been very successful (DRAM Gastropub of the Year 2011) they've kept to a similar family-friendly, food-led format for the Inn at Torbrex. Although it dates back over 300 years it's only been open in its latest incarnation for about 4 weeks and this definitely shows - everything was incredibly shiny & new! Thankfully they've kept to their 'tradition' of having a Williams Brothers house ale and the Torbrex Red Ale was very nice indeed - extremely malty with lots of berry flavours, and quite a bitter, spicy finish (I'm not sure if this is the same as the 'normal' Williams Red - I'll have to try this again sometime soon). In addition there was Fraoch and Deuchars IPA on hand-pull at the bar as well as Caledonian Best, Estrella Damm & other 'standard' draught beers and a decent whisky selection as befits a 'Malt and Ale Bar'.

It's certainly less rustic and more modernly minimalistic than the Brids and the Bees with a backlit bar, lots of spotlights, some candles & lanterns dotted about (which I almost knocked off some shelves), lots of tables for dining and an upstairs function room. The only slightly incongruous part of the decor (listen to me speak) was down in the corner where the round mirror, lamp-stand and high backed chair took me back to my granny's sitting room! The service was certainly prompt & helpful, there was a good amount of banter between the staff, and my soup and sandwich (again!) was an excellent lunch-time deal - the mushroom & tarragon soup was quite excellent.

I think I must have been in and out of the place in about 40 minutes, and then walked up past the Kings Park to the main road out of Stirling to wait for my bus connection. I had hoped to have a look around The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum, but it was undergoing a serious renovation, although I think the cafe and some exhibition(s) were still open.

In any case I decided to get a few shots of Stirling Castle, the Kings Knot gardens and the Trossach hills across the Forth and Teith valleys.

It's a very flat road out to Gargunnock & Kippen following the River Forth and today it was incredibly busy with cyclists (shouldn't they have turned right at the Eiffel Tower !?). The bus dropped me off in the centre of Kippen and I went in search of a couple of pubs, the first of which was The Inn at Kippen.

This is another food-led modern place with lots of tables at the front of the building for diners and a small bar at the back. There was a tap dispensing Houston Peter's Well so I took a half of this and went out into the well appointed beer garden further out through the back of the building. This has a superb BBQ/grill/oven built into one of the walls and a large number of seats, but was very empty today.

There's a small convenience store on the main street in Kippen and also a great deli & cafe called Berits & Brown, one of a number in central Scotland. They have a nice selection of cheese, meats etc... and also a more than decent beer choice with a number of bottles from Fyne Ales and (lurking in one corner) bottles of Fallen Brewing Blackhouse smoked porter - excellent - a good back-up in case I didn't find any cask beer.

I paid for a bottle and stashed it in amongst the complete set of dry clothes that I was being forced to carry in my ruck sack during the Scottish summer and headed down the main street to the other pub in Kippen, The Cross Keys.

As soon as I stepped into the upper lounge I could tell that this was going to be a cracking pub. It looked very traditional - lots of darks wood panneling, exposed stonework, low ceilings & wooden beams, with the lounge, bar & restaurant all on different levels with fairly steep steps between them.

And when I asked about local beer I was told there was a Fallen Brewing beer on hand-pull down in the bar - hooray! This was the cask version of the Blackhouse smoked porter and it really was quite impressive - chocolate, coffee, a nice feel to it and quite a lot of smoky peat in the aftertaste - great for a first out beer.

Interestingly it seems as if The Cross Keys is about to select a house ale, which will also be brewed by Fallen Brewing, and they've decided to get people involved with the selection process by hosting a series of tastings - a very smart idea for both the pub and the fledgling brewery.

As I headed out one of the staff mentioned that I should sneak a view from the beer garden - and what a fantastic view there is out to the Trossachs (I think that is Ben Ledi out past Callandar in the distance).

I'd seen that there seemed to be a decent trail connecting Kippen to Gargunnock, about 4 miles to the east. This actually turned out to be the path of an old Military Road which linked Stirling all the way to Dumbarton (connecting 2 military garrisons).
It was well kept in most places, with just a single field of cows to negotiate, so much so that that there were a couple of kids (who looked about 5!) on petrol driven buggies having fun on what they obviously considered to be their own private racetrack.

It was only a walk of an hour or so (no rain - for once) when I came in sight of Gargunnock village and the Gargunnock Inn

This is one those interesting places which has separate main entrances on 2 different parallel streets with the dining areas, private rooms & bar connecting the 2 entrances - confusing! When I came in they'd just had a short/sharp influx of diners so one of the locals (and I assume a barmaid) came around from the customer side and served me! Again Fallen Blackhouse was on (not a bad hit-rate today) so it was an easy decision to try this again whilst I waited for my bus back to Stirling (Caledonian Golden Son was on the other hand-pull).

The bar itself has a pool table as its centre-piece, unusual nowadays, with loads of pool, snooker and ten pin bowling trophies on display - I also loved the fact that there is a 'Granny-board' to shame those who get completely white-washed at pool. There were also masses of pump-clips on the beams, whisky containers on the shelves, Belle & Sebastian on the juke-box and some great panoramic photographs of Gargunnock and the surrounding hills and crags.

And this is only my 2nd photograph in a Gents (honest) - there were some nice whisky prints in there and this great Becks Bier mirror - I didn't check to see what was in the Ladies!

And as a nice end to the afternoon the Gargunnock Village Shop had a Wine & Beer Cellar with a number of bottles of month out-of-date Black Isle Porter - a definite steal at £1.85.

Return transport:-
  Bus: Gargunnock to Stirling (12 First, 40 on the hour)
  Train: Stirling to Glasgow Queen Street

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