Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Prestwick to the Ayrshire Real Ale Festival: 13th October 2012

This year the Ayrshire Real Ale Festival was a week later in the calendar - this suited me fine since it had started to clash with various other beery events in Scotland (in particular the BRAAS Bo'ness Real Ale Festival). Since it was a lovely, bright autumn day I decided to head down the Ayrshire coast to Prestwick, walk along the beach to Troon for lunch and then end the afternoon at the Ayrshire Real Ale Festival.

View Prestwick in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Central to Prestwick Town (00 & 30 on the hour)

Prestwick Station is situated immediately alongside Prestwick Golf Club, where The Open Golf Championship was first played back in 1860. It therefore attracts a lot of visitors and I've been waiting on the platform a number of times when nervous golfers on the 1st tee have sliced their shots on, or wide of, the railway line - thankfully they've added more netting in recent years.

I lived in Prestwick for a number of years and after taking a nostalgic look at my old flat I headed to Prestwick Main Street and the new JD Wetherspoon pub, The Prestwick Pioneer

It's only been trading since May this year and had to get through a lot of local opposition to open. I think there were 2 main reasons for this - firstly there are quite a few pubs (& cafés) on Prestwick Main Street who thought they would lose a significant amount of walk-in business and secondly that the Wetherspoons in Ayr (The West Kirk) has managed to attract more than its fair share of trouble since it's been open, but then that is very close to the majority of the Ayr nightclubs. The local CAMRA branch were happy (as I would have been) - the availability of real ale in Prestwick has been very intermittent over the years (I think the Eagle Tavern does now provide 1 or 2 handpulls) and 9 times out of 10 I went to Ayr for an evening out. In any case it's now open in what used to be the old Woolworths premises (I still have a number of items I bought from that store). It's narrower than I remember, but very long and very bright with lots of natural light from the main windows at the front and a fantastic, huge sloping skylight about 3/4 of the way into the building (that certainly wasn't there when it was a Woolworths). The artificial lights are interesting as well - the main ones having a definite swirl effect, almost from a Galaxy Ripple commercial), there are some chrome effect balls (probably not needed) and a line of pot-like down-lighters at bar.

It's a great change from some of the older Wetherspoons (especially some of those down South Lanarkshire way) and like the Carrick Stone in Cumbernauld really good to see some modern design features and makes a visit a lot more interesting. All the Wetherspoons have displays of local information to some extent and this one certainly goes to town on it. There's information on the Prestwick Pioneer himself, David McIntyre, who helped found Prestwick Airport, a great acrylic picture of Elvis, old photographic prints of Tom Morris & other golfers and golf balls configured into some complex atom/molecules shapes.

There are 10 hand-pulls at the bar with 8 available early on Saturday afternoon. There was a decent selection of guest ales with Nelson Dragon's Revenge (an OK best bitter), Otter Bitter, Pinnacle Porter, Kelham Pale Rider & Brains SA available as well as the standard Abbot Ales & Ruddles County and a cider. It was a shame there wasn't a LocAle beer on but I know that Ayr beers have made an appearance. The staff were fine, chatting about some of the local Wetherspoons, and efficient (food seemed to make an appearance in less than 10 minutes).

There are a number of ways you can walk to Troon from Prestwick. The more direct route involves walking alongside the main road for a mile or so, going past the Airport and then following the cycle/footpath between the golf courses when the main road turns inland. The more scenic route (perfect on a crisp autumn days) involves heading down to Prestwick beach. Today the tide was quite high, kites were being flown and windsurfers were operating from Prestwick Sailing Club slightly further down the beach towards Ayr.

I headed in the opposite direction along the beach where the fairly stiff breeze off the sea (great to clear the head) was whipping the sand and the surf into a lot of sea foam.

The Pow Burn flows into the Firth of Clyde between Prestwick and Troon so I had to look for the Green Signpost on the dunes to tell me when to head inland to find the bridge to cross the burn. Just across the bridge is Prestwick Holiday Park, right on the flight path for Prestwick Airport (I guess you must get used to all the planes).

After a short skirmish around the far edge of Troon Golf Course it was easy to get back onto the beach and continue my walk into Troon. It was a lovely day for a walk and at times there seemed to be more dogs on the beach than people, but after dodging these and various large pieces of flotsam I left the beach and onto the long expanse of Troon Esplanade, the starting & finishing point for the Troon Tortoises 10K Run, of which I've completed a few (it's a killer finish if the wind (and rain) is blowing against you!).

Heading into the centre of Troon I wanted to see what had happened to the Ardneil Hotel which had closed in early 2010. It was a classy hotel, always seemed to be busy with golf parties, had a great conservatory restaurant and was one of the few permanent places to stock Arran Ales (and a very convenient place to wait for the train).
(Photo: (c) Gordon Thomson)

Now the place has been completely bulldozed and there have been flats built ('The Courtyard') with, I assume, more planned - a definite shame.

I wanted to find something to eat before heading to the Beer Festival and have in the past gone to the Piersland House Hotel for their great cold buffet, but they now don't stock any real ale (which is strange since their sister establishment The Canny Man in Lugton headlines that it does) so instead I walked into Troon's main Portland Street. Fullartons was my first choice...

but this was packed out and since I couldn't sit & eat at the bar I headed up the road a bit to McKays.

This used to be Dan McKay's in years gone by (owned by a well known Troon publican) but after a short flirtation with Belhave/GK I think it's back in private hands again. There may not be the beer choice that there was some years ago but it was good to see Inveralmond Ossian and Ayr Lezzie Lundie. The place hasn't changed too much - lots of space & seats at the bar, a raised area at the back with some tables, papers available and a quite extensive beer garden - and my tuna & cheese panini was absolutely fine.

Now it was time to head to the Ayrshire Beer Festival - many thanks for the link to my blog on their home-page.

Held again in Troon's Concert and Walker Halls I'd been given a ticket from one of the organisers so instead put my entrance fee to their designated charity (UK Cancer). Although they'd put on more beer than last year (always good to see) as expected for the Saturday most of the new/interesting/trendy Scottish beers had gone (word gets around quickly in such a confined space) but it was good try my first beer from the 'resurrected' brewery in Kinlochleven, River Leven IPA (although it probably needed more bitterness).

So instead it was a chance to try so a number of English & Welsh beers which I'm more than happy to do. Highlights for me were Coastal's Merry Maidens Mild, an excellent burnt, bitter mild and Thwaites Crafty Devil, a spicy, sweet red beer brewed for Halloween, which I hope to find again in bottled format (Thwaites really are doing some excellent beers in their Signature range). Entertainment though the afternoon was provided by the Troon Blackrock Band...

and famous Killie Pies were available as sustenance as well as specially embossed Empire Biscuits to take away (so I did).

It was good to meet and chat to quite a few #glasgowbeer folk and, as usual, the Festival staff were more than helpful, well organised and really do a fantastic job.

Return travel:-
  Train: Troon to Glasgow Central (25 & 53/54 on the hour)

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