Saturday, 31 March 2012

On the way to the Larbert Beer Festival: 31st March 2012

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!).
(Note Dave from DemonBrew serving, nearest the camera).

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.

Return Transport:-
  Train: Larbert to Glasgow Queen Street (02, 32 on the hour)

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Balfron to Carbeth at the start of Springtime: 24th March 2012

This weekend Spring had definitely sprung (or at least had teased us with a glimpse), so I decided a walk in the country would be good for the heart and the soul. There is a fairly regular bus from Glasgow to Balfron, a small town just on the northern edge of the Campsie Hills, and from there I could walk down to the village of Killearn and then follow part of the West Highland Way to the Carbeth Inn - a favourite meeting place and watering hole for bikers and walkers out from Glasgow and the surrounding area.

View Balfron in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Westerton to Milngavie
  Bus: Milngavie Train Station to Balfron, 10 First Scotland (41 on the hour)

I caught the bus just as scheduled outside Milngavie Train Station, and then sat back and watched the Glasgow skyline disappear into the distance (at least for a few hours). I'd had a look at possible pubs in Balfron and there certainly seemed to be 'limited' choice of possibly 2, however I'd come across what seemed to be a decent cafe/deli called Doyles Cafe and Deli proclaiming On and Off Sales of bottled beer & cider, so I decided that this was the place to try first. It was located only 50 yards or so from the bus stop in Balfron's main Buchanan Street.

The place had a decent selection of wine, cheese, Italian snacks & some great ice-cream, but the bottled selection wasn't particularly good - only bottles of Peroni. I got chatting to the owner (a really knowledgeable beer guy) about this and he said that although the trade in the village was almost 99.9% golden, fizzy lager he had previously sold & stocked Innis & Gunn beers (obviously his favourite, and I have to admit quite liking them as well) but had been let down recently by his distributor. I dropped a few not so subtle hints about great local beers from Loch Lomond Brewery & Fyne Ales into the conversation and it'll hopefully get him thinking about some different options - all you can really do in this type of situation.

The owner warned me off about trying any of the pubs in the village if I was looking for something non-mass market (I like advice that) so I decided to start my walk to Killearn. Thankfully there was a pretty decent pavement path all the way from Balfron into Killearn and it was great to enjoy the spring sunshine, albeit that there was a slight haze in the air which stopped me from getting some clear photographs of the Campsie Hills.

Killearn's a small place with some antique shops and convenience stores, but there's also a couple of decent pub/restaurants, the first of which was the Old Mill.

It's a classy place with a nice courtyard beer garden, but there was no decent beer (sigh...), so I gave it a miss and walked down the road to the The Black Bull Hotel and its 'Local' Bar (thankfully there wasn't a scene from The League of Gentlemen inside).

It's actually a large place with comfy sofas near the bar, football on the flat screen TV near the pool table and another great beer garden out the back, but although there was only Deuchars IPA on the single hand-pull this was still very welcome after the lack of anything else so far on my walk.

I needed some food, so went for the sandwich deal (again!) with a 'mug' of lentil broth for an extra £1, although when it came it wasn't quite a mug, but I wasn't complaining. It all came with a salad and nice & crunchy beetroot & sweet potato crisps.

I finished my Deuchars outside in the beer garden and for the first time(!) noted the seriously impressive obelisk-type monument (similar to Cleopatra's Needle, but no hieroglyphics) just outside the Black Bull.

This was built in 1789 in honour of George Buchanan, born (in 1506) and raised in Killearn, a renowned Latin scholar and historian who taught Mary Queen of Scots and James VI. It's over 100 foot high with a marble base and would be fit to grace a large town, so to have it in as small a village as Killearn must be a source of definite local pride.

Killearn is a sort of extended collection of houses and cottages, so it was a longer walk than expected to leave the village and join the main A81 road just before The Beech Tree Inn at Drumgoyne, situated right at the intersection of the West Highland Way.

It's an easy place to get to from Glasgow and the place was really, really busy this afternoon with day trippers, walkers and cyclists. For some reason there was only 1 person serving at the bar (taking orders for food at the outside tables as well as drinks), but it was all pretty efficiently organised. They have a more than decent choice of beer with kegged Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted and Schiehallion as well as Budvar and bottles of Williams Fraoch, Chimay Rouge, Leffe and Krušovice. I paid up for a really cold Bitter & Twisted (£4.20) and then blagged one of the last benches available in the large garden, just in the shade of the eponymous Beech Tree, and watched the kids attempt to feed the ducks (1-0 to the ducks in most cases).

I'll have to admit that the kegged Bitter and Twisted is a great, cooling drink on a warm day (and still keeps the majority of its taste), so suitably refreshed I started down the West Highland Way. This section follows the old Blane Valley Railway line past the Glengoyne Distillery (I've still never been in) to the wooded Dumgoyach Hill.

After the hill it was a bit of an uphill walk until reaching the minor road which connects Strathblane to Carbeth. The West Highland Way then turns left for its last 5 miles of so through Mugdock Park to Milngavie, but I went right, past the Carbeth Loch (& Fishery) until the junction with the Glasgow to Drymen road.

From here it was a hundred yards or so to the Carbeth Inn, which, as I had expected, was busy with (mostly middle-aged) bikers and a group of guys on a Stag Weekend staying at nearby Carbeth House.

I've stopped here a number of times when I've had the car (after walking The Whangie and Queen's View - well worthwhile), and have always had some decent food and a real ale, but today only the main bar area was open with no food being served and nothing on the single hand-pull. Whilst I was being served my half of Guinness I obviously quizzed the barmaid on this, and she said the place had been up for lease by Belhaven for a number of months with no takers, but now someone was due to take this on this Thursday (29th March) with both food and hopefully real ale back on the menu. I certainly hope this is the case since the place can be great in both winter (with a roaring fire and loads of interesting bric-a-brac (including a staring Stagg's head) in the atmospheric rooms) and in summer with the outside tables and stunning views of the Kilpatrick Hills.

Return transport:-
  Bus: Carbeth Inn to Milngavie Train Station, C8 Aberfoyle Coaches (17:02 - the only bus from here on a Saturday)
  Train: Milngavie to Anniesland

Sunday, 18 March 2012

A Walk from Crieff to Comrie: 14th March 2012

It was to be an early break from work this year, a short and hopefully relaxing stay in Crieff in an extremely well-appointed self-catering apartment(* see end) close to the centre of this Perthshire town. The plan for my only real self-powered outing was to hire a bike for a cycle through Comrie to St Fillans at the head of Loch Earn. I found the phone number for what seemed to be the only cycle hire shop in Crieff, RS Finnie Cycles, however when I rang in the morning I found out that the shop was closed and the owner had retired - not a great start to the journey! Rather than try and hike to the only other cycle hire facility a couple miles out of Crieff, I decided that the best alternative would be to walk to Comrie on the back roads and catch the bus back to Crieff.

View Crieff in a larger map

I headed out of town on the Muthill road and took a sharp right just after the bridge over the River Earn. The road passed by some holiday homes and playing fields and then gently rose to give great views of Crieff and the 'Knock of Crieff' hill which overlooks the town (the ascent of this is well worth another hour's walk from Crieff town centre).

The road was fairly wide (though no pavement/path), but the traffic very sparse indeed, although there was the occasional piece of road-kill, in particular a number of Grouse. In fact during the entire walk I saw far more sheep than humans, with the occasional tiny wee lamb also visible (very early in the year this year).

Almost 2 hours after leaving Crieff I came into Comrie past this circle of Standing Stones (only 1 left upright) - The Court Knoll (or Judgement Mound) - an ancient burial cist.

I then turned in towards Comrie town centre, re-crossed the River Earn and at the junction of the main A85 road came across the impressive Royal Hotel (the restaurant food is meant to be very good) with the Royal Bar slightly tucked away up at the top of the building.

I'd hoped for a real ale here (according to the Tayside CAMRA web-pages), but although there were 3 hand-pulls on the bar, none had anything on (which seemed to be the norm following my question to the barman), so I had to choose between kegged Bass or Boddingtons and went for the former. It was OK and certainly quenched my thirst (and was in the correct glass), but I was somewhat disappointed at the barn-like nature of the place and the attitude of the barman - maybe it was just the sweat pouring off me! It was good, however, to see the exposed stone walls, the pool table, dart board and juke box, so I'm assuming the place gets pretty busy at weekends.

Comrie was famous for the number of earthquakes which occurred in the 19th Century (due to the proximity of the Highland Fault Line) and is still one of the most geologically active places in Britain and so is known as the Shakey Toon, a fact that some of the shops most definitely draw on.

Also on the High Street is a deli called Hansen's Kitchen. As well as a fabulous Macaroni Cheese Pie they also have a very wide selection of bottled Scottish Ale (and a just launched Beer Club) with bottles from less seldom seen breweries such as Isle of Skye, Oban Bay and Valhalla (I took one of each) - nice to see.

At the far end of the High Street is the Comrie Hotel, and I thought I could just manage a quick beer before the bus came.

The main restaurant was being re-developed, but the bar area was still open and the staff were more than welcoming in allowing me to sit at the bar and use the hotel WiFi (what a great difference in attitude compared to the Royal). Although there was a hand-pull on the bar there was nothing on (again), so I thought I was going to have to make do with a Belhaven Best. However in the nick of time I spied a number of more interesting bottles and just caught the barmaid before she started to pour the Best. I had a Wychwood Wychcraft (also available were Marston's EPA & Strong Ale and Ringwood 49er) significantly better than a Best (does that compute ?). There seemed to be a great beer garden out the back of the bar with stunning views of the hills, but I didn't have time for more than a glimpse of the outside.

I then caught the Stagecoach 15 bus back to Crieff - it was the 'Gold' Bus and the leather seats made it probably the most comfortable mode of public transport I've ever been on!

When I alighted at Crieff I had a look around the town itself and after a fruitless search for real ale in the Caledonian Bar I found a pint of Inveralmond Ossian in the bar of the Crieff Hotel - a most welcoming sight. The bar was a modern place (more choice in coffee than beer), with the barman quite willing to chat about the name of the beer and the lack of cycle shops in Crieff.

Amazingly enough there is also a more than decent off-license in Crieff, Ellies Cellar (great name!).

In here I found bottles of Nøgne Ø, German Hefeweissen & Kellerbier, 2 versions of Harviestoun Ola-Dubh (from 12 & 18 year casks) and much more - another great choice. With 2 great beer shops in the area it seems that there is obviously a demand for interesting beer, but for some reason there is little real ale or even bottled ale in the pubs. Perhaps this changes somewhat in the summertime, but it may be that it's more indicative of a change in drinking habits, away from the pub. But again this will depend on the area - certain pubs will still be a haven for decent real ale, but unfortunately not around Crieff way.

*The apartment was The Grouse Apartment, highly recommended. There was even a bottle of Inveralmond Lia Fail in the fridge waiting for me - never had that before !

Monday, 12 March 2012

From Lenzie to Lennoxtown: 10th March 2012

I'd decided on only a short walk this weekend due to the 6-Nations game between Scotland & Ireland, so opted to travel to Lenzie and then get a bus to the foot of the Campsie Hills at Lennoxtown for a walk back to Lenzie.

View Campsie in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen Street to Lenzie (18 & 48 on the hour)

Coming out of Lenzie Station I hoped to spend a few minutes happily perusing the shelves in the nearby Peckhams store for some bottled beer until the bus to Lennoxtown was due, but I was surprised to see that the place was closed (with lots of kid pictures on the windows) - a real shame. I'd forgotten that part of Peckhams went in and then out of Administration at some point last year with this shop closing, and this might also explain the somewhat disappointing current range of beer at their shops in Glasgow.

This meant a slight change in plans - since the bus wasn't due for 20 minutes I decided to start to walk to Lennoxtown and then get the bus back - a complete reversal of plans, but not too much of an issue. It was then a 20 minute or so walk to the centre of Kirkintilloch and the Kirky Puffer, a JD Wetherspoon pub located right on the Forth and Clyde canalside.

It was fairly quiet when I first came in, but filled up pretty quickly with the normal mixture of diners and people dropping in for a quick beer (or half'n'half). The bar area was really colourful today with loads of balloons as well as sparkly streamers, and the staff were all dressed up in 'Cops and Robbers' outfits - this was all due to the fact that the Kirky Puffer was celebrating its 9th Anniversary that day and I'll have to admit some of the outfits were quite fetching! They were also having a 'Bake-Off' later in the afternoon to raise money for CLIC Sargent - well done to all involved and nice to see that the JD Wetherspoon people are all for allowing this.

Ales available were GK Abbot, Fyne Maverick, the house Strathaven Kirky Puffer, Fullers London Pride and Orkney Dark Island & Orkney No 1. I hadn't seen the Orkney No 1 before and it was great - a nice, smooth best bitter with a good hop/fruit balance - hopefully a forerunner of some great beers at the forthcoming Wetherspoon Beer Festival.

I always get slightly confused with Kirkintilloch High Street but eventually found my way to the bypass and the turning to Milton of Campsie. The pavement along this road isn't exactly wide in all places, but at least it's there. After the small hamlet of Birdston I came to the entrance to the Kincaid House Hotel in a dip in the road. On entering here there's a fairly long, winding & narrow driveway through some wooded grounds, but the sight of the main house with its turrets and Grade A front always lifts my heart. That's because this is the place in which I was married, with the ceremony in the bright and airy conservatory and the meal & evening function in the main dining room - a fantastic day.

I indulged in a quick trip down memory lane by wandering through the beautiful grounds at the rear of the house, but then made my way around the side to the more informal Stable Bar.

Inside there's a bar in the middle of the large room, with a seated area to the left and a pool table and dart board on the right.

The young staff were more than welcoming and friendly - showing me to a table, letting me know there were papers available and lighting the real fire. I had the soup and sandwich deal - it was the first time I'd ever had Cream of Courgette Soup and I was somewhat wary, but it was really thick, warming and tasty - I'm a convert!

I obviously have a soft spot for the Kincaid House Hotel, but I'd have to admit I was disappointed by the beer selection today. Normally they have 2 real ales on, but today there was only Deuchars IPA (not Black Sheep Bitter as on my Wedding Day), and for some reason they have a large choice of fizzy lager - Carlsberg (normal & cold), Tuborg(?!), San Miguel and Birra Poretti (soon to be replaced by Staropramen) - I guess for some reason the demand for this must be there. I went for the Poretti as I hadn't tried it before, and contemplated the great Alloa Brewery mirror, champagne bottles on the walls, low wooden beams and brass ornaments - all very nice.

I left the Kincaid by the side entrance and managed to find my way through a housing estate back to the main road. Just before the A891 T-junction I found a set of steps (and a ramp) down to the Strathkelvin cycle/foot path.

This is a great path following the old railway line from Kirkintilloch all the way to Strathblane. I encountered cyclists, joggers and horses on my short walk until I left the path after of a couple of miles at the Glazert Bank in Lennoxtown. After this it was a short walk along Lennoxtown Main Street until The Swan Inn, situated at the junction of the road up to the Campsie Hills carpark.

I go up this way quite often and I've noted that the place has been intermittently open and closed quite often in the last few years. The latest incarnation has definitely had some money spent on it and is an impressive modern place (there are a quite a number of more 'traditional' boozers in Lennoxtown) with spot lights, downlighters, 'olde' round tables and a 2-way split bar between an informal restaurant and more 'stand-up' bar/lounge. There are a lot of old pictures of The Swan through the ages on the walls (as well as deer antlers and lacrosse sticks/bats(!)), so I assume the place has existed as a pub for some time - here's hoping the current management stay for some time. It's great to see the time & effort they've invested for the place (and they 'get' real ale - hooray!).

However I wasn't having much luck with real ale today (apart from the Kirky Puffer) in that the Cairngorm Wildcat was off which meant that Belhaven IPA was the only choice, so I decided to go with the kegged WEST Munich Red. However that was also off (no real demand - they're replacing it with WEST Pure), so I reverted to the Belhaven IPA. It's an OK(ish) golden brew with some hops (and far better than the awful GK IPA), but I was quite happy to chug my half pint before the half hourly bus to Glasgow was due.

Return transport:-
  Bus: Lennoxtown to Glasgow Buchanan Street (X85 First in Scotland, 01 & 31 on the hour)

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)