It's always interesting to take a trip out to the Allanwater Brewhouse & TinPot Brewery in Bridge of Allan and although I'd stopped by a couple of times recently when driving to/from Dundee I hadn't been in for a few beers since this time last year. A visit today meant that I could walk back into Stirling via a couple of pubs and also play a bit more of the tourist than normal and head to the Wallace Monument.
View Wallace in a larger map
Outward travel was as follows:-
Train: Glasgow Queen St to Bridge of Allan (48 on hour)
For once there was no snow in West-Central Scotland compared to rest of UK, though I could certainly see it on the hills around Bridge of Allan. This allowed the direct train to Bridge of Allan to get me into the town before the Brewhouse was open so I decided to take a walk down the main Henderson Street. I was quite taken by the Paterson Clock outside the Westerton Arms, named after the town's first Medical Officer of Health and redecorated recently, but why it was 40 minutes fast I don't know!
On the outskirts of Bridge of Allan, just before the turning up to the Stirling University campus is the Meadowpark Hotel (I assume the meadow refers to the flat grasslands stretching out to the River Forth). This used to be known as 'The Med' to generations of University students but is now a Mitchells & Butlers establishment, having been extensively renovated and then re-opened in August last year (the 'infamous' nightclub is also no more).
And you can see that some money has been spent - it's definitely a step up from their 'normal' Vintage Inns such as The Commodore in Helensburgh or Balloch House. A large, more formal restaurant on the right of the building (with lots of Valentine's Day promos)...
...a bar leading to a conservatory area overlooking the main road and the meadows (with access to a large beer garden), with the bar itself having a raised seating area at the back, a small number of tables at the front near the windows and a large bar-top in the centre of the room with a set of huge chunky brass downlighters.
There were 3 hand-pulls at the bar - Deuchars IPA, Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted and also their fantastic Old Engine Oil and as a nice surprise, there was the possibility of having all 3 on a flight tray of 3 1/3rds. As the young barman made this up for me he mentioned that they keep the Deuchars IPA & Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted on as permanent and offer a changing guest ale, with recent offerings from Adnams & Bridge of Allan Brewery (their Pumpkin Ale at Halloween) and there was also Schiehallion available as one of the many kegged beers. I also ordered the soup (parsnip) and a bowl of chunky chips (with mayo), but decided not to take one of the impressive high-backed balloon/throne chairs since they were a bit close to the fire. Instead I took a small table near the window, grabbed a paper and looked around at the large mirrors, exposed brickwork, abstract wood pictures & hanging china crockery around the rest of the bar. My food arrived arrived promptly, with the soup being OK (I'm not a big parsnip fan), but the chunky chips were fabulous, crispy & with a sprinkling of salt flakes, and boy were they hot!
Never having been to the old 'Med' I can't really say how different it is, but I really enjoyed my visit today, the staff were great and it was good to see the 1/3rds flight tray. So full of chunky chips I walked back to the centre of Bridge of Allan and to the Allanwater Brewhouse and Visitor Centre on the far side of the Adamo Hotel. Not much seemed to have changed from the outside from my last visit.
At the back of the brewery I found owner & brewer Douglas Ross and a young assistant filling up 18-pint polycasks and also about to brew their Gluten-free Honey Beer today. This uses sorghum liquid extract made from sorghum grass & is shipped in from Africa (even rice can supposedly have some gluten). Fermentation seems to take 2-3 weeks compared to well under a week for their normal beers, so it's quite a commitment on their part.
Douglas seems to be taking a lot more of a hands-on role nowadays since his involvement with TSA has ended and he was quite happy to chat away about some of the projects he's been involved with - the 1BBL Balmaha Brewery at the Oak Tree Inn (hopefully to be expanded in a combined smokehouse/brewery across the road from the Oak Tree), Eden Brewery St Andrews where he was involved with the oak aged beers, and also the proposed brewery in Dunfermline by the Wine StoRe people (I believe premises are still being finalised for this).
Inside the Brewhouse & Visitor Centre was still the same mass of old & new brewing paraphernalia, posters, tables, brewing barrels and bottles, lots of bottles - I just like being surrounded by all that 'clutter'. There weren't too many new bottles today (the majority had gone over Christmas & New Year when they had people queuing out of the door for the Hogmanay evening celebrations), but I did manage to get a bottle of the Hogmanay 2012 beer and also a Real Scottish Ginger Beer.
As normal there were some 'traditional' and some more 'unusual' beers on offer on cask served by the lovely Jules. On today that I tried were BananaPot (masses of ripe sweet bananas in the aroma & taste), MangoPot (a bit too bitter for me, not fruity enough), Chocolate Orange (very similar to the Ayr Dr Blacklock No.5, but I'd still like a bit more chocolate & a bit more orange), 75/- (strangely enough a light beer, almost like an astringent golden bitter), and with the stand-out being the Christmas Pudding Pot - a winter warmer full of raisins, currants, sultanas & spices all of which had been soaked in a serious hit of brandy - pretty lethal at 7%.
Hopefully I'll catch their beers at the Larbert & Paisley Beer Festivals later on in the year (Douglas has not thought about beers for these as yet), so I left the guys to the sparging of the Gluten-free Honey Beer and headed back towards Stirling. After re-tracing my steps past the Meadowpark Hotel I took the steep turning up Hillfoots Road towards the towering Wallace Monument & Visitor Centre.
I've been up to the top of the Monument before and was only planning on going up to the base and then walking along the length of Abbey Craig, but since it was still a clear day I decided to pay my £8.25 and walk up those 246 steps to the top. It's even a fairly decent hike up to the base of the Monument (although you can catch a mini-bus), but as you start to climb the steep, very narrow (almost claustrophobic) sets of staircases the breath definitely catches (especially after a few beers). Thankfully there are a number of resting chambers where historical artefacts and multimedia presentations of various aspects of Scottish history have been put on, but it's still a good work-out getting to the top and you have to be really carefully meeting people coming the other way. And then once at the top the views are fantastic. Over the meandering Forth and Stirling to the south, the Forth Valley and out to the Trossachs to the west, Stirling University and the tips of the Southern Highlands to the north, and the Ochil Hills & the Hillfoots towns to the east (probably my favourite).
Thankfully coming down is far easier on the lungs (but harder on the knees) and when out there was another great viewpoint to take in on the most southern edge of Abbey Craig. From here it was a fairly gentle descent along some good paths down the full length of the Craig - in fact I was able to half-run & jump most of it, slowing down using the odd branch & clump of leaves, actually really good fun! Once down at the foot of the Craig I joined Alloa Road and went looking for a way across the new Stirling-Alloa railway line. I found this at the Ladysneuk Road level crossing.
It was then a short walk along Ladysneuk Road to Cambuskenneth. There's a ruined Abbey here but since it had just started to sleet I was far more interested to find the warmth of the Abbey Inn.
The place was deserted when I first came in, and there wasn't anything too interesting to drink but I was happy enough to take a bottle of Fürstenberg and have a chat to the landlord about the weather, football & tourists. Surprisingly enough even with the Abbey almost next door they don't get too much in the way of the passing tourist trade (so that's why he doesn't stock, for example, Harviestoun beer - hmmm...) but there's also not too much trade from the village itself and most of his customers come across the bridge from Stirling. It's a nice enough place with lots of space at the bar and seating areas aplenty and I was glad to see it fill up a bit as the afternoon shoppers came in and the Saturday afternoon football matches started to finish.
On leaving the pub I took a sharp right turn until the footbridge over Forth which leads back into the centre of Stirling (there was previously a passenger ferry here until 1935 when the footbridge was built).
Full of fizzy Fürstenberg I didn't really fancy another beer (I would probably have chosen Morrisons) but instead headed into the Italian deli/restaurant (La Ciociara) across the road for a take-away coffee for the train journey back. There's also an ice cream parlour in here with some of the most cholesterol inducing flavours I've seen - look at that Scottish Tablet flavour! I must come back in the summertime after a 10 mile walk.
But to pander to my sweet tooth I did buy some home-made nougat. I don't think I'd tried any for more than 20 years, but it's amazing how you still remember the feeling of one of your fillings being ripped out! Thankfully when the nougat warmed up it went quite gooey, but it still took me most of the train journey back to Glasgow to finish it.
Train: Stirling to Glasgow Queen St (23, 53 on hour + others)