Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Kilmaurs to Kilmarnock: 12th January 2013

During the winter months it can be somewhat more difficult to get out-and-about due to the weather and the shortened daylight hours, so I normally try to minimise travelling time and walk about around pubs which are closer to home. Today I decided to travel to Kilmaurs & Kilmarnock in East Ayrshire, both well served by a frequent train service to Glasgow, and also visit an historical piece of industrial infrastructure.

View Kilmarnock in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Central to Kilmaurs (12, 42 on hour)

It had turned out to be a lovely bright, crisp winter's day when I took the short walk up the hill from Kilmaurs train station to the small selection of shops on the High Street and Kilmaurs Cross. At this junction of the two main roads in & out of the village are the old Toll Booth (now a Chinese Restaurant/Take-away!) and the Town Jail (or 'Jouggs'), complete with sets of 'irons' on the walls.

Adjacent to these buildings is the Weston Tavern, which was originally the Kilmaurs Manse (so, basically church, jail & toll-booth all in close proximity !).

At the front is the bar area, effectively split into two - a long modern grey/granite bar-top & standing area on the left and a more traditional sitting area on the right, complete with lots of bare brick-work, a wood burning fire and musical instruments hanging on the wall. I could only see one hand-pull on the bar with Sulwath Brewery's Burn's Night beer, The Grace, available - very sweet, with lots of toffee & caramel flavours and just a slight citrus bitterness, but I've actually started to like these a lot more recently so I was happy to take a pint of this. Looking around the bar area it was most definitely a 'beer and crisps only' environment so I headed through to the back of the building to the restaurant for some lunch. Here a very polite young lad showed me to a table, took my coat and let me order the soup of the day (Tomato & Basil). It's a classy restaurant, with a number of Jack Vettriano prints, more exposed brickwork, another fire, lots of Daily Specials and it also doubles as a Coffee Shop early in the morning (lots of diet-breaking scones & cakes were on display which I managed to resist).

The soup was more than fine and after paying the bill (how much do you tip for a £3.25 soup ?) I headed outside. A couple of years ago another pub selling real ale opened (or was re-opened) across the road from the Weston Tavern, The Wheatsheaf. This started off really well (I remember 3 or 4 hand-pulls available on a Saturday afternoon), but with a long-established pub so close-by I think The Wheatsheaf only lasted 18 months or so and is now most certainly closed & boarded-up - a definite shame.

My plan was now to walk along the path of the main road to Crosshouse. This involved walking over the Irvine to Kilmarnock cycle-path and into the village of Knockentiber where a fairly sizeable crowd were watching the local football team play in a cup match. In the centre of the Knockentiber I came across an interesting pair of conjoined premises - the Tiber Tavern and Tiber Store

The building has had a bit of a chequered past, but today it's been redeveloped with new signage, seats at the front & side and a nice modern look. The Tiber Store is part village convenience store, part hot & cold food take-away (selling bacon rolls, sandwiches etc... at decent prices) whilst the Tiber Tavern is most definitely the village local. I headed in without too much expectation and was quite pleasantly surprised. A nice comfy seating area at the front with a couple of sofas & magazines on hand to read, a couple of TVs, a decent juke-box, a long sweeping (albeit sparsely populated) bar-top and some tables and chairs at the back along with an area for live music or karaoke.

Even more surprisingly, in addition to the standard Tennents, Guinness, John Smiths & McEwans fonts were bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale & Deuchars IPA - not too bad at all (there was also Amstel on tap, but at £2/pint I assume it wasn't going to be around for too much longer). I took a bottle of Nookie Broon, got chatting to friendly landlady and found out that she & her family also run the Tiber Store, and that they hope to start offering bar lunches later on this year now that the front and sides of the building have been completed. It seems to be a really great community local and there was a nice moment when one of the more elderly gents at the bar was given his 'Joker' - i.e. a free entry or two into the raffle.

I next walked down to the slightly larger village of Crosshouse, where the huge expanse of Crosshouse Hospital can be glimpsed at various places. I did go past a pub in the centre of the village, Bridges Bar...

...but decided to give this a miss and instead took the back road out of Crosshouse under the A71 dual carriageway linking Irvine & Kilmarnock. Soon I came to a sign for the Laigh Milton Viaduct, opened in 1812 and which crosses the River Irvine. It may not be the highest, or the most spectacular, but that 1812 date means that it is the oldest surviving public railway viaduct on the planet.

There's a path from the road to the viaduct but at the end of the path, as it rises to the viaduct level, this was extremely muddy & slippery with only a wooden fence to hang onto in some places. The viaduct is in a bit of a nowhere spot today, it leads to a farm road and that's about it, but it's certainly well enough maintained to wander across to the other side. I do like all the old industrial heritage & architecture that's still around in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire.

I could have walked back the way I came but decided to follow a boundary fence up to & through a working farm for a short distance until coming to Gatehead and The Cochrane Inn, a really pretty Country Pub and Restuarant - look at all that ivy!

This is a venture by the Ayrshire-based Costley group, and is most definitely food orientated, in fact that horrific label of 'Gastropub' immediately springs to springs here. The main restaurant is on the larger left side of the building, with a smaller bar (basically an overflow for the main restaurant) on the right. The bar does have a few seats, low beams, a gleaming grey/granite bar-top, some hanging tankards, glass cabinets and a lot of brass farm stuff, but there's nothing remotely interesting to drink and why I decided to take that bottle of Birra Moretti I don't know. It's a more than acceptable place for something to eat with the staff really polite & courteous, but I don't think I would ever contemplate going back just for something to drink and for a chat, whereas I would do so for the Tiber Tavern.

It is possible to walk into Kilmarnock from Gatehead but I decided to catch the hourly bus and get off before the main bus station in John Finnie St. This meant it was only a short distance along Portland Road to Grange St and the Brass & Granite, one of a surprisingly large number of pubs in the street (I think there's four).

This is large, interesting place that I've always quite liked - part American diner complete with TVs & pool table at the back, part pub with a nice long bar, and part almost Dutch Café with lots of sofas, tables, bookcases and bric-a-brac at the front.

There are also lots of faded olde-fashioned food, drink & household signs & prints for such diverse products as Frys Chocolate, Swifts Borax Soap and a number advertising Jack Daniels, but I really liked the sign warning 'No Drugs or Nuclear Weapons' (probably stolen from a Hard Rock Café)! Normally they have 3 hand-pulls available with a decent selection, but today there was only Houston Killellan (a decent citrusy bitter in good condition) or Greene King IPA, although I could have taken the Bacchus Fromboise if I had noticed it earlier.

I was going to head back to Glasgow but decided to see what was happening to the Diaego complex on Hill St, and the founding home of Johnnie Walker blended whisky. This closed in March 2012 and meant that there was no Johnnie Walker presence left in the town of Kilmarnock. Some of the land will be used used by Kilmarnock College, but most of the site is still owned by Diageo, although the buildings do look for the most part set for full demolition (the striding Johnnie Walker logo can still just about be made out).

By now I had just missed my train so I popped into the Kilmarnock JD Wetherspoon's, The Wheatsheaf Inn

This was packed, almost oppressively so, and with only Cotleigh Snowy as an interesting choice of beer I decided to head to the railway station. The large gardens on the approach to the station do have a prominent and colourful feature - a large scale floral clock.

Whilst trying work out the time from the clock (about 3:15) I noticed a pub across the road, Fanny By Gaslight, which was proclaiming itself as a Victorian Saloon Bar dating back to 1846.

It's recently been re-developed as part of the Kilmarnock Townscape Heritage Initiative and really does have a fantastic island bar (albeit somewhat covered in drinks promotion fliers), some great high pillars, an outside balustrade and walls covered in old pictures, Singer sewing machines and other bric-a-brac. There wasn't anything interesting to drink, but I was happy to sit at the long table/bench which runs the complete length of the front windows and drink my Irn Bru whilst waiting for the train to come in.

Return travel:-
  Bus: Gatehead to Kilmarnock (10 Stagecoach, 41 on hour)
  Train: Kilmarnock to Glasgow Central (27, 57 on hour)

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