Saturday, 6 April 2013

Deanston & Doune to Dunblane: 6th April 2013

I'd wanted to have a look at the small village of Deanston for quite some time - the Stirling to Callander bus that I use fairly often detours from the main road to loop through the village and I've always been intrigued by these planned industrial-age settlements. So this weekend I decided to head out to rural Stirlingshire to visit both Deanston & nearby Doune before walking back to Dunblane.

View Doune in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St to Stirling
  Bus: Stirling to Deanston (59 First Scotland, 59 on the hour)

The bus from Stirling to Callander via Deanston got caught up in a large snarl-up of traffic just after crossing the M9 motororway. I wasn't quite sure what this could be until it dawned on me that it was the middle weekend of the Easter Holidays and since the weather had warmed up (slightly), a significant number of people had decided it would be a good idea to take the kids to the Blair Drummond Safari Park. It was therefore quite late when I got off the bus in Deanston in the centre of one of a number of long rows of cottages. These were initially constructed for the workers of the Deanston Paper Mill (as were the school, Post Office & a number of shops). The whole village was a lot larger than I'd thought it would be - not surprising when you think that the Mill employed close to 1100 people in its heyday.

The Mill closed in 1965, but was then converted at a cost of £300,000 into the fledgling Deanston Distillery complete with its own on-site multi-megawatt hydro-electric facility. It's located on the bank of the River Teith in an incredibly picturesque setting.

Following various boom and bust periods in the whisky industry the current owners, Burn Stewart Distillers Limited, felt confident enough to open a new Visitor Centre and café in 2012 in the canteen of the former Mill. This holds information and memorabilia on the history of both the Mill and the Distillery.

The café is run by the Coffee Bothy people who run a number of similar operations in & around Stirlingshire and it was certainly proving to be very popular today. The Visitor Centre is light & spacious with lots & lots of bottles and the standard whisky associated products can also be purchased. There are tours of the Distillery and Tutored Tastings available for booking (or you can just walk up) but I didn't really have time to wait for the next next one, though I definitely did fancy trying one of the signature Deanston malts. The lovely lady 'holding fort' in the visitor centre was quite happy to oblige with this request and poured me a small sample of the Deanston 12-Year old, a non-peated single malt matured in bourbon casks. This certainly was quite sweet with lots of honey, lemon & vanilla, and a touch of spiciness at the end. I was impressed enough to buy a miniature but not enough to buy a full bottle (but that's just an issue I have with whisky in general - see here).

It was then a short walk into Doune. The arched bridge across the fast-flowing River Teith (the Brig o' Teith) is very narrow for a main road bridge (2 cars can just about fit side-by-side) and dates back to 1535, although it was widened in 1866.

On entering Doune I passed the Woodside Hotel and turned left at the Mercat Cross on the Main Street to the find the whitewashed Red Lion Inn.

The bar area was definitely undergoing an extensive re-decoration with some undercoated walls, exposed brickwork and a lack of pictures on the walls, but the bar area seemed pretty well done with the 1/4 circle bar having been recently wood panelled, the brasswork shined-up and a real fire burning away in the modern fireplace.

The single hand-pull had a hand-written pump-clip proclaiming 'Golden Amber' which actually threw me for a minute (and the friendly barlady hadn't been able to read the brewery name from the cask). Thankfully Untappd came to the rescue - it was an Atlas/Orkney Pale Ale with a nice citrus aroma & a decent bitter kick, probably one the best beers I've tasted from Atlas/Orkney since they've moved from Kinlochleven to Orkney. I took my pint, ordered the soup and settled down into one of the back seats to chat with one of the locals about bus times, speed cameras and the weather. When it came after only a short delay the chicken & thyme soup was lovely & herby and boy was it hot.

Doune is justly famous for Doune Castle and this is definitely worth a visit, but I'd taken an extensive tour of the castle fairly recently and so instead I headed out to the north side of town, past a great playground for kids, and onto a section of the Doune Trail.

This follows the route of an old railway line and is part of proposed Sustrans Route 765 from Stirling to Callander. It's another one of those arrow-straight long tracks.

Not far out of Doune I could hear the sound of bike engines. I thought this would just be a couple of kids playing about on a quad bike in a field or something similar, but no - this was a large number of motocross bikers on a very professionally set-up circuit - the Doune Motocross Track. Some of the jumps these guys were taking would certainly have done my back in!

The old railway line only lasted for a couple of miles and I then had to cross the A820 main road to connect into the Old Doune Road path. This took me over the M9 motorway and past Dunblane High School to a long decent into the town of Dunblane. Just across from the train station I arrived at the Dunblane Hotel proudly displaying a sign for their 1st Cask Ale Festival.

On the hand-pulls in the bar I found Deuchars IPA, Williams Fraoch, London Pride and Rudgate Ruby Mild - an OK selection, with the Ruby Mild being a nice surprise, but not too much of a Cask Ale Festival. I took a pint of the Ruby Mild (with some lovely dark fruit flavours and almost a touch of port) and decided if there was beer anywhere else in the Hotel it would be in the lovely terraced riverside beer garden down at the Allan Water's edge. And I was correct, 3 casks were on gravity wrapped up in their thermal blankets - Tetley Dunblane Hotel Ale, St Austell Proper Job and Wells' Bomabrdier.

However I didn't really fancy staying even for the one beer I hadn't had before (the Tetley Dunblane Hotel Ale) and so drank my lovely Ruby Mild and headed off to the Tinpot/Bridge of Allan Brewhouse one stop down the railway line. Once I had negotiated the salt & grit encrusted Bridge of Allan railway station I finished the afternoon off with a few of their (always) interesting beers.

Return travel:-
  Train: Dunblane to Bridge of Allan
           Bridge of Allan to Glasgow Queen St

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