Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Kettlebridge, Freuchie and the Kingdom of Fife Beer Festival: 4th May 2013

This weekend I decided to head to the centre of Fife to visit the 15th Kingdom of Fife Beer Festival in Glenrothes and in addition I wanted to visit the nearby village of Freuchie where there were a couple of decent pubs/hotels. The Fife CAMRA people have a nice, friendly Facebook group from which I have gleaned quite a lot of useful information in the past and it would also be good to put a few faces to names.

View Glenrothes in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St. to Edinburgh Haymarket
            Edinburgh Haymarket to Ladybank (04, 44 on hour)
  Bus: Freuchie to Glenrothes (00 on the hour, 66 Stagecoach Fife)

Ladybank is right at the junction for northbound trains from Edinburgh going to Perth (and Inverness) and those going to Dundee. The village was originally called Ladybog (as in Our Lady's Bog or Moor), but I think the decision by the railway planners to rename it Ladybank was probably a good one.

I headed out of Ladybank towards the village of Kettle following a clearly signposted minor road & cycle route. This part of Fife is well known for its fruit & vegetable crops and I came across what seemed to be rivers of polythene in the fields used to bring forward the planting dates for the crops.

About half-way to Kettle I crossed a very small bridge over the the River Eden. The river here is very narrow (almost a stream) in contrast to the wide river estuary that comes out at Guardbridge and the Eden St Andrews Brewery.

I detoured from the main round to enter the small village of Kingskettle. Here, in complete contrast to the fairly drab surrounding buildings, is the brightly painted (and noisy) shop for the children's folk music group The Singing Kettle. Judging by a quick look inside there are all sorts of toys, clothes, DVDs etc... available to buy and there also seemed to be a well equipped playroom/crèche at the side. The numbers involved with The Singing Kettle (2million+ DVDs/videos, 5million+ at the live shows) indicate that this is an incredible Scottish success story.

Slightly further in towards the centre of Kingskettle is (or was) the Crown Hotel which had earned a number of glowing reviews at and other websites for its great food.

However it had closed at the beginning of April and there wasn't any sign of it re-opening - a definite shame.

I instead decided to head out along a narrow path to intersect the main A914 St Andrews road and try out the Muddy Boots Farm Shop and Café. And whilst it was a nice enough place with a lot of tame farm animals and outside play areas, and the shop stocked a decent amount of fruit & veg and organic produce, the café at lunchtime was chock-full of hungry kids, so I decided to quickly move-on-out of there.

This meant I had to walk along the A914 for a mile or so (in the teeth of a gusting wind) to just after the Kettlebridge Inn. I'd phoned beforehand so I knew the place wasn't going to be open at lunchtime (they open at 4pm on Saturdays), but I could certainly have done with a plate of their speciality Mexican food (I suspect one of the reasons they don't open at lunchtime is the Fast'n'Fresh sandwich shop next door; this was really busy with passing traffic, but unfortunately had no sit-down tables).

With my stomach beginning to rumble somewhat noisily I then turned off the main road, headed under a railway bridge and onto a minor road towards Freuchie. I assume this railway bridge is the actual 'bridge' in Kettlebridge - I couldn't find any others.

I continued on this fairly quiet minor road for just over a mile until the outskirts of Freuchie. The views of the Lomond Hills in the distance were quite impressive as the weather started to clear-up from the west.

Freuchie certainly seems to be a fairly affluent village with a number of large houses & shiny new cars in driveways. In the centre of the village, just past the church & the primary school, is Freuchie Cricket Club complete with clubhouse and well maintained cricket pitch, and the well wrapped-up cricket team were going through some practice drills this afternoon. I think the first time I'd ever heard of the village of Freuchie was when they won the UK Village Cricket Competition in 1985 at the home of cricket, Lords - the first (and I believe only) time that a Scottish team had ever won it. There's no doubt that that must have been some weekend!

Almost overlooking the cricket ground is the white-washed Lomond Hills Hotel, with the village cross in a prominent position outside the front entrance.

It's a deceptively large set of buildings with function rooms & formal restaurant, conservatory and a swimming pool & leisure club, but the public bar on the right side is quite small & welcoming. There are a small number of tables around the edge of the room, quite a few seats at the bar and the bar itself has a decent number of malt whiskys and 2 hand-pulls - today Scottish Borders Gold Bust and Cairngorm Caillie. Around the walls I could see lots of signed photos of various footballers, including Jimmy Johnstone, Denis Law and Archie Gemmill scoring *that* goal against Holland.

They were quite happy to serve the full menu in the bar, but since I was a bit pushed for time I decided to just go with the soup-of-the-day (again!) and it must have come in less than 5 minutes flat since I hardly had time to drink more than a few mouthfuls of the Caillie (an interesting initially sweet, then quite hoppy bitter). And the soup was extremely good - roasted carrot with herb crème fraîche, but that slab of butter for the bread was almost frozen solid - arghh...

Next it was a short walk back down to the start of the village to find the well remembered sight of the Albert Tavern, complete with a bench with its own name writ large outside the front door. It's a multi-award winning pub and the last time I was here was when it had just won CAMRA's Scottish Pub of the Year back in 2002.

In the main bar bar on the left hand side of the building it was fairly quiet with a just couple of locals and the barmaid & her boyfriend. They normally have a great selection of cask ales and today was no exception - on hand-pull were Cairngorm Trade Winds, Green Jack Albion Mild, Inveralmond Independence, Salopian Shropshire Gold and Wylam Gold Tankard, so I decided to have a few halves of the non-Scottish beers whilst waiting for my bus. What struck me most in the fairly dark bar is the incredible amount of pump-clips on the wooden beams and behind the bar - there are *a lot* of these as well as numerous bank notes and collages of old coins dotted about.

Lots of brewery mirrors help enhance the somewhat meagre daylight from the windows - the Ushers Pale Ales mirror hung directly opposite the main bar is one of the larger mirrors I've seen and I like all those coat hooks scattered all around the bar.

The lounge seemed a nice place for a sit down (though it was deserted this afternoon) with an old fashioned juke-box, but the last time I was here I also remember going upstairs for a meal (because the lounge was so busy). However from chatting to the barmaid it seems that the upstairs room(s) have been closed since the new owners took over, so this time I had to make do with a packet of Spicy Bagels.

I then needed to get the bus to Glenrothes which thankfully stops almost outside the Albert Tavern. This transported me in leather seated, air-conditioned luxury to Glenrothes Bus Station and from there it was just a short walk through the Kingdom Shopping Centre to the glass fronted Rothes Halls, the location of the Kingdom of Fife Real Ale Festival.

It's a nice, relaxed Beer Festival with a good selection of ~40 Scottish & English beers (as well as cider) and on Saturday afternoon there isn't any problem at all getting served from the friendly volunteers behind the bar. A couple of the most popular beers had gone (including those from the local Beeches Brewery) and both the lovely the Elland Brewery beers, but mostly everything else was available. I met John Reade (now semi-retired from Eden St Andrews) who told me that planning permission at the Abbot House in Dunfermline had finally been forthcoming and he also let me try one of 2 trial beers for Abbot House - a 3.0% nicely hoppy 'Small Ale' based on a 1730's Bruce Family recipe (there will also be an 8.2% 'Strong Ale'). I also had a great chat with Paul McAllister, one of the festival organises, who told me about the Champion Beer of Fife tasting (won by St Andrews Crail Ale, though with no Luckie Ales beer in the competition) and a bit about the forthcoming Forth Bridge Brewery. As per normal I enjoyed pretty well all the beers I had there, but especially the Loch Leven Unleaded Petrel (with almost a hint of diesel at the back of the throat) and also the floral Hard Knott Lux Borealis. As the end of my time at the festival approached I took the (perhaps unwise) decision to Carry-Oot a growler full of the lovely, but lethal 10% Loch Ness Brewery Prince of Darkness home with me and I managed to transport this safely to savour slowly over the course of Saturday & Sunday evenings.

For the start of my journey back to Glasgow I needed to get the south-bound train from Markinch Station so just caught the express Leven bus to the Laurel Bank Hotel in the centre of Markinch. I did pop my head into the Laurel Bank's bar, but since there was no real ale I decided that food was a more sensible alternative at that point. Thankfully help was on hand almost over the road at the Carlton Coffee House, and I was quite happy to get a sausage roll and some fantastic pieces of caramel shortcake with different sweet toppings (mint sprinkles & marshmallow).

I'd always wanted to do an Untappd check-in on the Forth Railway Bridge and to be able to do this with Loch Ness Prince of Darkness was a great way to end the day-out.

Return transport:-
  Bus: Glenrothes to Markinch (50 on the hour, 46 Stagecoach Fife)
  Train: Markinch to Edinburgh Haymarket (10, 29 on the hour)
            Edinburgh Haymarket to Glasgow Queen St

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