Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Linlithgow to Winchburgh on the Union Canal: 1st June 2013

I do quite like canal-side walks, so with another small Beer Festival taking place at The Four Marys in Linlithgow, this gave me the chance to walk a part of the Union Canal that I hadn't been along before, from Linlithgow to Winchburgh, and then get the bus back to Linlithgow for (perhaps a few) interesting beers.

View Union Canal in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St to Linlithgow (15, 45 on hour)

The Union Canal cuts a distinct swath through the heart of Linlithgow with the focal-point being the Linlithgow Canal Centre just to the south of the mainline train station. Located here are a lot of moorings, a tea-room and also a small Canal Museum (the only one in Scotland), and today the whole place was quite busy with canal-boat excursions, kayakers, cyclists and walkers.

I like walking the Union Canal since it follows the contour line - there are no locks at all and a complete contrast to the 39 locks on the Forth & Clyde Canal. This lack of locks means that it's also great for kayakers - just out of Linlithgow I was chased by a pretty serious group (complete with cajoling coach cycling on the adjacent canal-side path); they had no problems at all in overtaking me.

About half an hour out of Linlithgow I came to a large sign for The Park Bistro, located literally just across the road from the canal-side path.

The place has been converted from an old grain barn to be a fairly large restaurant with lots of large circular & bench tables outside and facilities for cyclists & dog walkers. It was promising to be a pretty good day weather-wise, so I took a table outside and ordered a bottle of Peroni (it was either that or bottled Budweiser, with draught Tennents or Guinness also available). I'd seen their menu online so ordered the soup - no only kidding - this time I decided to go with for nachos with chilli. This was really great, lots of cheese & lots of chilli with the odd really hot real chilli-pepper thrown in for good measure - excellent stuff. With the service prompt & friendly, great food and lovely surroundings it was a really nice place to stop for lunch (although some local bottled beer (from Tryst, Alechemy, Kinneil Brew Hoose etc...) would made things pretty-well perfect).

After The Park Bistro it was fairly well all flat farmland along the canal until the small town of Philpstoun. Here I encountered 2 of the many man-made 'hills' or bings which are scattered across the West Lothian landscape. These huge sites are the spent waste material from oil shale mines which operated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the most famous of which are the 5 Sisters near to Livingston (and the name of a lovely beer from Livingston-based Alechemy Brewing). The bings at Philpstoun aren't as spectacular as those, but still extend over a huge area.

I thought the bings would be fairly barren & lifeless but there seems to be an almost specialised ecosystem which now lives on the slops of these bings consisting of various trees, mosses & flowers (and animals & birds I assume).

I couldn't really see any reason to break my journey at Philpstoun so continued along the canal as it curved south. After a long length of wooded canopy I passed the main turning into Winchburgh but decided to stay on the canal until the views of nearby Niddry Castle came into focus, complete with another bing (unsurprisingly Niddry Bing) in the background. This was a 15th century tower & castle, ruined until the mid-1980's, but is now parially restored and an impressive private residence (and located slap-bang in the middle of a golf course!).

I headed back into the centre of Winchburgh to try the local hostelry, the Tally Ho Hotel on the Main Street, before getting my bus back to Linlithgow.

They seem to do decent pub grub in the lounge on the left hand side, whilst the bar on the right is dominated by a large pool table at the front, with a central bar and a raised platform for a DJ or a band at the back. As well as Tennents, Guinness, Fosters & Magners on draught, the fridge was stocked with all sorts of different flavoured ciders, but I decided on a bottle of Holsten Pils (275ml, now brewed in the UK by Carlsberg, sigh...). As a place to sit for 20 minutes or so it was fine, with twinkling lights around the bar, a fair amount of farm & horse equipment, some old books & old bottles and a few model ships dotted around the shelves - I just wish the music hadn't been so loud!

Immediately at the bus stop on Winchburgh Main Street was an excellent local 'craft' Butchers & Deli, John Lawson (on twitter as @lawsonbutchers). The steak pies seemed absolutely tremendous but there was no way I could transport something like that back home over the course of 3-4 hours.

I then took the bus back to Linlithgow. The X38 Edinburgh<->Stirling service is fast, frequent (every 20 minutes) & dependable and dropped me off near Linlithgow Cross almost outside the on-going building work for the Star & Garter Hotel. This burnt down in 2010, see here, with the top 2 floors completely gutted, but it's now close to re-opening (hopefully for the Linlithgow Marches Fair in mid-June).

I've been to The Four Mary's Beer Festival on numerous occasions previously (it's normally held twice yearly at the end of May and the end of October) and even though it can be fairly heavily weighted towards Belhaven/Greene King beers, there are still a more than decent selection of interesting guest beers available - kudos to the landlord for this. Standouts for me today were Rooster's Maypole with an almost sour elderberry bitterness and Tring Bring Me Sunshine, a very hoppy English best bitter.

Even though I have been coming here for quite a number of years I hadn't known about their central Beer Garden (and smoking area), probably because I always thought the green labelled access door was a Fire Exit. But having found this particular sun trap, it certainly was a nice place to relax with a few glasses of good beer.

Return travel:-
  Bus: Winchburgh to Linlithgow (X38, every 20 minutes)
  Train: Linlithgow to Glasgow Queen St (04, 34 on hour)

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