Tuesday, 6 August 2013

A loop around Perth and Bankfoot: 3rd August 2013

I decided I was going to risk the intermittently thundery/scorching weather this weekend and head out for another cycle between some country pubs (I think that if this keeps up I may have to contemplate purchasing my own bike or at least investing in some lycra, with the former seeming more likely). So my plan was to travel to Perth, loop around the small Perthshire village of Bankfoot, home to the eponymously named Bankfoot Inn, and look out for the new Strathbraan Brewery beer which was hopefully appearing at some point over the long holiday weekend at their local Beer Festival.

View Bankfoot in a larger map

Outward journey was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St to Perth (41 on the hour)

After alighting at Perth station I walked the short distance along King/Marshall Place and up Princess Street until I found Perth City Cycles, a popular place located behind a set of stone archways.

I'd pre-booked a hire bike from them (tel. 01738 639346) so I knew I was getting something a bit out of the ordinary - in this case a hybrid bike with a drive shaft and not a chain. It certainly looked a bit different, but apart from the fact that it only had 7 gears I found it more than acceptable for cycling along paths and minor roads (and the fact that you could change gear when stationary was great). Fully kitted out I then headed east to the River Tay to join National Cycle Route 77 which follows the river north and cuts a path through the North Inch golf course. After 15 minutes or so I took the turning marked for Luncarty which crosses the River Almond and then double backs to run alongside the busy A9 route to Inverness and the Highlands. Thankfully this only lasted for a mile or so before I followed a minor road and entered Luncarty. Here I had to join the more busy B9099 road for a couple of miles until I reached the small town of Stanley (which was really quite great/strange in that I am currently an employee of Stanley UK!). The town is situated on sharp bend in the River Tay where the river flows extremely fast, and it's here, at the bottom of a steep hill, that the huge Stanley Mills buildings were constructed in the 18th & 19th Centuries to process cotton and other raw material - it and New Lanark are probably the best preserved Mills complexes in Scotland.

At one time the huge Mills employed 2000 people from a town population of only 2500, but it eventually closed in 1989 and is now a combination of an interactive museum telling the story of life in the Mills through the ages and also a large number residential homes (with great terraced views of the River Tay).

I climbed back up the hill to Stanley and all around I could see the old cottages for the Mills workers, although I don't think they had satellite TV back in those days.

On the road out of Stanley I came to the Tayside Hotel, and since it was almost dead on 12noon, a perfect place to stop for lunch and a beer.

I locked the bike in the large car park and entered the hotel through the main foyer. On the right hand side was a bookcase laden corridor leading to a large dining room, and on the left was the main lounge bar, full of natural light and soft upholstery, with the walls covered with photos of salmon fisherman and their catches, and lots of animal & bird figures and other bric-a-brac dotted about.

The was a nice polished wooden bar at the far end of the room, with taps for Tennents, Caledonian Best, Magners and Heverlee 'Belgian Ale' (so purely C&C beers then), and although there were 2 hand-pulls there was nothing on them (and not likely to be anything this weekend, sigh...). However there were at least bottles of Inveralmond beers to be had and so I took a bottle of Lia Fail, ordered lunch, and tried to count the number of salmon photos on the walls (I gave up at 27).

Lunch was a plate of nachos, complete with spicy salsa, jalapenos, masses of cheese and seriously thick sour cream, very good indeed, but they also do sandwiches, wraps and the standard range of pub lunches.

After leaving Stanley and the Tayside Hotel I was able to get off the busy B9099 road and head north on a narrow minor road passing some through some small farms until another cross-junction. This was all slightly uphill and then when I got onto this more south-westerly running road I was heading back into the teeth of a strengthening wind; at times it seemed as if I was hardly making more than walking pace and I was getting pretty tired (and disheartened). Thankfully out of the rolling hills & fields came the sight of Stewart Tower Dairy Ice Cream Parlour & Café, a welcome oasis in the middle of the Perthshire countryside and somewhere I hadn't known about at all beforehand (I don't like this new Google Maps incarnation).

There's a deli here selling all manner of organic fruit & veg, meat, preserves, cheeses etc..., but more important (to me) were the café in the round building and the fabulous choice of ice cream in the ice cream parlour. This is all made on-site with milk from cows from their own herd and there are normally 18 or so flavours to choose from - the 'staples' and some more interesting ones. Scanning though them the 'Jammie Dodger' caught my eye today - vanilla & strawberry with crushed jammie dodger biscuits. To say this was sweet, sticky & chewy was an absolute understatement but it was also fantastic & creamy and up there with some of the best ice creams I've had.

I went to sit outside (no-one else was brave enough to do so for some unknown reason) and enjoyed consuming probably my daily amount of calories in a single ice cream. Now fully energised I was able to finish the last part of this leg into the wind and headed under the A9 underpass to Bankfoot. Before settling down at the Bankfoot Inn I decided that a detour to the Perthshire Visitor Centre only a few hundred metres down the road was probably worthwhile. This has the normal selection of touristy shops & restaurants, but there's a pretty decent choice of bottled beer (including those from Strathbraan)...

...and a number of whisky-based liqueurs from the nearby Scottish Liquer Centre, so I purchased a couple of miniatures that I hadn't seen before.

Now it was time to head to the centre of Bankfoot and pitch up at The Bankfoot Inn for an hour or so before the first of the afternoon's showers swept in from the darkening horizon.

It's a traditional coaching inn dating back to Jacobean times and from what I could gather there's been a lot of time and money spent on the place over the last few years by the current owners. The lounge bar is all exposed brickwork, wooden gantry & flooring with 3 hand-pulls available at all times from the small bar.

The dining area is more of the same - half a dozen or so tables with a book case full of spirits and old books; it looked like a really nice place to have something to eat.

I met some of the Tayside CAMRA people (including ex-Angus Ales brewer, Alan Lawson) in the larger main bar on the other side of the building; there are no hand-pulls here but it seems to be where the locals congregate in the evenings. However it wasn't long before we decided that the rain was off and so we headed out into the lovely courtyard beer garden where the casks were being lovingly kept in a perfectly formed serving area.

I think this was their first ever Beer Festival and someone had definitely made an effort to get some interesting beers - Scottish beers from local breweries Strathbraan, Inveralmond & Cairngorm as well as those from Windswept & Speyside Craft, and then also English/Welsh beers from Adnams, Liverpool Craft, Lytham and some others I hadn't heard of at all; a really nice selection indeed, and the pump-clips of those that were available were all 'displayed' on the large mirror in the courtyard serving area.

I managed 1/2s of quite a few beers - Strathbraan's new Look West was there (blond, refreshing & citrusy), and I also enjoyed the lovely malty/bitter balance of Red Duke from Privateer Beers (a new micro from Manchester) and the 'Olde English Ale' that was T'owd Navigation by Nobby's (Northampton), but it was also great just to chat to some fellow enthusiasts, the more than helpful staff and some of the local residents out for the afternoon. It would have been really quite easy to stay in the courtyard for the rest of the afternoon, have a BBQ burger or 2, listen to the live music in the evening and then stagger back home, but unfortunately home was ~80 miles away. So I bade my farewells and got back on the bike, this time to follow Cycle Route 77 all the way back to Perth. Thankfully this was now mostly downhill and over some very quiet back-roads through the Perthshire countryside. After 45 minutes or so of cycling I came to the small village of Pitcairngreen and the location of the stunning picturesque Pitcairngreen Inn.

I lent the bike against one of the outside tables and noted the open door with the Strathbraan Brewery sign, an arrow pointing inside and the tag line 'Look No Further'; about as good a welcome as you can get for a pub.

And there was indeed a Strathbraan beer available, their new Look West (again), as well as Cairngorm Sheepshagers Gold (obviously not an offensive sign hereabouts) and Wylam Gold Tankard. All 3 are pretty good beers, but when in doubt I normally go for the local beer, so a pint of citrusy Look West it was.

I think there's a lounge and dining area on the left hand side of the Inn (the food is meant to be excellent), but I only managed the bar on the right hand side. It's one of those old fashioned large, cavern-like bars - lots of seats at the actual bar counter, lots of standing room and then a number of tables & chairs on the opposite far wall; you would almost need a loudspeaker to talk to the the bar staff when sitting at the tables opposite.

I decided that this would have to be my last stop if I was going to get the train I wanted back to Glasgow. I therefore sped through the village of Almondbank without stopping, decided against trying to gatecrash the Inveralmond Brewery staff BBQ, and followed the Cycle Path alongside the River Tay back to the centre of Perth. I did make some good time here so once I had returned my bike to Perth City Cycles, I just had enough leeway to drop into Greyfriars on South Street (it was vaguely on my way back to the train station).

It's a fairly small place (although there is seating upstairs for lunch), with lots of exposed brickwork and a dark wooden bar, but the welcome is always very warm. I managed a very quick half of Strathbraan Head East before actually having to head west to the station and further on to Glasgow. I'll definitely have to pay a more extended visit to Perth at some point in the future.

Return journey:-
  Train: Perth to Glasgow Queen St (11 on the hour)

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