Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Callander to Brig O' Turk in The Trossachs: 31st August 2013

I decided that I could actually head out for an unprecedented third (and probably last) bike ride of the summer this weekend. This would involve hiring a bike in the lovely town of Callander in the heart of the Trossachs and then a ride out to a pub that I'd passed a number of times (in the car) but never visited, The Byre Inn, in the wonderfully named village of Brig O'Turk.

View Brig O' Turk in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St. to Stirling (18, 48 on the hour)
  Bus: Stirling to Callander (913 Citylink, 9:05, 10:35)

For the first time I had managed to get into Stirling early enough that I could connect with the Citylink Express from Edinburgh to Fort William. This meant there wasn't a detour into Raploch, Deanston or Doune and so the journey to Callander seemed (and was) a lot quicker. The coach dropped me off at the Station Road car park and it was only a short walk to Mounter Bikes, located in Callander's central square through a (very) low ceilinged tunnel entrance.

There were quite a few bikes & tandems for hire and the helpful guy in the office told me they'd had their best summer season for years - really good to see in a town that needs the summer tourists. I paid my £10 and took off down the main road road to Glasgow, but after only a few hundred metres I was able to turn right onto the minor Invertrossachs road following National Cycle Route 7. This took me past lots of large holiday homes, a caravan park and eventually to the head of Loch Venachar, where there were great views down the length of the Loch and out to Ben Ledi (there was definitely some rain brewing out on the hills).

As I continued along this minor road on the southern bank of the Loch I encountered quite a surprising number of people who were camping out on the shore of the Loch, large groups of walkers, fellow cyclists, some canoeists and also a few people out fishing for their supper. It's good to see the amount of people who want to get out-and-about in the great outdoors.

The tarmac'd road eventually gave way to more of a forest track which still ran close to the Loch-side. This was more uneven & stony and in places covered in a layer of pine needles and really great fun to cycle along, but there were quite a few hair-pin bends where it was necessary to slow down and take a lot of care. Cycle Route 7 then continued across the hills to Aberfoyle, but I took the Forest Drive signposted for Loch Katrine until a gated turn-off on the right hand side for Achray Farm. This took me across a lovely old bridge in the midst of a small wood; very picturesque indeed.

Literally only just up the slight incline from the bridge and before the main road I came across the welcoming sight of The Byre Inn, a long whitewashed building complete with outside seating & elevated beer garden, all half-hidden in the dense copse of trees.

It's a lovely location and as I got closer I noted the first of many beer related chalk-boarded pearls of wisdom at The Byre - there were quite a few of these dotted about, both inside & out.

I decided that it was bit too chilly & blowy to be outside and headed into the main bar area. It's a fairly big space with low dark beams over a canopy ceiling and partially painted stone walls (giving an almost Fresian cow-hide effect). There were 5 tables set in front of the modern light-wooded bar (and a lot more in the restaurant further in towards the rear of the building) with 3 hand-pulls present (only 2 were in use today) serving Fallen 1703 & Belhaven IPA. In addition there was kegged Black Isle Blonde available and a very decent bottle selection from Fallen, Colonsay, Innis & Gunn, Chimay, Weihenstephan and WEST Beer.

I took a pint of Fallen 1703 (which was seriously impressive, lots of dark fruit & some additional body & bitterness from the last time I'd had it), ordered my lunch and sat down at the table beside the fireplace. All around the bar were pictures of The Trossachs and hanging-up on the walls lots of brass horse shoes & other farming equipment, gleaming bells and decorative acorns.

In addition on each table were a small number of old books and games. A couple at the table next to me started to ask Trivial Pursuit questions from the cards that were available, but I was more interested in the book of Giles Cartoons from 1968. Flicking through these I came across a number of beer related cartoons, most of which referred to the increase in the price of a pint of beer in the 1968 Budget. However there was also this one which suggested that even back in 1968 there were jokes being made about proposed pub takeovers by big faceless conglomerates (I believe OMO was/is a brand of Unilever washing powder!).

My lunch then arrived and since I didn't really fancy a bread-related meal today I had gone for one of the veggie options - a chickpea & tomato burger in-between a 'roll' of 2 large flat mushrooms with sweet potato fries, and very nice it was indeed, especially the smoky, dense mushrooms.

As country pubs go The Byre Inn is pretty damn good, and they have a final trump-card to play. I noticed the bottles of Skin-So-Soft & mosquito repellent on the bar top and thought they were a bit too prominent just for people going out into the beer garden, but they're actually there for the Pétanque/Boules piste that is located at the far end of the Inn near to the car park. It's simply a matter of getting some friends together, putting a deposit down for the metal & wooden balls and then playing a game or two (whilst dodging the swarm of midges that I assume are attracted by the noise, heat and sweat from the mass of participants).

If I hadn't had something to eat & drink I would have continued further down the village to the Brig O' Turk Tea Room, but I decided it was better to head back east before the afternoon squall hit. This meant retracing my route most of the way along the Forest Drive and the cycle path until the far end of Loch Venachar. Here I turned left and went over a bridge across the Eas Gobhain river which connected to the busy main road to Callander. Thankfully I had less than a mile on this before crossing the River Teith at Kilmahog and reaching The Lade Inn on the right hand side of the road.

The Scottish Real Ale Shop is here in a small out-building at the side of the Lade and I think they've definitely expanded their range of (all) Scottish Beer since the last time I was here (gads - almost exactly 2 years ago).

It was certainly the first time I'd ever seen bottled beers from the remote Plockton Brewery available and the lovely Rita who presides over the shop told me that I'd just missed 2 of their other beers - damn!

The Lade Inn itself is another lovely country pub with Bothy Bar, large restaurant with additional conservatory and a superb riverside beer garden. I headed into the Bothy Bar where there were quite a few diners just finishing off lunch and sampling the beers from the Lade's small Trossachs Beer Festival, today Loch Lomond Bonnie 'n' Blonde, TSA Bannockburn, Tryst Blockville Dark and Williams Roisin - all for the bargain price of £2.50/pint.

Since I'd had all the Festival Beers fairly recently I decided to re-visit the Lade's own beers which I'd first had years ago when they were initially brewed in-house in the out-building where the Shop is located (they're currently brewed by TSA).

And I was quite pleasantly surprised. The lower abv Waylade was a fairly bland golden ale with some light citrus, but the Ladeback was a decent malty 70/- with some red berry flavours and the Ladeout was a well-bodied 80/- with perhaps a hint of ginger. These kept me occupied (and dry) whilst the worst of the afternoon squall blew in & then out (others were not so fortunate) and after drying off the necessary parts of the bike, I headed back to Callander down the old railway line. This took me out at the wide expanse of Callander Meadows where the river meanders in front of the large car parks.

I walked the cycle back to Mounter Bikes and then had just about enough time to head to The Waverley Hotel slightly further along Callander Main Street for a quick half of beer. Contrary to appearances it was definitely still open.

I found out that they were having their own annual Beer Festival from 27th September to 7th October, that there should be a 'good number' of guest beers available and I also found the impressive Beer Garden at the back of the Waverley which I hadn't noticed before (there are a lot more tables are on the other side).

I did manage a 1/2 of their in-house Waverley Best Bitter, vaguely OKish, but it was suspiciously similar to the No2 Best Bitter that I was about to have in No2 Baker Street in Stirling and also The Fisherman's ale that I'd had in the Fisherman's Tavern in Broughty Ferry. Not too surprising, I guess, when it's Belhaven/Greene King that now owns all these pubs and brews all these 'Scottish' beers.

Outward transport:-
  Bus: Callander to Stirling (59 First Scotland, 47 on the hour)
  Train: Stirling to Glasgow Queen Street (23, 53 on the hour + others)

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