Thursday, 3 October 2013

Cove & Kilcreggan Beer Festival and the Rosneath Peninsula: 28th September 2013

I'd not been to the Cove & Kilcreggan Beer Festival for a good few years, it's always scheduled for the Saturday of the long Glasgow September Weekend (the last weekend in September) and I'd been away on holiday at this time for the last few years. This year I really only planned to work on the house so the Beer Festival would prove to be a nice distraction for a couple of hours, and as an added bonus, it was going to involve another boat trip (OK, just a ferry), my 2nd in 2 weeks, this time over to the lovely Rosneath Peninsula at the mouth of the River Clyde.

View Roseneath in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Central to Gourock (06, 25 & 36 on the hour)
  Ferry: Gourock to Kilcreggan (Kilcreggan Ferry)

When I left Gourock train station and walked the short distance along the platform to Gourock pier I came across quite a crowd of people waiting for the Kilcreggan Ferry; some locals, but definitely quite a few out to partake in the Beer Festival (the beer related T-shirts were a bit of a give-away). The ferry came across from Kilcreggan almost dead on time and thankfully the vessel was somewhat reassuringly larger than the River Taxi I'd been on a couple of weeks ago.

Normally on this crossing you get some great views both back up the River Clyde and down to the Clyde Sea Lochs & the surrounding hills past the Rosneath Peninsula, but today it had hazed over a lot and, to be honest, there wasn't too much to pick out in the middle of the Clyde apart from a couple of yachts.

We docked at Kilcreggan pier and I started my walk west, then north, to Cove. With the weather still hazy I could really only see as far as the beach and the shoreline but there was still a significant amount of birdlife about and also this painted rock, know as 'Tut-Tut' rock, and recently given a makeover by some of the local people.

I went past a very quiet Cove Burgh Hall a bit before the noon opening time of the Beer Festival; it's a lovely brown & red-bricked building dating back to the 1890's complete with tower, balcony and arched entrance, but had fallen into a significant state of disrepair back in 2000 when the community managed to buy it from the local council. Now after a lot of work and some serious TLC it is looking really good, holds community events & private functions, and the Beer Festival provides a significant portion of the funds for its upkeep (I like that - drink beer to raise funds).

I kept walking along the shore road past the few small shops in Cove and came to the sweeping bay which I assume is Cove's, well cove. There are lots of picnic tables here as well as an amazing number of large houses (almost mansions, really) with sweeping panoramic views over Loch Long and the Cowal hills.

Turning the corner from Cove bay I came to one of the most spectacular of these houses, Knockderry Country House Hotel, originally a summer retreat for a family of Glasgow cotton barons. It's all turrets & windows, balconies & Tudor revival woodwork, manicured lawns with mature trees and tables available for al-fresco dining.

These all come with great views down to the lochside and you could even keep watch over your prized boat with one of their own moorings - a very classy place indeed.

It's just as elegant inside. The lounge bar (or library) is all wood panelling and metal fireplace, comfy chairs and low tables with the actual bar a bit of an afterthought, and probably not a place for standing all evening.

They had 3 beers from Kelburn Brewery on today (Pivo Estivo, Misty Law & Goldihops), pulled from the other side of the bar in what I think used to be the old billiard room. I took my pint of Pivo Estivo and sat down at the impressive panoramic front window.

I got chatting to the friendly bar staff and it seems as if they've had a good season this year and are already almost fully booked for their annual Hogmanay House Party (Afternoon Tea, Ceilidh and New Year Brunch) at the end of the year. For some reason I wasn't able to have lunch in the lounge (although I'm sure I have done so on previous visits) but instead I was shunted off (in the nicest possible way) to the smaller of the 2 dining areas with only this fellow for company.

I'd ordered the (posh) Fish-and-Chips and these really well presented - a lovely light batter on the fish, chunky chips with some fantastic home-made tartre sauce; I think I must have scoffed them in about 15 minutes flat.

I was tempted by their extensive dessert menu, but instead decided to walk off my lunch by strolling back down to Cove Burgh Hall. The Beer Festival was now in full swing with with the kitchen staff feeding lots of hungry punters, a sound check was happening for the music later on in the afternoon and all the beers were available on gravity.

I was really quite impressed with the beer choice taken from all around the country including (amongst the 18 or so on offer) Silures from Celt Experience, Chinnok Blonde from Goose Eye and Whapweasel from Hexhamshire. In addition Loch Lomond Brewery had provided their dry, citrusy Southern Summit and another brewed especially for the Beer Festival, Drayman's Travels. This was named after one of the founders of the Cove Beer Festival, Richard Coates (nickname, The Drayman), who had passed away in the last year and who was a keen walker and beer fan (definitely my type of person). And the Drayman's Travels was quite fantastic - dark chocolate, sweet orange candy and a serious chilli kick in the aftertaste - lovely stuff which hopefully would have been appreciated by The Drayman (and this was also the first beer to sell-out).

I decided to follow everyone's lead and headed outside into the bright sunshine to brave the (more than) occasional midge. There was a nice relaxed atmosphere, obviously helped by the weather, lots of kids playing about, and I watched a steady stream of people walking in and a couple of buses unload a significant amount of people from Helensburgh and other parts of the Rosneath peninsula. It certainly wasn't a surprise when I found out later that all the beer had sold out by 7pm (the earliest ever), even though a record amount had been ordered.

After a final additional 1/2 of the Drayman's Travels I headed back towards the pier at Kilcreggan. A couple of streets before reaching the pier I turned up the hill and entered the garden of the Kilcreggan Hotel (another baronial building) and walked up the path to the lounge/conservatory entrance (there is another entrance to the Back Bar at the top of the hill, but I decided that was way too much effort).

It's a bright spacious place inside with plenty of room (and seats) at the bar and lots of tables setup for food in the conservatory. There were 3 hand-pulls available serving Orkney's Raven & Northern Light and also Draught Bass (which I think is permanent).

I took a 1/2 of the Bass and went to sit outside in the beer garden with great views (again), this time of the Clyde. It's really quite nice out here on a sunny day although the tables in the beer garden are set in a pretty hard stone slabbed surface which I managed to verify by dropping my bag and breaking my Beer Festival glass - fool! The Bass I had was fine, but it wasn't a patch on the Pedigree that I'd had at the Steam Wheeler in Braehead a couple of weeks ago. My final visit of the day before the bus arrived was to The Lighthouse pub located amongst the small row of shops just opposite Kilcreggan pier.

This used to be the the Creggan Inn but it's definitely been done up quite a bit since those days. There are 2 hand-pulls available (though it's difficult to see these past the designer bag on the bar), with only 1 on today supplying Doom Bar (not great) and the other indicating the possibility of London Pride in the not so distant future (a local beer would have been nice).

The pool table at the front of the room was popular today but I only had eyes for this lovely guide dog patiently waiting for his owner.

By then it was time for the hourly bus to Helensburgh. The journey along the coast through Garelochhead and past the Faslane Naval Base takes almost 30 minutes and once in the centre of Helensburgh, I had just about enough time to stop at the relatively recently opened JD Wetherspoon pub, The Henry Bell (named after the Helensburgh resident who operated the first commercial steam passenger service in Europe between Glasgow, Greenock & Helensburgh) and whose monument is just down the street on the esplanade.

This is very much a long and narrow pub, similar to the Prestwick Pioneer, with lots of seating in a number of different areas (including an outside terrace/decking area, but still off the street), light from a number of velux-type ceiling windows and a collection of colourful downlighters. There's definitely been some inspiration from the Charles Rennie Macintosh designed Hill House on the outskirts of Helensburgh with lots of long, thin dark wood, criss-cross panelling, high-backed chairs and red rose-type motifs - kudos to Wetherspoon for going down this route, it can't have been cheap (£1.4Million seems to be the figure). On the long flowing slate bar there was a good selection of 6 hand-pulls available and I was happy to see a Dorset Brewing Company beer there, Midnight Blinder, a decent chocolatey stout.

And on my way to the train station there was still enough time to procure a Fyne Ales Sanda Black/Blonde tag-team take-away from the almost hidden Callaghans Butchers/Deli (well, it was a long journey back to Glasgow).

Return Journey:-
  Bus: Kilcreggan to Helensburgh (18 on the hour, 316 Wilsons/Garelochhead)
  Train: Helensburgh Central to Glasgow Queen Street (10, 40 on the hour)

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