Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Blairgowrie, Alyth & Meigle in Strathmore: 30th December 2013

I was spending a couple of days at my parents' house in Dundee before the New Year and was determined to visit Blairgowrie, a town in Eastern Perthshire I'd never visited before even though it's been home to one of the most acclaimed 'small-town' real-ale pubs (The Ericht Alehouse) in Scotland for a good number of years. As always the Tayside CAMRA website was a useful source of information for the surrounding area, be it called Eastern Perthshire, Tayside or (my preference) the Strathmore valley.

View Strathmore in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Bus: Dundee Seagate Bus Station to Blairgowrie (10:20, every 2 hours, Stagecoach 59. Buy a Tayrider Day Ticket)

I got into Blairgowrie at ~11:15, and although I did have a bit of a wander around the main streets of the town in the teeming rain, it wasn't too much of a tough decision to head into the recently opened JD Wetherspoon pub, The Fair O'Blair, for a look around, a bite to eat and just to dry out.

It's a long, narrow former Woolworths building as per the Prestwick Pioneer amongst others (I wonder how many Woolworths are now JD Wetherspoon pubs ?), was supposedly converted to a pub at a cost of £1.35Million and is named after the numerous fairs & markets that were historically held in Blairgowrie, the largest town of the Strathmore valley. And as per pretty well all of the newer JD Wetherspoon conversions it's been kitted out really well. The long bar covering a lot of the left-hand side is brightly lit, there are lots of slatted hanging lights, row-upon-row of glinting beer & wine glasses hang upside down above the bar, there are painted green beams, dark polished marble high-tables with brown leather stools and also the occasional long, thin quartz clock on the painted pillars.

At the back is a small outside decking area and also some longer bench tables with a view into the kitchen, whereas at the front are more comfy sofas and a multitude of coloured hanging lights.

It was still pre-noon, was I going to have a beer? No - not this time. Instead I decided on a hot chocolate (& cream, lots of scooshy cream) accompanied by a slice of the local butcher's lorne sausage in a roll (this was pre-brown sauce treatment). For all of £2.19 this was pretty good value.

The staff were chatty, knew how to treat the regulars and as I next approached the bar I was still swithering about whether or not to have a beer after my hot chocolate & roll. There were 10 hand-pulls on the bar, although the beers were duplicated on 2 banks of 5, but it didn't really take too much encouragement for me to try a 1/2 of the latest Adnams/Sixpoint collaboration beer, the 6.3% Righteous Ale - a spicy rye, almost sweet banoffee pie type bitter(!) with a light coffee finish - really very nice indeed, especially for £1.15 a 1/2 pint.

It was a busy place, not packed, but doing a good trade on a Monday morning, but after I'd finished the Righteous Ale I decided to leave and try to find out if my main target, The Ericht Alehouse was open for business. It wasn't - cue a bit of panic, and there weren't any Opening Times on the (definitely closed) door - but then I eventually spied some light & life inside and it seemed as if it was going to open fairly soon (Google then gave me a 1:30pm probable opening time) - phew! This meant I could take a bit of a walk up the River Ericht towards both Cargill's Leap and the Falls of Ericht. The muddy path alongside the Ericht was fenced off just before the Falls but since the guy in front of me just threw his bike over the fence I decided I was probably going to be able to manage it as well (it was only really fenced off for 4-wheel drive vehicles, pedestrian access was fine). Cargill's Leap used to actually be 'leapable' but certainly wasn't nowadays, but the Falls of Ericht were impressive with all the recent rain (if a bit obscured by trees & branches).

I walked back down the Ericht to the town centre and by now The Ericht Alehouse's door was half-open - I needed no second invitation to head on through the door.

Just inside the external door is an up-to-date beer board, I like seeing these outside since it means you can decide if you want a beer without going in and scanning all the pump-clips, and today the beer list was more than acceptable (for keg beer as well as cask).

There is a central island bar with 2 separate bar areas on either half of the room. The young barmaid (Zoe, I think) was cleaning away on the right side but was quite happy to serve me a 1/2 of Gower Samson Jack (a pretty standard bitter) and a packet of mini cheddars, and then let me take a few photos.

As mentioned there is also a separate bar area on the left side of the pub (I think the pump-clips were also different on the 2 sides of the bar) with a well-stocked fridge of Belgian and German beers...

... and then some sofas, benches and games areas further up on both sides. It really is a great traditional, no-frills (no jukebox, no TV) pub and I was glad that I'd made the effort to pay it a visit.

Exploration done I took a 1/2 of Thwaites' Good Elf (ouch for the name, but a lovely spicy, Christmassy dark ale) and then chatted away to Zoe for a bit. The obvious topic was what the Fair O'Blair had done to takings and the atmosphere of the place since it had opened last June. And the answer wasn't too surprising - takings were pretty well holding up during the week, but were definitely down at the weekend. So basically the regulars were staying, but the 'transients' were heading to the Fair O'Blair and ordering the cheaper beer. What would I do in Blairgowrie ? I'd definitely be in The Ericht Alehouse as much as possible, but I'd still probably try any interesting guest beers (and especially the newer UK/US collab beers) that were available in the JD Wetherspoon's, so (as always) there are swing-and-roundabouts wherever/whenever a Wetherspoons opens. There is no kitchen in The Ericht Alehouse (and no space for it) but they do allow food on the premises, so you do see people going for a fish supper or a Chinese takeaway and then bringing it in to The Ericht to have with a few beers; that certainly wouldn't happen in the Fair O'Blair.

After a bit more of a chat with Zoe regarding Glasgow pubs, American Football and the Broughty Ferry New Year's Day Dook I needed to leave to get the bus to Alyth, perhaps 5 miles or so to the east. Normally I would walk this, but in these conditions, along narrow country lanes, it just didn't make any sense to do so. It was therefore just over 20 minutes before the bus dropped me off in the centre of Alyth, a small town split north-west/south-east by the Alyth Burn. There are a fair number of modern bridges & footpaths over the burn which were all decorated with twinkly Christmas lights, and at the very north west end of the town, the 15th Century Pack Bridge (still in use today).

By following the Alyth Burn I would have come to the Den O'Alyth woods & river-side paths, but (again mainly because of the weather) I decided to stop at the Losset Inn at the very corner of Losset Road.

There seemed to be a bit of a 'domestic' happening just outside the bar, so instead I headed into the (very empty) lounge. There was a single hand-pull there amongst the Christmas decorations with Inveralmond Thrappledouser available so I took a pint of this, a packet of Bacon Flavour Fries and the barmaid very kindly gave me a Courier to read.

It was definitely a very homely lounge - a few tables in front of the bar and the fire, and then a further number of tables through the partition complete with hanging hops all over the place, some nice beery signs, a ship's wheel, antique clocks, china plates, water jugs and the proverbial piano.

And the restaurant area on the other side of the building seemed pleasant enough as well.

The hourly bus back to Dundee wasn't due for a while so I was able to head back across the Alyth Burn and then down Airlie Street from which the bus had come up from Alyth. From my vantage point on the top level of the bus I had been able to spy the Airlie Street Bar.

And also just about make out the sign on the door.

Disappointing enough though when I got into the large single-roomed bar there was nothing on the only hand-pull. However the barmaid was quick to point out that there were bottles of Inveralmond beers available and so I took a bottle of Ossian, Inveralmond's finest, and sat down at one of the 2 or so tables set away a fair distance from the crowded bar. It was a busy place that afternoon with lots of locals coming & going and all kept in-check by the commanding barmaid, even though there was a bit of banter about the availability (or lack of it) of ice for the drams. There certainly were quite a few whiskey bottles and other spirits displayed high up on the bar but sadly there was no way I was going to get a photo of this although I did manage to get one of the very friendly pub dog, who eventually left me alone for the warmth of the fire.

The next bus was just heading back from the centre of Alyth so I took this down a long straight B-road and across the River Isla until the next village, Meigle. Again I might have been happy to walk this in the summertime, but in the winter, with no pavements (just a muddy grass verge), it wasn't really an option. The bus dropped me off at the bus shelter in centre of Meigle where it seemed most things were either closed or closing. The Meigle Sculptured Stone Museum which houses a number of Pictish Stones was closed for the winter (open April to September) and one of the few other large public or commercial buildings was The Joinery coffee shop (which was closing at 4pm).

However there was the more than welcoming distraction of the Kinloch Arms Hotel across the road from the bus shelter - hooray!

I walked into the large bar and this time the pub dog didn't take to me at all. When the barmaid had stopped laughing about this she was happy to serve me a pint of Strathbraan Head East, a lovely well-balanced fruity bitter from the single hand-pull as well as another packet of Bacon Flavor Fries (thankfully I can now get these from Amazon).

This time the bar was deserted with a good number of the locals having gone to Perth on a beery day trip, great to see. And there did seem to be a great community spirit about the place, pies for the return of the Perth crowd were delivered whilst I was in, and the barmaid told me that a lot of the villagers pitched in with shifts at the bar when the owner was away or out on a delivery run. This seems to be compensated by the frequent private parties/lock-ins, especially around the Christmas/New Year period.

They also seem to go through a good number of guest beers - on the wall I spied pump-clips from Harviestoun (Bitter & Twisted) and Fyne Ales (Hurricane Jack) in addition to a well remembered beer from the now deceased Angus Ales (Mashie Niblick).

I do sometimes tend to rush about a bit between pubs but this time it was a bit less hectic and a most enjoyable way to spend a dreich afternoon between Christmas & New Year.

Return travel:-
  Bus: Blairgowrie to Alyth (50 on the hour, Stagecoach 57)
  Bus: Alyth to Meigle (13 on the hour, Stagecoach 57)
  Bus: Meigle to Dundee (23 on the hour, Stagecoach 57)


  1. I think its a good job you didn't walk between towns, the way many of the locals drive they're not really safe for pedestrians. If you're out that way in the future The Tavern in Ardler is meant to be a good village pub, although I don't think its on any bus routes.

  2. Cheers - I did think about The Tavern but it wasn't meant to be open until 6pm. I'll have to come back on a weekend :-)