Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Linlithgow to Bo'ness: 25th January 2014

It's always good to see pubs and hotels either opening up or being refurbished, not at all an easy or risk-free proposition in these tough economic times. This weekend, on Burns Night (OK, it was actually daytime), I decided to head to Linlithgow and Bo'ness where there were a number of relatively new establishments to have a wander between.

View Linlithgow 2014 in a larger map

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

It didn't take me long to come to the first of said establishments - at the bottom of the hill from Linlithgow train station I found the restored Star & Garter Hotel. This 18th Century former townhouse & railway workers dormitory was engulfed by fire in 2010, with the interior completely destroyed and really only the shell of the building remaining.

Since then it has gone through an almost £1Million rebuilding & refurbishment and opened (after some teething Council-related issues) last November. As well as the main bar and the updated hotel rooms they've added a more modern coffee shop to the rear of the building.

I went in and really wanted to sit down for lunch and a beer but the 5 hand-pulls were substantially depleted, with only Deuchars IPA and Taylor's Landlord available, so was I going to stay and have lunch ? I decided not; there were too many other options in Linlithgow. However on the way back from Edinburgh the next weekend I stopped off in Linlithgow to try The Star and Garter again. This time they had 4 beers available on the hand-pulls, with Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted and Arran Blond available alongside a couple of Caley beers.

The main area at the front is really quite big with enough space for groups of people standing up at the bar and there's also a large number of tables at the front windows. The left side is quieter and more setup for food, whereas the right side leads off into a smaller section with a number of comfy sofas.

Upstairs there is a small room with a cracking pool table and what was that up on the wall? Only a signed shirt from Liverpool's Steven Gerrard - c'mon The 'Pool!

Their web-site does make reference to a proposed on-site micro-brewery but I'm guessing they want to get established first as a profitable concern before branching out in that direction. On the whole I was impressed about the way the place has been refurbished and I certainly couldn't fault the friendly service. Back on my search for lunch on Burns Night/Day I decided to wander along Linithgow High Street to another newly renovated pub, the Auld Hole In The Wall.

However a quick look through the window here indicated just Deuchars IPA available; so far this wasn't turning out to be that much of a successful trip. I could have gone into The Four Marys, a more than decent Belhaven pub which I'd been into quite often, but decided instead to walk along to the west end of the High Street. By now a mizzly cold rain had started and so I decided that my next and probably final possibility in Linlithgow was going to be the refurbished West Port Hotel. It's now owned by Maclay Inns who had spent £400K on a re-vamp of the place in August.

Again I managed a quick look through one of the windows and although the beer choice didn't seem that great the huge shards of half-frozen rain/sleet coming down drove me inside. It's a very long, narrow place with lots of different seating areas (some separated by frosted screens) and the bar at the very far end. The decor, the stripped back bare walls, the black-and-white pictures and the lighting very much reminded me of another Maclay's place, DRAM! in Glasgow, and I certainly liked the large hanging downlights at the bar.

I took a pint of Taylor's Golden Best (Caley 80/- and Taylor's Landlord were the other choices), a decent light citrusy bitter, ordered from the Burns Night set menu and waited on my main course. The staff were attentive, knew how to seat people and just generally nice and chatty. When it came my haggis, neeps & tatties was a bit of a surprise from a presentation point-of-view, but the haggis was peppery & had a great texture and the thick onion gravy really went well with it.

And since it was Burns Night/Day I decided to push-the-boat-out and try dessert; well it was Cranachan with loads of tart raspberries, sweet honey, oat flakes and masses of thick double cream (no skooshy stuff here) - it was pretty (OK, very) fabulous.

All told I was really quite glad that I'd stopped here for lunch (apart a couple of foibles with the bill, it's always worth checking and querying). When I emerged blinking from the West Port it had just about stopped raining/sleeting, but I decided that walking to Bo'ness via a couple of wet B-roads and muddy farm tracks was probably not a good idea. Instead I got onto the 46 bus opposite the side entrance of the West Port and stayed on until the Kinneil Estate stop on Bo'ness' Provost Road. From here I walked up the long driveway towards Kinneil Museum. It's open all year round with interactive exhibits about the area's long & colourful history and a small (but perfectly formed) gift shop. Today they were having an RSPB event, with the kids (and parents) tasked to identify as many species of avian life as possible (I think there were really only gulls, lots of low flying gulls about - see the next few photos).

Further on into the estate is Kinneil House, a mansion used by James VI of Scotland. The place is not occupied and now under the care of Historic Scotland, but there are certain days when the interior rooms and restored paintings can be viewed.

After circling the House I managed to cross a small burn by the walls of a flooded bridge and then squelched my way through some common parkland and away from the attentions of some (admittedly cute) young greyhound pups to the remains of a Roman Fort. Only the entranceway to the fort has been uncovered, the other markers really only show the extent of it. The fort was situated in the lee of the Antonine Wall which ran through what is now the Kinneil Estate but there are no real visible signs of the Wall anywhere in the Estate.

On leaving the Kinneil Estate I was able to clean my boots in one of the many large puddles and headed down to the main road into Bo'ness. After 15 minutes or so of walking I came to the Corbie Inn. I've been a few times now and it always looks inviting - food & beer boards out on the pavement, hanging baskets of flowers outside and it just looks generally well maintained and somewhere you'd want to spend a few hours.

Since I was last in they've managed to get a beer garden installed at the back of the pub (I don't think there will be views of the Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway Line through the trees, but you should certainly be able to hear the trains and smell the smoke & steam). The restaurant extension at the front is still to be done (and will be a big job) but hopefully they'll manage that in the next few years.

I arrived at the end of the lunchtime service and the staff were just getting their breath back (it does seem to be very busy, good to see). They always ask if you want to sample the beer first, so I tried the Tryst Cascade Pale Ale and it was fine (as I fully expected) - light and mouth-puckeringly dry & citrusy. It was also good to see the old style Alechemy Cairnpapple IPA pump-clip; the landlady supposedly prefers these (and so do I - sorry, James).

For some reason it's a complete EE/Orange/T-Mobile blackspot but WiFi access & automatic configuration is available through a QR code (which worked first time) and I spent a bit of time talking to the staff and some of the locals before Stuart Simpson, the brewer for the adjacent Kinneil Brew House, came along. Over a beer he told me all his water issues were now in the past (he now filters and adds salts as required) so the head retention of his cask beers are now fine. As well as his core range he's done some specials - Katie Wearie's was done for a Linlithgow festival (and is sold as CorbieHa' Pale Ale in the Corbie Inn - it's a Linlithgow/Bo'ness thing) and he's also had a car club come along and brew their own beer (or 2 or 3). As well as the Corbie Inn (where there should almost always one of his beers on, but not today obviously), he sells to the Station Hotel in Larbert, the Four Marys in Linlithgow and the Railway Tavern in Kincardine and normally has casks at the Alloa, Larbert and SRAF beer festivals. He also sells bottles through Ellies Cellar and Gift Packs (bottles and glasses), Minicasks & Growlers from the Corbie Inn.

It was good to catch up with Stuart but I eventually has to leave the Corbie Inn and walked along the shore to the town centre. There really are quite a number of wonderfully interesting buildings in Bo'ness and in particular I liked the A-listed Hippodrome Cinema with its circular auditorium which is meant to be the oldest purpose built cinema is Scotland. It closed in 1980, but has been restored and re-opened in 2009 after £1.8Million of work.

I took the bus back up to Linlithgow and managed to miss my train connection by only a few minutes. Thankfully there is another pub within hailing distance of the station, Platform 3. I'm assuming at one point it was probably part of The Star and Garter buildings, but it is now completely independent and the winner of a number of recent SLTN Awards.

It's a pretty small but popular place, with the bar at the top of the narrow room, ample standing room at the bar, a number of tables leading down to the front door, lots of exposed brickwork and a great McEwans mirror above the fireplace, but they also manage to have Deuchers IPA and 2 guest beers available (normally one from Stewart Brewing, this time the lovely NZ citrus of Ka Pai).

It seemed a really friendly place with the added bonus of a working model railway up high on the back wall near the ceiling any time anyone made a donation to the charity box (YouTube video clip here if so interested, not mine!).

Return travel:
  Bus: Bo'ness Stance 2 to Linlithgow (Service 45/46, 15/40 on the hour)
  Train: Linlithgow to Glasgow Queen St (04, 34 on the hour)

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