Hooray - a lovely Easter Bank Holiday was beckoning with lots of sunshine forecast all weekend. I decided that a good walk through the West Lothian countryside and some of its country parks was called for, stopping off at a few pubs and ending up at the Livingston Cricket Club Beer Festival.
View Uphall in a larger map
Outward journey was as follows:-
Train: Glasgow Queen Street Low Level to Uphall (21, 51 on the hour)
I needed to get to the other side of the platform at Uphall Station but couldn't find a bridge or an underpass so I had to head down to the traffic lights at the bottom of the road and then back up the other side. Thankfully the path to East Calder was far better signposted, at the very far end of the platform.
The path is a disused railway line and it took me through tree & flowering bracken lined fields and also curved past the fishing platforms at Pumpherston Pond.
This continued in the same vein for a ~3 miles and was a more than pleasant walk in the warm spring sunshine. Eventually I came to the Camps Viaduct over the River Almond. It's a pretty high viaduct and the views here both up & down the river valley are quite spectacular.
I decided to keep going along the old railway path until it emerged into the main street of East Calder. Just along the road is The Grapes, a really nicely presented building, where I'd hoped there might be some tasty Alechemy Brewing beer.
There's a large spacious main bar (and a function room where a group of girls were setting up a birthday cake), and they seem to do decently priced pub grub including various filled rolls, but neither of the 2 hand-pulls had anything on them at all (it seems there was a change of ownership last November) and so after slaking my thirst with a cold bottle of Becks I headed back along the path to the Camps Viaduct. At the north end of the viaduct I found a steep set of steps leading down to the valley floor (I think there must have been about 60 steps in total).
There's a cycle path and walkway here along the feeder canal for the main Union Canal but also some scrub-land giving great views back to the viaduct and also access to the river where there were a lot of folk fishing today.
I followed the path as it wound its way along the River Almond, criss-crossing both banks and taking in a number of small weirs.
Just after the weir at the confluence of the River Almond and the Linhouse/Murieston Waters I headed up through a small car park and into Mid Calder. On the main thoroughfare of Bank/Market/Main Street I found a number of eating establishments, the Toripchen Inn (which seemed quiet/closed), Khushis Indian Restaurant (great food and BYOB) and The Black Bull, initially really busy but which emptied in almost a heartbeat just after I arrived to allow the regulars to get on the football coach for today's Livingston FC game.
There are 2 very separate sections of the building - downstairs (right hand side) is the pub where football is the main source of entertainment & conversation and upstairs (left hand side) where there is a large area for dining and also a welcoming bar complete with standing space and a number of bar stools. The bar has a tall wooden gantry extending to the ceiling, large brass hanging lanterns and a dark wooden floor with the wood effect extending to the partial dividing screens and the panelling in the dining area. On the 2 hand-pulls today were Deuchars IPA (permanent) and Houston Killellan Bitter (I was just slightly too early for promised Harviestoun Broken Dial), but I was happy enough to take a pint of Killellan (light & lemon citrussy, but perhaps not quite as tasty as when Carl Wengel was making it a couple of years ago) and let the helpful staff take my order.
There is some pretty adventurous food available all day and lots of specials on the blackboard but I reverted to type and went for the soup-and-sandwich deal, today a thick & creamy Cauliflower & Chive, Ham & Tomato sandwiches and salted tortillas.
It seems like a real community place; everyone was friendly, the service was great and they put on a lot of gigs (the one for Easter Sunday was was advertised as '9pm til Late'), quizzes & promotions. Meal and beer finished I walked back down the main street where an large information sign was detailing the start of the Almondell and CalderWood Country Park, located just below the high level bridge.
There are numerous paths here along the Linhouse & Murieston Waterways, all quite well defined and they took me through some dense woodland, areas of more desolate moorland, patches of colourful spring flowers and past a number of small waterfalls - it seems as if a lot of it has been left to grow with minimal intervention. I saw lots of birds, some squirrels and even a deer (I'm not sure who was more spooked, me or the deer).
Following the path in a vaguely south-west direction along Murieston Water eventually took me under a number of main roads in Livingston and then up into a housing estate near Livingston South train station. I headed past a lot of large houses along Murieston Valley until I could see banners waving in the slight breeze outside Livingston Cricket Club.
The Cricket Club were holding their 3rd Annual Beer Festival in association with Livingston Round Table and it was only a matter of buying social membership for the Club (valid for the year), getting a glass, and then being able to choose from the 12 cask beers that were available. This included a selection from local brewery Alechemy, Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, Windswept, Tryst and DemonBrew (it's great to see DemonBrew Dave back (he's currently brewing at Tryst) and his Firehead still has that great balance, but lovely, very bitter grapefruit finish that it's always had). All these were available for £2.50/pint over the weekend and then sold off for £1/pint on Easter Monday evening, outstanding value.
It was here at Livingston Cricket Club exactly 2 years ago that Alechemy made their first public appearance; it's certainly been a rapid and very successful expansion for the enthusiastic Dr James Davies and his expanded team just along the road in a (now packed) Livingston industrial unit. They have a great range of core beers, seem to launch new beers all the time and also come up with the occasional 'curve-ball', one of which was available on the bar this weekend - 10-Storey Malt Bomb, a seriously sweet, malty & toffee Brown/Scotch Ale with a great depth of flavour from the 10 different malts used (great name too). Today it was such a pleasant change to be able to take this beer and a couple of others outside into the sunshine, grab a seat and watch some lads practice cricket in the nets and on the outfield (cricket & beer work well together). Unfortunately I had to leave early because of a cancelled train (the ScotRail App wins through again), but it was good to make an appearance at this friendly place.
Train: Livingston South to Glasgow Central (15, 58 on the hour)