Thursday, 15 May 2014

Inching towards Perth: 10th May 2014

Perth is somewhere I'd been to a lot whilst growing up in Dundee but not that often since I'd been drinking (good) beer. Today gave me the chance to visit a few old haunts, take in the Perth Beer Festival on the green expanses of the North Inch Park and hopefully find an interestingly coloured beer.

View Perth Beer Festival in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows :-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St to Perth (41 on the hour & others)

I got into Perth station fairly early in the morning on a bit of a mizzly day and set off east towards the River Tay. As I crossed the main road bridge over the river I was able to see the railway/pedestrian bridge over to Moncreiffe Island in the middle of the Tay and since it was high tide, the causeway to island (in the channel on the left) was completely overrun by the flow of the Tay.

I passed the large Isle of Skye Hotel on the other side of the bridge and headed up some really quite steep, narrow roads until the main road up to Kinnoull Hill. There are some pretty impressive houses up here and (somewhat more surprisingly) a full-blown Monastery, St Mary's Monastery and Spirituality Centre - the B-listed monastic buildings were a bit obscured by trees & flowering bushes today but it seemed a busy place with lots of cars in the car park.

Just before the road turns left there is a small car park and the start of a number of paths for Kinnoull Hill Woodland Park.

There's a fairly easy zig-zag, 'level-ish' path up the hill, but there's also a steeper, muddier, but more direct one, so (of course) I chose that and started to clamber up the slopes of the hill. It probably only took 20 minutes or so of effort and then the path opened out onto a viewpoint at the very top of the hill. The cliffs here are almost sheer (with no safety protection at all) but they really do give some great views of the River Tay as flows through the Carse of Gowrie to Dundee and of the Friarton Bridge as it crosses the Tay connecting the fields & hills of Fife.

On the other side of the hill there's another viewpoint towards the northern part of Perth and the southern Highlands in the distance (sadly not really visible today) and then slightly further on I was able to see a tower perched on the next part of the hilltop.

It was only another few minutes to walk to this - a romantic folly built in 1829 to try to make the area look at bit more like the Rhine Gorge Valley of Germany, but today it's crumbling away with the narrow main tower just about the only part of the structure still in one piece.

Thankfully going down the hill is a lot easier than going up (well, except on the knees the next day) and I took the same way down rather than attempt to find a more direct path to the main road. This meant I had to follow the main road out of Perth to Dundee for a bit until a signpost for Moncrieff Island. After leading me down to the bank of the Tay this then followed the railway line until Moncreiffe Island. As mentioned before there is a causeway here to allow access at low tide, but the people who have allotments or the golfers for the King James VI Golf Course on the island mostly bring everything they need by foot. And that footpath really is close to the railway line (no trains for me to wave at today, damn).

Next I needed to find some lunch and some beer and so headed towards the west side of Perth by taking the diagonal route through South Inch Park. This took me to the Craigie Burn and a couple of arches under the main railway line.

I followed the burn for a bit until I could hear the sound of cascading water from around the corner. And there in the middle of a housing estate was a fairly impressive waterfall - almost literally in someone's back garden. I can only assume that you get used to the noise over a period of time.

Rejoining the burn at the top of the hill I next managed to find a cycle path which bypassed a lot of the side-streets of Perth and dropped me off almost in the back garden of the Cherrybank Inn, a large pub on the road out towards Glasgow. There was certainly a lot of cherry blossom here from a number of trees in full bloom, hence (I guess) the name of the pub.

I went up the steps to the middle level of the building, entered the large lounge and then made my way through some swinging doors into the main bar. In amongst the 5 hand-pulls with beer from local Scottish breweries I found the pump-clip for the special beer that had been created by Inveralmond Brewery for St Johnstone Football Club who were playing in the Scottish Cup Final the next weekend. Called Saints 130 Ale (since this was the first time in 130 years of existence that they had ever reached a Cup Final) when it was poured by the smiling owner/barman it really came out a luminous light blue, almost verging on cyan. I can remember drinking green beers before but I think a blue beer is a definite first for me.

They had had a big press & TV launch for the beer at the Cherrybank during the week with striker Stevie May from St Johnstone (a friend of the owner's son) in attendance (he didn't partake of any beer at all, at least before the game). I assume it's been made with some blueberry syrup and it definitely had that blueberry muffin sweet taste with a decent, fairly bitter citrus finish, a really nice beer. This is Inveralmond head brewer Ken Duncan (in full mad eccentric scientist mode) creating the beer.
(Pic from the Inveralmond Brewery Facebook pages)

I took my blue beer back into the rear section of the lounge and grabbed a menu to peruse. The lounge is sort of split in two - a large dining room cum conservatory with lots of comfy chairs & tables, high windows and views over some allotments & the nearby golf course and then it's semi-partitioned off with more tables & chairs at the rear in front of the long lounge bar-top which extends into the main bar.

I ordered some food - there's an extensive, good value menu with lots of specials, but the soup & sandwich deal with a choice of filling (egg mayo for me) was only £5 and these must have came after only about ~5 minutes. I think the colour scheme for lunch today worked really well!

Since it was clearing up I decided to walk all the way back into the centre of Perth (note that there is a frequent bus service from outside the Cherrybank) along Glasgow Road. There really was a lot of support for St Johnstone in the city - there were banners on almost every lamp-post, scarves & banners in a lot of house windows, and as well as Inveralmond's blue beer there have been reports of blue cakes (OK), blue pies (getting weird) and blue rice with curries (getting very weird). All the pubs are certainly getting involved - this was the Bee Bar in the city centre (nice windows too, but not a great selection of beer).

From the centre of Perth it's not too far to the North Inch Park area; it's a large open park next to the Tay with football & rugby pitches which eventually meld into the North Inch Golf Club. At the side of the rugby pitches I could hear the sound of the Perth Beer Festival well before I could see it, with its large marquee, bouncy castle/slides and BBQ food.

Inside the marquee there were lots of plastic tables & chairs under cover and a long bar at the back manned by a group of very friendly, patient staff from Perth Rugby Club (and friends).

Unfortunately it was plastic glasses only (unless perhaps you had singed up for Céilidh at night) but there was certainly enough redundancy for the 24 or so beers on offer, multiple casks (and the odd keg) were in operation since I think they ran out quite early last year. Unsurprisingly there were quite a few Perth-based Inveralmond beers, of which I think my favourite was the slightly cherry-sour Märzenfest, and then single beers from a number of Scottish breweries (Stewart, Strathbraan, MòR, Loch Lomond etc...) and a few from England (Elland, Hop Back, Moles). There definitely were a large number of golden ales available, but I think my beer of the festival was the more amber Best Bitter of Moles Molecatcher, some definite malty sweetness, with some spicy blackberries & a bittersweet finish.

As well as all the beer there a massed band to deliver some music (and a great choir later on)...

some chain-saw wood sculpting (impressive, noisy and quite expensive)...

and (of course) a lot of 7's rugby matches to watch outside on the 3 pitches. These were split into various groups, and I wasn't quite sure who was playing who at times, but it was still fun good to watch for a while. Some took it a bit more seriously than others and it was entertaining to see some of the guys come straight off the pitch and head to the beer tent for 'refreshment'. After working my way through the beers I hadn't had before (and some old favourites) I decided it was time to head off and try a couple of pubs in Perth. The first one I came to was the Old Ship Inn, located just off the main shopping precinct and meant to be the oldest pub in Perth (great pub-sign too).

It's a bit of a strange 'L'-shaped place inside with an 'L'-shaped bar towards the back corner, but there's a cracking painting, some nice window-work, wood panelling and comfy seating down one arm of the 'L'.

It's a Belhaven pub so on the 2 (sometimes 3) hand-pulls they only have Belhaven/Greene King beers and the occasional guests, but I was intrigued to see if the Old Ship Ale was the generic Greene King 'house ale' - and yes it was, sigh...

With only a short amount of time left before my train back to Glasgow my last stop was the compact & perfectly formed Greyfriars Bar on South Street.

It was very quiet this afternoon with only only 1 customer and 1 barman downstairs, both reading the newspapers at the front of the bar - I'm guessing the Beer Festival was taking a bit of their business away at least until it started to become a ticket event at 6pm. This meant I could take a look around the place; full of exposed brickwork, film & band prints on the walls, tartan curtains and this corner at the window is where the music happens most weekends (it's normally only 1 or 2 people, not a full band).

There is also a small room upstairs, mostly used at lunchtime when the downstairs bar is choc-a-bloc (this doesn't take too many people at all).

From the 3 hand-pulls I was able to have a couple more blue Saints 130 Ales with some very spicy jalapeño pepper snacks before getting the train back to Glasgow; I dread to think what my insides were going to be like in the next couple of days.

Return travel:-
  Train: Perth to Glasgow Queen St. (~15 on the hour and some others)

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