Friday, 25 July 2014

A loop around the Perth Road in Dundee: 19th July 2014

I go back to my home city of Dundee fairly often, but it's mostly to visit family and so that doesn't really present too many chances to go off and have a wander about the city and visit some old haunts (except occasionally around New Year). This week I did have that opportunity so this is a 2014 version of a Perth Road crawl that I would have done many times whilst at Dundee University and I apologise for the rambling length and number of photos.

View Dundee in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St to Dundee (41 past the hour, split-tickets through Perth are way cheaper)

Dundee city centre is presently a bit of an on-going roadwork nightmare as the waterfront area gets redeveloped for the V&A Dundee, due to open in 2017. However at least the concrete monstrosity of Tayside House has gone whilst the sadly derelict Tay Hotel (which I have fond memories of, having had my Graduation Meal there) has had £15million spent on it and been transformed into an up-market Malmaison Hotel and looks way better than at any time in the last 20 years

I went up into the main shopping precinct and found a small Farmer's Market in the city square in front of the many-pillared grandeur of the Caird Hall with both Eden Brewery St Andrews and Cairn o' Mohr present and selling their tasty wares.

However it was a bit too early to burden myself with some heavy bottles so I decided to head up to the Abertay University precinct and the bottom of Infirmary Hill (the old site of Dundee Royal Infirmary). From here it's a pretty steep incline (understatement!) up Constitution Road to get to the base of Dundee Law, the old volcanic 'plug' that looms over Dundee. Unfortunately by now it was starting to get a bit murky with lots of low cloud & some mizzle and the path up to the top of the Law with its whale bone arch was starting to get somewhat lost in the greyness.

And when I got to the top of the Law with its war memorial and look-out positions there was no view at all of Dundee, the silvery Tay, the two Tay bridges and certainly not of Fife - sigh...

However this is the view there should have been (e-mailed from a friend) - quite spectacular when it's a clear day.

I walked back down out of the low cloud and took a different path off the Law towards Dudhope Park. This led me to the main artery of Lochee Road and towards the Blackness Business Park area. Here on (another) Brewery Lane was the site of Ballingall's Brewery and Bottling Factory which closed way back in the 1960's.

In the Victorian era & beyond Dundee was traditionally known for the 3 J's - Jam, Jute and Journalism and down one of the side-streets in the Blackness area is an old jute mill, the Verdant Works, now Scotland's Jute Museum operated by the Dundee Heritage Trust.

By now I was getting hungry and so walked past some of the Dundee University buildings, down Tay Street and to the start of Perth Road where my favourite Dundee pub whilst at University, the Phoenix, was waiting for me. With its bright red exterior, painted colourful windows and golden phoenix above the main door it's not really changed too much from the outside in close on 30 years.

And it's not really changed that much inside either. A single quite dark room with lots of dark wood fittings and a long wooden bar-top & gantry on the left, standing space in front, lots of tables & leather seats at the right with a complex system of partitions & screens (that I never managed to get the hang of) giving some privacy, and more tables at the front just below those great front windows.

The beer selection has definitely improved though, with a number of shiny fonts, a good bottled selection and 5 hand-pulls - the Landlord & Deuchars are permanent, local brewery MòR always have a beer on and there are 2 guests. Today both of these were from Strathbraan in Perthshire and I was happy to go with the Strathbraan Head East, a more than decent well-balanced bitter.

They have a really wide selection of excellent pub grub, but I've been coming in for the chilli (and recommending it to friends) for quite some time - it comes with a topping of sweet peppers and cheese and is quite superb.

And it's really hot! I don't normally do 'after-food' pics but this was the amount of green chillies that I was able to pick out (I still consumed quite a few). If I had had all of these I'd probably have ended up along the road in Ninewells Hospital for the night!

Food and beer done I reluctantly left the confines of the Phoenix to walk the short distance up the Perth Road to the new cultural hub of Dundee, the Dundee Contemporary Arts centre (DCA).

Inside is a cinema & arts shop and they normally have a number of exhibitions on, galleries to walk around and a busy print studio but today most of the upstairs was taken over by a craft & design fair and was pretty busy. I went downstairs to the Jute Bar to search for a cold bitter beer to wash down my chilli and found a nice selection on the shiny, high keg fonts. Jute is operated by the Fuller Thomson people who get a lot of their beers through A New Wave distribution, so I wasn't surprised to see beers from St Eriks and Camden Town available with the St Eriks IPA certainly bitter enough to quench some of the fire from the chilli.

Jute is a really large open-plan space with lots of comfy tables & chairs and a separate dining area with great views over the Tay (when visible) and it's also a great place to people watch (lots of pre-wedding drinks today). There is also outside seating which is only accessible from the Jute Bar and not directly from Perth Road - a good move.

I managed to get out of the DCA without spending too much money at the craft fair and headed past the main Dundee University buildings including The Union (Dundee University Students Association) - those polished windows were meant to be killers in the morning when the sun used to reflect off them and down the street to the student accommodation.

The cobbles of Roseangle were next and Laings just past the corner has probably the best beer garden in Dundee, but slightly further up Perth Road I came to Drouthys (previously Drouthy Neebors before being taken over the Fuller Thomson people).

I headed up a couple of steps to the main bar at the back where the (as always) great selection of beer is distributed along 2 sides of the bar. I think they've reduced the number of cask fonts to only 2 (Fyne Jarl & Williams Juniper Tree today), whereas there were 20 keg fonts. With such a choice it makes sense to try a flight tray of 3 1/3rds and so I went for Broughton Throne Shaker (a bit too bitter & unbalanced), Mikkeller Peter, Pale & Mary (a far better balanced pale ale) and Williams Juniper Tree (some slight tangy sourness from the juniper).

There are seat & tables on the same level as the bar and also down below at the front where there are a row of funky booth-type diner seats & tables and a great spiral stair case to the basement and the toilets (difficult to use when you've had a few beers, even if only 1/3rds).

On resuming my journey up the Perth Road I had hoped that the George Orwell would have been open, MòR and Eden St Andrews beers have been seen on hand-pull here, but it was definitely closed on a Saturday afternoon (it seems to open at 4pm, I should have checked their Facebook page).

This meant a stop to put on my raincoat and then a walk further up Perth Road into the West End proper. There are numerous restaurants, cafes and pubs here but I was aiming for the Tay Bridge Bar, part of the West End pub scene for years but which re-opened after a face-lift a couple of years ago.

This used to be a 3-room pub with a main bar, separate 'Walnut Lounge' and a small snug, but now it's a single-roomed establishment with the left hand side comprising the old bar full of dark wood, some huge brewery mirrors and lots of standing room...

...and the right hand side the lounge/dining area now only slightly partitioned off from the bar (there's a good juke box in there).

Beer wise I went for a 1/2 of Harviestoun Schiehallion out of a choice of that, Inveralmond Ossian or McEwans IPA (with a 4th hand-pull unused). The Tay Bridge Bar used to be the 'tap' for the small Hawkhill Brewery/Discovery Ales microbrewery which was based round the corner (both the Tay Bridge Bar and the brewery were owned by the same parent company). I did manage to try 2 of their beers in late 2012/early 2013 but the venture now seems to have fallen through and their beers haven't been on the last few times I've been in.
(Pic from December 2012)

Only a few hundred yards or so away I found my final Perth Road destination, the Speedwell Bar, more commonly known to generations of Dundonians as Mennie's (after the family that ran the pub for more than 50 years).

This is a pretty amazing unspoilt Edwardian boozer. With a lounge on the left and a bar on the right (which I don't think I've ever been in, I've never felt enough of a local to frequent the bar), separated by a partition & screened door with the L-shaped panelled bar counter and high gantry split between the rooms.

In the lounge there is ample standing room...

...and 2 large snugs, complete with fireplaces, tiling and more dark wood.

It used to be that there was only ever Deuchars or Dark Island on the hand-pulls but today there was Kelburn Goldihops, Strathbraan Due South and Dark Star Hophead (with Thornbridge and Tiny Rebel to come), great to see, and in the fridge was a nice selection of bottled Belgian and German beers. It was busy this afternoon (by far the busiest place I'd been into) and I was quite happy to take a pint of Hophead and just stand near the doorway, gaze at the interior and listen to the hum of conversation.

Perth Road goes on for quite some distance (you could argue all the way to Perth!) and goes past the Dundee Botanic Gardens and some nice out-of-town hotels but I didn't really have time for that today. Instead I headed up the Hawkhill and into a few industrial units in Annfield Row where Aitken Wines is located (there's another one, a smaller shop in Broughty Ferry).

Unsurprisingly there is a massive selection of wine out front, but hidden away at the back there are a number of shelves of more interesting beer (Eden St Andrews, Williams Brothers, Fyne Ales, Knops/Archerfield, Black Isle, SixºNorth).

I took a bottle of SixºNorth Hopocrisy that I hadn't tried before and also a bottle of Cairn o' Mohr cider (which I didn't know they did, but it seems a smart business decision).

I then walked back along the length of the Hawkhill to the site of Duke's Corner, the first of the Fuller Thomson places in Dundee having opened in this old church late 2009.

Behind the fencing and shrubbery is a great outside beer garden and there are even a number of keg fonts outside to go with the BBQ food on a sunny day.

Inside there is a (another) really impressive selection of cask and keg beer - today was definitely a day for flight trays so I went for 1/3rds of Siren Imperial Coffee Stout (alcohol heat by the bucket, but not that much coffee), Mort Subite Pêche (really peachy, thankfully a slightly sour finish) and Eden St Andrews Definitely Not The Official Beer Of... (sweet & burnt, a bit weird but OK).

It was really quiet when I was in but it meant I could get a look around the interior with seating heading towards funky modern and another dining area down the side, but come the evening when live music and DJs are the norm (coupled with a late license) I suspect it gets pretty packed.

I then headed back towards the city-centre proper and passed the infamous Fat Sams night-club & music venue (too many embarrassing memories in here)...

...before reaching Albert Square, home of the McManus Galleries and Dundee City Chambers, the lower part of which has been occupied by BrewDog Dundee since June (it's the best building that I think I have seen a BrewDog bar in).

Inside is the same industrial, stripped down, brickwork & metalwork chic of most of the BrewDog bars but there are some nice touches (the corrugated sheeting under the bar and a huge sloping mirror on the side wall) to go with the total of 18 keg fonts, 10 BrewDog beers and 8 guests (although please go back to chalk drawn blackboard(s) for the beer list, it's far more fun). The guests today did happen to include 4 Wild Beers Co. beers, so it was great to try a few of these again and the raspberry & slight cherry sourness of the Amelie for the first time (though I missed the amazing Shnoodlepip by a week, damn).

As always the staff were great, chatty and helpful, but to-be-honest I didn't really pick-up too much in the way of Dundee-ness about the place (although it's still early days) but there was at least this pretty cool typographic map of Dundee to buy - I liked it a lot.

By now it was time to head back to the train station. The haar had lifted enough to allow me to get this shot of RRS Discovery with the Tay Bridge in the background...

...which is situated adjacent to Discovery Point, a place I've still never been into - maybe the next time I'm in Dundee.

Return travel:-
  Train: Dundee to Glasgow Queen St. (~46 on the hour)

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Curfew micropub in Berwick-upon-Tweed and other places (just) south of The Border: 5th July 2014

For some reason I'd never visited a micropub before, even though a lot have opened in the past 18 months or so (their own Micropub Association directory now lists 55). Having said that the majority seem to be located in the far south of England (especially Kent) although a few have opened this year in Lancashire/Yorkshire, and just at the end of last month The Curfew micropub had started trading in town of Berwick-upon-Tweed - this was definitely worth a visit.

View Berwick in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Central to Berwick-upon-Tweed (09:00 Cross-country, others from Queen St, change at Edinburgh)

I arrived into Berwick to find a huge police presence at the train station and into the town centre, somewhat disconcerting. From talking to one of the police officers it seemed that there was to be an SDL Rally that afternoon (+ various counter rallies); not such a great time to be in Berwick, but the police did seem to be present in such numbers that they should have this completely under control. Anyway I wasn't going to change my plans and since I'd arrived fairly early the first thing I wanted to do was walk all the way around the famous Berwick Walls. These are an incredibly well preserved set of high defensive ramparts which completely encircle the town; built originally in the 13th Century by Edward I after his sacking of Berwick and then added to & enhanced in Elizabethan times as Berwick yo-yo'ed between Scottish and English occupation. They provided defence against attack from the sea & the river...

...and from land-based attack with lots of forts and cannon batteries strategically placed along the high walls.

There are four gates on the Walls and they also go past the Berwick Barracks, purpose-built to protect the town against the Jacobite Rebellions of the 18th Century.

It probably took me the good part of an hour to walk around the walls (allowing for some exploration & some photos) but I'm not sure if I could manage the challenge of the Berwick Curfew Run. This annual event takes place in July with the challenge being to run a circuit of the Walls in less than 13 minutes, the length of time that the Curfew Bell tolls in the Town Hall at exactly 8pm - it's certainly a tough ask! The highest point of the Walls on the western side gives great views over the River Tweed and its 3 bridges; the Royal Border Bridge train viaduct with its 28 arches is really impressive, but it doesn't actually cross the border; this is still ~3 miles away to the north.

From this vantage point it's possible to go under the main road bridge and get to the quirky shops of Bridge Street, and about half way along I reached the outside sign for The Curfew micropub, situated between an Art Shop and a Hairdressers. The gate was initially locked but after a few minutes of my loitering one of the owners came out and opened up, definitely looking warily both up & down the street.

Apart from a listing of the opening hours there's not much in the way of self-promotion here, but entering the small courtyard revealed a lovely compact beer garden complete with patio-type furniture, a couple of beer barrels and a pull-over canopy. The high backdrop seems to be The Maltings Theatre & Cinema complex but thankfully there are no outside balconies up there.

Inside the actual pub it seems to be very true to the micropub 'ethos' - a single room (really newly decorated), a tiny bar at the front with 4 hand-pulls, a number of tables, chairs & what seemed to be church pews along the longer side wall, standing room in front of the bar, some nice Belgian & US beer labels & signs on the walls and definitely not the slightest sign of a TV or a juke-box.

From talking to the owners, Gemma & David Cook, the place used to be a bed-sit, hadn't been used for a number of years, needed quite an amount of work to improve its basic services & upgrade the structure of the building, but now is able to serve 21 seated people (I don't know if this is the fire limit or not, but it doesn't include anyone outside).

There is no kitchen, but local pork pies are supplied from Foreman's in Northam (and looked amazing), a cheese board is available and Tapas can be ordered (and delivered) from El Taperio just a few doors away and which just happens to be run by Gemma's sister - fantastic!

On the 4 hand-pulls today (note not a lager, macro or craft in sight) were Great Newsome's Jem's Stout, Copper Dragon Bitter, Geltsdale Coldfell IPA and Thornbridge Jaipur and they plan to run with a mixture of local and interesting national beers.

There are also take-away growlers, bottles of wine, (no spirits that I could see), and a great selection of beer in the fridge including Wild Beer Somerset Sour, Hardknott Code Black, Siren Liquid Mistress, Camden Pale, some German & Belgian bottles and (woo!) cans of Beavertown Smog Rocket. I had a pint of Jem's Stout (as did most people that came in since it was a really lovely, smooth, cocoa-infused stout), followed it up with a quite tart Wild Somerset Sour and chatted away with the owners & some locals for a while and could have easily spent most of my time in Berwick there. However I decided I needed to head out for at least a short walk to clear my head and left with a promise that I'd be back for a liquid (and cold) carry-oot (especially for those Beavertown cans) later on in the afternoon. I took the Old Bridge over the Tweed, went up a slight hill to the main road south out of town and continued for a couple of miles past a large Tesco until a roundabout and the small village of East Ord. Here I went past a busy local shop and then continued further until at the very far end of the sprawling village green I found The Salmon Inn.

It was pretty busy inside, full of diners slightly partitioned off from the main pub on the left, a seating area at the front right (today full of a wedding party getting some liquid confidence before the big event) and some more seats and a TV about to show the Wimbledon tennis final opposite the bar. Oh - and there was this fella on the main beam just in front of the bar, I'm assuming the eponymous salmon.

The staff were going about their jobs with quiet efficiency and on the 3 hand-pulls they had Deuchars IPA, Greene King IPA and a (hooray) a guest ale, Whale Ale Rio Gold, a slightly sourish but pretty decent golden ale.

I ordered a pint of this, enquired about the 'famous' Club Sandwich that I'd seen on their Facebook pages and decided to go with that. And despite the amount of people having lunch it came pretty quickly and was full of chunky chicken & crispy bacon (and crisps, I like crisps with a sandwich).

I decided on a different route back to Berwick town centre and took the right hand fork out of East Ord towards Tweedmouth. This took me past Shielfield Park, the home of the mighty Berwick Rangers FC and the only football team in England to play in the Scottish Football League.

In Tweedmouth I headed down towards the river and found a set of cottages, sheds & old kilns at the corner of Brewery Lane and Brewery Bank; the old Border Brewery used to exist here until being taken over by Vaux Brewery in 1934.

I then had to re-cross the River Tweed by the Old Bridge; it's so narrow that there are passing places for buggies, cycles etc... and I have to admit being surprised that cars are allowed on the bridge at all, but I guess there would be too much congestion on the man bridge otherwise.

At the end of the Old Bridge arcing around the corner into Bridge Street is The Barrels Ale House.

This is a really nice traditional pub - loads of dark wood panelling, dark wooden tables & chairs and a long bar at the back of the main room. There is raised seating at the front windows, a separate room at left hand side and a basement for music later on in the evening. There was a good selection on the hand-pulls including Titanic Iceberg, Mordue Workie Ticket, St Austell Trelawny Bitter and Tempest Cresta Stout and there seemed to also be an equally decent choice of bottled beers in the fridge. I took a 1/2 of the fabulous Tempest Cresta (the 4 different grains definitely give it a nuttiness and help the smoothness of the stout) and sat down to take in all the masses of signs, photos, musical instruments, weather instruments and other bric-a-brac covering most of the wall space. I was hoping to take a seat in the infamous Dentist's Chair at the bar, but this this guy wasn't going to move out of it (fair enough) so I had to take the photo with him in-situ (apologies to all).

The Barrels and The Curfew make it 2 great pubs in the same street and on leaving The Barrels I had wanted to drop back into The Curfew for my carry-oot, but when I looked the external gate was now locked and there didn't seem to be anyone about. {I found out later that they had decided to close until 4pm in case any protesters came by; I can't say I blame them with such a new place.} However this meant I couldn't get my Beavertown Smog Rocket cans (sob!) but help was at hand just down the road at The Green Shop.

They try to stock as much as possible in the way of organic & local produce and normally have local beers from Bearclaw Brewery available, but although that particular shelf was bare today there were at least a lot of organic Sam Smith's and Black Isle beers present, so I went for all 3 of the Sam Smith's Fruit Beers (cherry, apricot and strawberry, assuming there would be some Vitamin C in there). At this point I decided to walk up into the town centre, saw that the (small number of) protesters were well corralled in by the Police and so headed out to the Low Greens and the end terrace building that houses The Pilot Inn.

It's pretty spacious inside with a main bar on the right, a large decking area out back, a couple of rooms for holiday accommodation upstairs and a dining/function room on the left with a definite nautical theme (there were at least 3 ships wheels on the walls, maybe more).

Available on the 3 hand-pulls in the main bar were Deuchars IPA, Wells Bombardier and Shep's Spitfire (not the best of choices today, but the pump-clips suggested this was not the norm). In any case I was happy to take a pint of Spitfire (way better than from bottle) and a packet of Bacon Flavour Fries and grab a seat opposite the bar where my attention switched from a really cute dog half-sleeping under the adjacent seat and all the brass rockets (I think) & telescopes hanging up from the ceiling & beams.

Since I still had a bit of time until my pre-booked train I decided to head back to the main street of Castlegate and to a pub that was recommended by Gemma when I was in The Curfew, The Free Trade, supposedly the oldest public house in Berwick-upon-Tweed.

The outside stained glass windows were a bit of a give-away of something special, but it's the internal corridor & screens which are really impressive. The snob-screen partition here seems to be held up by curved metal rods and leads to a door for the main public bar on the right and also straight on to the pool room.

In fact it's a pool room/darts room with both games probably not being played simultaneously (without helmets anyway).

The pool room also contains a small extension of the bar counter & a hatch which used to be the off-sales counter (mostly for women & children) so that they could enter the pub and not disturb the men-folk drinking away in the main bar. There are also a number of dinky sliding drawers on that side of the bar.

On entering the main public bar I was glad to see a hand-pull with Hadrian & Border Tyneside Blonde available, so I ordered a pint of that, got some free salted peanuts from the really friendly barmaid and had a look around. The barmaid was quite happy to chat away about the recently restored magnificent front windows...

...the history of the pub, how the bar had originally been 2 separate rooms, and the fact that the current owner & all the staff have been there for such a long time (she was still considered to be the 'baby' even after being there over 10 years).

I was really glad I'd had time to visit The Free Trade and I even managed a quick half at The Castle Hotel (2 Maxim Brewery beers here) before heading to the train station and getting the (thankfully) quiet train back across The Border.

Return travel:-
  Train: Berwick-upon-Tweed to Glasgow Central to (16:19 Cross-country, others to Queen St, change at Edinburgh)