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)

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