Thursday, 6 November 2014

Stirling to the Alloa Octoberfest: 1st November 2014

The end of October normally means a trip out to Alloa for the Alloa Octoberfest and this year was no exception (I'm way too predictable/boring at times). I've been doing this for a few years now and I've still not run out of surrounding places to visit - this time I was going to criss-cross the River Forth a number of times and walk from Stirling to Alloa via the small town of Cambus.

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St. to Stirling (18, 41 on the hour - fast trains cancelled this w/end)

On leaving Stirling train station I headed across the steel & glass pedestrian bridge over the mass of railway tracks and on towards the Forthside area of Stirling. There's a old footbridge here over the Forth to Cambuskenneth and (as almost everywhere in Stirling) you can get a great view of the Stirling Castle (here from the far side of the bridge).

Just across the bridge are the ruins of the 12th Century Cambuskenneth Abbey - only the high bell tower remains, probably having being used as a lookout tower over the Forth river plain.

I then walked past the Abbey Inn up towards the main road out of Stirling towards the Ochil Hills. There are some great views of the Wallace Monument here, showing how it's set atop a long sloping volcanic escarpment.

I crossed the railway line onto the main road and then headed almost due east out of Stirling. This led to a quieter cycle route (Sustrans 76) which brought me more than half way out to Cambus. The Sustrans route headed straight on but I'd had a look at the map and it seemed as if there was a path through/around the sign-posted industrial estate. This took me back over the train line and then alongside the huge acreage of Diageo bonded warehouses. The smell of whisky was certainly prevalent in the air and it's not surprising that they even have their own fire vehicles just-in-case of an emergency.

I eventually found the path at the end of the industrial estate and followed the narrow (and muddy) track as it skirted more of Diageo's buildings until reaching the Forth shoreline. It's here that the River Devon empties into the Forth with a noisy weir changing the level of the Devon just before the 2 rivers meet.

At the footbridge over the River Devon is the new Diageo Cambus Cooperage, which is meant to blend traditional skills & experience with state-of-the-art productions skills (including robotics) to provide up to 250,000 casks year - there was certainly quite a number stacked up outside today.

It was here that I connected again into the official Sustrans 76 route and this took me the short distance into the small village of Cambus. On the main road I found the brightly coloured front of The Tearoom at Cambus (I think this was formerly the Cambus Inn).

I went in the central door and found myself almost immediately in front of the light-coloured wooden bar area set away in the corner of the main room, which along with all the light wooden floors and associated chairs & tables certainly gave the place a bright & spacious feel. Also set all around the room were masses of colourful Halloween decorations - bats, pumpkins, ghouls, ghosts, black & white balloons - it really is incredible how popular Halloween is nowadays.

There was a bit of a racket coming from one of the larger parties of adults & kids in the front room so I asked the young staff if I could be shunted off into one of the side rooms and it wasn't a problem - it was a lot more peaceful at the back of the building near the entrance to the rear beer garden. In amongst the decorations they have quite a lot of interesting pictures on the walls - I liked the 'Irn Bru' cat and the multi-coloured goldfish frieze, and there were also quite a few smaller pictures for sale, mostly wildlife originals featuring cows, robins etc...

Unfortunately the beer choice at the Tearoom was not that exciting - on draught Belhaven Best, Guinness or Tennents (I went for this, I was thirsty after my ~6 mile walk), with Miller or Corona in bottles, which is a shame since they're only a few miles from some great Scottish breweries, namely Williams Brothers and Harviestoun. They do snacks from 10am and main meals from 12noon, but I was quite happy just to get a tuna mayo baguette with cheese, and when it came *that* was definitely how you do a baguette properly. Cut it in half, add masses of tuna mayo, cover with cheese on both halves of the baguette (not just one side/or the middle), and then toast it so there are some nice crispy burnt bits.

The tearoom is an excellent place for a stop on the way from Stirling to Alloa (or even further afield to Kincardine and Fife), I just wish they would do some more interesting/tasty beer (I guess that's what tripadvisor reviews are for). I headed out from the tearoom and continued east towards Alloa and could have just gone straight on into the centre of town but decided to take a slight diversion to the bank of the Forth. There's a tarmac'd path part of the way and then a right-of-way track along a disused railway line (yet another one - I could be catching a slight case of 'trainspotting'). I followed this across a couple of gates, past lots of curious sheep and up an incline to where the old Alloa Bridge across the Forth used to be. It was dismantled back in 1971 but the pillars & supports are still present showing how it curved slightly over to the south (Thorsk) side of the Forth.

I then back-tracked to the path, went down to a farm and climbed over another couple of gates before coming to the Kelliebank area of Alloa. The Williams Brothers brewery at Forthbank is here, but since there were a number of security guards milling about I didn't wander into the industrial estate but continued on into Alloa itself. Here my curiosity did take me into the Thistle Bar just off the High Street...

...although there was only Caledonian Flying Scotsman available on one of the 2 hand-pulls, and I also passed the newly opened JD Wetherspoon pub (The Bobbing John) on Drysdale Street...

... before coming to Alloa Town Hall, the site of the Alloa OctoberFest (extending to November 1st this year).

It's a nice small festival in a compact enclosed venue which doesn't change too much year-on year-out and is never that busy (at least on Saturday afternoons), and it was great to meet up with some regular festival goers, real-ale Ronnie (enjoying retirement from The 3 Judges) and some talented brewers (Stuart from the Kinneil Brew Hoose & Dave from DemonBrew). There's normally an excellent selection of Scottish beers and some from further afield, but this year I'd somehow tried all of the English beers that were available before (Oakham and Saltaire). Instead I had pinned my hopes on the solitary Welsh brewery present, The Waen Brewery from deepest, darkest central Wales, and I certainly wasn't disappointed. They had 3 beers on hand-pull, Pamplemousse (a nice orangey pale ale), Landmark (a stronger resiny bitter) and their Chilli Plum Porter (full of dark chocolate, red fruits and a definite spicy chilli kick in the finish) - all were good but the Chilli Plum Porter was superb, a brilliantly balanced chilli beer - nice one brewster Sue from Waen!

The trains from Alloa aren't brilliant on Saturday afternoon and I had to rush off without trying a number of interesting Scottish beers - drats! However this allowed me to get off the train at Stirling and head to a relatively new pub/bar just past Stirling's main pedestrianised shopping street, the Curly Coo Bar, only 5 minutes or so fast walk from the train station.

There used to be a Curly Coo Bar in Crieff but the owner/landlady Mandy had decided to relocate to Stirling in December 2013 (there's simply a lot more tourists (and locals) in Stirling than Crieff). It's styled as a Whisky Bar (with more than 120 of them in stock & on display) but there are also keg fonts for Williams Brothers Joker IPA and Harviestoun Schiehallion and Bitter & Twisted and there's just been a single hand-pull installed with a cask of Orkney Dark Island going on on Friday afternoons. Add a fridge stocked with great bottled beer (including that from local Fallen Brewery, high seats at the bar, comfy bench seats & tables around the walls, some large wooden barrels and it's well worth a visit.

Owner Mandy normally sits in the middle of the dark wood panelled bar at the back of the single large room and chats away with everyone who comes in - she has a bit of a fearsome reputation but really she is more than polite and welcoming to absolutely everyone. I only had time for a bottle of Fallen Odyssey (lovely & g/fruity bitter), but from what I saw of the place it's by far the best pub in Stirling - beer wise and just in general as a welcoming and interesting pub.

Return transport:-
  Train: Alloa to Stirling (45 on the hour)
  Train: Stirling to Glasgow Queen St. (23, 44, 53 on the hour)

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