Thursday, 18 December 2014

A south Edinburgh bypass before Christmas-time: 13th December 2014

I don't really head out on too many long walks during the wintertime, but since I had an invite to Stewart Brewing's Christmas open-day/party this Saturday (as a 2014 Craft Beer Kitchen customer) I thought I could include that in a shortish walk between a few Midlothian 'country' pubs just south of the Edinburgh bypass.

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St to Edinburgh Waverley (every 15 minutes)
  Bus: Edinburgh Waterloo Place to Penicuik (X62, every 20 minutes after 10:00am)

It took a fair amount of time for the X62 bus to make it through the mass of Christmas shopping traffic around IKEA, Asda and Sainburys at the Straiton retail park, but we eventually arrived into a slightly snowy and still icy Penicuik just before noon. I went past the impressive Town Hall and a number of local shops before finding myself at the bottom of Bridge Street, the location of a set of astonishing, almost gothic-like, soaring tenements called the Parkend flats. These were built in 1862 by renowned church architect Frederick Thomas Pilkington and originally occupied by single girls working at the nearby Penicuik paper mills.

I headed back to the High Street and then off to West Street where a turn in the road led me to another interesting building, Navaar House.

Originally a family house, this is now a hotel & restaurant and from the outside looks almost part Bavarian alpine chalet (there are a number of self-catering rooms), which then leads to a 3-storey high central tower complete with weather vane and then finally to a bistro restaurant & Bavarian gasthaus pub at the rear of the building, where there is also ample outside seating. It's certainly an impressive and quite unusual building set in the midst of a more sedate housing estate.

I headed into the bar and found a single large open-plan room with the bar counter at the far left, small round wooden tables & chairs dotted about the sides, an exit off to the beer garden, a number of large screen TVs and a lot of sporting photos & prints. More importantly there was also a large wood burning fire giving off a serious amount of heat on this chilly day.

On at the bar were a couple of hand-pulls with Inveralmond Ossian and Highland Orkney Best available, and since I hadn't tried the Highland beer for a some time (a really nicely balanced session golden bitter) I took a pint of that whilst the barmaid went to the bistro to pick up a menu for me. I probably shouldn't really have been eating in the bar, but I was now encamped next to the fire and the barmaid was quite happy take my order and bring me some cutlery through from the bistro. The only other person in the bar at the time actually happened to be the delivery driver for the fish supplier that Navaar House use, and after chatting to him I was 'persuaded' to order their battered haddock with some chips & peas. This was a good, warming choice on a day like today and I was really quite impressed with this and Navaar House in general (definitely a place to come back to in the summertime).

On leaving Navaar House I managed to navigate through a couple of back streets and bypass busy Penicuik High Street before coming back out on the main road again. I went past a couple of garages and some superstores and also the distinctive frontage of The Tower chippy (not that I could have ordered my fish-and-chips here, it doesn't open until 16:30).

I then took a left turn up Mauricewood Road and out into the countryside. The pavement past the housing estate wasn't great in places, but there was at least still a definite kerb, and this eventually took me up to the main A702 Biggar/Abbington road junction (which in turn connects to the M74/M6). On the far side of the A702 is a decent pavement/footpath and I was able to follow this until a dip towards the Glencorse Burn and just here is The Flotterstone Inn, almost hidden from view from the main road and looking particularly festive with the snow-covered Pentland hills in the background.

The Flotterstone is a long, low slung building with a fairly small bar, but also a number of adjacent rooms for eating & drinking and a large central courtyard beer garden. It was a busy place even mid-afternoon, with a large car park for passing traffic (there seemed to be a lot of people wanting to eat before getting into Edinburgh) and also a fair amount of walkers and climbers out today. Judging by the posters it looks like they provide a couple of Stewart Brewing beers, with Pentland IPA likely to be a regular and a seasonal beer, in this case the lovely spicy Belgique Gold also available. I ordered a pint of this (and it was topped up without my asking, always good to see) and just sat down for a while whist the efficient bar staff managed to serve everyone at the bar and bring a load of meals out.

I wasn't sure about the state of the footpath further up from the bus-stop just past the Flotterstone, so instead I back-tracked to the top of the dip, took my life in my hands and managed to cross the busy road. From here I followed a dog-legged farm track until reaching a paved road and then re-crossing the Glencorse Burn. Somewhat in the middle of nowhere I came across the elegant Glencorse Parish Church...

...which then pointed the way back down to the main road out of Penicuik. In warmer times I might have decided that a slight detour to the lovely Roslin Glen Country Park and the steeped-in-history Rosslyn Chapel would have been worthwhile, but in the depths of a Scottish winter I decided to get on one of the frequent buses back up the road to Straiton/Loanhead. From the bus stop just before the Asda it was only a short walk to the far end of Bilston Glen Industrial Estate to the premises of Stewart Brewing (unsurprisingly there was no one outside playing table-tennis this afternoon).

After a chat with 'our brewer' Craig who was manning the shop, I headed into the brewery where there was a small bar setup in front of the Craft Beer Kitchen multi-purpose vessels manned by some of the other brewers and staff (with a few resplendent in colourful Christmas jumpers!). Available were generous samples of Hopriciot, Weiss Christmas Noire, Belgique Gold, 80/- and Pentland IPA - a very nice selection indeed.

I decided on a Hopricot (loads of sweet/sour apricot followed by a real bitter hop-kick) and fortified by some haggis, neeps & tatties (they swap their beer for haggis with the people from Macsween in the same industrial estate - nice!) we had a quick tour of the premises. This was interesting & informative (as always), many thanks for this, guys, and I also noticed that the array of beer filled whisky casks was now in a far more prominent position in the brewery than a couple of months ago - they're not likely to be opened until well into 2015 but it's certainly an intriguing departure from Stewart Brewing.

And since I had the opportunity it would have been just plain wrong to leave without buying a couple of bottles from the shop. This included the new Elysium imperial stout, a flip-top bottle of Cauld Reekie stout from one of Stewart Brewing's first batches which had been maturing since 2008 (wow!), and a Craft Beer Kitchen beer dreamt up by one of the in-house brewers (Richard) who had brewed a Raspberry & Seaweed beer, with seaweed collected locally from Roslin. As I've only ever had one seaweed beer before, the lovely Kelpie from Williams Brothers, it'll be interesting to see how this one turns out.

With more people coming in all the time I didn't want to outstay my welcome and so left the brewery whilst there was still some dreich daylight outside. I headed into the centre of Loanhead and from there it was less than a half hour walk along the edge of the main road to another smallish Midlothian village, Lasswade. At the outskirts of the village, just before the bridge over the River Esk, is The Laird and Dog Inn (complete with striking outside pub sign, we don't have enough of these in Scotland) which I reached in the shimmering twilight.

It's a large, modern, bright place (now owned by Maclays), with a central polished bar splitting 2 large rooms almost in half; lots of nooks & crannies on one side, the other dominated by a pool table (today surrounded by more people in Christmas jumpers starting a night-out), and also an open-plan conservatory restaurant towards the front of the building.

On the 2 hand-pulls at the bar were Isle of Skye Black and also Stewart Brewing Weiss Christmas Blanc, which I was happy to order after trying the Noire at the brewery only half an hour ago. Having said that I actually thought that the Noire worked better, with the Christmas spices complementing the chocolate/coffee backbone, but the Blanc was still a nice unfined Weiss. By the time I had finished my 1/2 pint it was pitch black outside and a perfect time to leave the Laird and Dog and get the bus back inside the bypass to Edinburgh, with the bus-stop conveniently located immediately outside the front door of the pub (this should happen more often!).

Return travel:-
  Bus: Lasswade to Edinburgh Salisbury Place (31, every 10 minutes)
  Train: Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Queen St (every 15 minutes)

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