The weather forecast was pretty decent this weekend (we were between #ScotStorm2 and the #PolarVortex) so that meant I could get out for a longish walk, possibly my only chance for a while with some family commitments and the 6-Nations rugby coming up in the next few weeks. With Carlisle such an easy place to get to from Glasgow I thought I could head out to the south-west of the city to find an interesting 'Cheese Farm', visit a couple of pubs and then walk back into Carlisle along the Cumbria Way.
Outward travel was as follows:-
Train: Glasgow Central to Carlisle (08:40, 09:40 - Virgin Trains)
Bus: Carlisle Bus Station to Crofton Estate (00 on the hour - 554 Stagecoach Cumbria)
The bus from Carlisle took me out from the city centre bus station and through the small village of Thursby (where it stopped outside a lovely pub, The Ship Inn) and then continued out on the road to Wigton. I managed to choose the correct bus-stop for the Crofton Estate and then headed south down the narrow track amidst the flat (and very green) farmlands of the Solway plain (complete with associated 'aromas'). About a mile or so on I came to the small fishing 'ponds' of Crofton Lake and it was here that there was a sign pointing me to a Cheese Farm - this was definitely promising.
Also set in amongst the old Estate holdings are Crofton Hall Caravan Park and an impressive stone building called the Clock Tower (with quite a bit of construction work going on alongside).
I clambered up the shingly driveway to the right-hand side of the Clock Tower (don't miss this and go straight-on as I did first-of-all, if you get to a collection of farm sheds you've gone too far) and this led me to a 2-level cottage, with a number of milk churns also giving away the site of the more modern Thornby Moor Dairy (or the Cheese Farm).
As a kid, a Cheese Farm used to conjure up images of packaged cheeses gambolling in a field or hanging from trees, and although I have a (perhaps only slightly) better idea of what happens now, I was hoping to learn a bit more. First of all I wasn't even sure if the place was going to be open, but thankfully it was (it seems cheese can now be made all year round) and the very pleasant & enthusiastic owner Carolyn was on hand to show me about. The front room or shop contains a fair amount of Cumbrian produce and also samples of the different cheeses produced at the dairy, all of which use raw, unpasteurised milk sourced solely from Cumbrian farms (from both cows and goats). Carolyn let me try the Blue Whinnow (a hard, crumbly cheese but nowhere near as overpowering as Blue Stilton), Allerdale (a soft goat's cheese with a slightly nutty taste, a variant of which is smoked over oak chips) and Bewcastle (a very soft cheese with lots of herby flavour). All were really tasty and just seemed so much fresher than any cheese I'd had recently (because these would all have been from a supermarket), but I eventually decided to take a wedge of the Blue Whinnow back home with me.
Carolyn was then good enough to let me have a look in the cheese making room. They have a small, almost brewing-like stainless steel heater/tun which is used heat the milk to the temperature which allows bacteria to grow which then feeds on the lactose and ferments it into lactic acid. Rennet is then added to participate out the curd (leaving whey) and the cheese is cut-out and drained (this is pretty simplistic, I assume it's a bit (a lot) more complex than this). Dyson bladeless cooling fans are used to keep the temperature in the room between 6-12°C and the cheeses are turned daily and dried. Soft cheeses can be ready in a week to a month, but hard cheese can take 6 months or even longer - it's certainly a very labour intensive process and I could see the similarities to running a microbrewery.
As always it was great to meet & chat to passionate people doing an interesting job and I was really glad that I'd made the effort to get to the Cheese Farm. First port-of-call of the day done I headed back to the narrow road/track through the Estate and continued south. The exit from Crofton Estate is marked by the old lodge dwellings and also an impressive stone archway (a listed building), somewhat incongruous in the middle of all the farmland.
This took me onto the busy A595 road which I (unfortunately) needed to walk along for a couple of hundred metres. Thankfully, although there isn't a path, there is a least a decent enough grass verge away from the traffic, and I safely navigated this before crossing the road to take the signposted turning to Curthwaite. Back between more farmland, this road was almost arrow straight for a couple of miles, before it turned & rose slightly, leading me into the small village of Curthwaite and the welcoming sight of The Royal Oak (there weren't many people seating outside on the bench tables today).
It's quite a large, red-bricked building (a nice change from all the white-washed country pubs) with a central doorway, a restaurant on the right side and long bar with a fair amount of seating on the left, and I always have soft spot for places which have a Yard of Ale glass hanging above the bar.
Although the outside sign indicates 'Jennings' they are definitely a free-house with 3 hand-pulls present and all available today, and only seem to stock local Cumbrian beers, always good to see. Since I was heading up the Spinners Arms (the site of the Carlisle Brewing Co.) I decided on the other cask ale, and took a pint of the Cumberland Corby Ale (a red-fruit session bitter, OK, but nothing special) whilst the barmaid informed me that they only stock golden ales & bitters; even in the winter time they can't shift dark beers, which does seem a bit strange.
Their food has the same ‘within 15 miles’ policy - although they have the usual bar meals, they also provide locally caught game - today rabbit, partridge, pheasant, teal (a duck) and snipe (a wading bird) - I assume everything is in season. I, however, decided to play safe and went for one of the lunch lite bites, in this case a Royal Oak Club Sandwich with nachos (chips are another option). I was thirsty enough to have finished my Corby Ale just as this was brought out and so was 'persuaded' to have a Carlisle Spun Gold, another red-fruit bitter but with a far better body than the Corby Ale.
The Royal Oak Club Sandwich was just as good as the one I'd had at The Avenue in Bishopbriggs a couple of weeks ago, with the bread at The Avenue just shading it, but the chicken was more burnt and there was more on the plate at the Royal Oak, so I think an honourable tie. It's great to see a place providing good beer, interesting food & friendly service and I left just as The Royal Oak was filling up for a long lunchtime service. I really would have liked to head to The Ship Inn at Thursby (another recommended real-ale pub) which I had passed on the bus but that would have meant at least an hour's detour, so instead I headed due east down some more Cumbrian minor roads. At one intersection there was an interesting church...
...but I eventually left the farmland behind and started to head downhill towards the larger town of Dalston, the lower part of which is Buckabank. Just before I came to the River Caldew, and across from a large car salesroom, I found another large pub/restaurant, the Bridge End Inn.
All of the left-hand side of the building is setup for food, with a large conservatory restaurant and some other dining areas, but there's also a small bar area on the right-hand side, complete with large games room, pool table and sporting pictures. At the bar I found 2 hand-pulls, but the barmaid commented that only 1 is used during the winter months with Caledonian's Bitter Winter (really not that bitter) available today. I took a half pint of this in any case and chatted away to some of the locals at the bar about various pubs in Carlisle, but what I would really have loved to have done was to have thrown some of the hooped rope knots over the knot pole at the bar, but… I decided against it.
Since there was a Bridge End Inn it made sense there was a bridge somewhere nearby, in this case it was a stone bridge over the River Caldew…
…and this took me over the river and onto National Cycle Route 7, here sharing part of the Cumbria Way which connects Carlisle with Ulverston through the stunning Lake District National Park. Hopefully I'll head south at some point in the summertime but today I wanted to go north and this led me through the large industrial works of Ellers Mill and then back across the river (don't follow a path on the east side of the river bank, today it was extremely muddy and there is no way to get back across the river for miles).
I walked through the centre of Dalston (there's a Jennings pub here, The Bluebell Inn, but I didn't stop to look inside) and then back onto the signposted cycle-path which again led down to the River Cardew. Once past the huge Nestlé factory on the outskirts of Dalston (most of the branded Nescafé Cappuccino sachets sold in Europe are manufactured here) it's a nice riverside walk, with just the odd train appearing alongside the path (very close in some places) before the large Cummersdale Viaduct over the river.
Just past the viaduct I took the steep minor road up into the village of Cummersdale itself, checked the bus times in the square, and then decamped to the nearby Spinners Arms for some well-earned refreshment.
The last time I'd been here owners Alain & Alison had just launched the first of their in-house Carlisle Brewing beers which were not bad at all, but I was keen to try some more of them. When I entered the Spinners Alison was behind the bar (with Alain out cleaning inside the brewery) and I had just about enough time to try the 2 beers I hadn't seen before - the Oatmeal Stout (full of dark chocolate, very smooth, a decent body and a bitter coffee finish) and Magic Number (loads of sweet red fruits, a good body and a bitter-fruit finish - a very nice best bitter). These (and the Flaxen & Spun Gold) are really quite polished beers, having definitely improved since their initial launch. Alison also mentioned that they've started providing bottled beers, with the bottling sub-contracted (there's no space for it in the tiny brewery) and the labels (and associated pump-clips) now have a far more modern & distinctive appearance.
With only an hourly bus back to Carlisle, I decided to take that rather than start on a walk further downstream of River Cardew to Carlisle (which is very pleasant on a warm day). The Reays eco-bus dropped me off at Devonshire Street, and since the Moo Bar was all of 10 metres away, it wasn't a difficult decision to head on in there.
It doesn't seem to have changed too much (from a decor & seating point-of-view) since my last visit at the start of December, but from an event point-of-view they held a Fyne Ales tap takeover the week before and were running their first brewery visit (to Lancaster Brewery) in a couple of weeks’ time, definitely a good way to get people coming back. Although on this occasion there were a few hand-pulls off (probably the January effect), the beer choice was still impressive and I was able to try a couple of interesting keg (Arbor M-Bomb II and Hardknott Colonial Mischief) and Cumbrian cask (Cumbrian Legendary Pacific Voyage and Dent Golden Fleece) beers. The staff are quite happy to chat away here and when I asked the barman when the upstairs level was possibly scheduled to open to serve food he directed me to the far-away blackboard - fair enough.
On leaving the Moo Bar I did have a look around Carlisle Station for any sign of Moo Bar owner Nigel Tarn's latest venture, a craft ale bar and café called The Waiting Room planned to open on one of the platforms of the station (I guess a Carlisle Tap of sorts), but there wasn't any obvious sign of construction activity. Hopefully it'll be open the next time I’m down Carlisle-way.
Bus: Cummersdale (Square) to Carlisle Devonshire Street (75 Reays, 35 on the hour)
Train: Carlisle to Glasgow Central (16:47, Virgin Trains)