Thursday, 23 July 2015

A short halt at Haltwhistle: 18th July 2015

This weekend I had hoped to head down to Stranraer where The Grapes pub was holding its annual beer festival, but the winds that had postponed the Open Golf at St Andrews had also decided to play havoc with the overhead lines on the train services to Ayrshire; summertime in Scotland can be (trying)interesting. Instead with my refunded fare I decided that an acceptable substitute for my day out was to travel down to Carlisle and then further on to Haltwhistle where I could visit a couple of pubs in Hadrian's Wall country.

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Central to Carlisle (Virgin Trains, frequent)
  Train: Carlisle to Haltwhistle (Northern Trains, 11:38)

The train to Haltwhistle was full of revellers starting off on their day-out to Newcastle so I was glad to leave after just 1 stop and find my way into the pretty small town of Haltwhistle (named after the land at the confluence of 2 rivers rather than anything to do with the railway, drats!). It bills itself as the town at the Centre of Britain (from a north-south and an east-west perspective) and there were a number of shops and a hotel extolling that 'fact'. In addition the market square in the centre of town was immaculately turned-out...

...and I loved Mr George's Museum of Time, a small watch/clock museum & gift shop on the east side of town (I'm sure Mr George reminded me of an Ayr-based ratebeer person of my acquaintance...).

I needed to head up north towards Hadrian's Wall and so took the Shield Hill road after the small Haltwhistle Burn. This was pretty steep (20 degrees according to the sign at the very top) and took me out into the rolling Cumbria/Northumberland farmland. From this vantage point I could clearly see the crag & quarry as well as the Roman Fort/Milecastle of Cawfields out in the distance.

The road then dropped slightly to the junction of the B6318 where I found the appealing sight of the stone-clad Milecastle Inn, with a fantastic beer garden out at the rear and some adjacent self catering cottages.

I walked in through the very low entrance-way door and found a deceptively large place inside, with a restaurant to the back left, a smaller snug at the front right and a central bar area with a few seats at the bar & a small number of tables around the sides.

I decamped at the table opposite the bar and took in the thick stone fireplace (the owner indicated that it had almost been lit today, in the middle of July), the black-boarded menu of starters & main courses (there was a lot of game available), all the stone cladding on the bar, rows of brass medallions, the low (probably false) ceiling with dark beams and even more medallions - all told it was a very cosy bar area indeed. From a beer point-of-view they have 3 hand-pulls which dispense only Newcastle-based Big Lamp Brewery beers, today the Bitter, Summer Daze and the Prince Bishop Ale were all on. I ordered a pint of Summer Daze (a bit yeasty off the top, light with some definite bitter lemon citrus; not bad at all) as well as a ham & cheese sandwich which was excellent - full of ham and with loads of pickle for that spicy finish.

I then (due to the way the train times had worked out) had to make a decision about where to go next - either to have a look at the Cawfields Roman site (which I'd last visited more than a decade ago) or take a longer walk to another pub, the Twice Brewed Inn, just over 2 miles away. Unsurprisingly the pub (and more than anything its name) won out and I headed out along the arrow straight B6318 Old Military Road. This was fairly busy with cars and cyclists but at least there was a decent enough verge outwith the white lines of the road to walk in. This took me past a number of small camp sites with some of the tents struggling in the strengthening breeze, but it wasn't too long before I was in sight of the sign for Twice Brewed (I was coming from the east, from the west the sign is actually for Once Brewed), with the pub/inn definitely named the Twice Brewed Inn.

The origin of the names of the hamlets seems to have been lost a bit in the mists of history - take your choice from having to brew beer twice to increase its strength for either the Yorkist Army in 1464 or the navvies building the Military Road in 1751, or from the fact that there are 2 brows (or brews) of hills where the Wall passes through the nearby drovers trail. In any case the hostelry was the Twice Brewed Inn well before the nearby Youth Hostel was built, and since this was designated to be tee-total, beverages were therefore only Once Brewed (as tea or coffee). All of this beer related history from the local signs had left me with a definite thirst and in the large narrow bar/lounge of the Twice Brewed Inn (with a huge restaurant at the rear) I could see 6 hand-pulls on at the central wooden bar, with local beers from Yates, Sonnet 43 (their Bourbon Milk Stout is lovely), Firebrick and Olde Potting Shed.

I decided I had to try the house-beer, the Twice Brewed Bitter from Yates', and it was... disappointing to say the least - a quite bland, very smooth, but only slightly bitter bitter.

Thankfully the Firebrick Pagan Queen pale ale was a lot more interesting (sweet & spicy, with a dry bitter-lemon finish), but the Twice Brewed Inn was just a bit too busy & hectic for my liking (although the staff were coping well), and so I decided to leave after the 1/2 of the Firebrick. Looking back on things there might have been a more direct route back to Haltwhistle but I decided to just re-trace my steps, this time definitely walking against the prevailing wind. Once I reached the Milecastle Inn I turned back south to Haltwhistle and this time with the steep slope in my favour I managed to get to the town centre in good time. I was therefore able to head along the High Street to Arkwrights (Off License, not Corner Shop) where I had hoped to pick up a few local beers for the journey back.

Sadly this was closed and it didn't seem as if it was just for a holiday; there was no stock and no fittings at all and the place looked as if it had been completely gutted. Instead I returned to the market square where a cobbled side-street led me the short distance to the Black Bull.

There's a huge partially walled-off beer garden across the cobbled lane at the front of the building and inside it's also an interesting, welcoming place. It's quite long & narrow with a central bar at the back, a seating area on the left with quite a few tables & seats and a large standing area on the right which was busy even mid-afternoon on a Saturday. I liked the low ceilings, the stone fireplace, the dark beams with horse brasses, all of the measuring jugs and the books strewn about the crevices in the walls, and I also liked the range of beers that was available, from High House Farm, Allendale, Jennings and Courage (and a coming next selection on the blackboard).

I ordered a pint of the High House Farm Nettle Beer (sweet & spicy, resiny, with a pungent herbal-bitter finish), a glass of water and some bacon-flavour fries and chatted to the barmaid about what had happened to Arkwrights. She indicated that it had only closed down in the last couple of weeks and hadn't been helped by some strange opening times and by not being willing to promote their differences or drink-related events in comparison to the local supermarkets (there's both a Sainsburys and a large Co-op in Haltwhistle). After a quick pint and an even quicker change of T-shirt I headed back along the High Street to Haltwhistle train station. It's a classic Victorian station with a number of still complete features including an old fashioned lever-powered signalling box high-up over the line (now replaced by an electronic one) and also a large be-titled water tank for the steam trains on the northern platform.

Return travel:-
  Train: Haltwhistle to Carlisle (Northern Trains, 15:18 + others)
  Train: Glasgow Central to Carlisle (Virgin Trains, frequent, although some can terminate at Carlisle at short notice!)

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