Monday, 17 August 2015

Around the Scottish/English/Continental border in Ayton: 7th August 2015

It's great to see that there's been a load of interesting beery things happening recently in & around the Scottish Borders. Tempest Brewing have at last moved to larger premises in Tweedbank, Scottish Borders Brewery have renamed & rebranded as Born in the Borders after the success of their eponymous local co-operative enterprise, the first Scottish micropub, Rutherford's, opened recently in Kelso and even more recently the second Hemelvaart Bier Café opened in Ayton, near Eyemouth. I had hoped to visit the latter 2 in one visit this week, but had decided that plan was a bit too ambitious, so I compromised (reluctantly) to have a morning walk along the coast to Eyemouth and then a visit to Hemelvaart hopefully for lunch (and probably a few beers).

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Central to Berwick-upon-Tweed (various)
  Bus: Berwick-upon-Tweed to St Abbs (35 Travelsure, 30 on the hour)

It was a bit of a long journey to Berwick-upon-Tweed but going with a Cross-Country train from Glasgow Central at least meant that I didn't have to change trains at Edinburgh. I got into Berwick, walked down Marygate to the town centre and waited on my bus back across the border. This took me to Eyemouth and then through Coldstream to the high cliffs at St Abbs and St Abbs Head. The vista here is breathtaking, with the small harbour at St Abbs set amongst the rocky escarpments of the shimmering North Sea coast.

I took the direct route via the steep staircases to the bottom of the cliffs rather than the winding, narrow road, but both come out at the same point, the car park where Ebb Carrs Cafe is located.

I'd been in here a few years before (and it's well recommended for a mid-morning bacon roll or some fresh fish), but this time decided to give it a miss. Instead I had I quick wander around the harbour where the St Abbs RNLI lifeboat is located. It's currently under threat from closure, but I saw loads of fund-raising events and more direct support for it (loads of T-shirted people) around the whole community.

I then climbed up to the south side of the cliffs and continued on the sign-posted coastal path south by south-eat. This took me along a narrow winding path before descending towards the lovely sandy beach, colourful beach-huts and café (as well as the overlooking mansions) of Coldingham Sands.

After walking along the beach it was a bit of an energetic ascending/descending route between a number of secluded rocky coves & beaches...

...before I reached the large Eyemouth caravan park perched precariously atop the cliffs-tops and beside the isolated sea-stacks.

I took the gradually descending path into Eyemouth and went past the small town centre before finding the Eyemouth Maritime Museum. It's a large building on the riverside, with a long front canopy which doubles as an advertising shelter, but it's well worth going into for a wander around the permanent and seasonal displays.

Only a fisherman's line's throw from the museum is Oblò with a small bar on ground level, a large first floor lounge and a superb balcony restaurant with views of the river; this was busy even just after noon on a weekday.

Inside I found a very modern, leather, glass & chrome interior, brightly lit by downlighters and although I had hoped that there might be a single hand-pulled beer available I couldn't see it on the long bar (it might have been located in the downstairs bar). However there were quite a few bottled beers from Knops, Born in the Borders and Greene King/Belhaven in the fridge (and these were being well promoted), but I really fancied a cold 'summer' beer to quench my thirst and so went for a pint of the WEST Hefeweissen. This had really travelled well from Glasgow (or possibly from Arcobräu in Germany at the moment until the new expanded WEST brewery comes online), and I just love how opaque/murky this can be - it just adds to the taste for a Hefe.

I had thought about walking the couple of miles from Eyemouth to Ayton, but had noted that there was a handy bus available which would mean that I wouldn't have to walk up the hill. The bus came pretty well on time (although do not take the same numbered bus back to Berwick!) and after 5 minutes or so this dropped me off opposite the bank in Ayton High Street. Not too far away I spied the brand new signage for the Hemelvaart Bier Café (Hemelvaart itself translates as Ascension).

On the day I visited they'd only been open for just over a week so the place definitely felt somewhat like a work-in-progress but, in all honesty, it was looking quite impressive. The only doorway opens up into a large single roomed space, with the front having a number of differently-styled wooden tables & chairs, a very basic floor, lots of wooden furniture & shelving and an expanse of painted & more exposed exposed brickwork walls.

The small bar is located at the centre of the left side of the room and then the space extends further out towards the back with more tables & chairs, lots of beer related posters & prints, bright lights & downlighters, although it's broken up a bit by a floor-to-ceiling grey support post.

On at the bar were 2 hand-pulls and 4 craft-keg/Belgian beer fonts on a chrome rail, today dispensing Truefitt Brewing beers on cask (great to see, I hadn't tried any of their beers before) as well as Sparta Pils by Brouwerij Van Steenberge, Wild Beer Millionaire, Tempest Long White Cloud, Brugse Zot from De Halve Maan, a cider-in-a-box (Dog Dancer from Wales) and a couple of fonts for BrewDog/Mikkeller beers. From chatting to the owners, John & Phil, it seems they've taken a leaf from The Hanging Bat in Edinburgh and only provide 1/3, 1/2 and schooner (2/3) pint options, and go with the same reasoning - i.e. that a lot of the beers they sell could be high in abv and it only makes sense to drink less than a full pint of these, and also that by the end of a pint it *could* be argued that the beer isn't in its optimum condition (note that the beer prices for everything I tried today were absolutely fine).

I took a 1/2 of the Truefitt Bottle Of Notes (a slightly sweet golden ale with some elderflower hints, nice) and enquired if they were serving any food. And they were - either platters of sliced meat/cheese/bread, or they'd just had a delivery of a range of Pieminister pies. That was an easy decision then, I went for a pie (actually the decision was made far more difficult by the great range of pies), specifically a Shamrock (Steak & Guinness) with mash and minted pies - this was all very good indeed and piping hot.

As per a continental bier café there's also an extensive menu of bottled beer to peruse and these can be seen in 2 of the huge fridges next to the bar (growlers of beer can also be taken away). More Dutch beer (especially De Molen) had just been ordered.

The Hemelvaart Bier Café was a great place to have lunch and a few interesting beers in. They'd wanted to expand from their original Hemelvaart Bier Café in Bedale North Yorkshire for quite some time, had looked for a place just north of the border and had eventually settled on the closed Black Bull in Ayton. They're currently open from Thursdays to Sundays (and Bank Holidays), were just putting Tempest cask beers on and plan to have a lot of live indie/folk music; here's wishing them every success. I now had to get back to Berwick-upon-Tweed and although there's a fairly decent bus service by the time this got to Berwick it had gotten caught up in the early Friday afternoon rush-hour/get-away. I therefore got off the bus well before the town-centre stop and walked past the busy shops to Bridge Street, home to the most northerly micropub in England, The Curfew.

It was great to see the place doing a lively trade this warm afternoon with almost every outside table in the courtyard taken, and inside there was the usual impressive selection of cask & bottled beer. One of the owners recognised me from my last visit (marred by an SDL rally/counter-rally) and after chatting away for a bit I took a flight tray of the 3 light beers out into the courtyard to enjoy the sunshine (the Blackjack Specials Farmhouse IPA was the pick of this bunch - biscuity sweet, earthy, a hint of fennel and a slightly pepper finish).

I bought a Brouwerij Kees Farmhouse IPA for the train journey back and also stopped in The Green Shop just along from The Curfew where they had local Tweedmouth-based Bear Claw beers back in stock - hooray!

Heading back to the train station I had hoped to find some decent beer in the historic interior (and impressive exterior) of the Brewers Arms but sadly this was not to be (Deuchars IPA and Bombardier were the only choices) and with the Free Trade closed until later in the day I had to make do with popping into the Castle Hotel before getting my train back north.

Return travel:-
  Bus: Ayton to Berwick-upon-Tweed to St Abbs (34 Travelsure, 25 on the hour every 2 hours)
  Train: Berwick-upon-Tweed to Glasgow Central (various)

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