Having just about recovered from my long break in the Pacific North-West of the USA, I discovered that the new Borders Railway from Edinburgh into the heart of the Borders had opened whilst I had been away in the other hemisphere. Although all the steam train journeys were booked out for the rest of the year, there was still a normal twice hourly service operating over the weekend which would lead me into the new station at Tweedbank. By happy co-incidence the fantastic Tempest Brew Co. had moved into a nearby industrial estate earlier in the year and had just started to open their brewery shop at the weekends - I like co-incidences like that!
Outward travel was as follows:-
Train: Glasgow Queen St to Edinburgh Waverley (every 15 minutes)
Train: Edinburgh Waverley to Tweedbank (25, 55 on the hour)
Before getting my Borders Railway connection at Waverley I was able to drop into the Platform 2 Market on the far east side of the Waverley concourse which was celebrating the opening of the Borders Railway. As well as a number of food and tourist stalls I found Graeme from Tempest gamefully manning the Tempest 'pop-up' stall at a fairly early time in the morning (at least for beer drinking).
After a quick chat and a sample of the new Tempest Double Shuck Oyster Stout (lovely, but at 11%, pretty lethal as mid-morning pick-me-up) I headed to the south side of the busy station complex. Since this was only the 3rd weekend of its operation, this Borders Railway service was packed with curious sightseers of all ages and although it took a bit of time to get outside the Edinburgh ring-road area, the journey flew by as we entered the rolling hills & farmland of the beautiful Borders. A lot of people got off at Galashiels, but the majority stayed on until the modern new station at Tweedbank (where there were a lot of ScotRail people giving helpful advice).
Buses were available to Selkirk and Melrose, but I only needed to cross the new roundabout and head into Tweedbank Industrial Estate. Tempest Brew Co. moved here from a tiny space near to The Cobbles pub in Kelso in February of this year and now take up both units of Block 11 in the far southern end of the Industrial Estate.
Manning the fort today were Annika and her somewhat younger helpers (hubby & Tempest owner/head brewer Gavin was off biking) and she was kind enough to let me have a look around the brewing area (only because there was no brewing happening today, no formal tours take place at the moment). They now have an approx. 20BBL brewing kit, 6 fermenters/conditioning tanks and a bright beer tank (with 3 more double-size fermenters due in the forthcoming weeks).
Packaging is now fully automated with the new-style Tempest 330ml bottles just about filling the huge demand for bottled Tempest beers (a listing in Aldi for the festival winning Long White Cloud as well as Armadillo Pale Ale can't have been bad for business) and Tempest have always been at the forefront of kegged 'craft' beers which they supply to the Fuller-Thomson pubs & the BrewDog bars amongst many others.
Also on the brewing floor I managed to spy a number of larger whisky barrels and Annika confirmed that some of these were full of Tempest beer, the fabulous Old Parochial Scotch Ale in particular. This was stupendous when I tried it in bottled form over 2 years ago, so I really look forward to giving it a go after some interesting barrel-ageing.
After this quick look around I returned to the shop for a chat with Annika and some beer-related retail therapy. With the new tanks it seems that Tempest will once again be making full use of the available space that they have so any Tap Room will have to wait for a while (although The Cobbles in Kelso is effectively a Brewery Tap). However I was happy enough to buy bottles of the Double Shuck Oyster Stout that I'd sampled earlier, Marmalade on Rye and the new version of Red-Eye Flight mocha porter, with coffee procured from the outstanding roasters at Steampunk Coffee in North Berwick. These were some seriously high abv beers, so I decided opening them on the train back to Edinburgh probably wasn't going to be a good idea.
After bidding Annika goodbye, I headed out from the Industrial Estate and along the main road to Melrose. It's a lovely part of the country, especially when the sun shines, and with the rolling Eildon Hills framed by the occasional rugby pitch, I could definitely tell I was in the Borders.
The road into Melrose is pretty narrow and dropped slightly as I approached the River Tweed and the main shopping street. Here I found the imposing and listed frontage of the George and Abbotsford Hotel.
I went into the main entrance, wandered around a bit in the corridors until I found someone, and from a choice of the restaurant, the beer garden or the bar, chose the bar on the left-hand side of the main corridor to sit down for a beer and some lunch.
The room is somewhat split in 2 with the bar counter and a couple of long benches at the top and a further collection of tables & chairs at the bottom. Around the wall were some military-type plaques along with a number of rugby team photos and some signed rugby jerseys (this is definitely a rugby town). The dark wooden bar had lots of whiskies on the top shelf and also 3 hand-pulls providing Barney's Volcano IPA and Thatchers Cheddar Valley cider as I came in, with Traquair Stuart Ale just being pulled through (and there was also a shiny keg font with Greene King East Coast IPA prominent). I had thought there might have been a Tempest beer available, but was told that due to a recent price increase these were now thought of as too expensive for the hotel - interesting feedback perhaps for the guys at Tempest. I took a pint of the Volcano IPA (quite OK, perhaps a bit more citrus bitterness than before) and asked for one of the printed-out lunch menus. I was a bit confused when I saw that a number of the choices had no cost against them (I had hoped I could get them for free when I pointed them out, but no such luck) but eventually ordered the Ploughman's. The World Cup Rugby was on the TV and I was happy enough to watch one of the first games of the tournament until my lunch arrived.
In this Ploughman's there were 3 different types of cheese, the chutney was lovely and it all went together fairly well, but I had hoped for a pork pie or at least some ham for a bit of contrast in texture and taste. Full of cheese & bread I left the George and Abbotsford and headed further along Melrose High Street. It's a long, narrow street with some interesting local shops and opens out somewhat at the far end where the Mercat Cross is located, the unicorn on the top indicating the site of a traditional farmer's market.
Melrose is internationally famous for Melrose Abbey, and I walked the short distance from the High Street for a look around the outside of these grand ruins. Robert the Bruce's heart is meant to be buried here after being taken from the body that was buried in Dunfermline Abbey - it was then used as a totem in an overseas Crusade before being returned and laid to a final rest in Melrose Abbey.
There are a number of tourist related shops around the Abbey including cafés with outside seating and an ice cream parlour, but there is also a decent cycle shop, Hardies Bikes, to both window-shop in and hire bikes from.
Next I returned back to the High Street where there were a number of pubs to try. First of all I entered the low-ceilinged Ship Inn...
...but with only Deuchars IPA available today I crossed the road to the larger premises of Burt's Hotel, full of colourful flowering window-baskets and hanging pot-plants.
Burt's was completely packed-out with lunch-time diners, both in the main bar and the small snug, and when I had received my pint of Born in the Borders Foxy Blonde (Timothy Taylor Landlord and Black Sheep Bitter were the other choices), with no space (or seats) at the bar I was initially forced to grab a chair out in the corridor almost at the entrance to the hotel's kitchen. This wasn't too sensible but thankfully one of the staff soon told me about the outside seating area and pointed me in its direction through the patio doors of the formal dining room. This brought me out into a stunning secluded beer garden, full of canopied benches, flowering shrubbery (and quite a few pesky late-summer wasps).
After only a few minutes I was joined by a number of cyclists, one of whom was trailing a fair amount of blood from a knee wound - he hadn't been able to stop after flying down one of the nearby steep hills and was getting a lot of ribbing from his 'pals'. My final stop before heading back to Tweedbank was the Kings Arms, almost next to the George and Abbotsford on the High Street.
The bar here was busy again with a mixture of people in for a bar lunch and locals in to watch the World Cup rugby on the TV before the club rugby game. Since rugby was definitely the prevalent sport I took a very quick 1/2 of Wadworth Dirty Rucker (red fruits, smooth, some fruit bitterness with the normal Wadworth yeasty finish) from the choice of 3 hand-pulls before deciding that I really had to leave. On my way back I did pass Millers of Melrose butchers which sells famous pies such as Eildon Hill Steak & Haggis...
...and also the equally as famous Melrose Rugby Football Club ground, where a home game against Boroughmuir was about to kick off (Melrose sadly lost that game but are still close to the top of the League).
My walk back up to Tweedbank station took approx. 25 minutes at a (very) fast walking speed, where the train back to Edinburgh was dead on time. The Borders Railway has certainly made the trip into the Borders so much easier and I'm sure it won't be long before I'm back to have a look around another Borders town.
Train: Tweedbank to Edinburgh Waverley (01, 31 on the hour)
Train: Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Queen St (every 15 minutes)