Friday, 30 January 2015

Into Carlisle on the Cumbria Way: 24th January 2015

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.

Return travel:-
  Bus: Cummersdale (Square) to Carlisle Devonshire Street (75 Reays, 35 on the hour)
  Train: Carlisle to Glasgow Central (16:47, Virgin Trains)

Friday, 16 January 2015

A local winter wander-land around East Dunbartonshire: 10th January 2015

In the aftermath of #ScotStorm on Thursday/Friday when the entire Scottish train network was cancelled and before #ScotStorm2 was going to hit later in the week, I decided that a local wander around some pubs to the north-east of Glasgow was a more sensible option rather than a planned excursion down Ayrshire-way - at least I could always (eventually) walk home if things turned out really bad!

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St. to Bishopbriggs (18, 48 on the hour)

It took just over 5 minutes for the Stirling-bound train to deposit me at Bishopbriggs station and then only a further minute to reach Bishopbriggs Cross (I think this must be my shortest ever travel time). This central part of Bishopbriggs is set along the main road from Glasgow to Kirkintilloch and is known as 'The Village' and consists of a number of shops, offices, restaurants & pubs and also the Triangle Shopping Centre. Just across the busy road from this I found The Avenue bar & restaurant, which has been open since late 2013, but there has been a pub/restaurant/night-club (Chaplins, The Hermitage, Fuel…) on this same site for many, many years.

I entered from the door on the right and inside encountered a large, modern, brightly-lit place, with a soaring ceiling, lots of comfy seats & low tables at the high windows, some raised tables (in fetching pink marble) in a line along the centre and a dark marbled bar towards the back. As I gravitated towards the bar I could see lots of wine bottles set into their square cubby-holes, bottles of spirits & whiskies on a couple of shelves, lots of coffee-making paraphernalia and also a row of interesting beer bottles (good to see this taking a prominent position). A selection of the core Drygate beers, Jaw Drop & Drift, Deeside Talorcan & Macbeth, Leffe and Blue Moon wasn't bad at all (OK, Innis & Gunn were up there as well) with these being duplicated in one of the fridges, but there was also the appealing sight of 2 hand-pulls, with Orkney Dark Island the only cask beer of choice available today.

I'm a big fan of Dark Island (we based our Craft Beer Kitchen birthday beer on it), especially on cask as it has a far better body and a more burnt, bitter finish, so I was more than happy to take a pint of it, order a sandwich and grab a seat at one of the pink marble tables. As well as the large downstairs level there's an upstairs mezzanine with couple of tables and also a function room out at the back where today a 'Little Angels' party could be heard in full (high-pitched) swing. It's a nice place, but strangely there's not a lot of features on the painted walls (with just a few abstract photos clustered together on the left wall), but there are a couple of great brass chandelier-type light fixings hanging from the high ceiling.

Judging by the amount of people in for lunch the food seems very popular, and I could see why when my Avenue Club Sandwich came. Loads of chicken, crispy bacon, tomato & garlic mayo on some toasted, slightly sourdough bread - it was very tasty indeed.

It's always good to find somewhere a bit different to try and hopefully The Avenue will be around for some time. On leaving I headed up Kirkintilloch Road and, since I didn't fancy heading past the chaos of Strathkelvin Retail Park, I turned left onto Balmuildy Road and followed this down to the Leisuredrome on the very outskirts of Bishopbriggs. It was here that I was able to pick up National Cycling Route 754 on the northern towpath of the Forth and Clyde Canal.

I followed this north through some fairly normal Scottish winter weather - driving rain, sunshine and the odd 2-minute snowstorm, before reaching the large church at Cadder and also the new storage sheds at Cadder Wharf - these are for the 6 mooring berths on the wharf (and part of Scottish Canals 'Living on Water' initiative), but it's certainly a pretty isolated spot to put down for any length of time.

The canal path then led me underneath the main road to Torrance and between a number of sodden fields, but it wasn't too long before I reached some moored narrow-boats and also an old Clyde-ferryboat that had been converted into an Arts/Craft Shop & Studio - Craft Daft on a Raft.

It was sadly closed for the winter season (opening again on Saturday February 7th 2015), but the adjacent Georgian-built canalside premises of The Stables country pub & restaurant was thankfully open and provided a welcome shelter from the blustery weather.

The Stables is a Mitchells & Butlers Vintage Inn with a great canalside beer garden (though looking a bit storm-battered today)...

...and the standard, more than acceptable, Vintage Inn-type 'rustic' decor and food & drink facilities. I had hoped they might have had a Jaw Brew beer available (owner Mark lives nearby and has done a meet-the-brewer here in the past), but there was only Taylor's Landlord and Purity Ubu available (although there was a helpful glossy 'flier' with some information about Jaw Brew's beers next to the hand-pulls).

The Stables is (effectively) in the middle of nowhere; although there were quite a few walkers & cyclists out today the large majority of their clientèle will be car-based. With the new (and definitely welcome) alcohol limits now in place in Scotland, car drivers can’t take the chance of even a 1/2 pint of 'normal' beer so it will be interesting to see how this new law affects beer sales in general at this type of pub/restaurant establishment - I can't really see it helping unless the brewers start producing a lot more (almost) alcohol-free, but still tasty beers such as Weihenstephan Alkoholfrei, Brewdog Nanny State or the new Tennent's Hee-Haw and the pubs start taking a bit of a risk by stocking them. However this didn't apply to me today, with my Purity Ubu being a well-bodied, spicy amber ale, and once I had finished my 1/2 of this I headed back out to the canalside path. Less than a mile or so along from The Stables is another small wharf, Joe's Wharf (which does seem a bit home-made)...

...and then it wasn't too much further before I came in sight of the new modern Southbank Marina development on the outskirts of Kirkintilloch. This is (unsurprisingly) set on the southern side of the canal and I was able to cross over to this by using the new, sweeping, arcing footbridge complete with large viewing platform which juts out quite far over the canal.

The Southbank Marina has been open since 2008 so there's quite a few boats moored here as well as a number of office-based premises, but in the depths of winter there was also a bit of an unfinished air about the place.

I did think about a quick detour to the Kirky Puffer (a decent JD Wetherspoon pub, again just off the canal in the centre of Kirkintilloch), but with the daylight fading I decided to continue on to Lenzie. It's always a longer walk than I expect from Kirkintilloch to Lenzie, but after 15 minutes or so I was at the foot of the hill where a few shops mark the centre of Lenzie, the most interesting of these being Billington's Deli & Ice Cream.

This used to be a Peckham's deli before they had to close a number of shops back in 2011, and then it was re-opened as a deli & café by local couple Mark & Sue Billington. Inside the long, narrow shop, which opens out in a sharp left-hand right-angle turn at the back, are some tables at the windows and around the corner, a seriously large & tasty range of deli food, home-baking, ice cream from a farm in Fintry (which they then mix-and-match with fruit & coatings), lots of spirits & wine and an impressive beer selection (Fyne, Williams Bros, WEST, Tryst, Fallen, Jaw, Belhaven and others), both in the long fridge around the corner of the shop and also stacked up on the shelves at the front. It’s a well-stocked, interesting and welcoming place which also does sit-down meals (although it’s best to book a table for these).

With a walking time of ~30 seconds to Lenzie train station I was able to browse for a bit before dashing off to get the train back to Glasgow and chose a couple of Tryst beers (including a Billington's Pale Ale, but it may be this is a re-badged Brockville Pale) and a saaz-hopped 'Craft Czech Lager' (a can from Hobo Beer & Co.). There is also a tap with Billington's Lager on draught if you want to sit in, but I suspect this is the 'standard' house lager from Belhaven.

Return travel:-
  Train: Lenzie to Glasgow Queen St. (20, 50 on the hour)

Friday, 9 January 2015

A pre-New Year amble around Aberdeen: 30th December 2014

I've not been to Aberdeen too often in the last, well, decade really - a quick visit in 2013 when in Stonehaven before feeling pretty unwell was all that I've managed, but with a number of interesting new bars as well as lots of traditional pubs to visit, I decided that this festive period was a good time to renew my acquaintance with the Granite City.

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Dundee to Aberdeen (10:05, 2x Advance Singles is way cheaper than an Off-peak Day Return)

Aberdeen station is now an offshoot of the large Union Square complex full of shops, restaurants and a multi-screen cinema, but I eventually managed to find my way out of this and headed down to the docks area where I passed The Moorings rock-and-ale bar (not open until 5pm, drats!) before crossing some busy roads and reaching Beach Boulevard. There are a lot of high-rise condo-style apartments here with great views out to the North Sea and these lined the road until I reached the long length of Aberdeen Esplanade. The famous Beach Ballroom with its 'bouncy floor' has been here since 1929 and forms a great backdrop to the expanse of sandy beach and the more modern sight of numerous oil & gas support vessels stacked-up ready to enter Aberdeen Harbour.

I walked past the Ballroom and along the esplanade for a bit before deciding that I needed something hot & warming to combat the chill wind coming off the North Sea (which had probably originated in the depths of Norway). I therefore headed back towards the north-east side of the city centre, zig-zagged through some back streets until Littlejohn Street, and about half way up the slight hill I found the understated entrance to six°north (the name refers to the number of degrees that Aberdeen/Stonehaven are to the north of Brussels).

This is a Belgian & 'Craft' Beer orientated bar owned and operated by Robert Lindsay, who also owns the fantastic The Marine Hotel in Stonehaven and who brews Belgian-style beers in the nearby six°north Brewery, so I was expecting to see a lot of Belgian bottled beers and their own in-house draught brews. I entered the premises to find that the glass doorway opens out into a smallish bench-style seating area at the front complete with cabinet-style bookcases full of empty Belgian beer bottles...

...before a couple of almost Roman Villa-like granite pillars led me on to the expanded main downstairs bar area, with dark wooden bar and a couple of chunky chrome rails containing the wooden beer-tap handles, masses of sparkling glasses hung up above the bar counter, a number of huge, trailing hanging lights and lots more plain bench-style seats.

The beer tap-list is written on a blackboard high-up on a side wall over the pillared entrance, and consists of a number of six°north beers, lots of Belgian beer on draught (Dupont Moinette Blonde, anyone?), some UK keg beers and some UK (mostly Scottish) cask beers (the hand-pulls are set along the back of the bar counter) - it's a really impressive selection at some acceptable prices (especially for their own beers). I chose the six°north festive ale (Snowy, a malty spicy dark ale with a bit of warming alcohol heat) and went to sit in one of the downstairs corner seats.

The downstairs area is nice, if perhaps a bit minimalistic, but there's also an upstairs balcony area which overlooks the downstairs space on all four terraced sides with more bench seats, some mirrors, a lot of exposed brick-work and a ceiling that lets masses of daylight in. This really looks great and it all gives the impression of a far more open space (and also enhances that Roman Villa-like look again).

I was able to peruse the dedicated six°north newspaper-like menu for a bit (there's also an App-for-that) with the ridiculous range of Belgian-bottled beers before my lunch was delivered - I chose the beer soup with a side of chorizo, with the soup being delivered in a large bowl of bread. I really liked this idea, and the soup was creamy, filling and full of cheese (not much beer that I could taste), but boy was it messy (OK, even more than normal) as I continually broke up the crusty bread.

I could have spent a lot more time in six°north (and it would have been interesting to see it with more people inside), but I had to move on. Actually I didn't have to move on very far, literally only down to the bottom of Littlejohn Street where the Bottle Cap Bar and Brewery had opened only a few months ago.

On walking into the downstairs level my first impression was that this was a far larger place than six°north, with an almost a Beer-Halle type of look; it certainly had a more stripped-back, industrial feel with lots of soaring, black painted, bolted-strewn metal pillars, a gun-metal grey staircase, polished wooden benches and a high ceiling which curved back & down to a large blackboard and some tiled walls.

The long, wood-panel clad bar is a fair distance from the entrance and takes up a good part of the back right-hand corner, with the black-boarded tap list this time in the more standard position behind the bar and lit by a line of bright down-lighters. They have the possibility of 24 keg beers on tap (2 banks of 12, no cask at all that I could see) and I had hoped to find a good number of their own beers available, but sadly there was only 2 of these on. I had the choice of either the strong High Maltage (ouch!) scotch ale or the more sensible American Wheat (which I chose), an orangey-lemon, decently textured, bitter wheat beer - not too bad at all.

I sat down in one of the leather couches at the front (there were some nice 'coffee tables' showcasing empty beer-bottles here as well) and in-between drinking my American Wheat managed to nip upstairs. There's another, smaller bar on this level (beer cocktails seem to be big as do growler/container carry-oots) and occupying one side is the tiny Bottle Cap microbrewery (the 200-litre kit is all behind these windows although it's difficult to tell from the photo).

I thought the Bottle Cap Bar and Brewery was a decent enough place (again it would have helped by being busy), but the price for the beers did seem a tad high - with only a couple of lagers as an exception, everything was over £5/pint which is definitely getting somewhat steep, but if you factor in one their lunch deals then it becomes a different proposition. After finishing my American Wheat I headed to the very top of Littlejohn Street to find the last bar in this compact 'craft-beermuda triangle', the original BrewDog Bar (or #FlagShip as it seems to be known).

This has very much been the template for a lot of the later BrewDog bars - all exposed brickwork, long hanging lights and industrial/metal chic, but it's also a lot smaller than most/all of its brethren (unsurprising since it was the first and there was always going to be a risk involved in opening it), although that probably helped the atmosphere of the place in the mid-afternoon when it's generally still pretty quiet.

However I did like all of the artwork adorning the walls and as usual the staff were more than welcoming & friendly, but this time they had some bad news - apart from the BrewDog staples (which I'd had before) all of the low abv guests weren't being served due to a lack of CO2 pressure (plus the hopinator wasn't working) so that meant I had the choice of either some 11-14% guest beers (not really my thing at that time of the day) or (reluctantly, I don't like this in a bar) I was going to have to take a bottle. The fact that it was a spicy, floral Stone Saison helped somewhat, but it was still a bit disappointing for the #FlagShip.

I left BrewDog and headed out towards the main thoroughfare of Union Street. On my way I passed the entrance to the magnificent silver landmark of Marischal College, probably the best showcase of granite as a building material in the entire city.

I entered Union Street at its eastern end; this is the old Castlegate area comprising the Salvation Army Citadel buildings (on the site of the ancient castle), the Mercat Cross and a statue to the Gordon Highlanders (which this seagull just wouldn't leave).

Union Street is still Aberdeen's main shopping street and was incredibly busy in the post-Christmas sales today, but all the way down Union Street are some interesting granite-based buildings & structures - St Nicholas Kirk and graveyard, Union Bridge over Union Terrace Gardens and also Aberdeen Music Hall, which is as far as I decided to go in the crowds.

I headed north from here up towards Aberdeen's now sadly diminished trades and auction district and came across The Bon Accord (no, not that Bon Accord)...

...and also an adjacent traditional basement pub called Under The Hammer, which I really wanted to visit due to its interesting interior, but couldn't because they weren’t open until 5pm on weekdays (double drats!).

Instead I backtracked to Union Street where I found The Grill, conveniently located directly opposite the Music Hall.

I'm sure a lot of shoppers don't give the place a second glance as they hurry from shop-to-shop, but that would only be their misfortune. Actually that might not quite be true as the place was really very busy this afternoon (which stopped me from getting any good interior photos). Inside it's surprisingly long & narrow, opening up into a larger, windowed, circular space at the very far end, with wooden archways at both the front & back, and it's full of comfy red leather seats along the left side & at that far end with lots of small wooden tables dotted about. The long, long bar takes up almost all of the right-hand side with a high dark mahogany gantry, hundreds of whiskies categorised by region in the windowed cabinets, and three very nice hand-pulled beers set in amongst the macro keg fonts, today Deeside Rye competing with Fyne Ales Jarl & Maverick.

Forcing myself not to succumb to my near Jarl addiction, I instead went for the very local Deeside Rye (previously Red Rye I think, and extremely sweet with some rye spiciness and a slight fruit bitterness), and just stood for a while taking in the amazing long decorative oval plasterwork over the entire front section of the ceiling, the interesting G ('Grill'?) badges spaced out slightly below the counter and the mass of CAMRA and ScotlandWhisky certificates prominently displayed. This type of place is completely different to the 'Craft Beer' bars of Littlejohn Street but I liked it just as much (perhaps even more, it all depends on how I'm feeling). Next I had to re-join the masses on Union Street but managed to almost immediately head south, this time to a section of the city centre with lots of hotels and B&Bs, one of which on Crown Street is the Brewntood Hotel...

...where I found the dedicated entrance for Carriages basement bar hidden behind some railings and (unsurprising) set down a flight of stairs.

When I turned right from the entrance I came up to (another) lovely mahogany bar, this time semi-circular with an extension out to one side; everything here was polished up, with the brass fixtures gleaming and the glasses & bottles sparkling in the bright down-lighters. There are 8 hand-pulls distributed around one arc of bar (6 on today) with a number of local and UK beers available including Highland Scapa Special, Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted and Adnams Ghost Ship; the range would probably be considered 'safe' compared to six°north or Bottle Cap but then it's aimed at a slightly different clientèle.

A took a 1/2 of the Scapa Special (a lovely bitter, crisp pale ale) and got into a good-natured discussion with the barman about part of my payment - one of 10p coins was an Isle of Man piece, very shiny and with a lighthouse on the back - I had to google it to make sure it was still valid currency (and I then kept it, it was just a bit different). There were quite a few people chatting away at the chairs & tables in front of the bar, but there's also a separate large lounge area full of pictures of old Aberdeen and where books are available as well as today's papers - Carriages is just a classy, relaxing, basement bar.

There are a number of ways to get back to the train station & the Union Square area of Aberdeen from Carriages, but I chose the more direct route - the steps to South College Street - these are always fun after a few beers!

With The Moorings not open, I decided to end my day in Aberdeen at CASC, a welcoming sight (and distinctive entrance) amidst the warren of streets between Union Square and Union Street (CASC simply spells out their specialities - Cigars, Ale, Scotch & Coffee).

I walked in past some seats at the front of the single, largish room and found the wide-screen blackboarded tap-list directly in front of me on the far wall. As per six°north and The Bottle Cap there really is some choice available (24 keg lines), with the prices maybe a tad high in some cases but actually not too bad when I extrapolated them out.

I made my beer decision and then had to work out which side of the main bar to queue from since there's a wooden railing/lean-to directly in front of the centre of the lovely granite bar counter - it wasn't that obvious (and probably doesn't really matter at all). This is another gleaming bar with rows of (mostly) beer & wine glasses hanging in front of the counter, light wooden shelves behind the bar absolutely jam-packed with bottles of whisky and other spirits, some impressive coffee-making gadgetry & glassware on one side and a couple of large fridges full of interesting bottled beer on the other side - that left side of the room is a very busy place.

And as for the first item of their specialised product range, there is a walk-in humidor at the back-left of the room with what seemed like a more than comprehensive selection to my untrained eye (although I assume to smoke these on the premises requires a visit out into the fresh air).

The majority of the bench-style seating is at the front & along the right-hand side wall, and with a large beer & whisky menu to peruse, I was quite happy to sit and relax for a while and enjoy a Wiper and True Milk Shake Stout (milky coffee, brown sugar and a bitter chocolate finish), their Amarillo Amber Ale and also an Almasty Cherry Sour (I didn't really enjoy this as much as the others, it was just a bit too 'chemically' clean). However I did like the beer choice, the friendly staff and the layout of CASC (as did quite a number of people, it started fill up considerably as the afternoon wore on) and I'll certainly be back the next time I'm in the Granite City.

Return travel:-
  Train: Aberdeen to Dundee (16:35, Advance is way cheaper before 5:00pm)