Real Ale Reviews Independent reviewers of real ales, beers and lagers from around the world, including beer reviews, breweries, watering holes and real ale events
    Sebright Arms / Lucky Chip

    Sebright Arms / Lucky Chip

    The bar is busy. The tables are full. The backroom is heaving and buoyant. Welcome to the Sebright Arms, dimly light and vivacious. We arrive from Soho at the fading of a sun drenched afternoon - four pubs, six pints, four hours. Three and a half miles later, bellies demanding meat and bread and barley, we bundle over the threshold. A table is found, pale beers ordered, burger menus devoured by hungry eyes. It's a young crowd, an old ...

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    A King and a Prince

    A Prince Amongst Beers

    It's not every day that you get the chance to try a beer that's older than you are. Last Saturday night I opened a bottle that was just that; I opened a beer that was older than me, so that’s over twenty five, give or take the odd ten years. In fact it was a lot older than me, more than twice my age. It was brewed in 1929 in fact, so that’s 83 years old. A mate ...

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    Build A Rocket Boys!

    Build A Rocket Boys! by Elbow & Robinsons

    Elbow are the kings of soaring melancholy, masters of poetic northern introspection.  Let Elbow's albums flow over you and you can be mesmerised by their beauty alone. Put in the time to listen, to soak up the poignancy, the humour, the extraordinary manifestations of the ordinary and their albums become life affirming tributes to the everyday. Conversely, it's quite easy to stick an Elbow album on and realise thirty lethargic minutes later that time - and ...

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    Man shed!

    Readers Pubs

    At the first pub there's a piano in the window but no one to play it. The seats are filled with ghosts. A long pew is adorned with individually wrapped cushions, resembling a bum-friendly box of Mr Kipling cakes. It's quiet, the fireplace glows warm and friendly, everything is cosy and snug. Welcome to Pete's Retreat. "We'll be at home here, let's get a pint." Much as we could stay forever we've a long crawl ahead ...

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    De Struise Pannepot 2008

    Pannepot 2008

    Broody and brown, like blood-red soil on a wet day, four-year aged Pannepot is dragged out of the beer cupboard and into a glass like Jack Dee to an in-laws barbecue... It simply doesn't want to open (the journey back from Belgium wasn't kind: a contemporary shot it's load in the suitcase, drenching the stash of bottles and it's still sticky and downtrodden) but eventually, after much gushing and fizzing, it acquiesces. Perhaps it's just the toll of ...

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    John Keeling Fullers

    Desert Island Beers #50: John Keeling - Fuller, Smith & Turner PLC

    It's a special week on the desert island as we celebrate a half century of castaways being swept up onto our shores. Robinson Crusoe # 50 is a real coup for us as it features none other than Sir (it’s only a matter of time) John Keeling; Head Brewer at Fuller, Smith & Turner PLC, (better known simply as Fullers). John was born in Droylsden, Manchester, in September 1956. When he left school without telling his ...

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    Will Hawkes

    Desert Island Beers #38: Will Hawkes, The Independent

    Welcome to the latest episode of Desert Island Beers which this week features Will Hawkes who works on The Independent’s sports desk and writes about beer in his spare time. Born in London and brought up in sunny Kent, he has had an interest in ale since he could convince a barman he was 18 – but his real conversion to good beer came after a year spent living in Southern California in 1999-2000, when the ...

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    Marston's Fever Pitch English Bitter

    Marston's Fever Pitch

    First off I should point out that I don't often take kindly to products and advertising that jump on the football bandwagon. The best footy related marketing is the football advertising by Nike and Carlsberg (ignoring their most recent attempts). So, I'm potentially a little biased against Marston's Fever Pitch... Let's start with the positives: oranges, lemons, citrus peel but not zest. It's more interesting than I expected, more summery. A mellow bitterness that isn't displeasing and ...

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    Englischer Garten

    Drunken in Munchen

    Let's be frank, I'm not brilliant at getting drunk. It's not that I'm a bad drunk per se, but since my uni days my tolerance has faded and I'm much better suited to a lazy pub garden or the frantic but well partitioned boozing of a hot festival day. So, the morning after the night before, eating pizza along the tramlines of Munich, Stag Day 2 of 3, the first beer is an inevitable mistake. The 12 ...

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    Lowlands Bier Festival

    Beer From The Low Country

    The smell of beer slopped on wooden tables, the glint of light in the top of the chalice, the sounds of a deck of cards and the clink of glasses. I'm in a bar in the north country but my senses are across the sea and howling winds, in the bustle of a backstreet bar in Belgium. Four pm on a sunny Friday, sampling the beers of the Low Countries in a bar in Leeds, dreaming of ...

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    BrewDog Blitz 2.8% ABV

    Brewdog Nottingham

    The blue logo can be seen for hundreds of yards. The windows that look out onto Hockley's student-filled streets, opposite a tea room, cinema and acclaimed bistro, are plastered with huge crest shaped decals, archetypal generation Nike branding for a Starbuck's influenced post-modern brand experience. B R E W D O G Reminiscent of the type of industrial themed sandwich shop found in downtown Prague or New York's Soho, but with added chutzpah and a munificence for ...

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    Shibden Valley by Tim Green

    Shibden Mill Inn

    Down a winding single lane road the descent to Shibden Mill Inn is not one to be taken with nonchalance. A careless clutch foot could result in an unexpected round of automobile tobogganing, even without the help of rain, ice or snow. But survive the swooning approach and there sits a fine pub to be snowed in at: good beer, warm hearths and food fit for kings. The pub is infected with sunny Sunday smiles. Gregarious family ...

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    Packhorse bridge and Old Bridge Inn Ripponden

    A bridge in time

    A brisk day in March, wet but without rain. Ducking through the dripping steel railway bridge, carving through residual puddles, Sowerby Bridge seems jack-knifed between the twenty first century and the 1970s. It's partly the lack of ubiquitous chain stores, partly the dubious puns of the shabby independent shops, but mostly the hues of a downtrodden day in a small Yorkshire town. Out the other side of the town the road befriends the trajectory of the ...

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    Hopback Summer Lightning: a bit of a legend in Beerland

    Hopback Summer Lightning

    Some beers have a pedestal. Sometimes it's deserved because they are truly great beers, technically and taste-wise. Some are headliners, built by a cheeky PR campaign or an elaborate story. And some are deserved winners of awards and a place within beery folklore. Summer Lightning by Hopback falls in the latter category. Back when I was enjoying my third year on this planet and coming to terms with the fact I would soon have a baby ...

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  • scissors
    November 17th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyBeer and travel, Real Ale

    The planes have long blazed across the hazy horizon and we follow their sky trails as we descent into moorland. The landscape is littered with shake holes and marshy ponds who scoff at the lacklustre heat of the second day of summer. It’s a strange world of ochre, brown and hidden drops into darkness, a barren natural landscape pitted with the dormant pillage of man.

    Soon we’re back below 300 metres above sea level, trudging through the well quarried landscape under the intensifying heat of a determined sun. The stony path can’t decide if it’s heading uphill or downhill but gradually it aches its way lower, two steps forward, one step back.

    We have to take respite in Greg’s Hut, a renovated stone shelter where we find rabbit hutches, camping gear and prayer sheets in what we assume to be an Arabic script. Yes it’s an odd little hut. The guestbook attests to people having sheltered here only days before from torrential wind and rain. It’s a stark reminder that the Pennine Way isn’t always just a majestic wander between pubs.

    It’s here we survey the map, calculating our ETAP (Estimated Time of Arrival at Pub), little knowing our frothy pints and plumped up beds are separated by endless miles of grouse country. It’ll be hours before we see a beer at Alston.

    My makeshift sun parasol has exhausted my arms (it’s not easy walking whilst holding a folded Ordnance Survey map wrapped in a plastic map case above your head at just the right angle to block the sun). And just as the Way starts to get us down, we hit Corpse Road, a hard under foot lane that leads does into a glistening valley. The descent reveals a church spire and a long string of cottages glowing in the sunshine. Hello Garrigill! And there, overlooking a triangle of green land between the forks of the road, perfectly timed and with plenty of shade, The George & Dragon.

    It had better be open…

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  • scissors
    November 5th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyBeer and travel

    Morning in Dufton is heavenly. Soft light glistens on the village green, the distant hills are misty, and the birds seemingly haven’t slept, instead devoting every moment, dark or light, to their celestial symphonies.

    No wonder it’s called the Vale of Eden. And the prospect of exploring Cumbria’s fertile land spurs us to leave Dufton. That and the unenviable comfort of youth hostel bedding…

    Within minutes of joining the Way we’re surrounded on all sides by undulating fields of faultless farmland dressed in a glorious, consistent green. The land is all one hue, the only difference in colour between fields achieved by the sun that dances on the curvatures of the land. Nature creates art with the shadows of millions of blades of grass, a silent spectacle unfolding beneath a cloudless sky.

    As we rise above Cosca Hill, fresh faced and glad we didn’t win a week’s worth of beer at the quiz the previous night, the terrain dissolves into the no man’s land between moor and field; trees thin out, streams narrow, and hedgerows give way to the resilience of reeds and gorse. Greenery darkens, the sun rises towards its late morning perch above the verdant cone of Dufton Pike. Against a dull hill the rigid blue sky is speckled with ever watchful radomes bouncing radio waves against passenger planes in the sky.

    This eerie place sits 1000 feet above Dufton. It’s a tough climb for the first day, and our route avoids the curiously new road surface that curves up towards the heavenly looking golf balls. Just to spite us, the detour naturally involves the circumnavigation of a disused quarry shaft, appropriately named ‘Dunfell Hush’ which is exactly the sounds of falling down it when miles away from another living creature. Luckily we skip over any hidden mine shafts and the path pop us right up against the radomes. The spooky spheres are less angelic up close, coloured in roughly with worn-off white and sat atop windowless square boxes that looks like they’d blow away in a gentle gust. They look less airport security and more hideout for mad scientists trying to create a real life Day of the Triffids. On the cheap.

    We’re not halfway done for the day but lunch is calling. The afternoon trek towards our hostel seems an age away. We can’t even begin to think of a pub yet…

    Our lunch stop marks the tallest part of the entire Pennine Way so far, surpassing the more foreboding features of even the Three Peaks of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen Y Ghent. Cross Fell’s summit roars with wind and we join two southbound walkers sheltering behind the meagre walls of its dry stone cairn. The air is pregnant with cold and hot air which sweeps along the inclines of the fell and gives birth to the Helm Bar, an innocuous enough looking line of cloud that rustles the winds into a turbulent force of nature. They say Cross Fell is named for the typical English meaning of the words – think angry, grumpy wind demon sitting atop a desolate fell trying to keep pesky explorers away. “I don’t care how windy it is, it’s MY fell!”

    Suddenly two fighter jets accelerate cloud wards over nearby Dun Fell, so low against the brow of the hill that we could pluck the pilots faces out of a police line up. But even the power and noise of their twin jet engines fails to out muster the Helm Wind which sweeps across the tops and batters us into the cold hard discomfort of the shelter walls.

    Along with our fellow explorers we re-gather our strengths – bananas, dried apricots, Mars Bars, cheese and pickle sandwiches consumed via osmosis in the teasing gaps when the wind doesn’t batter us blue. Even without our lunch the views from our lofty plateau lift us – a panorama of vale and fell in equal measure spreads out for miles below. From this vantage point we can track the wandering of smoke from distant factories which cloud the view towards the peaks of the eastern line of the Lake District.

    We rise and turn into the wind, and very soon lunch seems insufficient and a pint seems unimaginably far away.

    Across Cross Fell

    Across Cross Fell towards the Lake District

    Cross Fell Ordnance Survey trig point

    Cross Fell trig point

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  • scissors
    September 11th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyBeer and travel

    (…or ‘How to lose pub quizzes and alienate local people’)

    Appleby and it’s border of police tape falls behind us, but the sun is relentless. It pours from an open sky, an azure coloured two fingers raised up to the sun cream at the bottom of my pack. And the sunglasses that sit forgotten in my man drawer at home. The man drawer on which sits one of the three copies of OL31 that should be guiding us towards Dufton.

    Sitting a few miles north of Appleby, Dufton’s loudest residents are the songbirds that flutter and sing each evening as they perform their nesting rituals and celebrate another day in Cumbrian paradise. We’re in no rush as we amble forwards – the hostel won’t open until after five o’clock, the sun is out, and The Stag Inn is open ’til late. What could go wrong?

    Mud is what could go wrong.

    Under oppressive heat (not helped by hastily repacked rucksacks) we precipitate rather than perspire, and it’s not pretty. In the distance Pennine hills glimmer like a Saharan horizon rather than the northern countryside. Two pints to lubricate the short walk soon seem like a bad idea…

    But despite the rousing display of solar prowess it’s not long before our pleasant lane becomes a narrow bog of brown sludge stretching from the fences that hem us in. Despite the hottest day of the year so far, the long trail ahead is cloaked in a slimy foot-deep puddle of danger.

    “Some walk in the park this turned out to be!”

    Taunts directed at my father – whose idea this whole thing was – are short lived. Mid-sentence I navigate a rocky outcrop sticking up from the mud like a mischevious iceberg, an iceberg hiding a sea of stones and pain and soggy brown shorts should I hit the deck.

    And promptly I lose balance, spin under the weight of my pack and frantically grab thin air with one hand, whilst conducting a wild balancing action with the other that would have an orchestra dropping their instruments. Flapping and wobbling, my hand meets a solitary wafer thin branch and somehow I piroutte to safety. Phew.

    And then I realise my right shoulder doesn’t seem to have stopped moving. That’s because my right foot seems to be sinking beneath me into a world of mud. Another branch comes to the rescue but this one is decorated with thorns the size of pint glasses. I look up, still sinking, just as John wobbles along the hedgerow cursing the red liquid also trickling down his arm.

    It couldn’t get much worse, right? There’s no way that the powers that be would punish us by making us circumnavigate impassable mud flats lined with sharp as nails bramble in dehydrating sunshine and then throw us delirious into a steep sided forest of blood sucking insects clearly starved and awaiting their first feed of the summer? No, there’s obviously no-one up above because that would just be pure evil.

    We’re not even on the Pennine Way yet and we’re caked in mud, sweat, blood and bites. I mutter something that starts with ‘f’ and ends in ‘idiot dad’ as I watch the mud rise above my ankle yet again.

    But an hour later the orienteering is soon forgotten as we sip our first pint at The Stag Inn. Mud, midge and map woes are long washed away with a hot shower and a cold beer. Food barely touches the sides, cool pints of Cumbrian pale ale wipe the memories clean from view. Before long dusk fills the beer garden, the village green glints and glows in the lowering sunlight, and avian evensong is the only thing stopping us retiring for a sensible rest in preparation for tomorrow’s twenty mile hike to start leg 4 of 5 proper.

    “Trust you’ll be in the pub quiz?” an over enthusiastic voice breaks the magical spell. Wide eyed and under the influence of buxom smiles we nod obediently and throw a clutch of pound coins towards the pint glass thrust towards us. “But don’t win, eh?! The locals won’t like it.”

    Four pints later, having navigated the thorny inquisition of Dufton’s premier quiz master, that voice pierces the calm again.

    “Pennine Wanderers? Pennine WAN-DER-ER-ERS please?!”

    Isn’t that us?!

    “You’re in the tie break lovelies If you win you get to pick next weeks quiz master And you’ll win a round of beer for the night There’s just one question It’s DEAD easy Immediate answer please No dilly dallying The other teams already answered so I’ll crack straight on… How many bones in the human body?”

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  • scissors
    August 30th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyBeer and travel

    We practically roll down the sharp hill into Appleby, and with only a few miles stroll to tomorrow’s starting point at Dufton, buoyed by sunshine and the freedom of not being office-bound on a Thursday afternoon, we simultaneously chirp “Pub?”.

    (The question mark completely unnecessary).

    Soon a pint of lager in a glass of condensation glistens in my hand – a pint of smooth looks gloomy in John’s. Someone hit the on switch of summer and our backpacks stare back at using the afternoon heat, looking heavier than when they were frugally packed last night.

    On the benches outside the Hare & Hounds red-faced locals soak up sunshine with Stellas. From our shady window seat we opt against sweating our energy away before we’ve even started walking, instead studying the walls which bustle with a sepia tinted history of Appleby Fair in photographs.

    Stella. Artois.

    Stella. Artois.

    In a sun faded golden frame a young man stares defiantly at anyone who’ll look, legs akimbo on a well worked filly, bedraggled after stomping through the river. Each year the gypsy and travelling community swarm to this little town on the edge of Cumbria, and next week they come again. From Ireland to Estonia caravans roll along the A and B roads towards Westmorland. Since the nineteenth century Appleby has been a Romany mecca, though horses have been washed and traded here since a Royal Charter of 1685.

    A little later, and only a little tipsy, we cross the very same river and tread its banks, taking in the calm before next week’s storm. ‘Do Not Park’ police tape, only just yellow, loops over hedges and gates that straddle the winding road towards the outskirts, towards Fair Hill, the temporary home to the revellers. A man scrawls ‘No Parking’ on his driveway in chalk, looks up and celebrates the cloudless sky, and pulls plant pots closer to his porch.

    We leave the quiet of Appleby discussing our jobs, our recent adventures and the route ahead. The drinkers at the Hare & Hounds raise a glass to sweaty brows and discuss fairs gone by, and the spiritual diaspora that rumbles slowly towards them.

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  • OL31

    1
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    August 29th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyBeer and travel

    It’s not like this trip wasn’t planned in advance. It’s year four of five, day sixteen of twenty four. We booked the rooms six weeks ago. Without much thought or effort I could have procured all the necessary equipment, accoessiries and maps at any point in the last four years, when this Pennine adventure began.

    So why am I crouched, at 12.39, on platform 5C, arms flailing in and out of my rucksack, clothes tangled in a blizzard of futile prayer to St Stephen, desperately, frantically searching for Outdoor Leisure 31 (North Pennines) as the far more prepared passengers (that is the rest of the passengers) aboard the 1245 Leeds to Carlisle service.

    Of course the map that will get us to this years starting point – the short walk from Appleby to Dufton – is at home (specifically one copy is on the arm of the sofa where the cat sleeps, whilst one copy is on the bookshelf in the spare room. A third is in an envelope ready to be posted back to a forgiving Amazon bookseller after I over ordered). It’s the only map in the world that I own three times and it’s the only one that eludes me as the train guard prepares his whistle and flag. Sometimes I don’t know how I’ve managed to get to twenty eight years old…

    The driver fires the train up ready for it’s ponderous trek through Shipley, Saltaire, Settle and Kirkby Stephen. Soon radiant sunshine pours over the ethereal moorland below Ribblehead Viaduct and the entire carriage of tourists climbs out of real life for a moment to appreciate the beautiful landscape that the Settle-Carlisle line navigates through.

    For once mist doesn’t obscure the views northwards, towards the unmarked graves of navvies who laid the huge pieces of rock supporting the track nor southbound, towards Leeds and my now redundant trio of maps.

    The sun is bright and the view from our 22-arch vantage point prompts a blooming of SLRs from surrepritious camera bags. Lenses are detached and reattached to a theme tune of oohs and aahs and pointing fingers. No-one, not even the cynics, even contemplates the inevitable disappointment of realising viaducts are best viewed when not on top of them.

    I’m still restlessly, hopelessly poking around in my bag for the elusive map as we roll into Appleby mid-afternoon. (At one point I’d caught a sprig of the familiar Ordnance Survey orange as we flew past Ruswarp’s statue at Dent, the UK’s loftiest mainland station; but it was a false call: we don’t need OL42 until Monday, and even then it’s only for the last short slog into Bellingham, 58.5 miles away from us along the Pennine Way).

    “At least our sun cream and shades will come in useful” Dad offers as we tumble towards Appleby town centre under an eager sun.

    Oh balls…

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  • scissors
    July 7th, 2011FletchtheMonkeyBeer and travel

    The Tees meanders along lush meadow-land; arctic flowers survive on its banks seeded from descendants that saw the last ice age, back when the river was first cutting its way over the igneous rock of Whin Sill.

    Sweeping meadows peppered yellow, white and purple are slowly thinned as the terrain becomes rockier under foot. The wide meadow path becomes a narrow trail, rising, falling and twisting as the countryside morphs from arable to uncultivated.

    Low Force, a series a low level marauding rapids feels more like the Canadian wilderness than somewhere north of Yorkshire: tall dark evergreens and bare slippery rocks are in abundance; the scenery lacks only growling bears waiting for leaping salmon. There’s even a creaking rope bridge hanging over the gorge that the falls have carved behind them. Is this Indiana Jones country or county Durham?!

    Our goal was Langdon Beck, where we’re told a weekend beer festival lies. It’s the shortest walk of the entire trek at just 7 miles. A veritable walk in the park.

    In fact, it was indeed a walk in a park, a nature reserve park to be specific. With no rain, gentle sunshine and spectacular scenery, it soon became the slowest 7 miles on the Way too.

    It didn’t start quite so easy though: within ten minutes of leaving our muddy legacy at the hotel door we faced not only that rain that soaks you right through, but a bull that might just have speared us right through too. Our track record with cows in fields was dubious and we quickly hopped the dry stone wall and skirted the young calves. Naturally we had to face barbed wire to get back on the Way, but our reward for surviving the bovine threat was two hours of cascading waterfalls and breathtaking views.

    High Force is every bit as surprising as the North American scenery: falling from its igneous bedrock into a limestone chasm, a lagoon of white spray that puts the fear of god into parent’s picnicking with their little rascals. Teetering on the edge is no place for men with rucksacks fighting their balance against a mischievous breeze.

    Continuing along the Tees we quickly descend from Appalachian grandeur to mining outback. A quarry on the river bank opposite us; on our side the wide flood plain sitting below windswept moorland and facing the wind of Sauran or Saruman; think Total Recall just less red and colder. No sooner than we’d got used to the extreme gusts and we’re over the tops and rejoining the curves of the river a few twists and turns upstream. Jekyll and Hyde strikes again, and we’re back in luscious meadows and low lying farmland and … calm.

    A day of contrasting landscapes ends at Langdon Beck, and yes, they do have a beer festival on. The Langdon Beck hotel houses a geological room (amongst other quirks), a perfectly quaint setting to sit down, mull over the days landscapes and sample as many halves as the afternoon allows.

    Imbibed we amble away at 6pm to home cooked food and a wide selection of bottled Allendale beers. The youth hostel is as busy as the pub and we nestle into the evening, reading, reflecting, listening to the lapwings swooping and flirting through the silent countryside.

    Bull in field

    Great start...

    Hey, you, get outta my field!

    Hey, you, get outta my field!

    White alpine flower

    Alpine flowers

    Tees meadow

    Tees meadow

    High Force

    High Force Frollickers

    High Force

    High Force from above

    High Force, from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Force

    High Force, from Wikipedia

    Quarry on banks of the Tees

    Quarry on banks of the Tees

    River splits near Forest-of-Teesdale

    River splits near Forest-of-Teesdale

    Classic cars near Langdon Beck

    Classic cars near Langdon Beck

    Langdon Beck Hotel

    Langdon Beck Hotel

    More photos at: http://flickr.com/photos/fletchthemonkey

    Langdon Beck Beer Festival

    Langdon Beck Beer Festival

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  • scissors
    June 22nd, 2011FletchtheMonkeyBeer and travel, Pubs & bars

    So the hotel didn’t have a drying room, and in a half hearted tantrum of half hearted petulance we walked up the stairs and threw the muddy boots and soggy packs vaguely towards the radiator under a completely inadequate layer of quality drying paper. Or the hotel welcome brochure as it may or may not have been.

    Oops.

    It was one of those provincial hotels, smart and classy from the outside, but inside brimming with big-fish-in-a-small-pond syndrome. Antiquated decor, about as aesthetically pleasing as a pair of shabby walkers stepping in from the rain, couldn’t paper over the hollow product offering and hi-falutin’ charm, nor stop the building creaking under its own despairing inability to embrace the modern world.

    Well at least we could look forward to a beer and the Champions League final, eh?

    If they had have had a drying room I’d have swapped it for a reasonably sized telly in an instant. I’d have probably traded in the rain cover plus my new and flashy laminated OS map if they could guarantee Sky coverage…

    Low and behold, no footy, not even ITV, plus an uninspiring beer selection. Great. We headed out to find food.

    The chippy seems crawling with snarling boys and girls in woolly training pants and hip-hop zip-ups, the males greasy and the fairer sex not much different (or fairer), oozing slightly more perfume and modelling marginally longer hair.

    The local bar/bistro was empty; the local pub described to us as a veritable den of iniquity. We saw the snarling youths head off in that direction jettisoning chips and curry sauce in their wake and ruled the pub out.

    Unprepared to give up on football, but increasingly concerned that the night would be spent sitting in our shabby hotel room, we slip into an unassuming cafe advertising evening meals, hoping to fill our bellies and devise a plan for beating the odds of missing the biggest match of the season.

    A beaming smile greets us; our host, the owner, proudly shows off her continental beer selection. There’s a feisty glint in her eye and a warming grin when we order lagers and ask for menus

    Cold beers arrive slopping on the table; specials on the board are recited with a smile. “My husband might be bringing the telly down for the match in a bit” she announces.

    We ask for a tab.

    Two hours later, robust, fatty meals devoured, port and cheese and bread and butter pudding accepted eagerly, and the cafe is bursting at the seams; in one corner a romantic meal for two couples (the women had arrived early and ensured the blokes would have their backs to the screen, every other customer in on the joke and waiting for the look on their faces when they arrived); at the bar two friends who’d tried half of every beer at a local beer festival (which just so happened to be located at the village we planned to stay at the next evening, what luck!); an assortment of friends and couples vying for the ‘fancy Japanese lager’ and the attentions of various members of the opposite sex; and even at various points dog walkers rounded up with shouts out the door and convinced to nip in for a coffee, a hot chocolate or a perfectly chilled pint.

    And us, perched at the back thoroughly engrossed in the magnetic whirlwind of Lionel Messi. Joined by the owner’s father, a Nottingham-lad born and bred, we spend the evening coining increasingly dramatic cooings at each graceful twist and pivot of Barcelona’s talismanic midfielder, and ‘Ooo’ at every completed pass from his comrades in attack.

    The cafe is alive, welcoming and entertaining. We’re part of the fabric of the evening; we’re embraced, entertained, well fed and gratefully watered, and presented with a remarkably inexpensive bill as we rise early to sleep off the evenings excesses.

    Behind us a homely din emanates from the cafe, a hub of life and love and laughter. It’s exactly what the local pub should be, and for one evening we glimpse the real soul of someone’s community.

    Strange how the best pub evening on The Way was found in a cafe in Teesdale.

    cafe 1618 specials

    Chef's Teesdale specials

    teesdale lead miners pasty

    Teesdale Lead Miners Pasty

    Cafe1618, Middleton-in-Teesdale

    Cafe1618, Middleton-in-Teesdale

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  • scissors
    June 14th, 2011FletchtheMonkeyBeer and travel

    “By my calculations we’ll reach Tan Hill Inn at… Oh. 11.15. Shit.”

    Best laid plans for lunch and beer at England’s highest inn are scuppered, because it’s a 22 mile day and we’re keen to arrive at Middleton in time to watch Messi & co in the Champions League final. An 11 o’clock pint stop probably isn’t the best way to ensure safe passage over some of England’s most remote and boggy moors.

    It’s a freezing Saturday and gloomy too. Keld and Swaledale are covered in mist as we rise above them past swelling waterfalls and dull sheep pastures. It’s 9am and there is no sign of yesterday’s resurgent sun.

    Through the rain we can’t see much of the small uninhabited valleys; the electric squawk of the curlews only serves to reiterate our isolation from all but nature and ruined limestone barns.

    By 10.23 we’re crossing on the most northerly roads in Yorkshire. This is Tan Hill and its famous inn, the highest public house above sea level in England. We stop all too briefly to change the map in the porch – awkwardly our next 4 miles takes us along the cusp of OS Explorer OL30 and my folding abilities are tested to the max (if there’s a record for ‘getting in the way of a busy public entrance’ then my ineptness at folding an Ordnance Survey into a plastic map protector broke it with ease).

    Tan Hill Inn is buzzing with stretching residents and sweating passersby: a motorcycle club, a cycle race and pursuers of various water sport activities are filling up with caffeine or stopping for glucose.

    Reluctantly we walk on leaving England’s most remote public house to cross one of England’s remotest moors. Strangely, the next hour is a surreal march against hundreds of spinning wheels and dazzling leotards as weekend cyclists make the most of the mild weather racing conditions.

    To our left, due north, Sleightholme Moor stretches out as far as the eye can see, boggy and unkempt. In the distance, cars barely move along the A66 which we pass under later in the afternoon. It’s a wilderness, the only signs of human interference the stone tracks, occasional cairn and sporadic grouse butts. Oh and of course the moors themselves: man-made but forgotten by all but conservationists and game shooters. Leggy heather dominates the landscape. Small patches are burnt to the ground to allow new growth; the result appears as a strange lunar desert in a parallel universe where it was once occupied but left in a hurry.

    The moorland gets to your after a while, so much so on a brief foray into arable enclosures we lose the trail whilst thinking about our stomachs. Lunch is devoured on uncomfortable stones and thistles and straight after we soon come to a dead end: a gorging river on one side and a sheer cliff face on the other. Ahead a farm behind barbed wire. The compass suggests that the only option is the cliff. Cue a hands and knees scramble 60 feet to the top. Our packs suddenly feel heavy.

    At the top of the cliff dirty hands have to deal with unavoidable barbed fencing that separates us from the comfort blanket of Pennine Way way markers, so over we go and somehow avoid falling backwards to an undignified end.

    Some hours later we’ve finally crossed the caravan-laden A66 (much less glamorous than its American namesake). We’re rising to the moors final test, another 600m above sea level from yet another valley bottom. Every mile represents two in this part of the world thanks to the terrain and the weather. The Way becomes non-existent and we keep on the trail only by recognising the thin black lines that represent walls and fields on the map. Bog takes over, boots start to feel damp. The entire sky disappears under deep charcoal clouds.

    It rains for the next hour and the bog becomes marsh for much of the long slog over Bowes. Welcome to Durham County. For some reason I’m find myself adapting Bruce Springsteen lyrics for the Pennine Way. The moors will do this sort of thing to you…

    We’ve done perhaps 13 miles already and still ahead of us are the first of the Northumberland reservoirs. Then we hit surprise sunshine and a glorious plush valley picture perfect as if waiting to become a Nikki Corker postcard. Hannah’s meadow is here, once home of Hannah Hauxwell, the daughter of the Dales.  We pass nature reserves, farmland and meadows, but still there’s 6 miles to go until Teesdale and more hills to test our legs. Football and beer seem like a promise that the day never intended to keep.

    At last though, dizzy with fatigue the final few hundred feet are climbed and Teesdale opens up below, Middleton in the middle and windy meadows everywhere in-between.

    Not content to let the terrain have all the fun, huge clouds are edging through the valley on the prevailing wind, with wisps of raindrop-heavy mist below, acting as the infantry to the cavalry above.

    We’re for another soaking and can only hope that the hotel has a drying room and decent beer. Talk about tempting fate…

    Cyclists at sleightholme

    One of the remotest legs of the Pennine Way becomes one of the most populated

    Swaledale in the rain

    Swaledale in the rain

    Heather on the Pennine Way

    Heather, forever

    Leggy heather

    Leggy heather

    Welcome to Durham

    Welcome to Durham

    Pennine Way grafitti

    Suckers

    Dry stone wall along Bowes Moor

    Bowes Moor

    Lunch spot

    Lunch spot

    Bridge at Grassholme reservoir

    Grassholme

    More photos at http://flickr.com/photos/fletchthemonkey

    Approaching Tan Hill Inn from Keld

    Tan Hill Inn

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  • scissors
    June 9th, 2011FletchtheMonkeyBeer and travel

    Day one starts with meadows and gentle fields punctuated with the endless curves of streams on ox-bow trajectories, and meandering roads that leave Hawes for the far corners of Wensleydale. Farmland gives way to sheep enclosures; muddy tracks give way to open access boundaries. Before long the gentle slope matures into the lekking grounds of High Abbotside, and the steep and rocky ascent of Great Shunner Fell.

    At 1,000 feet the heavy sky suddenly seems closer, but grouse are nowhere to be seen. At fifteen hundred feet the pregnant clouds are voluptuous and imposing, rubbing up against the rising landscape with contempt. And the grouse are still hiding.

    At 2,000 feet Wensleydale is a green corner of a skyline dominated by swathes of brown gaming moorland. Once barren moors – restored to full health by private ownership and dedication – weigh down the hill; hills that would be rugged if they weren’t so smoothly carved by glaciers and weather.

    Suddenly, atop the fell, the winds change and we’re treated to a chilling breeze for elevenses. The legions of clouds become agitated; they maraud above us, a snail’s pace juggernaut oblivious to the dales beneath.

    After a gloomy morning’s climb Great Shunner is defeated; the reward is the northward descent, a landscape of Tolkien proportions. Turner could paint a scene of a thousand blues and browns; Hockney might emphasise the startling definition between the skyline that hugs the endless horizon of moss and grass.

    By afternoon we’ve descended from Middle Earth into the Shire via rocky tributary lanes towards the dormant village of Thwaite and past the ancient farm outhouses of Swaledale along paths strewn with rabbit corpses.

    Soon we’re above the valley again, following the snaking path of the Swale. From our vantage point the history of the river is laid bare – every stealthy, eroding year, every rock that was too strong for the youthful water. The valley floor is an ancient wandering nomad’s paradise, and pondering the distinct lack of civilisation the sun wins its battle o’er cloud. We have no need to settle near the banks of the Swale, we have tea in a flask and Mars bars saved from lunch. We roll the rain covers away in a burst of afternoon optimism.

    Out of the blue we see a pheasant stag poking its head vigorously through the shallow foliage, in a small edge of forest clinging by the scruff of its trunks to the hillside. Iridescent in the sun and unmistakable, he is joined by a shy hen and there rituals are watched by a small flock of seemingly amused sheep.

    The sky suddenly creaks and groans. It can’t be thunder, why did we pack the covers away? But then no, its an engine, a plane surely? We look up and there’s nothing but clear blue sky, before, in a flurry of menancing power and bravado, a dark green winged machine bursts through the valley, taunting gravity, wings perpendicular to sea-level. Its whoosh is gone almost as soon as it appeared but for a few seconds Swaledale reverberates and then… silence. The valley seems even quieter than it was before.

    The brute force of the plane is in stark contrast to the most graceful of grouse, swooning out of the sky and gliding towards Keld. It’s a secret view, looking down on a bird flying, and a rare easily-spooked bird to boot. Grateful we trudge on in its wake. “Keld must be just around this corner”.

    Five or six corners and a few miles later the small and, until recently, dry town pops into view behind green and luscious fields.

    At Keld Lodge, responsible for the village’s new found alcohol license, curried banana soup is ordered for starters, with lamb to dine on. 40 winks before tea, then a sneaky pint to whet the appetite (as if 12 and three quarter miles across varied altitudes and unruly terrain wasn’t enough).

    The soup does what it says on the tin: banana + curry sauce. Pilsner Urquell and bread substitute for the fish shop chips that might have been the perfect accompaniment, whilst Black Sheep bitter washes down local meat and potatoes. After tea we retire to the drinking room with pints of Riggwelter, a sleeping potion for walkers crafted from the finest fruitcake and chocolate Horlicks.

    Nodding off we count our blessings as three groups of Coast to Coast walkers share tales of horrendous conditions in the Lakes a few days ago: ferocious winds, men lifted off the ground, couples on cliff edges and roads closed to flooding.

    As we cradle our nightcaps the Pennine Way seems a doddle. And then we remember that the following day is a 22 miler….

    Great Shunner Fell

    The view north east from Great Shunner Fell, North Yorkshire

    Meadows between Hawes and Hardraw

    To Hardraw

    Pennine Way waymarker

    Waymarker

    Descent into Thwaite, North Yorkshire

    To Thwaite

    Swaledale barns

    Swaledale barns

    The Swale

    The Swale

    A plane in Swaledale

    Aeroplane!

    Pheasant Swaledale

    Pheasant

    Curried banana soup at Keld Lodge

    Banana soup

    More photos soon at http://flickr.com/photos/fletchthemonkey

    Traditional limestone barn overlooking Swaledale

    Swaledale barn

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  • scissors
    June 7th, 2011FletchtheMonkeyBeer and travel

    The curlews at Garsdale Station welcomed us with real razzmatazz, presumably well aware of the impending downpour that hit the station just as soon as the train had dropped us on the platform and disappeared around the bend towards Kirkby Stephen.

    We hadn’t expected to use the built-in raincovers on our rucksacks quite so soon, at least not until the next morning when we were due to start walking. But Mother Nature was determined to give us a taste of things to come…

    It’s year three of a five year plan to conquer the Pennine Way with my Dad, breaking the 20 day trek into five stages of four days each. And stood in the rain we reflected on how glad we were to not be able to take 20 days off work to walk The Way in one sitting.

    We’re heading for Hawes, the small Yorkshire market town where we finished last years leg: Garsdale is the nearest stop by rail, 6 miles down the winding A664 that links Cumbria with Wensleydale.

    It’s here we meet Raymond, a lifelong railwayman from the heart of the Dales. He turned out to be a lucky charm – we waited an hour for one of the two scheduled bus services before a clocking-off signalman took pity on Raymond and us and dropped us into town on his way home.

    Hair dried and spirits warmed with hot tea, we head out into Hawes for the evening. We cross the Ure, hidden between thin stone houses and the narrow one way loop that bridges the fast moving water.

    First stop is the the Crown. Dripping pints of Old Peculiar straight from a fresh cask brimming with rich plum tart and apple fudge are an olfactory flashback to the places we’ve visited along the way so far, of windswept trails, muddy boots and welcoming pubs.

    We avoid Raymond’s local, partly from choice but mostly because the White Hart is shut down and for sale, and I felt a pang of guilt for not being too surprised.

    Next stop is Chaste, a small ever-evolving bistro in the heart of the town. Since last year Belgian beers have made their way onto the inventive menu and Pilsner Urquell adorns the bar, and so it was that Chimay Red accompanied our grilled chicken dishes.

    7% beers were unsustainable the night before attacking Great Shunner Fell, the highest part of The Way above sea level so far. So Pilsner Urquell – lacking some of its usual herbaceous aroma – helped fill the hole that abstinence from desserts left.

    Two pints later and we’re talking to the only simultaneous winner of the J. Sleightholme Trophy For Largest Cod and the Dr King Cup For Other Fish, a feat not rivalled since 1984/5. The Fountain is a drinking pub compared to the pastel-coloured gentrification of the Crown, but fishing hasn’t been on the cards since the turn of the millennium.

    It’s Black Sheep not Theakston’s now, a which-one-will-it-be lottery that you have to get used too pretty quickly in the Dales. But for our sins were drinking very cloudy and poorly poured Blue Moon followed by crisp pints of Copper Dragon Conqueror – freshly nosed and quenching.

    The crowd gets younger and the bottles of Becks are starting to dominate the empties on the bar. Luckily the juke box hasn’t come to life yet, though by the looks of its age it’s more comfortable with rock and roll than the dub step that the youngsters are reciting in the corner. Seconds from announcing retirement to the B&B Dad throws the gauntlet down with a last gasp round. Two pints of something else hit the beer-drenched bar towel; was it Black Sheep bitter, or perhaps an Old Peculiar nightcap?

    Bending down to tie our laces the next morning we both groan, perhaps a little in the way that my grandfather – dads dad – has perfected over the years.

    “Shouldn’t have had that last beer last night, should we?”

    And with that we head for the high road and start the long slog up Great Shunner Fell. 6 pints down, just 4 evenings, 60 odd miles and god knows how many gradient lines to go…

    Garsdale station

    Garsdale station

    Map of the route of the Pennine Way - click to enlarge

    The route

    Graham Nuttall tribute

    Graham Nuttall

    Dog statue at Garsdale train station

    Russwarp

    White Hart Hawes

    White Hart Hawes

    The Crown Hawes

    The Crown Hawes

    Beer advert Hawes

    The hop goddess

    Copper Dragon Conqueror

    Conqueror

    Hawes club

    Hawes club

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