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Gordon’s Travels – Burton upon Trent

This is a visit I was going to do last year, but plans fell through. The SIBA Independent Brewers Beer festival at the National Brewery Centre.

The day didn't start out very well as the wayfarer ticket I had ordered didn't arrive in the post so I had to re-arrange my trip to stop off in Sheffield to buy another. My original plan had been to take the 1059 Southampton train from Doncaster to Derby and change there for Burton, arriving at 1221. I actually took the 1042 so I could nip out to the ticket office at Sheffield.

These trips never run smoothly, the train I was getting to Derby from Sheffield was swamped with people heading to London, due to a cancellation. Thankfully I got a seat as I made sure I was one of the first on. It was crowded, people stood in the aisles, not good. Almost everyone got off at Derby so the platform was heaving, I waited until most had gone before crossing to the next platform for my connection.

I met David at Burton station and Dave came to pick us up in the car. No Tony this trip as he was away on his (many) travels. We got to the museum and found our way in. Very quiet for a beer festival, not a lot of visitors but plenty of brewers.  Entry was via the museum entrance but the festival itself was way up the other end of the yard in a marquee. They even had a full blown carvery meal going in the food area.

All told there were about 50 beers, ciders and keg beers on offer. The one thing that let it down for us was a lack of a list of some kind, you had to go to each stand and see what they had on. Not so good for Dave, trotting about with his oxygen tank. Thankfully we were there on the quiet afternoon, most other sessions had some form of 'entertainment' on, which spoils it for me. I go for a drink and a chat, not to have to put up with some racket being belted out from a stage area.

I decided to start with Spire Brewery (Chesterfield) and their Whiter Shade. That was an easy decision as they were one of the few stands who had proper glasses, beer was being sold throughout the event in plastic. I paid £4.50 for a branded pint glass, marked in half and third as well, and for that I got the glass and a pint. Beer was being sold at £3 a pint, £1.50 on all bars.

My next brew was Hales (Worksop) and ‘Pasha Pasha’, a passion fruit infused beer that I eventually drank but had had enough of the fruity taste after the first few mouthfuls. I actually took it to have with my lunch, so treated it as a fruit juice.  To say the catering was in a tent they did a good job of providing a full meal, Yorkshire pudding and all. I could have gone into the pub and had a bar meal but this was more fun.

Back to the beer and next up was Burton Bridge Draught Burton Ale. Probably my strongest ABV of the day at 4.8%, I was trying to keep to the lower end of the range as I knew I had the trip back to Doncaster to do at the end of the day. The Burton was quite reasonable, a bit of a bite and the strength showed through. But, not quite what Burton used to be in IndCoope days. We all had a try and agreed on that point.

I visited the Intrepid (Hope Valley) bar next and had St Bernard, a darker oak tinged beer that I personally wasn't keen on. I had a bit of a chat with the people there, said I’d probably see them at Three Valleys next year and moved on. They had a couple of keg beers on, which I avoided. I got a quick half of Tudor (Abertillery, Wales) IPA and back to the table. Nice but, as with many others in the tent, a bit on the warm side. Not that it was blazing hot outside either.

By now our party had decided we preferred to move on. The majority of the beers on offer were higher strength and we prefer to pace ourselves. We called in the pub on site, the Brewery Tap, and had a half of Draught Burton off the pump, it was much better than in the tent.

We have a liking for a traditional pub in Burton upon Trent called the Coopers Tavern. Situated opposite the old Bass, now Coors, Brewery the Coopers is a tiny little place with several rooms and a small beer garden area.  The Landlady, Mary, has been there 9 years now and I'm happy to say I've visited the pub quite a few times. 

So that’s where we finished our day.I went with Great Heck Washington Red, amber coloured and hoppy. That was followed with Holdens Golden Sunset and I also squeezed in a Nene Valley Bitter before heading for the train home. As always at the Coopers, spot on and no complaints. I spotted a clutch of Ossett Brewery pump clips behind the bar, seems Mary had a delivery of four in the cellar and they would be on in the coming week. I quickly decided I should make another trip to the Coopers for those.

The trip home was going OK, I had a train from Burton to Derby more or less straight away but then the one to Sheffield was delayed and I missed my connection there. I got the next one, a Cleethorpes TP Express, and must have nodded off as I woke with a start just in time to see that I was pulling out of Doncaster! Nothing else to do but wait for Scunthorpe and get off there, just missing one back and having to wait for half an hour.  I got home two hours after I should have done, but no time to drop into the Corner Pin for a pit stop. 

Gordon’s Travels – Hull

I’ve made a lot of trips to Hull in the past couple of years. A friend moved there and I went to visit, we looked in a few pubs and found some good beer so made a day of it first time. Next time I went armed with a Hull CAMRA ‘Real Ale in Hull 2012’ guide downloaded from the branch website, although it was probably out of date as soon as it was published as several pubs were listed incorrectly. Having said that I used the guide to put together a little tour around the ‘old town’, which has cobbled streets still.

After a disappointing lunch in one of the Wetherspoons, the William Wilberforce, and a poor selection of beers we moved on. We were told they don’t put as many on midweek, leaving the bulk for weekends. I suppose it makes sense but what we had available at that time wasn’t good. I can’t remember just what now. 

We found a chain of three pubs that were owned by the same couple on Scale Lane. I’m told they buy in from local breweries within 50 miles and the selection is always good. We started at Walters, which has since been sold on, a modern-ish looking bar with old album covers on the walls and a row of about ten hand pumps on the bar. We then went down the street to Wm Hawkes, a small place with a cozy back room, you have to see it to get the feel. The bar is only small but still had about 8 hand pumps. Finally we found the Lion and Key. This is the best if you can only visit one of the pubs, 18 hand pumps, some of which are cider. 

Until a few years ago this was a bit of a dive, so I hear, called ‘DurtyNellys’. Its been done out in a traditional manner and had a ceiling full of beer mats to study if you’re not talking to your mates! They’ve recently put in an outside area, more for the smokers I guess but was quite nice in the sunshine on a couple of visits. This is the only one doing food and their fish and chips are probably the best in town. It can get quite busy at lunchtimes with office staff eating there, although we’ve usually managed to find a table.

These three tended to be our regular run although we’ve not been in Walters since it changed hands. We’ve taken in a few others as we wander between the old town and the railway station. In no particular order… Green Bricks, on the side of the marina area. We went there 2 years ago now. Dead as a dodo, which should have told us something. We ordered food, fish and chips, which turned out to be poor quality frozen muck that we didn’t finish. The only real ale on was Black Sheep and that was foul. he staff didn’t seem to care about the food or drink so we left…

One Joe found was the Old Blue Bell, a Sam Smiths pub that’s down a back alley, reached by a side door from the indoor markets. A typical Sam’s pub, cheap and full of locals. Old Brewery Bitter was OK, I’ve had better but certainly washed away the bad taste of the previous pint.  A very popular pub, especially with local journalists, is the Minerva. Right on the side of the river with a view up to The Deep to the left if you sit outside on a nice day. We were impressed with the 4 beers on offer and stayed a while, sampling the slices of a big warm pork pie they tend to have on the bar at £1.50 a portion.It does not last long before being sold out. 

A bit of a trek from the old town and riverside up to Albion Street but worth the walk to the Hop and Vine. A very small bar, down in a cellar under a long terraced row of 3 story houses and offices. Blink and you’ll walk past it. There is a sign if you know what you’re looking for. They are up on real cider and have local CAMRA awards for this, but they also do 3 real ales, all of which are guests. Well keptbeer and we had another happy session there one day. They do a limited range of food too, a specials board appears daily.

We’ve tried the George Hotel on ‘the Land of Green Ginger’ (that’s the street name for those who’ve not heard it before). The day we went the ale wasn’t so good, they do cheap offers, and we’ve not been back. Other single visits were to the Admiral of the Humber, a big Wetherspoons opposite the interchange. Typical of the chain and we didn’t feel comfortable with the rowdy lot that were in there.  The Manchester Arms is one we tend to walk past on Scale Lane, back at the start of this wander. It’s a Marstons house with their typical range we can get in any of their pubs. 

One we will always avoid now is the Sandringham, close to the Interchange and I had this down as the venue for my last pint of the day once. The Hull CAMRA guide suggested it had been recently reopened and sold Old Speckled Hen. Erm, no. A rough pub with fizzy beer and lager only. Not impressed with an Old Town Pub, Ye Old Black Boy, just over the way from the Lion & Key, where we had some rather bland tasting beer sat in the courtyard and the pub dog decided to do his business at the side of our table. 

On a more recent visit we had a look at the Newland Avenue area, heading out to the North of the city and a bus ride away. We started at Larkins where I had a nice pint of Wold Top bitter with my lunch, Joe went for Amber’s chocolate orange stout. From there we visited Tofts, I had my first pint of Sharp’s Atlantic in there, not tried it before. We then decided to hop on the bus again and pop down to the Queens Hotel. A Marstons house which seemed popular with the locals at least. I had Jennings Bitter and Joe had Hobgoblin. 

Finally, on this trip at least, we found the St Johns Hotel. Mansfield signs outside but serving the Marstons ‘summer festival’ range. A pint of EPA, light with a citrusy tang, was all I had time for as I had to get the bus back to the Interchange for my train. As it happened we had about 40 minutes to wait thanks to a delayed train so we popped to nearby Anlaby Road and a recently refurbished kebab shop that’s now a chippy. 

Train services are under an hour from Doncaster and Hull Trains often have a slightly cheaper ticket available, although you can only use their services with that which is a bit limiting. The old town is a bit of a walk so a bus from the Interchange to the White Hart (not been in there yet) on Alfred Gelder Street then walk a little bit back to Gandhi Way on the other side of the rod which takes you to High Street, turn right at the end and it’s about a hundred yards to the Lion & Key. 

I’ve still a few pubs to try over there so will be going back again, and again.  Next trip is already on the calendar with my friend Andy from Chesterfield.  Yet another day in Hull is in the pipeline with David from Nottingham and I’ve no doubt I’ll be over to see my friend Joe again at some point. I just wish the Hull branch would update the ‘guide’ I’ve been trying to follow. I’m sure there are other pubs worthy of a visit that 


Gordon’s Travels – Great Central Railway Rail Ale Festival

I’ll start this one with a top travel tip, my trip to Loughborough was helped a lot by buying a Derbyshire Wayfarer ticket. These are valid between Sheffield and Derby then Derby to Long Eaton (or Burton upon Trent or Uttoxeter and other Derbyshire stations). Normally the train fare from Donny to Loughborough would be £34.20 cheapest off-peak return. By booking Doncaster – Sheffield return at £6.30, a Wayfafer ticket at £12.30 and then Long Eaton to Loughborough at £6.00 the cost comes down to £24.60. Better still for me as I have a railcard and my concessionary bus pass so I did the trip for only £10.10 !

So what was so exiting at Loughborough? It was their annual beer festival weekend, run over 4 days, Thur-Sun, they have three venues along the line selling real ale. Loughborough itself is the main base, this year they had 55 beers on. Next up the line it Quorn and Woodhouse with 7 beers and at the Leicester end of the line they had a further 5 in the Greenacres centre next to the station.  To get one from bar to another you ride on the trains. They usually alternate between steam and diesel driven locos and a full line day rover ticket is £15.

I had arranged to meet friends there, there’s a little party of four of us who attend festivals here and there. David was coming in from Nottingham and I was meeting him at Loughborough national rail station, sharing a taxi to the Great Central. Dave and Tony were heading for Quorn by car as it’s easier to park there on the Friday, not so on Saturday and Sunday as the GCR have lots of steam traction engines there on those days.

I emailed the railway group months in advance to get details of train times as these are vital for us to make plans. We found out the first train from Loughborough wasn’t until 1.15pm, coming back from Leicester at 2pm, which meant the first service from Quorn to Loughborough was 2.23pm. So, we arranged that David and myself would have a pint or two at Loughborough and then hop on the train to Quorn to meet the other two.

We had bought our train tickets and that entitled us to entry to the beer festival, it’s also free for CAMRA card carrying members. A pint glass, mark with half pint as well, is £2 and that’s refundable. You also get a free programme, listing the beers and details of the venues and train times. I started with a pint of Ossett/Fernades ‘Centaur’, I’d had a long journey and needed to sit down a while so a pint to start with rather than a half. A nice pale ale with a bit of bite. I then went for a pint of Burton Bridge ‘Burton Ale’ and wasn’t impressed, rather bland and lifeless to me.

It was now time for the train so we got on with the last half pint still in our glasses, you can take drinks with you on the train. 7 minutes later we got off at Quorn and headed for the new ‘Tin Shed’, a rebuilt building in the car park area that is now used as a bar, amongst other things. We met the other two who were happily sat in the shed with the side doors open and sunshine streaming in and on to the table they were sat at. I finished my Burton bridge and went for half of Clarks ‘Atlantic Hop’, as expected a nice hoppy taste and a citrus after taste. That was followed by half or Holdens (Dudley) XB. A golden beer with a fruity tang.

We were not drinking fast as Dave was driving that day and restricting himself to four halves over the five and a half hours we were there. We all went for the train down to Loughborough where a surprise awaited. I will explain that both Dave and myself suffer with COPD and have breathing difficulties. Dave is worse than I am as he needs portable oxygen and to sit down often. We walked in to the beer tent and the first table had a big notice on to say it was reserved – for us. A big smile from Dave as he struggled the previous year as all the tables and chairs were full by the time he got there. We settled down an I went for the Great Central ‘Railway Ale’, brewed for the line by Nottingham Brewery, who were also sponsors of the festival weekend and featured on the event glass. I’m not sure what it is based on, possibly their ‘Reel Ale’. Nothing too amazing about the beer, a drinkable session beer I thought.

Other beers I had that afternoon were Black Iris ‘Snake Eyes’, Clarks ‘Caskadian’, Muirhouse ‘Summit Hoppy’ and Ossett/Rat ‘Ratificent 7’. They had Wentworth ‘Fully Malty’ and ‘Black Diamond’ on from our area. They also had a cider bar but none of us were into the stuff so I can’t comment on that.

Last year we found the beers to be a bit poor, even tipping a couple away that were not up to scratch. This year all four of us enjoyed every single one we tried, a vast improvement. The GCR had also extended the beer tent along the platform, making it twice as big with the at at one and seating at the top. A good job there was plenty of room as we had a real downpour at one point. It cleared up before Dave took a little trip up to Leicester on the steam train. I mentioned earlier he wasn’t drinking a lot and taking an hour and a half out for a run up the line meant he had a break and the remaining three could then enjoy a few without making him feel bad.

We were not really there for the trains although it was refreshing to see them running past the side of the tent where we were sitting. The steam was a Black 5 but we got a treat in the form of No.6990 “Witherslack Hall” in Great Western green running past us at one point. This loco has been out of traffic for 15 years, going through a major overhaul, so was quite a surprise to a lot of people.

Food wasn’t particularly prolific. At both Quorn and Leicester they have cafés but I didn’t really have time to visit them as they are away from the platform areas. Loughborough has a small station buffet café/shop which is quite limited in what they sell. There was a catering BBQ on the platform doing sausages and burgers too. It was a long day out as I left home at 9.30am for the train down, changing at Derby, and didn’t get home until 9.30pm, but that was after a little rest at the Corner Pin.


Next up is an afternoon at the Burton National Brewery Centre where they are having a SIBA Independent Brewers Festival.

Gordon's Trip to London

On 12 August I visited London. My original intention had been to go to Olympia for the Great British beer festival but price and the fact I’d then be stuck inside all day, put me off a little. I’ve been to a few beerfests this year and it was a nice sunny day.  I had already booked the train tickets so looked for an alternative day out and discovered the Nicholsons Hop Circle, which I downloaded to my phone and registered. I had carefully checked which ones I wanted to visit on my day out, which were all part of the London Bridge to Tower Bridge Ale Trail.  I have to say that the app is a great idea but lacks information as to how to use it. I had seen something about my first pint being a pound, as long as it was their own Pale Ale, but could not find the offer on my phone when I wanted it.

I started my journey at the Henry Addington in Canary Wharf. I ordered a pint of Nicholsons Pale Ale and showed the QR code. Try as they may, they could not get the code to accept on the till. It scanned OK but there was no promotion attached. The barman called a woman over and she tried, still no good so she applied a discount manually and told me I would probably have to start the trail over.  Not a good start and I wasn’t planning on going anywhere else apart from the pubs I had researched and found on maps for myself before making the trip. I’m a stranger to many parts of London and didn’t want to get lost, or worse still, fail to find one of the pubs and not complete the trail.

Next stop was the Walrus & Carpenter, the girl behind the bar was very helpful and I found myself taking advantage of a pint of summer ale for £1 offer, choosing the Pedigree New World this time.

I headed back up the road and found The Ship very easily, the 25p off a pint offer was showing on my phone and it was accepted quite easily against a pint of Al Murray.

Next stop was the Mudlark, a bit more difficult to get to than I had thought as I missed the steps from Tower Bridge and went round towards Borough Market. Here I chose London Pride and I don’t think they applied any discount although I admit that I didn’t check my change so I’ve no idea what I paid, other than it was less than the £5 note tendered and more than £4 as there was no pound coin.

The Old Thameside Inn was next and here I had Truman’s Runner, I don’t know if my phone scanned or not as the price was £4.10 for the pint. Unlike previous pubs, I couldn’t see a list of what ales were on and at what price.

My final call was to the Horniman at Hay’s, I took a wrong turn but eventually found it. I finished up with another pint of Nicholsons Pale and also ordered food here. I seem to have received the £1 for a pint of house Pale Ale offer.

The app on my phone showed 2/6 for the trail and the map has two red markers against 4 green. That implies that I only visited 2 of the 6 pubs on the trail yet I had been to all 6. Strange as it may seem, the Henry Addington is one of the two showing red (= visited?) yet they couldn’t get my code to work. The other is the Mudlark.

I tried telephoning the M&B customer team while I was at the 2nd port of call at Monument Road but was cut off after about 12 minutes on hold. I wasn’t spending a day in London to hang about on my phone. As it happens, I took photos of the pubs I visited.

Taking into account the two pints I got for £1, two pints that were less than £4 and two that were just above I spent about £16.50 on 6 pints, so that worked out at an average of £2.75 a pint – in London!

At the time of writing this I’m waiting to see if Mitchells and Butlers can tell me what went wrong with my ale trail so I can perhaps try a different one another day. It could easily be next year before I do another one in London as the Yorkshire one will take me days, simply because they are so spread out and I do not drink and drive. It is also more expensive to go to Leeds or York from Doncaster than it is to go to London by train!

Gordon Sharpe.