So my first proper beer trip in over 6 months was a day’s tour of the Lake District. Since I’m moving down to London soon, a fellow cellarman from the Three Judges, Ronnie, had said he’d drive down and give me a tour of place I’d otherwise never see. It was a very generous offer and one I couldn’t let down, so after many changing dates and quite a bit of research on the route to take, it was 9:00am Sunday 1st June.
Ronnie picked me up on what was a fine morning and we headed down south, 130miles or so. We hit the turn off for Ulswater, a fine lake and nothing as commercialized as Windermere. Past the beautiful lake and over the Kirkstone Pass, which has got to be one of the most exciting rides of my life - the views, the 25% gradients and sheep on the road keeps you on your toes!
Anyway first stop was The Watermill at Ings, a very small village about 3 miles from Windermere. It boasts 16 ales and a fine selection of bottles from the outside. They weren’t joking either - 16 different ale taps from the local area, of which 7 were new to me. They have their own brewery here where they have 3 regular beers and seasonal offers also. The bottle range was nothing new, but fine stuff, Rochefort 6 (which we don’t get in Scotland), full line up of Liefmans beers (Scotland has been sold out for a few months now) and some English ales too. On top of this they apparently sell some of the finest pub food in the Lake District, a bold statement indeed. I went for a Cumberland Sausage (made with black pudding and apple) with all the trimmings, what a feast! My god that has to go down as one of the finest eating experiences ever! The pairing with Watermill Blackbeard, a seasonal mild ale, went excellently. I then hit Ratebeer mode and ordered every beer I hadn’t had and managed to drink about 2 ½ pints in 10 mins, for research purposes only I assure you, what with it being 12:30pm on a Sunday afternoon!
Off we went down the roast to a town called Stavlie. First stop was the Eagle and Child, strange name perhaps, but excellent local pub. They had 7 hand pulls, however only one new rating from - of all the places – Harviestoun (Mae Best), a nearly local brewery for me. This is someplace I’d like to go again, however on the day there was a charity event with many children running around. With no new ratings and a lot to do were stayed for only 10 minutes before heading along the road again.
Hawkshead Beer Hall was the next stop. This is a brewpub in fact, an industrial unit, but very light and contemporary design, a million miles away from the local pubs we had just been in. The 4 hand pulls were of their own beers and again they had a good bottled range, including their own range which wasn’t on tap. I’m a huge fan of Hawkshead beers and for me to get to try their bitter at the brewery totally blew me away. Beer of the trip by a long shot (4.4!), amazing for a 3.7% beer. New rates for me also came with their Lakeland Gold and UPA, both excellently made and very solid beers on cask, but also their bottled Lakeland Lager, which was decent but nothing as hot as the cask beers. We spent quite a long time here and got chatting with the brewer. t seems he wants to expand and I said he should look into sending bottles to America, this was something he was thinking also so keep your eyes out!
We were on the road again and heading to the pub I was most excited about, The Prince of Wales at Foxfield. From the outside it doesn’t look much, though the literally 100’s of empty casks outside should be an indication of what goodness is about to come. It was in the middle of getting an extension added, so not in top condition to look at, but what does that matter when you have beer like this as they chin chin’d my glass numerous times. What a local boozer! I’ve got 7 new ales to try from a barman who’s so hungover he can’t breathe while he’s pouring the beer and a local speaking so fast I have no idea what he’s saying! Before I know it I’ve got 7 tasters and the landlady chatting away and making sure we’re comfortable, the ultimate dilemma for a rater, as one part says sack the rating and enjoy the local banter and the other says come on 7 new rates! The compromise was difficult. It took quite a while to get all the beers I wanted between venturing down to their cellar and trying some beers from the cask. And the local stories about banter which made no sense to me were amazing. Any lover of pubs must come here, and we left with grins on our faces and felt as though we had just stepped back into reality without a care in the world.
Off we were however to a town only a few miles away, Broughton on Furness. The first stop was the Manor Arms, a strange pinky/plum coloured wallpaper in what is again and excellent boozer. They had 9 hand pulls and Liefmans Kriek on draught! Only one new rating but again the local banter was outstanding, with the landlord having had quite a few already and seeming to be the cornerstone of knowledge for the local area. This was handy as he assured us that his rival pub in the town would have a new brewery for me.
A 30 second walk and we were in the Old King’s Head. A far more formal pub with dining being the focus, however the previous landlord was not mistaken, for there was a new brewery for me here. It was Beckston, and they had 2 beers of which both were ok, however compared to some of the stuff I’d had so far, fairly average. We stayed only for rating purposes then headed off.
On walking back to the car I saw another pub, which Ronnie said was useless and never have any beer on. However I walked in to see 6-7 hand pulls and another new brewery, Whitehaven. It seems to be very new indeed though the bar staff weren’t much help, however I had to add it to the site just a few minutes before I started writing this.
By this time it was about 6:00pm and we were aiming to get home by 10:00pm, so Ronnie said one more pub and then we’ll call it a day. The Punch Bowl at The Green, was on the route we had in mind so in we went and again a bank of hand pulls and 5 new rates for me. A half of each, these being Beckston and Rudgate beers all in good nick and some funny banter as the bar. I found that I was beginning to get on a bit and was thinking ah well a good end to a day. How wrong I was.
Back in the car and heading what seemed like home, Ronnie is clearly having a mental battle. I don’t ask as I’m nearly falling asleep, but eventually he says, ok we’re going to the Strands Hotel to see if any Strands beers are on. I have no problem with this as it’s a new brewery for me and its apparently, nearly on the road anyway. The hotel just opened its brewery recently and only make one core beer but do have seasonal ones too. I find 2 rates here from the bank of 5 hand pulls and say to myself once again, ah well a pint to finish me off and start thinking about the sleep on the journey home again.
Out to the car we go and Ronnie once again says, ok ok we’ll do it, we’ll go to The Wasdale Head Inn. “The roads only 4 ½ miles long.” This was something I’ll never forget, as yes it was 4 ½ miles long, but it was also the windiest single track, sheep-ridden, yet spectacular road I’ve ever been on. It must have taken us 25mins to drive it. The Inn itself is again a brewery and makes Great Gable beers. The pub was very big and probably could hold 200 people at a push. There was a bank of 11 hand pulls, which seemed amazing as it is 4 ½ miles from anything, the most remote pub I’ve ever seen. Most people in were walkers straight off the hills, as there were more pairs of boots at the door than there were cars in the car park! I got battered into another 8 new ratings here, but everything else got a bit fuzzy, even the fact we had dinner there and I didn’t realize it ‘til I looked at my clothes in the morning where most of it seemed to have landed!
It was an incredible day. Amazing people, amazing beer an all round. It was an amazing experience that I’d recommend to everyone who likes beer or pubs. You could actually spend 2 weeks here and not do it all. All I’ll say is I’ll be back for at least a few days next time to dwindle away the hours in what must be one of the most spectacular areas in Britain.