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Tim's Grand Tour of Bibulous Britain

Added: Wednesday, September 21st 2016

101 Days Out

101 Beer Days Out by Tim Hampson (CAMRA Books, £12.99)

This book is a sheer delight. It underscores the way in which beer and brewing are part of the warp and weft of the British way of life. Tim Hampson, with a quiet passion, takes us on a tour of Britain that is more than just another pub guide – for in these pages you will discover breweries ancient and modern, museums and even train rides dedicated to our national drink.

Tim, chairman of the British Guild of Beer Writers, is a seasoned writer on the subject and has his pulse on the brewing scene. His book is packed not only with fascinating information but has some gorgeous photography. The book opens with a stunning view of the ancient Scotney Castle in Kent where hops are still grown and immediately you’re hooked.

Turn the pages of the South-east section and you will find you can tour Britain’s oldest brewery, Shepherd Neame in Faversham, study the ancient vessels and delivery vehicles, and enjoya meal matched with beer.

And if you visit Faversham at the right time of year – namely the first weekend in September – you can join in the annual hop festival, with locals marching and singing through the town, dressed in costumes worn by hop pickers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. A special Shepherd Neame steam train called Spitfire will transport you from London to the centre of the ancient hop-growing region.

In Oxfordshire, Tim delves into the history of the English Civil War, with pubs such as the Castle Inn in Edgehill and the Olde Reindeer in Banbury staging reconstructions of the battles that raged in the area. Then on to glorious Hook Norton, that most invigorating of traditional breweries, where you can marvel at wooden vessels, steam engines and horse-drawn drays.

In Hampshire, the restored Watercress Line will take you to the Triple fff brewery at Four Marks and you can enjoy its beers in the Railway Arms in Alton.

The South-west traces the remarkable boom in good pubs in vibrant Bristol and also details visits to two old family-owned breweries, Palmer’s in Bridport – the only thatched brewery in Britain – and Hall & Woodhouse in Blandford, famous for its Badger ales. Further south in Cornwall, St Austell Brewery also offers tours for visitors and stages the annual Celtic Beer Festival, with beers from breweries from all over the region.

Eastern England is the country’s grain basket, featuring the finest malting barley for the brewing industry. Tim encourages us to take the Poppy Line from Holt to Sheringham to see fine views of Norfolk and to revel in the amazing number of breweries in a county once ravaged by takeovers and closures in the 1960s and 70s. Norwich has a major CAMRA beer festival in the autumn and it’s augmented by the trail-blazing City of Ale event in the spring that brings together pubs and breweries in a joyous celebration of local beer.

And there is no shortage of breweries to visit, including Adnams and Greene King, while Tim stresses the importance of St Albans as the head office of CAMRA and a raft of brilliant pubs, including Britain’s officially oldest hostelry, the Olde Fighting Cocks.

The Midlands put up a challenger to the Fighting Cocks with the Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham at the foot of the castle, which claims to have been used by soldiers preparing to fight in the Crusades. From Bateman’s ivy-decked brewery and visitor centre close to the Lincolnshire coast, Tim takes us on a long and bibulous saunter through Lincoln with its many fine pubs, the restored brewery in Shugborough Hall, and the splendours of Marston’s in Burton-on-Trent with its world-famous “Union” oak fermenters. The National Brewery Centre in Burton brilliantly traces the history of brewing in the town and its key role in the development of pale ale and IPA. 

camerons brew house

You can tour the Peak District on the Churnet Valley steam line, witness another hop festival in Bromyard and visit Derby’s plethora of fine pubs, including the Falstaff coaching inn, the Olde Dolphin, the city’s oldest pub, and the Brunswick near the railway station, built for railway workers in the 19th century and now featuring its own brewery.

Wales has many castles – built to keep the Welsh in and the English out – that are supported by historic ale houses.  Cardiff is a beer lover’s delight, with many fabulous pubs, while in more rural areas you can travel on the Llangollen steam railway and at the Neuadd Arms Hotel in  Llanwrtyd Wells you can observe the bizarre sport of mountain bike bog snorkel. This almost defies description: suffice it to say, you need a bike, a wetsuit, a love of mud and a tough hide. Fortunately the hotel offers not only hot showers but its own-brewed ales for participants.

Yorkshire has the renowned Keighley & Worth Valley steam railway that serves Timothy Taylor’s sublime beers and the opportunity to drop off and visit the Brontë Museum in Haworth. York has many fine pubs, some very ancient in the old Shambles area. Leeds and Sheffield can boast some of the best pubs in the country while the West Riding Refreshment Rooms at Dewsbury Station are worth missing a few trains for.

Tim makes the long trek to the delightful old market town of Masham where two breweries – open to visitors -- are locked in fierce family rivalry, Theakston’s and Black Sheep, the latter run by members of the Theakston family. It’s a long story...

Across the Pennines, Manchester and Liverpool offer two of the greatest drinking experiences in the country, with pubs dripping with history and amazing architecture. They include the Marble Arch, Briton’s Protection and Peveril of the Peak in Manchester and the Philharmonic, Baltic Fleet and Roscoe Head in Liverpool.

Further north, the poetic beauty of the Lake District is enlivened by superb pubs – many with Beatrix Potter and Lakeland poets’ connections -- and the chance to see brewing in progress at Hawkshead’s Beer Hall, with good food to boot.

In the North-east you can learn to brew at Brewlab in Sunderland, tour the impressive museum at Cameron’s brewery in Hartlepool (above) and then take a tour of Newcastle’s splendid hostelries. Don’t miss the Beamish Open Air Museum, a reproduction of a small town at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, complete with trams and a two-bar pub with sawdust on the floor, a spittoon and wooden benches. Tim reports that the spittoon is no longer used – for this relief, much thanks.

Finally, at a canter into Scotland, with breweries to visit at Belhaven, Caledonian and Williams Brothers in Alloa. There are amazing pubs and bars of Edinburgh, including the Cafe Royal, the Guildford Arms and the Oxford Bar. Be careful in the Ox: you may bump into Inspector Rebus nursing a glass or two of Deuchar’s.

Tim’s grand tour ends on Orkney where may sneakily enjoy a dram of Highland Park as well as the beers from both the Orkney and Highland breweries.

This is a gem of a book for all beer lovers. For once the cliché cannot be bettered: don’t leave home without it.