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The Beers from the West....

A cold week was forecast, but that didn't deter me from taking a short winter break in the Lakes. And as I set off it was cold, but the sun was shining, I had plenty of music to catch up on, and the views as I drove up the A65 through the Yorkshire Dales were winter scenery at its best.

I had a short pit stop at Ingleton, calling at the Masons Arms for the first time in almost 40 years I would guess. In those days it sold beers from one of the two Lancaster brewers, Yates and Jackson (the other was Mitchells*), both now long lost to brewing. They owned a number of pubs in the area, notably Ingleton and Bentham, not surprising when you consider the area has a Lancaster postcode! Of the two, Yates and Jacksons were in my opinion much the better, and in those days of fewer free houses, fewer breweries, and even fewer that travelled out of their area, it was always a novelty to seek them out. Today the Masons is a comfortable roadside freehouse and was full of Sunday diners when I called in. Nonetheless, I was made to feel welcome, and the half of Wishbone Blonde I had was most pleasant.

Back on the road, I had decided I would go for my lunch at a pub in South Lakeland that I had never visited. The Ship in Greenodd, just off the A590 past Newby Bridge, is the home of the Greenodd Brewery, and whilst the pub has been in the Good Beer Guide for a number of years, its opening hours have never allowed me to make a visit. So I timed it so I would be there for just after 2 when it opened. I ordered a pint of the Greenodd Citra brewed at the back of the pub, and what a refreshing, clean-tasting pint it was. They were serving food, so I ordered a Roast Beef Dinner. And very nice it was too. What a lovely pub, friendly staff, good food, good beer. It is a fairly ordinary looking pub on a quiet street, but if you are in the area and it's open, you should check it out. And they seem to brew a wide range of beers too, although I have never come across any anywhere else.

I set off from Greenodd and picked up the road to Torver which after a few miles runs alongside the lower reaches of Coniston Water. The wintry sun was glinting on the lake and Cumbrian fells in the distance as I headed towards Coniston, where I had managed to get a deal at the Sun Hotel, so for the first time in many years I stayed there rather than the usual B and B in the village. The fact that it is probably my favourite pub in the Lake District - Old Dungeon Ghyll excepted - was a bonus. I got checked in, dropped my bag off, and headed back down to the bar. There were the usual regulars on the bar - the likes of Hawkshead Bitter, Coniston Bluebird, a Barngates beer, one from Keswick - but I opted for an excellent pint of Cumbrian Loweswater Gold while I decided my plan of action for the evening. I wasn't that hungry, having eaten a fairly late lunch in Greenodd, so I decided to head down into the village for a wander.

First port of call was the Yewdale, now in the Good Beer Guide for the first time for a number of years. It is a comfortable hotel with a pleasant bar in the heart of the village. I ordered a pint of the ubiquitous Loweswater Gold and had a pleasant chat with the girl behind the bar, before crossing the road to the Black Bull. I have been coming in this place regularly for nearly 30 years, and it just carries on in its own individual way. Yes, there have a been a few changes over the years, but basically it still looks very much as it did on that first visit. Many of the staff have been there for years, as have the photos of Donald Campbell and Bluebird which brought the village and the lake to international attention, and the numerous awards for the Coniston beers brewed at the back of the pub which cover the walls. The fire was lit and most welcoming on what was an extremely cold night. The Bluebird Bitter was on excellent form as I ordered a cheese board as a belated second course for my Sunday lunch. The Black Bull, like all the pubs in the village, is worth a visit at any time of the year, but on a cold February night, with fewer people around than at the height of summer, it was a lot easier to appreciate the inherent qualities of this fine old hotel.

It was back up the road to the Sun, for more Loweswater Gold. It was pretty empty by the time I got back, but I managed a couple more pints and had a good chat with Carl who'd been running the bar. And then it was simply a matter of heading up a flight of stairs to my room and a welcome night's sleep. If you are looking for somewhere to stay in the Lakes, I can definitely recommend the Sun!

After a huge Cumbrian breakfast, I checked out of the hotel, and wandered down to the village and to the Bluebird Cafe by the lake for a coffee. It was even colder than yesterday, with snow on the Old Man and neighbouring fells, and the odd flake blowing in the wind as I went for a walk through the fields beside the lake. I made my way back towards the village and retrieved the car from the Sun Hotel.

I decided to pay a long overdue visit to the Hawkshead Brewery tap. Now, unlike Cumbrian Brewery, it isn't situated in Hawkshead. It used to be, when it first started in 2002, but as demand grew, the brewery needed more space, and so de-camped to the village of Staveley, which is just off the A591 between Windermere and Kendal. I had been once before, many years ago, but it has expanded since then. The Beer Hall, as the tap is called, occupies part of the ground floor of the building, with offices above, and the brewery behind. The bar is light and airy, with a large number of hand pumps and taps serving a wide selection of Hawkshead beers. They also serve some nice food to go with the beers, and as you would expect, Hawkshead-related merchandise is on sale. I opted for a half of Windermere Pale, which for a 3.5% beer packs a huge amount of flavour. I followed with a half of the 4% Mosaic, a riot of delicious fruity aromas and flavours, and half of 5% Cumbrian Five Hop, which was on tap. This is a wonderful beer, featuring Fuggles, Golding, Bramling Cross, Citra, and Amarillo Hops, which gives a wonderful roundness with hints of marmalade in the flavour. Hawkshead beers are currently some of the best around, and there is no better place to sample them than at their brewery tap. I shall be returning again soon.

And that was it. A short but enjoyable trip to one of the finest parts of the country with some of the nation's best pubs and beers.
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Shock news of the week was that The Grove in Huddersfield has been put up for sale by owners Ian and Taya. Apparently after 12 years, they decided that it was time to move on and try something different. Whilst you rarely saw them downstairs, the pub they have built up has got an iconic status, much loved not just in Huddersfield but throughout the land. I have lost count of the times when I have been talking to people in different parts of the country and I mention where I am from, that the Grove's name has cropped up. For many it is a friendly local, for others a place of pilgrimage. I have lost count of beers I have tried there for the first time. Yes, there have always been regular beers from the likes of Durham, Marble, Oakham, and Thornbridge, but plenty of others that I'd never heard of before. The staff have generally been very friendly and knowledgeable, and it is to be hoped that whoever takes over keeps the place offering the same experience for beer and pub lovers that Ian and Taya have overseen. I included an appreciation of the Grove last year here.

It was also interesting this week that Northern Monk, where former Grove barman Brian Dickson is now head brewer, have released a video to support a crowdfunding programme. They have grown amazingly quickly and in a few short years have have gone from being just Russell the founder and Brian to having over 30 members of staff with turnover climbing rapidly. Demand for the beers has grown so much that they have had to open a second facility just down the road from their brewery just outside the centre of Leeds. However, in order to keep up with demand, they need some more kit, hence the decision to seek extra funds. I wish them well.
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And finally, I couldn't write anything this week without referencing the 'Beast from the East', which has caused widespread disruption, chaos, and misery unprecedented in recent years across virtually every part of the country. My 3 and a half hour commute on Thursday morning was a minor inconvenience compared to some of the horror stories that have emerged. But then you get to see human nature at its best - medical staff walking miles to work or sleeping over in the hospital, the community hall in Milnrow that opened to serve tea and toast to stranded motorists, some of whom were served by volunteers who climbed up the embankment and walked up the motorway for miles to reach those trapped. And whilst one shocking story emerged about a pub in Scotland that was charging soldiers who had gone to the aid of stranded motorists 50p to use the toilet, pubs have generally been very busy and acting as the focus not just for the local community but for those stranded from further afield. The two I have visited this week, the Dusty Miller in Hove Edge, and the Market Tavern in Brighouse, have both been very busy and have provided a warm and friendly haven from the wintry conditions outside. Which is what all good pubs do as a matter of course, day in, day out, throughout the year.

Stay safe, and see you next time....

The Beer Hall, Staveley
The Sun Hotel, Coniston

* Mitchells of Lancaster still exist but no longer brew in their own right, but as well as having their own small pub estate, own York Brewery.

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