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Chasing Away The Dog Days of Winter....

It's that time of year, the in between bit, as one year ends, another one starts....
The dog days are the period in summer between July and early September when the weather is traditionally at its hottest and its most uncomfortable. As a side effect, it encourages stagnation and a lack of activity - traditionally this would be when most holidays took place, the factories and offices would be closed. Its winter equivalent for many people is the period between Christmas Day and New Year, when, whether it be induced by over-indulgence, boredom, missing the daily routine, the days merging into one - there is generally a similar sense of torpor prevailing for so many, if you don't do anything about it.

So to Boxing Day, football at Stockport. A friend had organised a coach, so after meeting up in Halifax, we set off over the Pennines on one of the most grey and gloomy days you could imagine. We were dropped off by Stockport market, and found that Remedy, The Angel, and The Bakers' Vault were closed. Fortunately, the Boar's Head came to our rescue, this Sam Smiths pub was busy, friendly, and at £2.00 a pint, several of the coach load spent all pre-match there. Decent beer, but due to the ways of owner Humphrey, I did wonder if it would have been instant dismissal - or worse - had the pub not opened on Christmas Day. And if you're reading this, Humph, you'll be pleased to know that not all of us used our mobiles in the pub.... Down the hill, the Arden Arms was open, friendly and welcoming, and a decent drop of Unicorn was to be had. Final port of call, we visited the excellent Petersgate Tap, a lovely, friendly micro where I enjoyed a pint of Windermere Pale before trying my first ever pint of Burton Road beers, which are contract brewed by Mobberley, but whilst I can't remember what it was, it was very nice. So I left the Petersgate in fine spirits, which rapidly dissipated as we had an exasperatingly long trudge in steady drizzle to Edgeley Park due to the short cut I wanted to take being prevented by the festive closure of the Railway Station. And it got even worse once the football got started....
Stockport County v Halifax Town, Edgeley Park
5-1 to the home side, Town were diabolical. At least there was some decent beer on at the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe when we got back to Halifax, but the day as a whole did nothing to shift the post-Christmas blues. But more excellent beer was to be had a couple of days later when I went on a lovely birthday crawl with some friends taking in a number of the town's bars including Stod Fold Dean Clough, The Grayston Unity, The Meandering Bear, and Kobenhavn. The outstanding beer though, on a day when we had some good stuff generally, was at the Crafty Fox in Brighouse, where a few of us tried a third of Festa Nuda, a stunning 12% Barrel-aged Imperial Irish Coffee Pastry Stout from the White Hag Brewery in Ballymote, County Sligo. Smooth and silky, it was one special beer....
Smiles all round at The Grayston Unity
Meanwhile, I had a trip to Newcastle coming up, as I was off to see my family in that part of the world. Now if one place doesn't seem to recognise the post-Christmas gloom, it is the toon, and I can heartily recommend it as a place to restore the spirit. It was late afternoon when I set off on my tour round, and arriving at the Crown Posada, ten minutes walk away from the hotel, the place was very busy, its long narrow rooms almost full with a mix of shoppers, early finishers, and pub regulars. It was the same story at Bacchus, on High Bridge, where this classic multi-roomed pub was doing a roaring trade. I ordered a pint of Wylam Hickey The Rake, and managed to find a perch to sit and enjoy what was an excellent pint.
Bacchus: classic Toon pub
I left Bacchus, and made my way back on to Grey Street, and turned up Northumberland Street, where there were plenty of stalls selling food of all conceivable types. People were milling around; shoppers, kids getting a quick snack, people on their way home from work. No sense of post-Christmas blues here. I turned in to St Mary's Place, and revisited The Town Mouse a basement micro pub which was busier than last time I had visited, and had a great friendly atmosphere. I ordered a half of Rigg & Farrow Farmhouse IPA, a very pleasant 5.6% beer on tap. It was even busier when I went round to the Mean-Eyed Cat, where I had two excellent beers, a half of Almasty Cramped, a trademark hazy pale, followed by an excellent third of Very Big Moose from highly-regarded Aberdeen brewer Fierce, which was a beautiful, full-flavoured, and well-balanced Imperial Coconut Stout, weighing in at 12%.
The Mean Eyed Cat - great atmosphere
So the toon was full of life, amazing for a Monday evening. But what would it be like in the suburbs? I wandered back down Northumberland Street and then to the metro station at Monument, destination Byker. My next port-of-call was to be The Cumberland  Arms (opening picture) further down the hill. So I walked down Byker's main street, passing several pubs, some - and not just the local Spoons - looked to be pretty busy, although there didn't seem to be much in the way of interest on those bars where I could see through the windows. I crossed over the main road at the bottom, and slightly further down the hill I turned right on to the road that brings you out at 'the Cumby'. The terrace was pretty busy, as was the pub when I went in to the bar on the left. It turned out there was some music on in the upstairs function room. I ordered a pint of the Northern Alchemy Styrian Bobek Cascade, a very pleasant 3.9% pale ale which I had had here before. I stood by the warm fire as there were no seats, and when I started to melt I went next door and sat at a deserted table. People were coming and going through to the function room as I sipped my beer. I ordered a half of the Citra Oat Pale, 4.2% on tap from Two By Two, which was very good, and nursed it as I savoured the atmosphere of this wonderful pub, one of my absolute favourites, which I discovered recently is the favourite pub of local hero, Richard Dawson.
Serving hatch at the Cumberland Arms
I had one more place to call, another favourite, situated down the hill, nestled in its eyrie overlooking the Tyne. The Free Trade Inn was empty when I got there, which meant I could order a pint of Almasty Echelon and get a vantage point on one of the stools by the windows. The lights of the city were twinkling in the distance as a group of people walked in. Another group came in shortly afterwards, and soon the place was pretty busy. I finished my beer and set off down the steps to the pick up the riverside walk back to the Quayside and the hotel.
Always reliable: the Free Trade Inn
The following morning was sunny, cold, and crisp. The city looked at its best as I went for a walk along the riverside. I felt good. And so once again, if you want a place to go to chase away the mid-winter blues I can thoroughly recommend a visit to Newcastle....

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