I love visiting the Lake District, having been dozens of times over the years, but I can count my visits to Kendal, the town that lies at the southern tip over the area, on the fingers of one hand. So I decided to go along to check out the beer and pub scene....
I had never really considered visiting Kendal for the day. In fact, embarrassingly, I had only found out recently it had its own railway station, but then a recent blog by Martin Taylor suggested it might be worth a visit for its pubs. It is also home to the new Lakes Brewery, formed by some of the old brewing team at Hawkshead and so with a few other breweries based in and around the town it suggested there is maybe something happening in this corner of the South Lakes, although I learnt during the day that other than a few collaborations with other breweries, Lakes haven't really got going yet.
I caught the train from Halifax to Preston, then changed and caught a Pendolino heading up the West Coast Line to Glasgow Central, alighting at 'Oxenholme Lake District' as the signs on the platform say. From there, the journey takes 4 minutes to Kendal via the service that goes to Windermere. The station is a few minutes walk from the town centre, and after crossing the river Kent, I soon came across my first pub on the list, Masons Yard 24, with a number of market stalls and tables on the street outside where traders were selling fruit and vegetables.
This is a smart, modern, bistro-like bar with 6 beers available on hand pump, with the entrance being situated down the side as you enter one of Kendal's many yards. There was a friendly atmosphere as I walked in, with some good-natured banter between the staff and a couple of guys stood at the bar. I spotted a favourite from these parts, Cumbrian Loweswater Gold was available on one of several hand pumps on the bar. I ordered a pint, went to sit on one of the tall chairs opposite the bar to enjoy it, and very good it was too (NBSS 3.5). It was a promising start to the afternoon.
|A friendly place with good beer: Masons Yard 24, Kendal|
Using the Good Beer Guide app, I worked out the nearest place in the guide was Fell Kendal, the local outlet of the Flookburgh-based Fell Brewery. It was just over 5 minutes walk away through streets with a mix of national and independent shops, and market stalls, but when I got there, it was hard to tell if this unassuming-looking place was open or not. However, I tried the door and sure enough it opened, and I walked in to a smart little bar with exposed stone walling which made me suddenly feel nostalgic for the Lakes. I was greeted by a friendly guy with a beard and glasses who was stood behind the bar. There were 3 beers on hand pump, and a further 8 on tap, 4 from Fell, plus guests including Howling Hops, Verdant, and Tempest. I ordered a pint of the 3.8% Ghyll, which was brought to me as they are still doing table service here. The beer was a refreshing golden ale which had plenty of hoppy flavour (NBSS 3.5), and another good beer. I couldn't recall having tried any of their keg beers before, so I ordered the Session IPA, a 4% hazy easy drinker, featuring Ekuanot, Citra, and Centennial hops, which was another excellent beer. We were chatting beers and pubs, and it turns out that Fell have another one in Penrith, and have more recently opened one in suburban Chorlton in Manchester. A couple came in and sat at one of the few downstairs tables (there is another room upstairs). It turned out that he was a brewer for Farm Yard Ales from near Lancaster, having recently moved from the Atom Brewery in Hull. More beer chat was flowing across the room, and I decided to try a half of the Strictly Commercial, also on keg, which was a 5.2% DDH IPA. Very good it was, with plenty of punchy citrussy flavours. I bought a couple of cans to take home, settled my bill, and bade farewell, having been given a few recommendations to try in addition to my list. What a great bar; excellent beer, friendly service, and a good atmosphere. Worth the trip to Kendal alone.
|Fell Kendal: unassuming from outside, but a great bar awaits within|
I was warned that some of (the many) pubs don't open before 3 in Kendal, and that was certainly the case with the New Union, which was a good 10 -15 minutes walk away, and this looked pretty moribund as I arrived a few minutes before 3, the depleted sign declaring it to be the Union, and other than a large marquee to the side and some hanging baskets, there was no real indication it had opened in the last few years. There was some parkland beside the church opposite, so I found a bench and checked my phone as I counted down to 3. A few minutes after the due opening time, I sauntered across, the front door was still closed, but there was a lady down the side of the pub who appeared to be in the throes of opening up, and that turned out to be the case. There were 4 hand pumps on the bar and I opted for the local-ish one, Fox Brown Ale from Great Corby, who are based in the northern part of Cumbria. It was a pleasant enough beer, with a slightly hoppy bitterness, but failed to hit the heights of any of the previous beers I'd had so far (NBSS 3). The pub too I found was a bit lacking in atmosphere, but to be fair it could have just been the time of day and it does have seem to have a good reputation, with an extensive range of ciders and perries to go alongside the beer. So I probably need to give it another visit....
|(New) Union Tavern, Kendal|
I headed back in to the town centre and made my way to Indie Craft Bar, which had been recommended to me when I had been in the Fell Bar. This is just up the hill from Masons Yard, and is a bottle and can shop with 12 keg lines. I got myself a half of a Rivington beer whose name - sorry guys - I didn't record. Maybe it was because I had sat at one of the outdoor tables which actually belonged to the restaurant next door, whose owner seemed rather put out when he came out to find out if I was ordering, and I said I was happy to stick with the beer. I shifted to one of the bar's tables and enjoyed the rest of my beer, and bought a can of Pomona Island Factotum - one of my favourites - to take home. The place is well worth a visit - just make sure you sit in the right seats!
|A view from the wrong seats: Indie Craft Bar, Kendal|
There were three more places on my list, although one of them, the Ring O' Bells, which I have a feeling I may have been in before, seemed to be out on a limb and was the one to miss if required. It was time for a longer walk, back across the river to more leafy territory before heading to an industrial estate where there were two places to try. The first one I came to was the Barrel House, the taproom of the Bowness Bay brewery across the road. I had always assumed the brewery was in the Bowness area around Windermere, but having started out in the Cumbrian village of Winster in 2012, they upped sticks, and since 2015 have been in Kendal. And their taproom is quite an impressive place, attractively decorated, set on two levels, and with outdoor seating and some wooden booths. A wide selection of the brewery's beers on sale, from which I opted for a pint of the Swan Blonde on hand pump, a very pleasant light, slightly sweet, and hoppy beer (NBSS 3.5). I didn't really have the time to do the place justice, but it is well worth seeking out for a warm welcome and good beer in pleasant surroundings. They told me they had another place in another unit which was more for music and events which would be open later that evening.
|The Barrel House, Kendal|
I realised I would only have time to visit one more place, so I made my way a few hundred yards further into the estate and at the other end is the Factory Tap. This is a former cottage which has been converted into an attractive bar offering a range of beers on cask and keg. It was also operating under some of the lockdown protocols; table service, screens, with masks encouraged inside, but the staff were very pleasant and efficient. A beer list was quickly brought to me from which I ordered a pint of Jarl. It was excellent, the best cask of the day (NBSS 4), full of refreshing citrus flavours with fresh grassy notes. I was tempted to try another, but I decided to go for a half of the Handsome Blonde, a lighter refreshing session ale brewed just down the road in the village of Bowston, having started life as Houston Brewery in Scotland. It was pleasant enough (NBSS 3), but trying a new beer after a good pint of Jarl is a bit unfair! I went outside to the food van outside, ordered a lamb shwarma which I ate back at the station as I waited for my train to take me back to Oxenholme.
|The Factory Tap, Kendal|
And as the train pulled out of the station, I thought back about what had been a great day. Kendal has plenty to offer and I had been in some wonderful pubs and bars, drunk some excellent beer, and chatted to some lovely people. And what's not to like about that....
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