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That's The Beer Guide For You....

Yes, it's out! The 2022 CAMRA Good Beer Guide, the 49th edition of the real ale drinker's guide to the best beers and pubs was released on November 12th, leading to a flurry of excitement amongst the real ale community. And the first brand new pub featured in the guide I visited was in a location that I had not expected to be visiting when I woke up that morning....

I had arrived home one evening the other week and found a parcel had been delivered. I couldn't think of anything I had ordered other than the odd CD, and even though the current shortage of cardboard has seen deliveries arrive in all sorts of shapes and sizes, it felt a lot heavier than a CD. I opened it up, and it turned out to be the 2022 Good Beer Guide, delivered before its official release date as I had signed up for the CAMRA Privilege Club a couple of years ago. This gets you a discounted copy of the Guide every year, but the price you pay though is you are required to keep quiet about what lies within its pages until the official release day; no sharing of that delight that a favourite watering hole has been elevated to the ranks, or the disappointment that another one has been demoted to the wastelands beneath.

For me, keeping quiet this year was particularly hard. One of the pubs where I work the odd shift behind the bar, The Meandering Bear in Halifax, had been included, and two places that are run by friends, Kobenhaven, also in Halifax, and The Crafty Fox, in Brighouse, were also in for the first time but I couldn't say anything before the 12th. But the early arrival does give you an opportunity to earmark future visits to a disparate selection of places. For the completist pub tickers who are aiming to visit every pub in the guide, there is the onerous task of cross-ticking, highlighting those pubs already visited that have been retained in the new Guide, adding back in ones visited in years gone by that have returned, and from that calculating how many need to be done this year to complete the whole guide, a feat that has only been achieved once, by a certain Mr Mackay from Paisley....

New into the 2022 Good Beer Guide: Meandering Bear, Halifax

And so, where did I visit my first new pub of the 2022 Guide? Well, after a great evening in Leeds I had stayed over in the city and over breakfast, I was flicking through twitter as I sat in a cafe beside Leeds Bridge, and came across the latest piece by my good friend in blogging, Simon Everitt aka BRAPA or the British Real Ale Pub Adventure. Simon is one of the completist pub tickers I referred to above, and in his blog he referred to his Top 10 pubs that hadn't been in the Good Beer Guide last year but that he had been in on a pre-emptive basis following some local information, or simply based on chance eg. waiting for a train, etc, which have now made it into the book. Two of them were Meandering Bear and Kobenhaven, but going down the list of 10 places he enthused about a micro pub in Hexham in Northumberland that he had called in on his travels. I read on, munching my sausage sandwich in amongst sips of tea.

I finished my breakfast, collected my bag from the hotel, went for the car, and set off on my way to Newcastle where I was off to a gig that evening. I made good time, and around 2 hours later, I was checking in to the Travelodge. Clothes on hangers, bag sorted out, phone given a charge, and I was straight on to sorting out my plans for the afternoon, with the evening already mapped out. I was hoping the Crown Posada had re-opened, but after digging around on the net and walking past a little later, I found it was unfortunately still closed. I then thought back to the blog I had read over breakfast. That micro in Hexham! It can't be that long on the train to Hexham, I thought. A few minutes later, I had bought a ticket, the quickest journey being just over half an hour via the train to Carlisle where I had stopped on my marathon journey to Glasgow the other week.

I walked up from the hotel to Newcastle Central Station, calling at the Beer Street micro pub at the back of the station as I had about half an hour to kill. I had called here a year or two back when I had enjoyed a chat with Pete, one of the owners, but he wasn't there on this occasion. There was a solitary cask ale available, due to demand during the week,  a hazy 4.2% pale called Diamond Chase from Pentrich Brewery in Derbyshire, which was a very pleasant 3.5 on the NBSS scale. There was plenty of craft ale on offer, but with the weakest one having an ABV of 5.5% I thought I had best avoid as it was only 1.30 in the afternoon!

The train headed west up the Tyne Valley, the line following the river for much of the way to Hexham, the trees looking wonderful in their autumn colours. This train didn't stop at Wylam, where I had called in at the Boathouse next to the station a couple of times, but there is a slower train once an hour which stops there and other places along the route making a rail ale crawl of sorts possible. Soon enough we were in Hexham, and as I stepped out of the train, the Platform Bar (opening picture) was right in front of me! And with a warm glow coming from inside, it looked very enticing.

I walked in, there was a group of about 6 people stood or sat at the bar, with a couple of guys sat at a table in a corner. One of the ladies in the group stood up and went around the back of the bar to serve me. There were two handpumps on the bar, both serving beers from High House Farm, based a few miles away in the village of Matfen, one light, one dark. I went for a pint of the light one, Nel's Best, a 4.2% golden bitter, which I had last had a few years ago. I think at the Olde Ship in Seahouses. I went and sat at a table in the corner opposite the two guys. The beer was very good, a lovely light golden colour, refreshing, with a slightly bitter finish (NBSS 3.5), retailing at a reasonable price. I looked around; a single room bar which was the former station waiting room, pleasingly decorated with railway memorabilia and old pictures adorning the walls. Behind the bar was another room, which seemed to be a kitchen cum storeroom. There was a relaxing, timeless feel about the place which continued as the numbers ebbed and flowed as trains outside came and went.

Platform Bar, Hexham

I ordered a second pint of Nel's Best, along with a tuna mayonnaise sandwich that like the beer was both delicious and good value for money. I checked the train times; I reckoned I had enough time to have a wander into the town and re-visit a pub I had enjoyed on my last visit to Hexham. The hour or so I spent at the Platform Bar was most enjoyable and I can heartily recommend a visit to this friendly little bar. I look forward to calling again.

The walk into town took about 10 minutes via a pleasant path that led from next to the Station Hotel, passing some playing fields and skirting the roads. Hexham is a lovely town with many attractive old buildings, the town centre dominated by the Abbey that dates back to 674AD. A few miles to the north is Hadrian's Wall.

Hexham: sympathetic houses in autumn colours

Hexham Abbey and market square

It didn't take me too long to find one of the pubs I had visited on my previous visit to the town a few years ago. Off the market square leads Market Street, on which is located The Heart Of Northumberland. I had enjoyed it when I called before, good beer and delicious food, and when I walked in this time a number of steady early teatime customers were already occupying several tables or stood beside the bar. There was a range of five cask ales to choose from from which I opted for a Pennine Pale from Allendale, brewed a few miles to the south in the village of the same name. And it was a relaxing half hour or so, enjoying good crisp, refreshing beer (NBSS 3.5) in an excellent spot with friendly staff and good beer, before having to set off back to the station to catch the Newcastle train.

The Heart of Northumberland....

And so, as the train headed back east along the Tyne Valley, the afternoon drew to a close in the fading light. I had visited my first new pub of the 2022 Good Beer Guide and very good it was too, but if you'd told me 12 hours earlier where it would have been, I would no doubt have laughed at you. Or would I? That's the Beer Guide for you....

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