I re-visited some old haunts in Cumbria last week, where in and amongst the old familiar places, I found some interesting pubs and bars that I hadn't previously visited. Here they are....
The improving early Spring weather had prompted me to book a couple of days away in the Lake District, where I was stopping at Coniston. But away from the familiar places there I tried some new places in South Lakeland. I stopped off on my way up at the picture postcard village of Cartmel, smack in the middle of farming country a few miles north of Grange-Over-Sands. Many will be familiar with the name as it is the home of Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding. And along with its attractive old buildings, charming square, 12th century Priory, food shops, and pubs, it would be a draw for visitors anyway. But add in a National Hunt racecourse right in the village and a 3 star Michelin Restaurant, and it soon becomes apparent that this is no ordinary place.
I parked up at the racecourse, and went for a walk around the village before heading to the real reason I had come to the village. The sun was shining, the skies were blue, and the birds were singing. Even a sharp wind couldn't take the edge off my good mood. I walked into the village square, and then turned left under an impressive archway. Passing a pub (not today's chosen destination), I soon passed L'enclume, which was opened several years ago by chef Simon Rogan, and which recently received the award that means that Cumbria is now the county with the most Michelin 3 stars outside London and Berkshire. Throughout the village, which doesn't take long to walk around, there are numerous attractive corners, looking good in the spring sunshine.
|The River Eea at the rear of the King's Arms, Cartmel|
I passed the Kings Arms, where I'd had a wedding reception in a time long ago, crossed a bridge, and just around a corner was a van whose livery suggested I was close to my destination. And sure enough, at the far end of a pleasant courtyard with a tea room, a cheese shop, and a wine shop amongst others, was Unsworth's Yard Brewery. This was new to me, but it turned out it has been open since 2011 when brothers Peter and David Unsworth transformed the yard that had been home to the family haulage and garage business since 1922. Peter runs the brewery with another family member, whilst David runs the wine shop.
I walked into a tiny one room bar, with a small brewery beyond, to which the door was open. There is only room for the odd table inside, but outside in the yard, under a large umbrella, there is more seating, There were two beers on the bar when I called, a dark one, and a pale ale at the driver-friendly ABV of 3.5%, Cartmel Thoroughbred, which was what I opted for, pulled by the man who was also working in the brewery. With Mosaic as the main hop, it was very pale blonde in colour, refreshing, and well worth a 3.5 NBSS rating. As I sat enjoying my pint amidst the odd phone call, text, and WhatsApp notification, the brewer was back and forth ferrying ingredients from a store across the yard. After one of his return journeys, I bought a few bottles, their names reflecting the local area and its history. One I bought was Eel River, based on the river that runs through the village, whose name 'Eea' is believed to be a Viking name for eel, whose slippery form can be seen in the river at certain times of the year. I asked about how far they deliver their beers and was told it is only within around a 5 mile radius from the brewery. So if you want to try them on draught you need to visit the area, although you can buy the bottles from their online shop.
From there, I set off back to the car with my ticket running out, stopping at the Royal Oak in the square beside the Kings Arms as I spotted an open door. I walked in and found a guy hoovering, which he switched off when he saw me. "Sorry, mate, we're not open till 4" he said. I am keen to try this traditional pub as it is the 4th establishment run by Fell Brewery from nearby Flookburgh. So of course I will have to go back to the village again....
The following day, I caught the early morning bus from Coniston, taking advantage of the free passage courtesy of my bus pass, which felt even sweeter due to the ongoing hike in fuel prices. I was heading for the market town of Ulverston, where in a time long ago I had once got married. My reason to visit was not for a dewy-eyed walk down memory lane, but to visit some of the town's pubs. Due to the bus timetable, the only practical way to do this entailed arriving in Ulverston at 10.10, which as it wasn't a market day when it seems the pubs can open at 10.30, meant I had some time to fill before I could begin my day's work. So, saving a walk along the Ulverston Canal - supposedly the widest, deepest, and straightest in the country - for another day, I headed for another attraction the town is known for, a museum celebrating the life of the town's most famous sons, Arthur Stanley Jefferson, aka Stan Laurel. It cost me a fiver as a concession to get in and I spent a most enjoyable hour-plus taking a journey back in time to those hilarious black-and-white days of Laurel and his partner in crime, Oliver Hardy. There were plenty of displays telling the duo's life stories, various displays, and assorted paraphernalia, whilst on a screen their films were showing all day. I have said it before but there are some fantastic museums in towns up and down the country, and this is up there with the best.
My first pub of the day was in the centre, just down from the market cross. This was The Sun Inn, which is a large Grade ll former coaching inn, run by the Lakeland Inns Group, who now operate the former Stringers Brewery in town under the name Lakeland Brewhouse. It was pretty quiet when I arrived, but it was only just past noon. The guys behind the bar were friendly, and insisted on giving me a collector card for visiting all 6 Lakeland Inns. I ordered a pint of the 4.2% Blonde, and retreated to a table at the other side of the large room. The beer was pretty decent, probably a NBSS 3. Not a bad start to the afternoon.
|The Sun Inn, Ulverston|
Due to the number of parked cars in Ulverston, it wasn't easy to get a clear shot of any of the pubs, and the one I took of The Sun was taken from the building opposite, which meant I had to use some jiggery pokery to minimise some unwanted reflections. And when I tried to take a picture of the next pub, a police van was blocking any potential shots from across the road!
The Rose & Crown was just around the corner, and was decked out in Robinsons' house colours, and the beers were from Robbies, but looking at the website it appears to be part of a mini pub group. No matter, anyway. It is deceptively small from the outside, it goes back a bit, with plenty of nooks and crannies within. By now it was around 1 o'clock, and plenty of the tables were taken with diners when I walked in. I spotted a small empty table, which I made a beeline for once I had ordered a pint of Dizzy Blonde. Now I am not a big fan of Robinsons' beers, but I have to say I was quite impressed with this particular pint. It was cool and refreshing, and easily worth a NBSS rating of 3.5. I was quite pleasantly surprised with the pub, although most seemed to be here for the food. In mentioning Robinsons, their presence in the town is due to the acquisition and closure in 1991 of Hartley's Brewery, whose beers I enjoyed on some of my earliest forays to the Lake District. The old brewery site still exists in the town, and has been the subject of a number of proposals for re-development over the years.
Due to the limitations of pub opening times and the bus timetable, it was only possible to get to one more place before I had to leave Ulverston, but this was one I had been looking forward to the most. Opposite The Sun was Beerwolf, a micropub and bottle shop. It was pleasantly furnished with seating as you went in and the bar towards the back of the room, with stairs leading upstairs to the toilets and further seating upstairs. In contrast to the tastefully subdued decor downstairs, this room was more random with bare brick, painted walls, and odd furniture. Back downstairs, with a great playlist as the soundtrack, there were 2 beers on cask and 8 keg lines. I ordered a pint of Hindmarsh, a 3.7% IPA from Marble, with Amarillo hops giving tropical fruit and subtle citrus notes. I got chatting to Alan, the man behind the bar, who told me it was a new beer from them. It was pretty enjoyable and a solid NBSS 3.5. I asked how long they'd been open and he told me about 4 years. I said I'd not really expected to find any craft beers in this part of the world, but it seems there is quite a lot of interest, with Americans and other incomers who work down the road at BAE Systems in Barrow enthusiastic supporters, along with growing local interest. It was good to chat all things beer with a fellow enthusiast, and with the time of the last bus fast approaching, I ordered a half of Verdant's 300 Laps Of Your Garden from one of the keg lines. 4.8% and hopped with Azacca, Mosaic, and Nelson Sauvin, it delivered mango, citrus, and gooseberry flavours. Very enjoyable. I bought a couple of cans and bade my farewell. What a cracking little bar! A few minutes later, I was at the bus stop where the last bus for Coniston was waiting. It was ten to 3....
Ulverston is a great beer town, with 6 pubs in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide and plenty more as well. Along with other points of interest in the town, it is clearly worth a visit in its own right, and I will look to do that at some point. Next time, I'll tell you about some of the other places I visited on my trip to Cumbria....
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