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Lakes, Dales, Tales, and Ales....

More from my recent trip to Cumbria, this time re-visiting a few old favourites as well as stopping off at a couple of new places....

The road off to Coniston off the A5092 at Spark Bridge winds through delightfully-named settlements like Water Yeat and Blawith, passing attractive wooded scenery and then, for a mile or two, you pass beside Coniston Water, the Cumbrian mountains tantalising with their distant appearance. You then head away from the lake, with the road twisting and turning until it meets the A593 at the village of Torver. Here, more or less directly opposite the junction, is The Wilsons Arms, set slightly back from the road beyond a grass verge, where I stopped off for a quick pint and comfort break. I had been before, and it has been in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide in the past (last time in 2015). The pub, which also has rooms, acts as a bit of a hub for the village, operating a shop out of one end of the building. It was very much as I remembered it when I walked in, with the bar beyond a seating area which you enter from the car park. I ordered a pint of Cumbrian Loweswater Gold which I remember thinking at the time was a bit pricey, and took it to a table in the seating area I had just walked through, where a couple were sat on a sofa in front of the fire drinking red wine. I took a sip of my pint. It was excellent, definitely worth a NBSS rating of 4. Which was just as well really, as with fewer people in than last time I found it somewhat bland and lacking in character. To make matters worse a dreadful predominantly 70's soundtrack was playing. It could well have been playing last time I went in, or any time in the past few decades! Where's the character that, years ago, converted the phone box outside to a fish tank? You could sit outside enjoying a pint under the watchful gaze of a shoal of goldfish....

The Wilsons Arms, former fish tank still in place

Onward to Coniston, to the B & B, where I dropped off the car and bags, and a quick turnaround so that I was pretty soon at The Sun Hotel, where I had stayed on my last visit, and which is always the pub I make a beeline for on my return visits. With its stone-flagged floor, wooden beams, and almost permanently lit fire, it is the archetypal walker's bar. I ordered a pint of Loweswater Gold, and was pretty disappointed to have to return it as it was clearly end of barrel. I ordered a pint of Ulverston Laughing Gravy, an amber bitter which was a pretty solid NBSS 3. I followed up with a pint of Coniston XB, brewed just a few hundred yards away beside the Black Bull, which also warranted a rating of 3. The Sun was quieter than I could remember, even when I'd been in the winter months, and there was no problem getting a seat in the bar near the fire. It was slightly busier when I went in the following night, when I enjoyed a Swan Blonde from Bowness Bay (NBSS 3.5), but it was still quieter than I would have expected.

The Sun Hotel - always a pleasure to visit

I wandered down the road to the Black Bull. The home of the serial award-winning Coniston Brewery, based just around the back, no less. This is a large, sprawling pub with plenty of separate areas and a number of rooms where you can stay. On the walls are maps of the area, Bluebird memories (the vessel piloted by Donald Campbell that crashed as he attempted to break the world water speed record on Coniston Water in 1967), old photographs of the village, and numerous beer-related items, CAMRA awards, maps of breweries, etc.  The service was as polite and functional as usual, but you always get the impression here that the staff are drained after another bus load of tourists who are not interested in where they are but just want to be fed and watered. So sadly any attempts at conversation tend to be answered with polite smiles and a look that means I am not interested in chatting to anyone, however friendly you may be.  But to be fair, I ate at the Black Bull one night and the food was really good. Over the course of 2 days the beer was spot on and the best in the village. This was the former Champion Beer of Britain, Coniston Bluebird Bitter, as good as I could remember on any of my many previous visits, easily worth a NBSS 4. So there was some lovely food, great beers, and these were my most enjoyable visits for years, but sadly you can't escape from feeling that you are just another customer on table number 21....

I wandered across the road to the Yewdale Inn, where a group were sat at a large table. One leapt up and said "Sorry we're closed". The door hadn't been, but as soon as I said my apologies and turned back, the key was turned, the latch dropped, and the outside lights switched off. Not one to bear grudges - usually - I went back the following night when I had an ok pint of Cumbrian Loweswater Gold (NBSS 3) and some food, my second choice as my first wasn't available, but it was pretty decent. And the staff were friendly and attentive, so it was convivial enough, but on this visit The Yewdale seemed to lack the atmosphere it had had on previous visits over the years.

The Yewdale Inn, Coniston

The other pub in the centre of the village is The Crown, which was next door to where I was staying. So of course, it being just after 9, I went for a nightcap. It has always sold Robinsons beers and it normally has rooms available to stay, but on this occasion they were not. I was told the brewery had brought it back under direct control and they were presumably in transition. It has always seemed to attract more of the real locals as opposed to incomers and tourists then the other spots in the village, and on both nights I called in, that was still the case. That makes for a more authentic Cumbrian atmosphere than some of the pubs in the village. Sadly, that wasn't matched by the quality of the beer, which on both nights was ok at best. The Unicorn Bitter just about scraped a NBSS 3 on the second night, after a 2.5 the night before, whilst the half of Hopnik that was on keg was pretty dire. It features Citra and Centennial hops and has a 4.7% ABV, but I am sorry, it just seemed like a token effort to join the now well-established craft beer market. Another example of a well-established, successful family brewery coming late to a segment of the market that has been around for some time and not appearing to understand it.

The Crown Hotel, Coniston

It was good to re-visit Coniston after a gap of 2 years, and it was nice to stay at the B and B again that I have stayed at many times over the past 20 or more years, although it was 5 years since I had last been. I was made to feel very welcome, and I had the place to myself, reflecting the fact that it seemed quiet everywhere I went, more than I could ever remember in the Lakes. They have been difficult times in these parts over the past 2 years, with the pandemic and then the recent storms which left Coniston without power for several weeks, and ripped up hundreds of trees, all too apparent from my trips around the area. And there seems to be a shortage of labour too, several places I visited or walked past be it pubs, shops, or cafes had signs outside or in the window advertising vacancies. I am sure the resilience and resourcefulness of the area will come to the fore as usual, but it clearly is a concern to those I spoke to who have vacancies to fill.

Coniston Water at Coniston

I went to Hawkshead in search not of beer, but of a new walking jacket and some nice cheese. I did, however, find all of them. I parked up at the main car park in the village, and as I walked out of the car park, I spotted what turned out to be a craft beer bar, which was not something I expected to see here. As I walked past on my way to the village shop in search of cheese, it seemed as if every building was either having its roof done or being painted in anticipation, no doubt, of customers returning in the coming weeks. Cheese duly bought, I re-traced my steps to Kittchen, which if you asked me how to describe it I would say yellow and cat-friendly. The bar's strapline is 'Pussy & Pints', and several were asleep on chairs or above radiators, or walking around when I upstairs to use the facilities. The house beer is Catpissed IPA, brewed by Fell Brewery, and in deference to the cats, no dogs or children are allowed. The beer is served from a bar in the kitchen, where they rustle up a variety of nachos, hot dogs, cheese-based dishes, and nibbles. The bar is craft only, with bottles and cans in a fridge, and during an enjoyable conversation with owners Luke and Em, Luke said he wasn't sure whether they would ever offer cask. We chatted whilst I enjoyed a Lakes Session DDH Pale. I asked about the room upstairs, which has a stage and isn't particularly yellow compared to elsewhere. They have had quiz nights, and open mic nights, and later in the year they have some spoken word events planned. They also organise ghost tours around the village and area under the name of 'Tallow Tales'. The bar has been open for about 4 years, and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. I wish Luke and Em well, they have created a bar of character that stands out from the traditional pubs in the village. The two are getting married later this year, and I look forward to calling in again. Well worth a visit, just remember it's no dogs or kids!

Kittchen, Hawkshead: Pussy & Pints....

It was time to head home, and pretty soon I was heading past Kendal. I stopped at Booth's at Kirkby Lonsdale to get some bits, and despite the town having a new Good Beer Guide that I'd not visited, I resumed my journey down the A65 once I'd done my shopping as I wanted to stop off at a place in the Dales. I headed towards Ingleton and beyond, and turned off when I spotted the sign for Clapham, nestling in the shadow on one of Yorkshire's Three Peaks, Ingleborough. I parked up in the attractive village centre, beside the stream, and spotted my destination immediately. Just up the road from the long-established New Inn is the old manor house, now Lake House. I had been meaning to call in for ages, but obviously with all the disruption of the past 2 years it hadn't been possible. It is run by Damian and Nadine Lake, who were at Calan's in Hebden Bridge after Alan and Alyson, who'd opened the bar in 2015, had retired. I walked into a large kitchen where Damian was tapping away on a laptop. He got up when he spotted me, and took me through into another room with a bar in one corner and a large fireplace, introducing me to Will who was working behind the bar, and explained that Nadine was away. There were 2 cask  beers on, both from Wensleydale Brewery, although they usually have their own house beer from Elland. There were a number of keg beers on, and as I fancied something light and driver-friendly, I went for a Session IPA from Fell (them again). We sat down and had a good natter about the bar and beers and pubs in general, things back in Calderdale, and life in Clapham. The bar is only open from Thursday to Sunday, and closes at 7.00 as the previous bars in the building have always done so, but check on line to confirm. Damian said they get folk from the village using it as their local, whilst being where they are they get plenty of walkers calling as they come off Ingleborough seeking a pint and sustenance (pizzas and snacks are available).

It was great to chat with Damian and Will, and I have to say Lake House had a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere. I will definitely make a point of stopping off there again, and if you are in the area, do look them up. From there, it was back down the A65 and home to West Yorkshire after a pretty chilled out few days away....

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