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Beer Garden Weather....

We had some welcome warm sun over last weekend, which sent many people heading off in search of pubs with beer gardens to enjoy an alfresco drink....

What a difference a bit of sun makes. The garden centres get busy, the supermarket shelves are stripped of salad, bottles of wine, and large boxes of beer, the drone of a distant lawn mower or hedge trimmer can be heard, and the distinct smoky whiff of a barbecue drifts seductively through the air. And for those pubs and bars with a beer garden or some other outdoor space, there is the anticipation of more custom.

And of course more pubs and bars these days have an outdoor space they can call their own. The relaxing of last year's lockdown on April 12th which only permitted drinking to be done outside led to a spike in demand for picnic tables, outdoor seating, and, for those with more space to play with, marquees, gazebos, and the like. For a few weeks thereafter we would sit, wrapped up in our winter clothing, some under a blanket for extra warmth, clutching an increasingly cold drink as an icy gale whipped through the air, until the warmer climes of May took over. For some places, particularly in city centres, bars were permitted to situate tables and chairs outside their premises, and with some towns and  cities deciding to close their streets to vehicles, it meant that tables could be moved out further than ever. But despite the cold and damp we often encountered, it was a big thing, for after months of being closeted away from family and friends it gave us the chance to reconnect

I was reminded of this in Manchester this weekend, where a number of the streets around the former bus hub of Stevenson Square are now closed and tables fill the spaces. Thomas Street in particular is now a sea of tables with bars and cafes spilling out from their bricks and mortar confines. Sadly, in Stevenson Square itself I noticed one bar that had changed its name since I had last called in and a neighbouring property that had closed down, with the sea of gleaming tables and chairs filling the void bereft of custom on what was a hot afternoon. But, to be fair, it was a Sunday, so maybe there are better times to be had on Fridays and Saturdays, but a part of me couldn't help wondering if this was a sign of the pressures facing the industry that I wrote about in my blog There's A Storm Brewing the other week.

Tables in Manchester's Northern Quarter

We had sat outside a little earlier at the Crown and Kettle, where tables have been put outside the entrances on Oldham Street and Great Ancoats Street. Whilst on the one hand it was great to be out in some lovely sunshine watching the Manchester world go by, it didn't help the rather nice pint of Peak I was drinking from the local Wander Beyond brewery who seem to have upped their game considerably of late. Hot sun and cask beer are not easy bedfellows and whilst I love being outside in the sun immensely I have to admit that nowadays - and possibly as a result of the enforced outdoor drinking of last year - I am generally happier on balance these days to drink and enjoy my pint of cask in the cooler atmosphere of the bar inside rather than risk my beer warming up in the sun outside. Which is what I had done the previous day at the Market Tavern in Brighouse, where there is a lovely small beer garden on the market side of the pub, and where I have sat many times and enjoyed a pint and the craic with whoever happens to be there. And like the Market Tavern, there are many places where I have enjoyed a pint in the outdoors over the years, and it got me thinking about the best ones I have drunk in. Here are a few that have stuck in mind, although I am sure there are many more that I have forgotten!

There is one place that I always feel is a special place when I get chance to visit, and that is the terrace at the Sun Inn in Coniston in the Lake District. Situated slightly up from the village, you have a fantastic view of the surrounding mountains, a timeless view which I never tire of seeing. With the sound of sheep bleating from neighbouring fields in the background, it is a great place to chill on an evening after a day's walking on the fells, just pottering about, or enjoying that welcome first pint on arrival from the busy world back home.

Sun Hotel, Coniston, looking towards the fells

The Lakes is full of pubs with great beer gardens, far too many to mention, but two more that I particularly like are the Old Dungeon Ghyll, situated a few miles away from Coniston in Langdale, which sits below some of the finest fells in one in one of the most beautiful valleys in the National Park, where you can sit with a pint looking up to where you've just walked, or just stare in awe at the stunning views of the mountains. By way of a contrast, in the lower fells of South Lakeland there is the Masons Arms on the delightful sounding Strawberry Bank on Cartmel Fell, in the Lyth Valley which heads north off the A590 road to the Furness Peninsula. The beer garden is surrounded on three sides by road with the pub making up the other boundary, and makes a great viewing point with the attractive countryside spilling out into the distance. Incidentally, the Lyth Valley is famous for growing damsons, and for a while, not too long ago, a beer featuring the local fruit was brewed on the premises at the Masons Arms. 

Looking out from the Masons Arms, Cartmel Fell

Other favourites of mine are in Newcastle, where the fantastic topography of the Tyne Valley combined with the wonderful bridgescape built to cross the river and enable the traffic to flow has created one of the most spectacular cities in the country. In the Ouseburn area to the east of the city, there are several spots where it is great to sit and enjoy a pint in the fresh air. One is the Free Trade Inn, whose beer garden affords tremendous views across the Tyne, with the Baltic Exchange, Sage, Tyne, and High Level bridges with the river the centre point. I have to admit though that I have never sat in the garden at the Free Trade, preferring to sit inside by the windows which give a slightly higher aspect to the view outside. Sadly, plans are afoot to build an ugly apartment block on empty land on the riverside below, which would effectively diminish the view from the pub and beer garden alike, but with fierce  opposition from the pub, local people, and plenty from farther afield, it has to be hoped that these don't come to pass.

All through that part of the city there are pleasant places to sit and enjoy a beer outside. The Tyne Bar, situated at the confluence of the Ouseburn Beck, has plenty of outdoor seating, some under the shadow of a bridge ferrying passing traffic out towards Walker, Wallsend, North Shields, and the coast, whilst follow the path up the side of the beck to the Cluny, where a grassy space opposite which acts almost as a de facto village green and is a great spot to enjoy a pint. And a little up the hill, almost in the shadow of the former railway bridge that now transports the Metro line, the Ship has a pleasant enough beer garden. But my favourite is the garden at the Cumberland Arms, a short walk up a cobbled path, where the trees act as a screen to the busy city beyond, with the suburb of Byker further up the hill. A pint in the beer garden here in this semi-rural oasis is one of life's great pleasures. But further north, on the Northumberland coast, is a pub whose setting takes some beating. 

Set amidst three sides of old fisherman's cottages facing the sea, the Ship at Low Newton-by-the-sea is outwardly a fairly low-key pub set at the far right hand corner as you stand with your back to the sea.  The pub has been brewing its own beers, which are only available on the premises, since 2008 and has become a popular calling point for visitors to this area, situated a few miles south of Seahouses with the ghostly silhouette of Dunstanburgh Castle on the headland at the far end of the bay. Inside, it is a typical coastal pub whose decor features plenty of maritime memorabilia, but it comes into its own outside. There is a small beer garden, but it can get busy, with many people opting to sit on the grass out front to enjoy their food and drink. No cars other than those belonging to locals are allowed in this beautiful village, and there is a small car park a few hundred yards back up the hill catering for visitors. But despite the fact the pub is often busy, there is an innate calm about the place, and drinking a pint overlooking the sea here is a wonderful experience.

The Ship, Low Newton-by-the-sea, Northumberland

So there's a few places where I have really enjoyed an outdoor pint over the years, and that is not to say that when the mood and weather takes me I am not happy to drink outdoors at many of the pubs close to where I live, many of which have got some great spaces in which to enjoy some sun. But, as I said earlier, these days I find that I tend to prefer to enjoy drinking my pint indoors, whatever the weather....

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