Friday at the Welland Valley Beer Festival is predominantly 'locals night', where villagers and those from slightly further afield get to preview some of the ales and ciders ahead of the big day on Saturday. The delightful vintage bus service on Saturday helps to bring folk into the valley from near and far, and the good reputation this event has gained in previous years meant that this year was busier then ever.
We started the Saturday of the festival with a quick cider delivery to the Red Lion in Middleton, which had taken a bit of a hammering the night before. At 10.30am the pub was already full to the gunnel's, with the first buses of the day from Market Harborough, and a coach party from the Alexandra Arms in Kettering combining to create the sort of crush at the bar rarely seen these days, more's the pity! A swift half of something beery with brother Paul and sister-in-law Sue, before we headed up the valley on a red double-decker, barely squeezing under the railway arch into Gretton. The Welland Valley Olympic Drinking Team were already in rude voice down below. I think they disembarked to terrorize the gentle folk of Gretton, whereas we chugged on to Seaton to meet up with 'two-glugs' Tom, and brother Nigel, both drinking pints, both totally out of their depth.
The George & Dragon at Seaton has a very fine view of the Welland Valley Viaduct on a clear day. Unfortunately this wasn't a fine day, but the magnificent spans of the viaduct still looked impressive even through the drizzly mist hanging over the valley. We had a few beers in the garden before catching the bus back to Harringworth for the White Swan, a good pub on any day of the week, but certainly one of the best of the festival. The ales and ciders were set up in the garden/car park, as was a whole host of slightly soggy traditional pub games. A giant Jenga game ensued whilst Nigel & Tom battled it out on the Connect Four. Ray & Gail threw balls down the skittle chute to varying effect. Nice work White Swan people.
The next stop was the beery highlight of Gretton. Three pubs all overflowing with beers, ciders and thirsty customers. The Hatton Arms furnished us with a few juicy cuts from a pig which had been specially fattened for the event, and a chance to compare and contrast a couple of East Midlands ciders. We then headed up the hill to the Talbot's very well organised beer tent, and finally the very, very busy Blue Bell. By the time we rolled back down to the Hatton, things had got very busy here too. It was time to jump on a bus and get closer to home.
Whilst Karen called it a day, and most of the others headed off to Ashley for buses back to Market Harborough, Ray, Gail and I went for a final flurry at the Royal George in Cottingham. The weather had improved by now and after a beer on the decking we followed the Jurrasaic Way to the Red Lion for another final flurry. Excellent Corby band Skibereen were just striking up in the bar, so the final drink became a final few before we finally headed home in the fading light. A great end to a fine day out.
We finished the festival on Sunday with visits to the George at Ashley and Sondes Arms, Rockingham, before a final few in our local the Red Lion. The Castle Inn at Cladecott was the only pub we didn't get to.
This year's festival was notable for two things. Firstly, the bus service seemed to cope better than last year, all praise for which must go to the drivers and owners of the vehicles, and festival organiser Karl Tecklenberg for working out such a good timetable. Secondly, the pubs were at times struggling to deal with the shear number of people enjoying the festival on the Saturday. It would be nice to think that a few of these folk enjoyed their visit to the pub so much, they might like to do it again a few times this Summer, and thereby help out the beleaguered licensees of these fine village locals.
Footnote: Due to my almost complete inability to take photos of this year's event, I've had to cobble together a range of pics from more than one year. The Viaduct pic was obviously taken on a rare bright day in the valley, the picture of the festival bar at the Hatton (featuring a rare sober-ish image of Welland Valley Drinking Team member 'Gattlin' Gun' Rob) comes from the 2007 event, and the bus, which is the one we came back on, is from 2006.