Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Welland Valley Beer Festival - Sun, Cider & Skibbereen

Every year, the Welland Valley Beer Festival gets busier and busier. Bad weather doesn't seem to hold the event back, and good weather can only add to the popularity of what is largely an outdoor event. This year was a scorcher, and it seemed as if everyone in the valley and beyond had come to drink in the atmosphere.

Saturday was a family day out for us, with champion perry pear pickers Paul & Sue arriving in the valley just in time for opening at the Royal George. Ray, Gail, Karen and myself left them to it for a short while, having no great desire to down a breakfast pint after the late night Friday session. Instead we all met up for a couple of ciders at the Red Lion, where trade was building nicely at midday.

Travelling on the vintage buses is an integral part of the day out on Saturday, so after a bit of a wait due to some technical difficulties with the service, it was off to picturesque Lyddington to start the day proper. The Marquess of Exeter has only recently re-opened following a lick of paint and a bit of a gastro makeover. Celebrity chef Brian Baker is at the helm, and was keen to be involved in this year's festival. I must say, Brian and his team made a very good job of it, with a marquee and BBQ set out on a grassy area at the rear of the pub, and a novel cask-cooling system adapted from garden irrigation tubing. Ciders were from Gwynt-Y-Ddraig, including a very good single variety Dabinett. The food was good, Rutland Morris Men shook their hankies with aplomb, and we all cheered as Rob from the Welland Valley Drinking Team received a verbal warning (and a hefty slap across the face) for his latest act of booze-sozzled mis-behaviour...

On to Harringworth for the White Swan, principally for a drink, but also for the chance to play Giant Jenga in the courtyard. We travelled on a lovely old double-decker which gave us an opportunity to see parts of the Welland Valley countryside not usually visible from ground level. A nice journey then, but sadly, we never made it to Harringworth!

As the bus pulled into Seaton, a rumour rippled down the bus that the White Swan had ran out of beer! Now a pub without beer may still be attractive to some, but not to us, and certainly not on a day like this, so a snap decision was made and off we got for a swift jar at the very busy George & Dragon.

A pint of the ubiquitous Gwynt-Y-Ddraig cider hit the spot, and it was decided the best bet for continued ease-of-drinking was to hoof it back homeward on the next available bus. A shame, as the George & Dragon is a fine pub, but the cider had now ran out, and the beer looked likely to follow shortly. The journey back to Cottingham was a jolly affair, with much singing of songs, and grinding of gears on the steep climb past Rockingham Castle.

The terrace at the Royal George was packed with a good-natured crowd, gently swaying to the trad-jazz sounds of the Welland Valley Stompers. Cider was in short supply, so I switched to something golden and hoppy, the festival special ale, 'Teck' It To Ride from the local Potbelly Brewery. Other beers were consumed here, but you'll perhaps forgive me if I can't remember what they might have been!

Rather than rolling down the hill to Middleton, we went on a short safari along the Jurassic Way footpath to the Red Lion. Here we had a final few ciders before Paul & Sue had to leave for Market Harborough and the train home. At this point it seemed like a good idea to break for something to eat. We retired home to demolish a huge leg of rare-breed pork which had been cooking very slowly in the oven for around 24 hours now. A tender treat, washed down with a bottle of Whin Hill Yarlington Mill Cider that Ray & Gail had brought along for the occasion.

Suitably fed, it was back to the Red Lion for more cider, and good-time traditional Irish music from the mighty Skibbereen. The pub was heaving, and the beer barrels were rapidly being drained. The bar staff had glazed but happy looks on their faces, and the atmosphere was as good as it gets. The Hucknall Cider Co, and Rockingham Forest ciders were also running out, so my final act of an exhausting day was the delivery of a last minute barrel of our Welland Valley Special to help keep the party swinging until closing time.

Phew! I think that the 2009 Welland Valley Beer Festival may well have been a success.

No comments: