Fenman goes west
Anticipating another Great British Railways TV programme with Michael Portillo looming on the horizon Fenman took to the tracks last August but without his Bradshaw, but with details extracted from Whatpub and the GBG of likely hostelries to be discovered on the journey. Not wishing to scare the horses or train drivers Fenman had left his psychedelic wardrobe of luminous jacket and kaftan at home.
Starting out from Crewe Station (no real ale) Fenman changed trains at Shrewsbury and arrived at Welshpool where he booked in to the Westwood Park Hotel. Yes Fenman was really abroad – across the border. No time for beer however as the Llanfair Railway beckoned with its steam trains. A very pleasant journey on the steaming Countess through the countryside alighting at Llanfair Caereinion where there was time to stroll to the village and a visit to the Goat Hotel. Here, in a low beamed gem of a pub, Monty’s Pale Ale from Monty’s Brewery, Montgomery was in top class form as was the 3 Tuns XXX from Bishops Castle. One of the regulars, a lookalike old goat himself was recounting sightings of skylarks and redstarts.
Tearing himself away Fenman then discovered the Black Lion, another gem, where Glasglyn Ale from Purple Moose was savoured. Back to the narrow gauge railway station and return journey to Welshpool, which was followed by a visit to the magnificent grounds of Powis Castle.
It was then time for more ale. The Pheasant Inn had Glaslyn Ale, Shropshire Gold and Salopian Rhapsody – a citrussy, grapefruit taste, an appetizer for dinner. Bistro 7, not a name you might associate with a real ale pub, but how wrong you would be with beers such as Firebrand Briony, Cross Pacific Pale Ale- forged in Cornwall, Surfin IPA (4.8%) from Bragdy Conwy Brewery, and Handmade Wandering Cleric (6%). A locals welcoming pub that even recommended other local eating houses whilst their kitchen was closed for the evening. The Westwood Park was the only disappointment in the cask ale department as their YPA was past its best. Still, the evening church bells of nearby St Marys more than made up for that as they rang out above the star spangled town.
Next day using his Arriva Trains 4 day special ticket Fenman boarded the train at Welshpool and 50 minutes later alighted at Machynlleth to some wet Welsh weather. A short walk to book in at the White Lion Hotel then back to the station to take the train to Tywyn and then a walk through the town to the Rheilffordd Talyllyn railway. Using his Arriva Trains voucher the skinflint Fenman obtained a 20% discount on the steam railway ticket and awaited the next train in the buffet bar nursing a glorious pint of Purple Moose Whakahari (4.3%) NZ ale. Boarding the narrow gauge train (well known to Fenland’s webmeister who is a committee man and volunteer with the Talyllyn Railway) Fenman travelled through some wonderful countryside and wildlife that included buzzards and red kites in, and close by, the trackside trees. A stop at the spectacular Dolgoch Falls and also at Abergynolwyn for refreshment (non alcohol type this time) and then return via Nant Gwernol and the Dyfi Forest, to Tywyn Wharf.
A stroll through Tywyn led to a visit to the White Hall where the King of Swing – Jimmy Anderson was on display – at 3.8%, not the cricketer but the ale of course, along with Ringwood Showmans Tipple (3.8%), and Hobgoblin Bountiful – ooer misses, A real handful (4%), read the pumpclip; probably best not described here!
Returning by the ever welcoming Arriva Trains to Machynlleth and to the overnight stay, the White Lion with 6 beers on included Paxtons Folly (3.8%) – end of barrel taste, Robinson Trooper (4.8%), Hobgoblin with a slightly different pump clip to the one in Tywyn – this was Bountiful Melons – again no further description needed, Banks Bitter, and Enville Brewery’s Enville Finger (4%) – pleasant, not overtly ginger. A wander into town to the not to be missed Foresters, an unpretentious pub with a backstreet feel but on the main road. Evan Evans’ CWRW (apparently meaning fruity and rich) at 4.2% was also a delight, as was the Bespoke Brewing Going Off Half Cocked (4%) and Forest Pale Ale (4.6%). Fenman engaged in beery and pub conversation with the landlord, who had no other customers at the time.
The next day another train journey, this time to Aberystwyth and after booking in to the Glengower Hotel on the seafront promenade Fenman made his way to the Vale of Rheidol Railway. The Arriva Trains 4 day package again coming in useful to obtain discount on the steam railway fare. Another spectacular journey through woods, past lakes and overlooking valleys and sheer drops the train made its way to Devils Bridge and the chance to explore the nature trail valley area and waterfalls by the 3 bridges.
Returning to Aberystwyth the Glengower offered a splendid range of ales; Red Bandit, CWRW, Purple Moose Cader Snowdonia, Wye Valley Butty Bach, and Shropshire Gold. An exceptional range of ever changing real ales (2 changing that very evening) and Fenman discovered from the landlord that although the premises were rented it was a Free House and he chose whichever beers he wished. A wet walk along the front to the Castle Hotel, an ex Roberts Brewery Tap, provided a GK beer with pump clip of green grass skirt and a beer entitled OLA (4.3%) along with Sunny Republic Hop Dog at 5.5% with citrus hops.
Although it took a little searching out the Ship and Castle (the clue was it was near the castle) was a gem not to be missed with Butty Bach, Dark Side of the Moose, HPA, Billabong Aussie Pale, and Pride & Joy from Vocation Brewery. Fenman sampling most of these tasty beers. One of the locals, now aged 87, had been coming to the pub for … years, loved travelling to California – but not any more. Well, why would he with all these grand ales to sup on your doorstep. Strangely enough a return visit 2 months later to the Ship and Castle the range of 5 beers consisted of Oakham Ales! Well evidently there had been a “meet the brewer night” previously hence all the Peterborough brews – however Butty Bach was still on so there was choice.
The next day a train trip to Borth for a wet walk round the town Fenman knew from the 1950s and 60s but no time to stop off at the Welcome Inn, the Victoria or the Railway, unfortunately. The return journey via Shrewsbury (no time to sample beer but a quick trip into town noted that the Yorkshire Post, by St Marys Church, has a plaque – “1787 Beer from Greenalls first brew of 37 original barrels”. It is assumed all has been long consumed by now but Fenman plans a trip back to that small terraced pub to check on current day ales.
And so back to Crewe Station – an excellent 4 day package on Arriva Trains, along with 3 narrow gauge steam railways, 12 pubs/ hotels and 37 ales mainly from small breweries. Utopia abroad.