Last Updated : 13/01/07
Kendal, Cumbria, 05/12/06 - by Gazza
et another trip – courtesy of work – was on the cards and, in keeping with my recent visits to eminently missable towns in the South-West, this was also to a place which I’d not visited for many years; Kendal. For those with a pitiful grasp of geography, let me enlighten you that Kendal is situated in the Eastern lakes, not far from Windermere, and close to the M6 – not that any of this gibber is of much interest, I just thought I’d waste a line or two to bulk up the word count a bit to a more Scoopergen-like level…
I was working at the Farley’s rusk factory on the outskirts of town but, before anyone gets any ideas that this is some kind of utopian-like establishment where a top-hatted Mr Farley strolls around, watch tucked into his waistcoat pocket, whistling merry tunes and exchanging pleasantries with his industrious proles, I’d better tell you that the Farleys factory is in fact just a mere cog in the multinational nefariousness which is the American HJ Heinz corporation… kind of shatters the fairytale image, doesn’t it?
Anyhow, I was working at Heinz for a couple of days and the possibilities of the area seemed boundless; with the ethos of un-desperateness firmly ensconced in my soul, the multitude of local micros whose wares I may be able to sample was impressive enough without the list of superb country pubs where they could be imbibed. I wasn't under any illusions that I’d score many beers – after all, Rick Pickup had told me that the only scooper in Kendal was usually to be found in Preston – but I was hoping for a decent haul of micro beers which I hadn’t drunk for a good few years and, if I was lucky, a few scoops from all the new kids on the block.
Withered by the precipitation.
The first day can be summed up thus; I drove to Kendal in a rainstorm which more or less lasted all day and then set in for the night as a mere bone-drenching downpour. I was staying out on the edge of town in the Castle Green Best Western where, despite being desperate to get out and drink some beers, I glumly stood in my room, nose pressed against the glass, listening to the howling gale hurl the bloated droplets against the glass; there was no way I could go out in this, I’d get soaked to the skin – and I didn’t fancy the mile walk into the centre anyway, never mind in this weather… therefore, my evening’s drinking in Kendal was over before it had even begun; rain stopped play is, I think, the correct phrase!
I settled for a few pints in the conveniently located pub within the hotel grounds (something Best Westerns seem to like doing) and, to my surprise, there were two handpumps on the bar – but the one dispensing Dent Kamikaze had just gone and wasn’t being replaced... cheers then! I had to make do with the distinctly average Theakstons Black Bull – which at least was cask, I suppose – to wash down my pretty good food before deciding to call it a night, although the weather had the last laugh on me as I became drenched walking the twenty metres from the pub back to the hotel! I just hoped the next day wouldn’t be as miserable as this…
A bit better… but not a lot…
Tuesday dawned as if it couldn’t quite make up it’s mind whether to reprise the preceding day’s monsoon or to have a go at something a little more upbeat. I had breakfast and, as my colleague and I headed out for the short drive to Heinz, the sky managed a little sliver of blue; maybe I’d be okay for my tour tonight, I hoped?
Showers developed during the day and at one point I was in doubt as to whether I’d see any of the local beers due to excessive precipitation, but eventually the weather relented enough for me to brave the elements and blag a lift from my extremely sociable co-worker, Dean, who seemed to relish in the role of taking me to a top pub! This was an extremely good start to the evening as it meant I didn’t have to walk a mile to the bus station and then wait ages for a bus to Ings… I calculated that I’d saved a good 90 minutes by Dean’s generous contribution and also saved being rained on as, yet again, the downpour set in as we drove along the A591 towards Ings.
When we got there I realised that there was one small thing I could have researched better before setting out; just where the Watermill pub was in the village! I’d assumed that, Ings being such a tiny place, it would be obvious – but, predictably, we saw no sight of it and were forced to ask in the local garage, who pointed us down an improbably narrow lane with a good few feet of water flowing along it and doing a passable impression of a stream in full spate. Happily the pub was only a short distance down the stream-cum-lane and so, within two minutes, I was shaking the rainwater from my coat as I entered the Watermill for what I hoped would be a decent selection of local beers including their own very hoppy, citrussy, American-styled brews.
“Water” a selection!
The Watermill turned out to be a cosy, low-ceilinged rustic-type pub which, had I not read information to the contrary on the wall, I would have assumed had been a tavern for centuries. The beer selection was my principle aim in visiting, however, so I hurriedly made my way to the bar and perused the extensive list of beers chalked up above the handpumps; nine beers were available, and a quick check of the trusty Mini-Aston confirmed that I required three of them – that’s three more than I thought I’d get, and a great bonus for the evening! I’d decided to catch the 555 bus from the village (although where the bus stop was I didn’t know) to Staveley in order to try Rick Pickup’s other recommendation, the Eagle & Child, where I intended to sample their delicious-sounding food and so made my way to a table clutching my first two beers of the evening.
I can tell that my desperate days have passed when I start doing absurd things like buying beers I’ve already had – and even more so when I buy them as a part of the first round and leave winners still on the bar; I’d never have done this even five years ago, as I’d have been shaking with trepidation lest my precious winners run dry before I had the chance to sample them! In my current ethical phase, however, I had no such qualms and happily ensconced myself at a small table with Watermill Colliewobbles (3.7%, dud) and Wylam Gold Tankard (4%, scoop) to inaugurate the evening’s drinking.
I’d chosen the Watermill for rather prosaic two reasons;
My first sip of the pale golden brew told me that my choice had been good, as the delicious taste of citrus hops and crisp maltiness washed over my tongue and quenched the quite substantial thirst I’d already developed; this was a well-balanced, well-flavoured and characterful beer and very impressive for it’s modest strength.
Next up was the Wylam. I’ve never been quite sure about their beers, finding them a bit more miss than hit, however this one was erring towards the latter; a golden beer, it was fairly fruity and bitter leading to a tasty, malty, bitter hop finish with only a touch of the cloying, farmyardy malt character which I find in many of their beers. That was a good start, I thought, and returned to the bar for the next two beers – I had plenty of time to spend in this cosy pub and, luckily, there were plenty of local beers to keep me happy! One problem, however, were the plateloads of delicious-looking food continually being paraded past my table; it smelt (and looked) superb, but I was determined to stick to my plan and try the food at the Eagle & Child and so - very reluctantly - resisted the food’s aromatic charms.
I returned with Hawkshead Bitter (3.7%) from their new brewery in Staveley plus an old favourite in the shape of Coniston Bluebird which I’d not tried for a good few years. The Hawkshead had a slight yeast haze to it which imparted some yeastiness to the flavour, slightly marring the experience, but underneath it all was a decent, honest malty beer with a surprisingly bitter edge fighting to escape. The Coniston was in perfect condition and exhibited a hoppy and deeply bitter character with lots of body and ended excellently complex and flavoursome; this massive taste belied it’s low ABV and pale golden colour, so hats off to Coniston for managing to pack such a superb beer into a low-strength golden body!
I had time for one last beer, and I’d been saving this one until last; Watermill Ruff Night (5%) was a scoop and had looked very pale indeed as I’d watched it being poured during my stint at the little table. I was soon in possession of the beer and studied it’s crystal-clear golden depths with interest; the brewer must be very brave to make a beer so pale or know exactly what he’d doing with regards to finings, I thought! Ruff Night was even better than it looked, exploding out of the glass with an intense resinous, hoppy bitterness with touches of citrus; this gave way to a fine maltiness that in turn lead on to a very long, bitter, dry and characterful finish with more dabs of citrus and grainsacks. It was so good I contemplated catching the next bus to Staveley, but that was a no-brainer move and would have left me with no time for my planned super-quick scoot around Kendal so, reluctantly, I finished my beer and headed outside.
Back into the rain.
Unsurprisingly, it was still raining, and I pulled on my hat as I left – to the strains of a Cumbrian piper who was stood in the doorway squeezing suitably melancholy sounds from his instrument. Trudging off into the rain I suddenly realised I didn’t know where the bus top was, although I had a good 15 minutes to wait, so reasoned I should be able to find it relatively easily within the time frame I had. I’d glanced each way down the lane and, as luck would have it, chanced on the correct way to go so, after crossing the busy A591, I was stood in the bus shelter within a couple of minutes, sheltering from the rain which still beat down outside.
The bus soon arrived – a proper double-decker, no less – and almost didn’t see me at the stop as I was clothed entirely in black! A single to Staveley turned out to be rather excessive, at £1.25 (I think) for the short mile and a bit trip, but I had no intention of walking in the prevailing meteorological conditions and so paid up and watched the very wet A591 swoosh by. As we approached the centre of Staveley the driver asked me where I wanted to be dropped; I asked if he went anywhere near the Eagle & Child, to which he laughed and said he’d get me as close as he could… with a bus stop directly over the road and, amazingly, a train station a few minutes away too (yes, it surprised me too; it’s on the Windermere line) this is a pub with enviable transport connections!
The pub was an attractive building with bay windows and a beer garden alongside the river Kent (at that current moment a raging torrent, swollen from days of rain) but the inside looked a lot more inviting than the sodden beer garden at that moment and so in I went, bagging a table near the bar and examining the handpumps - of which there were five - with four beers available, and one of them was a scoop! I quickly ordered halves of Cumbrian Legendary Wicked Jimmy (3.6%) and Yates’ Fever Pitch (3.9%, originally Summer fever) along with some deep-fried local cheeses (how very 1970’s!) and a Cumberland sausage from the local butcher with mash and gravy before retiring to my table with the huge proper log file spitting and crackling away to itself just across the room.
Heaven is a place on earth.
As I tried the beers I looked around and saw that this pub ticked most of the boxes to be a really good example of the species; it had a real fire, local (and scoopable!) real ales, subdued lighting, no crap music and, to cap it all, the food looked superbly home-made! Wicked Jimmy was a light amber beer, quite malty, but slightly cloying towards the finish – a touch more hop would have balanced it out a bit in my opinion. The Yates’ had a slight haze however was none the worse for that, having a nutty maltiness along with a subtle dry bitter taste before finishing long, rich, malty and with a nutty “grainsack” character that was reasonably moreish.
My food soon arrived and, as I’d hoped, it was simply superb; I tend to measure the quality of pub food everywhere against that in Germany and, in this respect, most UK pub food falls woefully short in both quality and quantity! This, however, was purely good, local food, simply prepared, letting the flavours speak for themselves and was excellent, probably the best UK food I’ve had since the Talbot at Knightwick a good few years back (the Teme Valley brewery tap, in case you were wondering) and I was a very happy geezer as I ploughed my way through the spicy, meaty, gamey sausage and delicious accompaniments.
With some time spare before the bus back to Kendal I decided on one more half for the road; Tirril Academy Ale (xx%) was a beer I’d not tried for a good while and so I enjoyed it’s toffeeish, chocolatey, mellow malty flavour as the minutes clicked by. Leaving the pub a few minutes early, I stood on the bridge a few metres away and watched the engorged torrent thunder past; it was strangely hypnotic to watch the swirling of the water as it raced under the arch and I almost forgot I had a bus to catch for a few minutes! Luckily, I remembered my purpose for being stood outside before the bus stormed past, and flagged the mini-bus down for the 20-minute ride into Kendal.
A Whirlwind tour.
My plan for the evening had gambled on there not being much scoopable in Kendal, as I had a mere 90 minutes to cover everything there! From the bus terminus I walked back over the river, noticing that the Phoenix on Stramongate looked closed & boarded up for good, before poking my head into one of the promising pubs on my list, the Castle. Three beers were on handpump, Dent Aviator, Jennings Cumberland and Hawkshead Bitter, and the hostelry gave the impression of being a well-run, sociable little pub; a darts match was in progress and the participants were partaking thirstily of the real ales, but sadly my schedule didn’t permit me to stay and sample the beer, as much as I would have liked to – a sad state of affairs, maybe, but I reasoned that I’d rather see all the pubs and then, the next time I was in town, re-visit my favourites.
Back across the wide (and also racing) river Kent I stomped, having a quick look in the aptly-named Bridge pub, only to see Pedigree as the only cask beer. I definitely wasn’t stopping for that dross, and so pressed on through the worryingly escalating drizzle back along Stramongate, where I saw that both the Masons arms and Dun horse were keg-only. A little further along I passed the Kent, looking closed for good, before locating my only real hope of a scoop that evening in the strangely-located (on the narrow one-way rat run of Lowther Street) and bizarrely-named (Burgundy’s) wine bar; Kendal was an unusual place!
Inside, Burgundy's was a strange mix of pub and wine bar. Four beers were on cask, Moorhouses Pendle Witch, Lancaster Dark side of the Lune (superb name!), a “mystery” beer, and Yates’ Fever Pitch which I’d only just scooped in Staveley! Ah well, one winner wasn’t bad, so a quick half of the Lancaster was in order as I took in the surreal surroundings; a huge Artois font towered over the bar, dispensing Artois Bock and the new Peetermans wheat beer, whilst the bar stretched back some considerable distance into the distance. I’m still not sure if I liked the place, but one thing you can’t say is that it’s not different! The beer itself was deep copper in colour, rich in chocolate malt, with a dry, malty bitterness and a plain chocolate finish; a very competent brown ale, and something I’d liked to have been able to drink a few pints of had I the time… which I didn’t.
At the top of Lowther Street I crossed Highgate into Allhallows lane heading for the local McSpoons; I’d been warned that this example was particularly poor and when I saw it’s neighbour, the tacky Last Orders (keg only, obviously), I realised that it obviously didn’t warrant much competition from the neighbouring pubs! The McSpoons itself was a lovely old stone building, looking like some kind of factory or mill and still complete with a towering chimney, but it must have had one of the worst beer ranges of any McSpoons I’ve looked in during the last few years and didn’t even warrant a head through the door it was that piss-poor!
I was on my homeward run now and called in at the Shakespeare on Highgate. This old coaching inn actually had a scoop to pump ratio of 100% across it’s two handpulls, but I flagged the Red Brick (Marston’s) Snowy Peak on ethical – and time – grounds and went with the Hydes Stormtrooper (5%). This was a sweetish, fruity amber beer, regrettably rather bland, with a cloying, sweet toffee finish and it almost made me wish I’d gone with the Marstons… but not quite! The pub itself was quiet, sociable, and seemed to have quite a few customers drinking the cask ales; never a bad thing! My time was now perilously short, however, so I forced the syrupy Hydes down my oesophagus and staggered off, feeling slightly nauseous, down the hill towards the Brewery arts centre.
I passed the New Inn, keg-only, and the Kendal Bowman, closed and boarded, before reaching the Arts centre – predictably closed at 22:55! - so I just took a few phots of the attractive old buildings before embarking on the long trek back to the hotel. Just before closing time I managed a quick look at the Wheatsheaf, serving Taylors Landlord, and the Ring ‘o Bells with it’s dazzling array of Greede Kerching beers which I think were Old Speckled Hen and Abbott, although I didn’t pay them much attention and could be totally wrong there… not that it really matters, as I’m sure no scoopers would ever want to go there on the off-chance anything rare was available!
The pubs having petered out I engaged my yomping legs and, with a look of fierce determination, set off along Parkside Road through faceless housing estates, along cricket grounds, beside fields, and finally under the railway before reaching the hotel a good half an hour later; that had been a long walk and I was so glad I hadn’t attempted it in the pissing rain the previous evening – it had been bad enough in the dry!
The Lakes is currently a breeding-ground for micros and must be one of the most brewery-intensive places in the UK at present. Kendal itself isn’t such a good town for scooping, although Burgundy’s seems to make an effort, however if you’re just after good beer there are a few other pubs worth a look-in where some local micro beer might be found; the Castle looked particularly “pubby” in the nicest possible way and I’d definitely give it a go if I had more than an hour in the town!
The best pubs though, predictably, are to be found out in the countryside around Kendal and the two I visited were both excellent; the Watermill is a cracking local’s pub with the attraction of ten or so local beers – including some brewed on the premises, which in my opinion have been superb so far, as long as you like citrussy American hops! The food also looked delicious and I’d definitely have eaten there had I not have promised my shekels to the Eagle & Child in Staveley. This pub is an absolute delight and is one of my favourite houses in Britain after just one visit; the food is truly superb (and mainly locally-sourced), the five beers seem to be local too, and it’s also well-connected to Kendal via the railway and 555 bus. A visit to both is easily done and I heartily recommend that anyone who finds themselves in Kendal should do my little jaunt for themselves to experience some excellent pubs and local produce – and maybe, just maybe, a few scoops too!
Beer of the Evening.
It just has to be the superbly citrussy and bitter Watermill Ruff Night (5%) which I sampled, appropriately enough, at the Watermill in Ings where it is brewed. I love the style of very pale, citrussy, bitter and marmaladey beers but know some people who hate them, so you may disagree with me on this one...!
© Gazza 13/01/07 V1.0