Ramblings: Ludlow

Something a bit different; a birthday trip to Ludlow with my Dad and my sister to their annual medieval fair.

The drive westward seemed to take us to places that existed soley to keep GPS manufacturers in fat profit. Having finally made it into Shropshire, then Herefordshire, then Shropshire again, we saw many signs for Ludlow. All of which pointed perpendicular to those for the fair's park and ride sight. That was over on the racecourse - literally over the circuit (twice) and several fairways (what a great place to put a golf course).

The really rural minibus, which had a wonderful pigshit-and-mud motif, deposited us outside a pub (yay!) The Feathers is a splendidly overfussy building and would have made a good first beer of the day if it wasn't for the fact that it didn't open for another hour.

Into the fair itself - and what a spectacular setting Ludlow Castle is.

I'm now kicking myself for not taking many photos but I was rather busy eating (smoked pumpkin seeds, fat juicy olives, venison burgers) and shopping (pottery dragons, pewter christmas tree decorations and this rather nifty leather mug)

And drinking, of course. So let's concentrate on that. First up was a warming cup of punch (still really fresh and fruity). Then on to the real deal, starting with Gwatkin cider and perry. I sampled three bottled ciders and perries, the sparkling perry being particularly good. My mostly-non-alcohol drinking sister was game enough to try the cider but preferred what the stallholder called 'emergency mouthwash', their pure apple juice.

I had to try the draught Farmhouse Perry. This was practically pea-green, thoroughly opaque and ruddy lovely.

The next booze stop that morning was the Ludlow Brewery bar, set up in the basement of a ruined tower. Straw on the floor, barrels set on a trestle table, sausage smoke wafting over from the next stall.... wonderful stuff. As was the beer; I sampled The Boiling Well which was a solid, dry bitter.

By lunchtime, we're all beginning to run out of cash so we headed back into town to find a hole in the wall. And, as this meant passing by a decent looking pub, I couldn't resist dragging the folks in.

The Church Inn was a bustling, welcoming place with a great mix of the traditional (roaring open fire, wooden settles), the local (sausages from different town butchers) and the modern (an eclectic music selection driven by an ipod). Just enough time here for my first handpulled Hobson's Mild (lovely, understated stuff) since it won CAMRA Champion Beer of Britian and a glass of Weetwood Eastgate Ale (solid beer from a brewery I don't get to try too often).

For the record; the RS percentage was a healthy and tempting 50%.

Back into the fair and the last beer of the day from the Ale Tent run by Woods. Plenty of hey-nonny-nonnering going on here but that didn't distract from a good half of Old Fireside.

An excellent day out here, the fair was well planned out, solid underfoot, good range of stalls and quality food & drink.

On the way back to the bus, an unexpected bonus, A sign pointed the way to Marches Little Beer Shop - a treasure trove of stuff including their own beers. A large bottle of Brook Farm dry cider, some Teme Valley T'Other and Marches Winterfest were eagerly snapped up.

Back to the bus and the racecourse eventually; homeward bound via a 'short cut' over Clee Hill which made us want to go back there one day in the sunny summer. There followed a quick nap, waking up just in time to stop us driving to Wolverhampton.

Great day with good drinks, super shopping and a fun time with my family. Can't wait to do it all again in 2008!


Fest of fun: Derby Winter CAMRA

Now then, there have been fests of fun since the last Derby one. Tamworth always has superb beers in terms of both beer quality and new brewer representation. And the town has a superb proper sweetshop (sweets sold by the quarter, liquorice - possibly - sold by the foot). Melton Mowbray had the killer combination of dependable beers, proper pork pies, farmers market cheeses and an amazing real ale chutney. Nottingham is, well, Nottingham: hundreds of beers, meeting up with good friends, waiting for someone to knock the drown alarm (yes, it really is set up in a swimming pool).

It's just that I couldn't be too arsed to write about them at the time. Will try harder this year. So, for the next fest of fun it's a case of everything's different yet everything stays the same.

The Derby CAMRA Winterfest is held, like the summer one, at the Assembly Rooms but only in the titchy Darwin suite. The panto is still in full swing at the Great Hall, so us beer drinkers are shoehorned into the one room. Well, there is also a quiet family room (which, ergo, is rarely quiet).

With one smaller room and all beers on handpump, compromises have to be made. 90+ beers and 34 handpumps require it. So, it's one beer off, one beer one, which pees off some of the tickers and anyone insane enough to travel to the fest just to sample one particular brew. Let's face it - there's never any guarantees of beer availability at any festival - it could never turn up, explode on the way, fail to drop... here's where Reluctant Scooping works best; you ditch the programme, look up at the current list and go with the flow. The beer names are displayed on posters strung high above the bar, and there's sometimes a frisson of excitement when the cellarman gets his pole out (ahem; the kind you use to open skylight windows), spears the sheet naming the beer just gone and swings up a fresh one.

One great plus point of this fest is the third pint; OK, it's slightly more expensive per se but it allows plenty of less-than-reluctant scooping. This works particularly well for the higher ABV beers; not saying I struggle with half a pint of ten-percenters but it's good to be able to try three nips in place of two halves.

I managed three sessions this year;

Thursday - a swift night-time visit to try those first night beers. The festival special, Brunswick Malvolio, was OK in a reasonable borderline ESB way; Leadmill East Mill was a fairly flat brown ale; Abbeydale Advent was a refreshingly pale and crisp. The beer of the evening by a humoungous margin was Brewdog Paradox; so it was always the way before, so it always shall be. Beer of a wholly different class.

Friday - met up with some of the lads from my halcyon days of lunchtime Brunnie boozing, all sat at one of the ticker's top tables (Mick the Tick was just disappearing off to the 'Pot with a hefty trollyfull already).

Beers were changing thick and fast, my pork pie from Walter Smith was hastily demolished by the old lags, plenty of banter abounded and, yes, I couldn't resist a pinch of Brian's snuff (the stuff I swear he cuts with fibreglass). Some good beers had here; Derventio's Arminius, John Thompson's Rich Porter and Marble Stouter Stour were real standouts. A trip up to the Flowerpot afterwards did garner a good Harviestoun beer and some others which, of course, I have no idea what the ruddy hell they were.

Saturday - my missus was ready and willing to try some ciders and perrys, so we went down early and set up camp in the foyer (as a wheelchair user, Rebecca doesn't find the Darwin suite too pleasant when it's cramped). It was a busy lunchtime session which led to a good natured atmosphere. After a few beers, we were joined by a stalwart ratebeer.com reviewer, DJ Monarch. Some really excellent beers today - Bottle Brook Imperial Stout, White Shield Calcutta and Brewdog Hardcore were superb. Some fairly standard bitters in the mix as well (Nutbrook Or8 and White Shield Brewery tap were solid if undemanding). Neil and I shared a couple of German bottles that weren't on the original list; Aldersbacher Kloster Weiss and Unertl Gourmet Weiss, the Aldersbacher perhaps just shading it. And with soft estery notes and super carbonation, it was difficult to go back to flat cask beer. Well, it's a dirty job but someone's gotta do it... Rebecca, meanwhile, was working through the ciders and perrys with an occasional break for dandelion & burdock. Not the best time of year for a wassailing partaker, caught on the cusp of 2007's dwindling stock and very early 2008 releases. But she found a cracking perry - Olivers Traditional, medium dry with a whisky finish.

So, truly a fest of fun; great beers, good atmosphere, good to catch up with old friends. Can't wait for the summer fest!