Here I’ll continue an epic series of blogposts about our trip to the British Isles this summer. I’ve been working on developing pictures for the series so I’m a bit behind. This issue has less minis due to rain and darkness interfering with my picture taking. Much like last year’s trip to Germany and the Czech Republic, this was a self-organized tour with our friends Jim and Lori Stroner, as well as my wife Sarajo (Sj) and myself. I’ll be posting a day-by-day travelogue of the trip as I organize and go through my multitude of pictures. While the posts won’t be fully about beer–there will be a focus on good pubs, real ale, distilleries, and food! So here goes: enjoy!
This fine morning we packed up our growing amount of luggage into the car and Jim drove us out of Scotland and back into England. Our first stop was the Island of Lindisfarn off the northeast coast. This is a tidal island and one has to drive along a causeway to get to it. Depending on the tides, the causeway is often underwater and you have to be careful when you drive out there and when you return! About once a month someone needs to be rescued after swamping their vehicle on a submerged causeway. As we drove along this stretch of road we could see muddy salt flats one one side and grass covered dunes along the other. We were there early and the road had just opened up shortly prior to this so puddles were still present on the roadway. Lindisfarne is described as a Holy Island and there is a Pilgrim’s Walk across the low-tide flats which is marked with posts for pilgrims to slog through to get to the island.
On the island is a very cute little town, hosting a couple of cafes and gift shops. There is also Lindisfarne Meadery which we just had to stop at. Knowing a bunch of the best mead makers in the world, I was underwhelmed with the overly sweet honey/wine blend meads here, but it was still cool to get to try them.
From the meadery and the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory, we walked along the coast toward Lindisfarne Castle (built in the 1500’s). The boats in the water were all on dry sand due to the low tide and I could have used some more time to photograph them–but we were on a timetable and there is no rest for the wicked! We were able to see the castle but ended up not going all the way up to it, content to take some pictures from afar and get headed back to the mainland.
Part of the reason we moved out of Lindisfarne quickly was to have more time in the town of Alnwick (pronounced Ann-Ick). This is another fairly small town with some history, and host to a large occupied castle. More on that later! For now we parked and found our way to a pub for lunch: the Black Swan. This was the first place we had actually found lamb stew and we all ordered this in excitement. It was not great though–greasy, tough, more like mutton stew. The place had several cask beers but the bartender didn’t really know anything about them and didn’t drink beer at all. The Firebrick Brewery’s Stella Spark pale was pretty good (3.75). The Motorhead ale (amazing tap handle) from Cameron’s was a nasty and buttery mess. Lemmy would not be proud. Most of the town seemed to be closed down and not many shops were open, but it was cute.
We arrived just in time for one of the organized tours of the castle grounds, along with a sizeable group of other tourists. The history lesson was cool, and the castle grounds were impressive to behold. Parts of the Harry Potter movies and Downton Abbey were filmed here as well. While on our tour, a couple of people dressed in costumes (the man with a terrible fake beard) came out and played instruments for the public, giving a little more ancient Britain vibe to the place.
Once this tour was finished, there was a tour of the inside of the castle following it immediately. This was a cool experience since the castle is actually lived in part of the year and not a gutted ruin like many of the others we visited on the trip. Currently owned by the Duke and Duchess Percy, it was fun to see all the old portraits and get more history of the various periods of ownership and renovations that the castle had been through. Interestingly, Lori stayed here for a semester back in college so it was like a bit of a homecoming for her to return so many years later. Yes I’m calling her old!
The House of Trembling Madness
Once we had finished our long-ish tours, feet aching, and backs twisted, we headed back to the car and on our way to the day’s final destination: York. We found our B&B, the Bronte Guest House in the city and headed out into the damp heat to get dinner. We decided on The House of Trembling Madness as our desired stop. Downstairs is a mostly beer and cider store featuring bottles and cans of a bewildering amount of craft and imported beers to choose from. Taking the narrow stairs up, we found ourselves in a cramped and tiny pub space filled with small tables, walls coated in old taxidermied animal heads, and loud discussions. Despite the crowd, we found a table big enough for us near a window with a rare but needed breeze blowing through.
A tiny–and I really mean tiny–bar was occupied by three slim young blonde ladies, who were working their tails off. In a space under 10 feet square, these three were making large plates of charcuterie, warming meat pies, serving beers, and cleaning up. With the closeness and heat, they were dressed lightly and were earning their keep. I was impressed with how well the three of them worked in that space, never bumping each other, even sometimes swaying/dancing to the music in time without realizing they were in step with each other.
I ended up getting the venison pie and it was amazing. Sj got one of the charcuterie plates and was very happy with her dish as well. They had a large selection of both cask and tap beers to choose from, most from craft breweries. There were more IPA and American pale ales here than most places we visited, but it was nice to mix things up a bit. Stand-outs from the beers we sampled were Wilde Child’s Brownie Hunter (a great chocolate milk stout), Beaverton’s Neck Oil (a session IPA), and Polly’s Brew Citra Mosaic IPA. I also had a great cask pale ale that clocked in at 2.8% ABV but can’t remember what the brewery was. Super refreshing in the heat! While eating we ended up talking to our nearest neighbors, a couple of tatooed and metal-looking guys from a nearby town who were singing along to the 80’s pop songs playing over the speakers. Everyone was so friendly and having a great time that this was a near perfect experience. An interesting pub that mixes the best of old-school pubs with new-school craft beer and vibe.
We stopped at the beer store downstairs on the way out and purchased some unusual craft beers for later. Then, not content to be finished for the evening we headed to another nearby pub.
The York Arms
Our last pub of the day was The York Arms. This is a very classic pub whose name has been unchanged since the 1860’s, and seems to be a local hang-out. Coming in, there was a large group of locals talking by the bar, while the rest of the place was fairly empty. This is a Samuel Smith’s tied house so had all Sam Smith beers on tap. This was just fine, since we hadn’t had any of these beers so far on the trip. We ended up sharing a few half pints in order to try as many as possible. Overall the beers were good and the vibe authentic, with my favorite beer being the Extra Stout. Signs forbidding swearing were present at the bar and I think they actually meant it! Looking up the brewery as I write this, it looks like a few weeks ago the brewery closed abruptly, so I’m not sure of the current status of the place.
Once the ladies had once again been dropped off at home, Jim and I grabbed our tripods and headed into the dark. We walked to a small but incredibly quaing street called The Shambles. This used to be a meat market but is now taken up mainly by small curio shops, including several selling Harry Potter related merchandise, and certainly could have been a inspiration for Diagon Alley from said franchise. Shop fronts hang over the street and old cobbles line the narrow street. At night, this was nearly empty, but for a few late night pedestrians wandering into the area via one of several small snickelways (pedestrian alleys) that dot the area. With our tripods and long exposure people walking through our shots didn’t even usually show up in the pictures.
At one point during our shooting, a man was in front of us talking to what we thought was the voices in his head, but ended up being his cat, who had come out of an upper apartment window and was stalking along the eaves of the building. Later, in the daytime we discovered that there are several cat statues hidden throughout this area of York, including ones on the edges of buildings and along the eaves. I swear we saw a real cat and not one of these come to life. And with this shot done, we headed back to bed.
Ruined Church/Abbey: 8
Unesco World Heritage Sites: 5
Diagon Alley: 1