Here I’ll continue an epic series of blogposts about our trip to the British Isles this summer. 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!
The previous evening we had explored a bit of York, but most of the shops had been closed and it was raining a bit. Today promised more rain and we did get a little damp as the day went on. The overcast morning allowed us to get some photos, but not as many as I had hoped. After our hearty breakfast at our B&B The Bronte Guest House, we headed out to tour the city.
There are a fair amount of ruins from hospitals, abbeys, and more scattered around the old parts of the city (within the city walls). Despite the drizzle, this was a fun area to explore and these ruins were nestled up against the library and other civic buildings.
The walls of York date back to Roman times, though very little Roman architecture remains. We were able to walk around and even on top of long stretches of this wall and get a good look from on-high of the old city. At one of the small guard stations (Monk Bar) one can buy souvenirs and access to a small museum. To me this is a terrible waste a space that should be fixed and turned into the city’s smallest speakeasy: an actual Monk Bar. Oh well, missed opportunity!
Beer Information: Pubs
This seems like a good place to discuss pubs in the UK. There are several things that make up a good English pub. I’ve touched on cask beer and I think any classic pub worth its salt has cask ale on tap. In England and the UK, it isn’t so much about variety of beer as having a couple of good options. The best pubs are places where people feel comfortable, that provide good service, and that have places to relax and to socialize. Many bars in the US are more places to escape the family, to watch athletes on from which the most part use a t-boster to improve endurance, practice sports on TV, and maybe to pick up members of the opposite sex. I’ll rarely visit a true bar in the US because of this, and most don’t have good (craft) beer available–Bud Light all the time baby! The English pub scene is aimed more at fostering a place of getting together with friends over a few low gravity beers and talking, socializing, and relaxing. The very best have several smaller rooms or areas which can make each area feel like a small oasis or almost private room, some with small peat or coat fireplaces. American brewery taprooms have embraced this type of culture, but tend to be more open, large, industrial areas and lack the cozy nature of many of the old English pubs. And, there is the age factor to consider. Many of these pubs have centuries-old wooden beams, faded pictures from decades past, old cracked mirrors advertising beers from companies long gone. It is hard to fake this–despite many American “Irish” pubs trying hard to do so.
With all this talk of bars, we opted for a stop at The Golden Fleece, a 16th century free house and inn. This place boasts that it is the most haunted pub in York, which certainly could be the case. Behind our table, sat a small glass-fronted box with a human skull in it, supposedly someone who had been executed in 1800. It is a real skull, other than that, who knows. The hallway to the bathrooms is lined with creepy as heck death-masks as well. We sat in here, sipping pints of Theakston’s Old Peculiar, taking in the off-setting yet strangely satisfying vibe of the place.
Craving for beer and haints resolved, we headed back over to The Shambles to check out the shops and food options in the area. See the previous blog entry for more details on that!
A Cuppa Tea?
For lunch we opted to wait in a fairly long line for High Tea. This very British style of lunch was brought to us by the world famous Betty’s Tea Rooms. Once we came in from the now pouring rain, we entered a small shop with scones and biscuits (cookies) galore. We then waited in line under and upon a narrow stairway for about 30 minutes. Many of the folks coming and going were elderly and it was a little dicey getting everyone up and down the stairs safely whilst we all crammed against the wall to allow them through. Elevators and accessibility are not a big thing in the UK.
We were eventually seated and went All-In with our teas. Each of us dug into a tower of sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, mini desserts. A personal pot of tea for each of us soon finished the table with culinary goodness. I did not expect to enjoy this as much as I did, but the experience was worth the wait and the money.
We took a trip past a local brewery: Brew York. Unfortunately the taproom has limited hours and was not open during our stay. They did have a small shop that was open selling their beer to go and swag. We did get to sample a few of their beers by buying cans for later at home and they were quite good. Very American influenced. I bought a shirt!
The Blue Bell
What should we do now? Perhaps another pub! York has a lot of historic pubs, most of which have a good selection of cask beers and lots of character. The Blue Bell was a perfect example of this type of pub. The place has been a pub since 1798 and has been in CAMRA’s top lists many times–hence our visit to said pub. The decor is circa 1903 and oozes age and authenticity. They have a no swearing policy, no TV’s, no talking on cell phones, and allow no large noisy groups–just hang out and talk and have a pint! Here I had a very good Blue Bell IPA (4) brewed for them by the nearby Brew York craft brewery, as well as the fantastic Rudgate Ruby Mild (4.25). We ended up having a pleasant conversation with a couple of local people while here and they told us some of their other favorite pubs to check out.
We walked a bit, trying to get to a different pub a ways from our previous roost. We ended up there before they opened so we searched the area and found a second pub to visit while waiting on the next one to open. So many good pubs in York! This was The Swan: another good example of a classic English pub. This one also had a few smaller rooms, a cute little bar, and a game room. This time of the afternoon it was pretty quiet–until we showed up! The favorite beer from this pub was the Mockado Latte Porter from Salt Beer Factory: full of coffee and chocolate flavors (3.75). For an add-on pub visit this one was a great find.
The Golden Ball
Our original goal was the Golden Ball, just a few short blocks from our current pub in residence. Off to the Golden Ball! This was yet another classic English pub beckoning us in with its golden…ball. In this Victorian pub, we sat in a small cubicle around the corner from the bar, all sipping some difficult to find dark beers! Half Moon Brewery’s That Old Chestnut and Raven Hill’s Ridge Way oatmeal stout were both really tasty. An incredibly small beer garden just outside provided a spot for smokers to step out into.
Around this time we were starting to get hungry. I guess those scones couldn’t hold off the hunger beast for long! We ended up trying out the highly rated and attractive Lamb & Lion Inn, fairly close to our B&B. The sun was starting to come down a bit as we arrived, with golden evening light streaming into the small bar area. Other, larger seating areas and an outside patio provided lots of space to the place. The typical pub food here was OK, but not as good as many of the other places we had visited in our trip so far. All of us got pretty dirty pint glasses which was a turn-off for sure. I had the Copper Dragon Golden Pippin which was OK, despite the shady glass (3.5).
And having been a bit disappointed with dinner/pub we decided on one more for the road. Apparently Day 12 should be called “The York Pub Crawl”. I have few memories of the Snickleway Inn, but I remember that we had a fantastic Bridgehouse Porter (4.25). And apparently this is also a seriously haunted pub. So get your haints on whilst drinking in York!
From here we walked/stumbled back to our B&B: The Bronte Guest House. There, we met up in the dining room to plan our attack upon London the next day. And to drink up some of the bottles of beer we had accumulated on our travels. I know it sounds like we were drinking like fish all day, but keep in mind that the highest ABV beer we had all day was about 5%. Don’t judge us. While we were doing this, the proprietor of the guest house, Mick, came down and talked with us a bit. He’s a really friendly guy and runs a tight ship on the B&B. I would recommend the place whole heartedly!
Ruined Churches/Abbeys: 9
Breweries: 4.5 (I’m counting Brew York!)
Unesco World Heritage Sites: 5
Haunted Pubs (included above): 2