Showing posts with label bitter and twisted. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bitter and twisted. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

#WestHighlandWay - A Drinker's Guide Part 4

The last two days of Mrs V and I's West Highland Way hike covered the 26 miles from Glencoe to Fort William, with an overnight stop in Kinlochleven. 26 miles of some of the most dramatically beautiful scenery anywhere on the planet. Rugged, moody, mountains, innumerable streams tumbling down the hillsides, lochs reflecting the ever changing sky, and, in the distance, the great hulk of Ben Nevis.

Before setting out from Glencoe, there were things to be dealt with, namely the blister that had been slowly building over the previous few days. It had got to the point where I couldn't actually get my boot on that morning, something had to be done. Given that hacking the entire toe off wasn't really an option, I made an incision in the blister and drained it thoroughly before Mrs V went into full on nurse mode and taped it up. Suitably booted we went up to the centre's cafe for a bacon roll, to discover to my joy that they had a full fry available, and so it was back to plates of protein and a pot of tea for breakfast. There really is no finer start to a day of hiking. Re-fuelled we headed out past the Blackrock Cottage, toward the Devil's Staircase and Kinlochleven.


The weather was perfect for hiking, cool, overcast, with the ocassional shower. Once I got going, the toe was fine, but if we stopped for more than a couple of minutes, getting going again was a pain that bordered on masochism. Sometimes though, you have to forget the pain and just revel in the countryside.


I have always loved this part of Scotland, and whether travelling home from university, Eastern Europe, or wherever I had been, it was when I got to Glencoe that I really felt back in my element. I love this part of the world, and still have a vague notion that one day I'll stop my wandering and find a place to settle among the mountains, preferably near the sea as well. The big challenge on this particular day would be scaling the Devils Staircase, which takes you to the highest point on the West Highland Way, about 1800ft above sea level, and affords you one hell of a view.


The rest of the day's hike is literally downhill, an almost dis-spiriting downhill at that as you follow the switchbacks into the valley with just tantalising glimpses of Kinlochleven itself. It was on this downhill trek that we ran in to S?ren again, bedecked with new hiking shoes and as happy as the day was long having found an English chap to walk the way from Rowardennan with. As we continued on our way, Mrs V commented that she was glad to see S?ren again and that he had found someone to walk with, soppy moment alert, but Mrs V really is a wonderfully compassionate soul.

Eventually we reached the bottom of the hill and headed for the centre of Kinlochleven in hopes of remembering where our guest house for the night was. Having failed miserably at the memory game, we popped into the Tailrace Inn to use the free wifi, and naturally slake the inevitable thirst that had built up. The Tailrace is a cozy little pub, just off the main drag, opposite the chippy, and with a draft selection that didn't really appeal in the moment, so I broke with my tradition and joined Mrs V on the cider, Bulmers I think it was, with an unnatural orange glow to it.


I drink much quicker than my lovely wife, so having located Tigh-na-Cheo, our room for the night, I went back to the bar for a closer inspection of the bottled selection, and joy of joys my old friend Bitter & Twisted was there. We would head back to the Tailrace that evening for food and another couple of pints, Bitter & Twisted being available in half litre bottles, before turning in for the night.

If ever you find yourself staying in Kinlochleven, Tigh-na-Cheo is a fantastic guest house, comfortable, a cracking fry in the morning, superb service (again with an Eastern European flavour, this time I think the staff were mostly Czech), and with an excellent range of bottled beer available on an honesty box basis, If you've spent the day hiking, they have absolutely massive baths, which are positively luxuriant after 6 days of just showers. Safe to say, Mrs V and I enjoyed our stay there.


The final 16 miles starts with a steep climb to make the Devil's Staircase weep, then on to the Lairig Mor pass that goes through yet more stunning countryside to Fort William. My feeble words can't do justice to the magnificence, so here's a few pictures instead.




It was walking through Lairig Mor that we needed our rain gear for the first time since Conic Hill as finally the famed Highland weather smashed into us, lashing us with driving rain and a stiff breeze that made limping along almost miserable, but for the growing sense of achievement of being on the final leg. Eventually you scale the last hill, just shy of Dun Deardail, and start the descent into Glen Nevis, with the Ben looming over you. We had originally planned to climb Ben Nevis the following day, but the state of my feet and the weather forecast put pay to that idea.

Coming down into Glen Nevis you are jarred back into civilisation as the final couple of miles are on a tarmac path into Fort William, past the original end of the hike, and along the high street to the official end. After 94 miles of mostly well maintained mountain trails, walking on tarmac again is a brutal return to the real world. Thankfully right next to the end of the West Highland Way there is a Wetherspoon's pub called The Great Glen. It seemed only apt for my first beer having completed the West Highland Way to be the Devils Backbone IPA, brewed specifically for Wetherspoon's.


My memory of the IPA is somewhat hazy now, and note taking wasn't really a priority with an aching body, and trying to decide where to have dinner that night, as well as the thought of the extra mile uphill to come in order to get to our accommodation for the night, an excellent place called Braeside House. I remember that it was very much an East Coast style American IPA, and that was just fine by me. We would return to the Spoon's that evening, having sat on a bench eating a fish supper, and a pint of Innis & Gunn's Craft Lager was downed with some disappointment, it was pretty dull stuff to be blunt, before taking ourselves off to the Grog and Gruel for a nightcap couple of pints from their beer engines. I don't recall what they were, but the condition was excellent, and the spot was duly hit.

When you take into account the getting to and from various guest houses, microlodges, and B&Bs, we must have walked close to about 110 miles in the 8 days we spent on the West Highland Way. The vast majority of pubs were exactly what I would expect from a Scottish boozer, and it was great to see beers from the likes of Harviestoun readily available pretty much everywhere we stopped. One thing that this trip reminded me of was that a good pub is not defined by its beer selection, its number of taps, or the hipness of the breweries they stock. Good pubs are places of banter, relaxation, and shared experience, good beer can help, but it's not a requisite. The night at the Climbers' Bar will stick in my memory for a long time as an almost perfect pub session, and they had all of 2 handpulls besides the more generic big brewery offerings, and the two hot toddies seemed to do the trick for Mrs V's sore throat.

Of course there was more drinking to be done while I was home, but we'll get there.

Friday, August 12, 2016

#WestHighlandWay - A Drinker's Guide Part 2

Now....where were we? Ah yes that's right, Inversnaid. Having breakfasted at the superb Top Bunk Bistro, a fry up that included the world's greatest black pudding (from Stornoway for the unsure), we got a lift back down to the West Highland Way and continued our venture north.

The section of the Way from Inversnaid to the end of Loch Lomond was probably the single most trying part of the hike. It's not steep, it's not difficult to follow, it's not even a study in uninspiring countryside, nope it's just a narrow gauge rollercoaster with trees to the right and Loch Lomond to the left. It's almost claustrophobic, so that when you come out into the open expanse around Ardleish it's quite liberating to be done with the Loch, and then a few miles on you come to Inverarnan.

As you walk along the Way you can see The Drovers Inn from about a mile away, it teases you as the path drifts away and you wonder if you will ever arrive at the village, and then you arrive at Beinglas Farm and see this sign.


Suddenly all thoughts of walking an extra couple of miles for a pint and a feed go right out of your head and your feet throb just enough to say something along the lines of 'sod it, let's eat here' and you fall into a cozy little lounge bar, pretty empty, and you rejoice because a beer you love is on tap, and it will be the first time you have had it on draft.


I refer of course to Harviestoun's magnificent Bitter & Twisted, which is one of the inspirations for Bitter 42, the best bitter that I designed for Three Notch'd Brewing here in Virginia. Sure I've had it from the bottle many a time, but never before fresh from the tap, and what a revelation it is stripped of the abuses of bottling and long distance haulage, cleaner, crisper, hoppier, more delightful. So I had a couple with which to wash down my food, while Mrs V and I struck up a conversation with a Czech girl called Zuzana and the English guy she was hiking with, whose name escapes me.

By the time you are happily refreshed, the rain is looking ominous again, but when you aren't camping and have a B&B room waiting for you in Crianlarich, you just have to keep on going. The hike along the River Falloch was lovely going, despite the rain, and the mud, and the sheep shit, and the Mrs V suppressing her inner urge to hug on every form of livestock along the way whilst simultaneously being unnerved by the size of the sheep. The constant distant buzz of the A82 reminds you that civilsation isn't all that far away, and after another 4 hours plodding along, playing leap frog with families and couples that you end up on nodding terms with, you come to the side trail down the hill to Crianlarich, the Gateway to the Highlands.


Being Mrs V and I's 8th wedding anniversary I had naturally booked the smallest room in Crianlarich, old charmer that I am. Said room was at the inestimable Craigbank Guest House, a place I happily, and heartily, recommend to anyone looking for a room in Crianlarich. Obviously, being our anniversary I took Mrs V for a slap up meal to mark the auspicious occasion, to the pub next door, The Rod and Reel, where I saw a tap I had not seen in many a year, for Younger's Tartan Special.


I ignored the Tartan Special and went for the bottled Bitter & Twisted while Mrs V stuck with her cider, and eventually a hot toddy because she was starting to feel crappy. On a tip from Paul at Craigbank Mrs V had the chicken curry, while I went for an treat I loved at school, macaroni cheese and chips. Little side story, when I was a kid at school back home in Uist, the canteen had a weekly vegetarian day, it was on those days that discovered the delights of macaroni cheese and chips, with chips drenched in salad cream, I guess we all have weird things we loved as kids. Anyway, while it may have been the smallest room in Crianlarich, it was also a damned comfortable one, and the breakfast in the morning was a belter.

The next morning, Mrs V's birthday no less, we trudged back up to the trail, my right foot was starting to develop a magnificent blister, right on the tip of my pinky toe, which made getting going a little uncomfortable. Once momentum was gained though it didn't bother me all that much, and the walking was simply glorious as we made our way toward the Tyndrum Hills and the eponymous village, which has long been a stopping off point for my family on the drive north.

The Tyndrum Inn is a large yellow building that is simply impossible to miss, and it's public bar is an annex to one side. It was practically empty when we arrived, and so we leaned out packs against the bar and took seats facing the tap handles. I was in the mood for lager, I know you are shocked dear regular reader, and so ordered the Caledonian Three Hop, whose tap was beading profusely, and the dark golden liquid came in a branded mug. The beer itself was pretty good, though it became flabby as it got warmer, but I was drinking slower than usual so maybe that didn't help. However, the sweet potato and carrot soup was a corker that stoked a warming glow ahead of another 7 miles as we headed to Bridge of Orchy.


Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy was probably my favourite 7 miles of the hike to be honest, beautiful scenery and a good track underfoot so that my blister didn't bother me too much. We didn't go anywhere for a drink during our stay in Bridge of Orchy. The B&B we stayed in, Taransay Cottage, also did an evening meal by request in advance and so we shared a couple of bottles with the owners before turning in for the night.

There were three more days of hiking to come, and not one of them promised a midday pint, though plenty of evening drinking, so we'll leave that for next time....

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...

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