Saturday, 21 May 2022

Sheffield for the day

I had a fantastic day out in Sheffield on Thursday, where I enjoyed the fine company of Retired Martin and Sheffield Hatter. Both are renowned pub men, with a good knowledge of what is happening on the local pub scene, even though Martin is a relatively newcomer to the city, after moving there from the Fens. (I think he wanted some hills to challenge himself!)  The pair took me to some excellent pubs where we all enjoyed some good and reasonably priced beer, and in one, a bargain-priced pub meal.

Sheffield city centre seemed eminently doable on foot, and for those times when speed was of the essence there was the option of both bus and tram. The latter was a real novelty, as I haven’t travelled on a tram since my last visit to Prague, back in 2015. The weather was kind too, with warm temperatures, wall-to-wall sunshine; factors that helped show off the city of Sheffield at its best. This was an added bonus, as it had been tipping down with rain as I walked from home to Tonbridge station that morning.

The highlights of the day were the Kelham Island area of the city, with its two award winning pubs. The nearby, and very traditional Wellington Inn at the bottom of the hill, and then the tastefully renovated, multi-roomed Bath Hotel, at the top. Finally, there was the delight of the impressive Sheffield Tap, situated next to the station. The perfect place for a few pre-train beers.

As for the trains, I travelled to Sheffield using the East Midland Railway service, from London St Pancras, having first reached the latter using a Thameslink service from London Bridge. The trains ran to time and the various connections all passed smoothly. This was my first proper visit to Sheffield, as with the previous ones I was literally, just passing through, primarily in connection with walking holidays in the Peak District.  The railway station seemed vaguely familiar, but that was about it.

This is only a brief snapshot of my visit, and a much more detailed report will follow in due course. In the meantime, thank-you to Retired Martin, and Sheffield Hatter, for acting as my guides, and also to whoever it was in the Department of Transport for releasing those cut-price rail tickets. They obviously had the right affect, as the train was quite full – so let’s have more of the same please!

 

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Getting to know you

I said I would add some more thoughts about my recent trip to Cambridge, but before going through these, I want to explore the wider picture, of what exactly is involved when visiting a new location for the first time.  First, it’s almost a given that you only really scratch the surface, on that initial visit. Taking this a stage further, it’s fair to say that all cities, large towns and even some of the smaller ones, require more than one visit to properly do them justice.

Some require substantially more, but it’s safe to say that two or three stays at an unfamiliar destination, does leave you with a sense of knowing the place to a reasonable extent. More importantly, it becomes increasingly easier to find your way around, as you become more and more familiar with the intricacies of the public transport system. You end up intrinsically knowing the relation of a city’s prominent building’s or must-see sites to one another and, most importantly, you know where the best boozers are.

I have made umpteen trips to both Munich and Prague, and have visited other European cities such as Barcelona, Cologne, Bruges, Regensburg, and Nuremberg, several times. Each visit I have uncovered something new, as well as re-aquatinting myself with some of the best bits of these locations. 

It’s the same with certain towns, although depending on their size, familiarising yourself is significantly easier. There is always something though to surprise, and occasionally delight, even the most seasoned visitor, especially if one looks hard enough. Understanding the geography and layout of the location, is perhaps the key to becoming better acquainted. This is particularly true if the city lies on a river, as the majority of them do, as the water course acts as a focal point. Other features such as royal palaces, main railway stations, cathedrals, churches, and parks, all act as way-point to help on get one’s bearings.

The best way of describing this process is, after the couple of visits, you’ve probably visited several different areas of a city, but as you journeyed to these districts in isolation, you don’t yet realise how they interconnect with each other. It is only after three or four visits to a location, sometimes made over a time span of several years, that you finally understand the relationship between these different districts and start to appreciate the bigger picture.

Cambridge was no exception to this process, as one visit has only provided a brief snapshot of this historic and bustling university city. My first impressions were of a vibrant city that definitely seems to have got its mojo back after the dark days of the pandemic. Pedestrian-friendly, in the main, and easy to get around on foot. If I visit alone, I can make full use of my bus pass, as well. The student population adds an atmosphere and charm of its own.

Last Thursday’s visit did at least give a glimpse of the lie of the land, and whilst none of the various parts really came together, I got a good feel for the place. That is an important consideration, as I now know the best way to reach the city centre on foot, from the station, and also know that many of Cambridge’s most prominent colleges are sited down by the river. The visit allowed me to discover the delights of a small number of the city’s pubs and made me aware of others that I want to try, on subsequent visits.

These include some of the pubs close to the Free Press, mentioned in the previous post, and also include the Champion of the Thames, Cambridge’s sole city-centre National Inventory listed pub. Perhaps next time, I will make it to the Cambridge Brewhouse rather than the Cambridge Tap!

It is on those visits that I intend doing some of the more cultural stuff, that son Mathew was reluctant to participate in. This means, a visit to Kings College Chapel, in order to get a feel of where the Christmas Eve service, of Nine Lessons and Carols is broadcast from.  In addition, I shall cross the river Cam to take a wander along the Backs. I might even walk as far as Grantchester and its famous meadows, as immortalised by the Roger Waters/Pink Floyd track of the same name.

It’s worth noting the brief visit I made to Grantchester, several years ago, on one of my many trips up to Norfolk, when my father was still alive. I’d booked an overnight stay at the Red Lion, in the village of Stretham, just to the south of Ely, and had arranged to meet Retired Martin for the first time. That evening Martin and Mrs RM called to collect me, and drove us to Ely, where they showed me around the city and introduced me to a few of its finest pubs.

On the way to Stretham, I stopped off for a pint at Grantchester’s historic and unspoiled Blue Ball Inn, which features on CAMRA’s National Heritage Pub Register. As I recall, parking was a bit of an issue, (that's my car in the bottom left-hand corner of the photo), so it would be good to walk out there again, without having to worry where to leave the car or restricting my beer intake, because of having to drive.

It’s interesting trying to compare Cambridge with its rival university city, Oxford.  I have visited, and stayed in the latter, several times back in my own student days, and would say that without doubt, Oxford too is worthy of a revisit.

 

This is especially true after a gap of 40 years, although the sad demise and closure of the city’s only established brewer, Morrell’s, means the beer scene in Oxford is somewhat diminished from what I knew back in the late 1970’s.

So, there we have it, Paul’s perhaps over-thought description of the steps involved in becoming familiar with a new destination, and how the process applied to Cambridge

Does any of this sound familiar, or am I just making it all up? I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

Saturday, 14 May 2022

Cambridge for the first time

Young Master Matthew, or perhaps not quite so young Matthew, has been on leave from work this week. I’d been promising him a day out for some time, and after turning down his suggestion of London – we always seem to gravitate towards the capital, I proposed somewhere further afield. Salisbury was the first destination I came up with, but after checking rail fares, we decided I was rather on the dear side, for Matthew at least, seeing as he doesn’t possess a railcard.

Cambridge came up next and, as the pricing was a lot more sensible, we decided on this city, best known for its famous university. Now it might seem a little strange but having reached the ripe old age of sixty-something, I have to confess to never having visited Cambridge. I’ve by-passed it by car and ridden through it by rail and have even changed trains there, but having never left the confines of the station, I can hardly say that I’ve been to the city.

The crazy thing is that with the introduction of Thameslink rail services, Cambridge is easier than ever to reach by train, from Tonbridge. The journey involves just one change of train at London Bridge, and then it’s a direct Thameslink service to Cambridge. So, none of that messy changing of stations in London, that used to characterise rail journeys to East Anglia.  For example, cheap rail travel to Norfolk, in order to visit my parents, used to be possible with the aid of a Network Southeast card. It involved taking the train to Kings Lynn, which at the time, was part of British Rail’s Network Southeast. My father would then drive to Kings Lynn to collect me and the family.

It was still a pain transferring from London Bridge to Kings Cross, even when using the old Thameslink station in Pentonville Road, but after privatisation we switched to the Liverpool Street-Norwich option which, whilst easily walkable from London Bridge, was not favoured by Mrs PBT’s, who preferred a taxi instead! I am digressing a little but having now experienced the advantages of the seamless travel offered by Thameslink, wanted to make the point.

Our journey on Thursday saw Matthew and I catch the 09.35 train from Tonbridge, and then transferring onto the 10.16 Thameslink train at London Bridge. Matthew even had time to pick up a couple of sausage rolls, as a late breakfast, before boarding the train. My only criticism of the service relates to the rolling stock, as the seats on the lengthy, seamless trains are hard and rather uncomfortable. I get the impression they were not designed with long journeys in mind, but with the return services to Cambridge we used, the trains originated and terminated at Brighton. Also, there are no buffet car facilities – again probably due to most of the journeys being short distance, covering limited sections of the Brighton-Cambridge run. These are small gripes, and we enjoyed a pleasant journey all the way from south of the Thames to Cambridge’s spacious and recently expanded station.

After experiencing a 10-minute delay, just outside Finsbury Park, we arrived in Cambridge shortly before midday, and then set off to walk into the city centre. I hadn’t bothered to print off a map from Google, prior to our journey (big mistake!), as I was relying on finding the Tourist Information Centre. My family mock me for diving into these treasure troves of information, every time we visit a new location, but why take the p*ss over something that is both useful and in the long run, time-saving?

Coming from a different generation, Matthew told me to use my phone instead – something I did end up doing later on, but he then became embarrassed because the volume, from the Google assistant, was too loud. Sometimes you just can’t win!  We found our way into central Cambridge without too much trouble and found the place booming. First impressions were the number of Chinese restaurants we passed, most of which seemed much more authentic (judging by the Chinese writing/characters), than the “westernised” versions we are used to locally. There were also several Korean restaurants – something that reminded me of my visit to Japan. After stopping for a coffee just off the Market Square, we made our way to Kings College and sat on one of the stone benches opposite to enjoy our drinks.

I had it in mind to take a look at the world-famous chapel at Kings, although my philistine son wasn’t quite as keen. “Do we have to?” “I bet you have to pay!” Well of course you do, but just to make sure we wandered across to the entrance to enquire. Tickets were available from the Kings College Shop opposite, with final admissions at 3pm. Whilst there I asked the porter if he could recommend a decent pub nearby.

Without hesitation he suggested we try the Eagle, which was down a side street, virtually opposite the college. I’d carried out some prior research, so knew all about the Watson & Crick connection, but still listed patiently to the story again. Ten there was the one about the US Airmen who used the pub during World War II.

We thanked him and walked over to the pub, both with a king-sized thirst, and after entering the main bar at the front, to order our beers. There was a woman in front of us, complaining about the price of her gin and tonic – she had never been charged so much. Without wishing to stereotype, she was from up north, so perhaps careful with her money, but she seemed to forget she was in a prime tourist spot.

Matthew and I looked at each other with knowing glances, and I shall leave the matter at that, but to me, the £10.20 we paid for a pint of Milton Pegasus plus a pint of Estrella seemed reasonable, given the pub’s location. I asked the barman about the room containing the airmen’s signatures, and was informed it was at the rear of the pub. We made our way through, but the room was packed out, mainly with American veterans, judging by their baseball caps.

We opted for the garden instead and found a vacant table overlooking the courtyard. It was then that we witnessed another act of a demanding (some might say terminally stupid) customer. There was a group of tables opposite us, with canopies above and, as we subsequently discovered, overhead heaters. One of the women sitting there, called a member of staff over and asked if she could have the heating on?

Bearing in mind this was mid-May, and the temperature was a shade under 20°C, I would have told her where to go, or perhaps suggested she put on the coat that was casually draped over the back of her chair. Totally oblivious to rising energy costs and global warming in general, this “entitled”, and rather selfish woman got her way – but really?

The beer was good though, and slipped down well, so suitably refreshed we departed by the side entrance to do a spot of sight-seeing. This involved wandering down to the river, standing on the bridge to photograph the Mathematical Bridge, and then having a look at the visitors queueing up at Scudamore’s Boatyard. Matthew wasn’t keen, as he can’t swim, but having been there and done that (in Oxford, rather than Cambridge), I wasn’t too bothered at missing a punt, especially as it would mean wasting valuable drinking time.

We were both feeling peckish as well, so without further ado, headed back into the city centre, skirting past Newnham College on the way. I was making for the renowned Free Press pub, but having not managed to obtain a map, I was relying on my phone.  I managed to navigate us there successfully and was really pleased that we had made the effort, as the Free Press was a smashing little, multi-room, back street boozer. Unfortunately, we’d arrived slightly too late for something to eat, as the kitchen closes at 2pm weekdays.

A packet of crisps tidied us over until something more substantial could be obtained, but meanwhile a beer was in order. Although the Free Press is tied to Greene King, guest beers are available and the 4.4% abv Spring Ale from Twickenham Brewery that I chose, was the second good pint of the day. St Austell Tribute and Robinson’s Unicorn were the other choices, but being something of a lager lout, Matthew went for the Prahva Lager from Prague.

We had a brief look around, before settling for a table in the right-hand room. There were a few other people in the pub, and I got the impression that the Free Press is a pub for both serious drinking, but also serious conversation. It seemed very much like my sort of pub, and it would have been nice to have stayed for another, but the lack of solid nourishment, meant it was time to move on.

The area surrounding the Free Press had the appearance of a very pleasant neighbourhood, with an abundance of white-painted Victorian cottages. I said as much to Matthew, but I don’t think he quite appreciated what I was saying, especially as my thoughts had been influenced by the presence of several other attractive looking pubs nearby. The Elm Tree, the Cricketers, and the Clarendon, all looked worthy of a visit, and in truth I haven’t seen such a concentration of back street locals for many years. Maidstone and Sevenoaks both used to have areas like this, but sadly no more.

The next pub was the Cambridge Tap, which I somehow mistook for the Cambridge Brewhouse – surely an elementary schoolboy error! The former is a McMullen’s pub, just off the city’s main shopping area, which surprised me with its absence of McMullen’s cask beer. However, having studied the food offering posted outside, there was no way we were going to pass by the chance of something to eat, just because there was no cask.

The food offering was excellent, and I enjoyed one of the best burgers I have had for a long time, with a thick, tasty and really succulent chunk of ground, minced beef. The beers were from McMullen’s Rivertown Brewing subsidiary, which effectively is a craft-keg operation. The 5.6% IPA I opted for went really well with the food, and according to the website is brewed with Mosaic and Rakau hops, chosen for their fruity properties. Matthew, true to form, went for the Pilsner, which he too enjoyed.

Whilst ordering, I had a chat with the bar staff, the Tap is a new venture for McMullen’s in Cambridge, and whilst the bar only opened in December last year, it has proved a great success. I questioned the lack of any McMullen’s cask, and the feeling was it might be introduced at a later date. That might be doubtful, as looking at the clientele it seemed obvious that the brewery was targeting a younger, mainly student market, and if I’m brutally honest the craft-keg IPA was far better than any of Mac’s cask offerings I can recall.

We did a spot of shopping, before heading back to the station. I have been trying to find a plain, white, long-sleeve shirt, of the type suitable for wearing with a suit – it’s for the cruise you see! M&S in Tunbridge Wells were unable to provide one in my size, and whilst their Cambridge outlet could, they were only available in a 3-pack. I don’t want three, particularly when the pack is priced at £45!

Being semi-retired, I am winding down from that sort of stuffy dressing. John Lewis had white shirts, in my size, and sold them singly, but they were all branded, and quite frankly I don’t wish to fork out £75 just to advertise the names of Calvin Klein or Tommy Hilfiger!

Apart from that it was a good day out, even though we really only scratched the surface of Cambridge. There will be some more thoughts to come, on that subject, in a separate post.

 

 

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

At the other end of town

Last Thursday evening’s pub crawl of north Tonbridge, was really a wander around a few pubs at the north end of the High Street, and just beyond. This is because with the exception of the Royal Oak, in Shipbourne Road, there are no pubs remaining in the northern part of the town.

This is very strange, given that in terms of houses, this is area is one of the most densely populated parts of Tonbridge, with several large housing developments. These estates are all post war developments, and whilst at first, they were served by a several purpose-built, modern pubs, over the past 30 years, these amenities became prime targets for speculative developers.

Their prominent positions on busy junctions and street corners, unfortunately left pubs such as the Pinnacles, the Greyhound, the Red House, and the Harvester as sites ripe for further development, or conversion to other uses. The Harvester is now a Sainsbury’s Local, which means from the outside at least, it still looks like a pub. The other three former licensed premises have vanished from the face of the earth, to be replaced by upmarket townhouses and apartments.

The idea of the evening was to visit some of the pubs that West Kent CAMRA never seems to get round to, so I was a little puzzled to find ourselves starting at the George & Dragon, rather than the Royal Oak, which is only one more pub going northwards. Consensus was we should have started there, as the Royal Oak is the sole surviving pub in this heavily populated part of the town. Situated virtually next to the Shell garage, the Oak is very much a locals' pub. I can't really say much more about it as it must be getting on for 20 years or so since I last visited the place, although I am reliably informed it keeps a good pint of Harvey's.

It was an early 7.30pm start , which is fine for those who are not working, but fortunately that includes me on a Thursday. It is still a long hike from where I live, in south Tonbridge, to Shipbourne Road, but fortunately Matthew gave me a lift. He dropped me slightly north of the pub, which was fine as it allowed me the chance to appreciate the many attractive buildings in that part of the town.

There were five local CAMRA members present, when I arrived at the George & Dragon, a long established and popular sports bar. The place was busy with plenty punters watching a European football match, but don’t ask me which teams were playing, as I have little interest in the game these days. Two Tonbridge beers plus Harvey’s Best, were the cask offerings, and I am pleased to report that Golden Rule, from the former, was in excellent condition.

We sat in quiet area at far right of pub, well away from the football. The pub’s interior has been tastefully decorated, and along with the beams, comfy seating, and a large log fire, has a real homely atmosphere. To the left of the entrance, there is a spacious raised games area, with darts, plus two pool tables.

I hadn’t been in the George & Dragon for quite a few years, but when I first worked in Tonbridge, during the early 80's, I was a frequent visitor. The pub was popular with employees of the company I was employed at, back in the day when going for a lunchtime pint was viewed as quite a normal activity, rather than something to be frowned upon or even out and out discouraged. A decade and a half later, when I next found myself working in the town, I avoided the George & Dragon, as boss of the firm went there every lunchtime, for his main meal of the day, invariably ham, egg, and chips!

The rumour was his wife didn’t cook for him at home, but irrespective of that this individual was heavily involved in right-wing politics, and by that I don’t mean the Conservatives, UKIP, or even the ERG! Working for a company, owned by a man with unsavoury political views, was one thing, but joining him for a lunchtime pint was something else, hence my absence. Times change, and so do drinkers’ habits, and the George & Dragon is no longer open weekday lunchtimes.

It was time to move on, so we headed back towards the town centre, passing on the way, the impressive gatehouse and stone frontage of Tonbridge School. The latter is a fee-paying school for boys with super rich parents, but its ornate appearance never fails to impress visitors from our parent company in Japan. For some reason it reminds them of Hogwarts, from the Harry Potter franchise, a fact they delight in pointing out, every time we drive by (it’s normally me who picks the visitors up in the mornings, from the nearby Rose & Crown hotel.)

We gave the latter establishment a miss, along with the Ivy House and Fuggles, and instead made for Ye Olde Chequers Inn, an attractive, and quite imposing, half-timbered building, situated in the shadow of Tonbridge Castle. With parts dating back to the 14th Century, the Chequers is one of the oldest buildings in Tonbridge, and almost certainly the town’s oldest pub.

The Chequers has quite rightly been described as "one of the finest examples of a Kentish timber-framed building that can be found today.” It is certainly a very attractive building, and its photogenic qualities mean that, after the castle, the pub is one of the most photographed buildings in Tonbridge, but despite such a pedigree, it never seems to quite deliver.

I might be biased in my opinions of the pub, as the truth is I have never been a fan. When I first came to Tonbridge, initially for work in 1979 and then, five year later to live as well, I regarded the Chequers as a real “old man” pub and looking back I suppose it was. I was in my mid-twenties back then, and would have considered anyone over 40 as old, but the pub did have a real old person feel to it.

Back in the 1980’s Tonbridge was known as a “print town,” and boasted a couple of large printing firms, along with a major magazine publisher. Printing was a lucrative business, and a well-paid workforce, meant plenty of customers for local pubs.  The Chequers was no exception and trade flourished at lunchtime, with a selection of hot food always available. Again, this was at a time when lunchtime drinking was far more commonplace than it is today.

The pub was owned by Courage back then, but as I was not a huge fan of Courage beer, I tended to give the place a miss. I'm pretty certain the pub had two bars, during my first few years in Tonbridge, but whilst the partitions are long gone, the lengthy, L-shaped bar, does help create a sense of division into different areas.

There was a reasonable number of people in the pub, last Thursday, although there was still plenty of space available. We headed to the area at the far left, away from the football, and had the place virtually to ourselves. Harvey’s Best and St Austell Tribute were the beers available, and whilst the former was in good form, the latter apparently, was the complete opposite. The barman was friendly and ready to share a joke, and we all agreed that the Chequers had improved considerably on previous visits – apart from the below par Tribute!

The next, and final point of call was the Beer Seller – which although south of the river, was a convenient and convivial place to end up. We arrived just as a rather raucous mixed group of people were leaving. A few female members of the party appeared slightly the worse for drink, and after hanging around rather noisily outside, were given their marching orders by the pub manager.

We found a convenient spot close to the bar and enjoyed a very pleasant and convivial end to the evening. Two members of our group were in holiday mode, which led to a discussion of holidays in general, both past and present. The Goacher’s Gold Star was in particularly fine form, along with the Tonbridge Brewery American Pale. My final beer of the evening was Café Brasilia – a rich, coffee-flavoured stout from Kent Brewery. Along with the nearby Nelson, the Beer Seller is a regular outlet for a brewery that seems very under-represented in this part of Kent. I can’t say that I’ve a favourite amongst their myriad of different brews, but the ones I’ve tried have all been interesting and, on the whole, flavoursome as well.

So ended our mini crawl of north Tonbridge which by visiting two pubs rarely frequented by local CAMRA members, managed to meet the original objective of the evening. From my viewpoint, it was a most enjoyable evening, and I think for West Kent CAMRA as well, it was a successful event.

Sunday, 8 May 2022

The shape of things to come - or does trouble come in threes?

Okay, it’s been six days since my last post – an article which ended with me mentioning I would be joining the local CAMRA’s on a walkabout of pubs, at the north end of Tonbridge. Well, the event went ahead, with me being one of six participants, and it was a most enjoyable evening, but I’m going to leave you hanging on a while longer in order to comment on the news of a sad, and quite unexpected brewery closure.

Sheffield-based Kelham Island Brewery, has announced it will be closing later this month, following 32 years in the industry. The brewery started life in 1990, in purpose-built premises, adjacent to the Fat Cat pub at Alma Street, in the heart of Sheffield’s Kelham Island quarter. It was the brainchild of the pub’s owner, Dave Wickett, and was the first new independent brewery in the city, for over fifty years. Production at first, was around 10 barrels per week, but a new brewery in 1999, increased capacity to 50 barrels. The original building became an additional outside bar for the Fat Cat pub. In 2008, the brewery expanded again, and the weekly output increased to around 100 barrels.

Kelham Island was one of the first exponents of pale, hoppy English-stye beers, with their 5.2% abv Pale Rider, winning CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain (CBOB) in 2004. The company also provided a fertile training ground, for aspiring brewers, with several ex-Kelham Island employees, going on to either set-up, or work with, a number of other influential breweries. These include Brewdog, Thornbridge and Welbeck.

It is therefore doubly sad to learn that this pioneering brewery is to close. The Fat Cat will remain open, but Kelham Island Brewery beer will only be available on cask and in bottles while stock lasts. It is also both sad and frustrating on a personal note, as I have a trip to Sheffield, planned for 11 days’ time, and some time spent in the Kelham Island quarter, featured high on my priority list.

I still plan to head down that way, as I will be meeting up with pub-ticking legend, Retired Martin, and pub connoisseur, Sheffield Hatter, who is also a pub-going legend in his own right, but the closure of Kelham Island Brewery will put something of a dampener on the whole experience.

No official reasons have been given for the closure, and whilst there is little point in speculating, it’s worth bearing in mind that difficult trading conditions/financial problems, have been cited as responsible for two other recent closures. Beatnikz Republic– a relative newcomer on the scene plus, just the other day, Exe Valley, a brewery with almost 40 years of history behind it, and one of the first generation, new brewery start-ups, inspired by CAMRA, decided to call it a day.

The problems at Beatnikz Republic seem largely financial, with Covid being a significant contributory factor. The impact of the various lock-downs, and the ensuing stop/start/stop in production, have meant lower sales than anticipated. This, coupled with the poor economic outlook, has meant the brewing side of the business is no longer viable. The Beatnikz Republic NQ Bar, in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, will continue trading as normal, as it is a separate company that is not impacted directly by the brewery’s closure.

Exe Valley’s problems appear similar in nature, with the company blaming the reality of the current economic situation for themselves, their customers, and the hospitality industry in general, for the decision to close. The brewery claim to have explored all the options and done everything they could to make things work but with so much uncertainty, had found it impossible to find a long-term solution.

The brewery was established in 1984 as Barron Brewery by Richard Barron, the former landlord of the Three Tuns pub, who converted a redundant cowshed into the brewery. In 1991, Richard was joined by Guy Sheppard, and the name of the company changed to Exe Valley Brewery. The plant was expanded and upgraded at the same time. Richard retired in 2003 and Guy ran the brewery until 2020, and then has continued to offer advice after its sale of the company to husband-and-wife team Libby and Kevin Stroud-Kroon.

On a personal  note, I'm not that familiar with any of these breweries, as we rarely, if ever, see their beers on sale in this part of the country, but to see three breweries throwing in the towel in as many days is perhaps a sad indictment of the times. As many industry commentators have pointed out, these three are unlikely to be the last.

So, sad times, not just for the drinkers, customers, and workers, but for the individuals behind each of these companies. All these individuals will have put their hearts, souls, and their dreams into their respective concerns, and to see everything come crashing down, must be devastating. 

It's rather pointless going over the same ground, as the obvious conclusion has to be there are just too many breweries in existence in the UK today. CAMRA of course will tell you otherwise, as will many of the organisation’s members, but in a declining market, beset by rapidly rising prices, it’s dog eat world out there. There is only so much trade to go round, and with each new start up the market, and the opportunities therein, become ever more diluted - when will CAMRA realise this basic, economic fact?

Ironically, whilst researching the background to Devon-based Exe Valley Brewery, I discovered that in March 2021, there were 45 breweries operating in the county alone. If that doesn’t’ make the point, then I don’t know what does. It might also go a long way towards explain why, after nearly 40 years of brewing, Exe Valley had to call it a day.

Footnote: There aren’t many photos associated with this post, at present, and those there are illustrate other small breweries, rather than the ones in question. Also, and before someone points it out, I am well aware the Fat Cat depicted is the pub of that name in Norwich - are they owned by the same people?  I will be adding a few more relevant photos, retrospectively, after my trip to Sheffield.