Saturday, 5 September 2009

Bonnie Gallowa'

Dumfries and Galloway is Scotland's overlooked corner. People zoom past it on the way to Glasgow, Edinburgh and the North, but it is stunningly beautiful, with neat little towns and villages that time has changed little. I (sort of) come from there. My grandparents lived in Castle Douglas until they died and my mother until she married and I spent all my summers there. It is brilliant, friendly and the beer is crap.

I took E there on a couple of nights of sentimental journey. It's the sort of thing you do as you get older and the reaper's figure is no longer such a speck in the distance. These things can be disappointing, but not here. CD is (externally) virtually unchanged, except for the Tesco which replaces the Railway Station, scandalously closed down by Beeching in 1964, taking my grandfather's job as signalman with it and some might say, his life too.

One thing CD didn't have when I was young, was a brewery. Sulwath Brewery is in the former home of Smart the Bakers. It doesn't tell you that, but I know. It has a neat little shop cum pub which dispenses brewery apparel, bottles and, from the bar, cask beer. That's the good bit. The bad bit is that frankly, the beer is pretty ordinary. Two cask ales were available on both days we called in. Black Galloway is a porter with potential, but had a sourish edge which was way too acetic for my palate, while The Grace was a so-so bitter of no distinguishing features, which did little for me. On both visits the place was full of English tourists presumably seeking a decent pint, plus the same two or three drunks blocking the bar. One might have been the owner I reckon. That wasn't good either. This brewery is missing tricks on all levels. It needs to sort out its beer and find a way of getting it in pubs. The area is jumping with thirsty English people, huntin', shootin', fishin', golfing and just touring. Tap into that I'd say.

You could do the enries in the GBG for Galloway in a day and a half if you tried hard. We tried three. The first was the Farmers Arms in Clarencefield. A nice little pub. The one beer? Greene King IPA! What's the point of that, but the place was festooned with Belhaven signs, so a bit of a clue there. The next was much better and a pub I was last in around 35 years ago. Had the Laurie Arms changed much? Blowed if I know, but I kind of doubt it. Pleasant service, good food and decent beer. Trade Winds from Cairngorm was pale and hoppy while we chatted to a long retired Royal Marine Colonel and his wife who were having a quiet lunchtime bottle of red. A good pub which also had Youngs Bitter on.

The next day brought two more GBG pubs. In Kirkcudbright, we visited the excellent and sparkling Masonic Arms though I passed on Roosters ( I haven't been impressed with their beers for a long time) in favour of Hoegaarden. The barmaid was very friendly and we eavesdropped on the local gossip on which small towns thrive. This did not intrude on excellent service.

Our last GBG pub was in beautiful Kippford on the Solway, where yachts bobbed on a twinkling sea. We passed the lifeboat station and its poignantly half mast flag, wondering why and into the Anchor Hotel. Sulwath Criffel which we'd already had elsewhere and is a weedy Black Sheep Bitter taste-alike, had to be passed over. The other offering was Deuchars IPA. I waited at the bar in a pretty empty pub, while the landlady tried to get a signal on the card terminal while not acknowledging my presence. When she finally got round to me, her one word was "Yes?" We supped our diacetyl bombs while she carried on loud local gossip with a man at the bar. The next customer got similar treatment, with the landlady - and it was the landlady I'm sure - continuing her conversation with the regular at the same time. We left the almost empty bar without a "thanks or a goodbye". It's touristy there, but that isn't an excuse. It is touristy everywhere there, yet we were met with courtesy, friendliness and interest everywhere else. This woman let the side down and that part of the world is important to me. She should be ashamed.

I'm not knocking gossip. It is the very life blood of a small community, but there is a right way and a wrong way!


Somebloke said...

The sign on the photo says 'Anchor Hotel' rather than 'Inn'. Perhaps it's worth a swift edit of your text - not just being pedantic, she might just happen across your blog one day (if she's interested enough to Google for it) and end up with a well-deserved red face :)

Nice post.

Tandleman said...

Done! Thanks.

Curmudgeon said...

Completely agree - a lovely part of the world, but very much a beer desert. The coastal scenery on the A75 between Castle Douglas and Newton Stewart is spectacular.

Bailey said...

Trade Winds leapt out at me from your list. I remember that being pretty decent. (Although aren't there several beers of that name from different breweries? Maybe I'm confused.)

British tourist towns really do need to try harder. Did you read this from Adrian Tierney Jones?

Tandleman said...

No, but I certainly relate to it.

Unknown said...

Tourist pubs are probably the most difficult to run. But then, what do I know?