The local press, in the shape of Newcastle Chronicle & Journal ha..." /> Beer, Belgium and mazy dribbles – Cheers North East


Published on March 4th, 2020 | by Alastair Gilmour


Beer, Belgium and mazy dribbles

The local press, in the shape of Newcastle Chronicle & Journal has relaunched the Passionate People Passionate Places campaign it first ran several years ago. It’s a move to highlight all that’s great in the North East and to instill confidence and positive thought in these troubled times.

A list of the top ten great things about the region included The Far Corner, “the best football book ever written”. Written by Harry Pearson in 1994, this “mazy dribble through North East football” is set for a follow-up called The Farther Corner to be published in May.

Harry says: “It’s an honour to be on the same list as Little Mix and the vegan sausage roll.” So, it’s a good time for the Hexham-based writer. The book I wrote last year – The Beast, The Emperor and The Milkman – about cycle racing in Flanders, the northern half of Belgium, has recently been published in paperback.”

The Beast… follows the careers of the rugged hard men of Belgian racing – Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck (The Beast), Johan Museeuw, Frans Verbeeck (the Flying Milkman), Tom Boonen and Rik Van Looy (The Emperor) – alongside encounters with Belgian beers such as Chimay, Affligem Tripel and De Koninck.

“Flemings are northeners,” says Harry. “They like ale and chips and complaining… like all northerners they nurse a sense of grievance against the south.”

He and his mate Steve Marshall have been visiting Belgium in search of blood and snots cycling and beer for as long as he can remember.

He says: “A lot of people new to Belgium underestimated the strength of the beers, expecting blonde beers to be lighter in strength than brown beers, but it’s invariably the other way round. But one barman gave us a lot of advice, saying, ‘No, you don’t start with that one, start with his one’ and so on. We’ve hired bikes and gone to breweries, beering and biking our way around Flanders. There have been a lot of real finds. For example, Ninove is a suburb of Brussels whose only significance is the finish of the Tour of Flanders and the home of Slag Lager, the worst-named beer in the world were it not for Leroy Brewery’s Pomperschitter.

“We were once asked ‘why are you here?’ and we said we were on holiday. Then we were asked ‘Why? Belgium is so boring’. Just at that moment, two nuns went past on a tandem. He saw us looking astonished and said, ‘Oh, that’s normal’.”

*The Beast, The Emperor And The Milkman, A bone-shaking tour through cycling’s Flemish heartlands, by Harry Pearson, is published by Bloomsbury (p/b £10.99).

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Alastair Gilmour

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