Published on May 15th, 2014 | by Alastair Gilmour1
Real ale trail: Training session
The Tyne Valley railway line is as picturesque as it gets, while the stop-offs along the route are well worth the linger
Saturday 12.22 We’re departing Newcastle Central Station, having limbered up with a glass of Jarrow Rivet Catcher in The Centurion. We’ll be ready for something equally fine when we arrive at Haydon Bridge, the first stop on this second leg of our ale rail trail. There are some terrific pubs sitting along the Sunderland to Carlisle Tyne Valley line, one of England’s most scenic railways. Between Carlisle and Newcastle trains run hourly for most of the day, every day including Sundays. All trains call at Haltwhistle, Hexham and Prudhoe.
13.04 Haydon Bridge doesn’t have a lot of retail to distract the visitor, although to some folks that’s a bonus. The 18th century-vintage General Havelock Inn has one ale on the counter, the rather charming High House Farm Pullet Please (clever, that is). The bar is small, animated with conversation, and has the appearance of trying hard to please which doesn’t go unnoticed. Good service and a high-class menu make it a place to hang around, particularly the pub’s restaurant which must rank as a North East gem. Across the bridge, the Anchor Hotel also offers one ale – and magnificent views of the Tyne. Nearer the station, the aptly named Railway Hotel is also a very likeable pub. The bar area is small with a slightly larger lounge to the left, although the interior decoration in its greens and creams is more Homes & Gardens than Northumberland village pub. Black Sheep Bitter and Sharps Doom Bar are on handpull – sit back and relax. (depart 15.04)
15.18 Shops in Haltwhistle are as local as local gets and its pubs are equally so. First impression of The Black Bull is beige upholstery throughout. Here is a pub with massive potential that could make more of its attributes. Granted, the four ales on show are impressive and our York Brewery Guzzler is damn fine, but it wouldn’t take a lot to return it to its former award-winning ways. The food offer impresses though – a good choice of burgers and locally caught trout plus a cross-section of sandwiches. Haltwhistle & District Comrades of Great War Social Club & Institute surely vies for the longest name in the country but on the other hand it’s a proper gem. Three ales – Jarrow Westoe IPA, Jarrow Rivet Catcher and Yates Golden Ale is a superb combination. We particularly liked the framed photos of local people playing all kinds of sports, plus a trophy cabinet groaning with silver and glass darts trophies. Lots of winners in Haltwhistle, it seems. (d17.00)
17.08 Bardon Mill’s sole pub, The Bowes Hotel, is just a short walk from the station and it’s one to capture the imagination. Country pubs have to cater for every taste – they have to exist through rain, hail and shine while we townies can pick and choose depending on our mood. The Bowes has a good feel to it, it’s a friendly little bar and probably merits more than an hour’s sojourn. Geltsdale Cold Fell, the permanent ale, is bright, light and hoppily refreshing, while Hadrian Border Farne Island – today’s visitor – is surely one of the best pints in the region. (d18.08)
18.22 Hexham has a pub for every mood and all occasions – The Forum is a Wetherspoons with all the trimmings that go with it, The Station Hotel is a jaunty place, the Tap & Spile is rightly proud of its ale selection and its level of comfort and friendliness, while The Globe and The Fox are commendable pubs – again working hard at what they do well. The newly refurbished Tannery has shaken things up of late, however. This is a pub suddenly going somewhere with liberal doses of nous and several coats of care making a huge difference to a once-dormant business. Here we have a cheese counter, a cider room, a gin emphasis, whisky by the glen-full, a canny wine list, amazing food and far more choice of beer – local, national and international – than you’d expect from a street-corner pub. (d20.28, arrive Newcastle 21.10)