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Cumbria Way Pubs: Ulverston-Coniston, The Black Bull and Coniston No 9 Barley Wine

September 17, 2012 3 comments

After enjoying our Dales Way walk so much, we decided to try out the Cumbria Way, a 72 mile walk from Ulverston to Carlisle. The walk didn’t go entirely as planned and was curtailed due to injury after three sections, which was also a bit of a relief given the ever-changeable weather. However, we still got some great walking done through some lovely countryside, and got to visit a few nice pubs and drink some lovely beer along the way.

The Cumbria Way is traditionally done from south to north and starts at a square called the Gill in Ulverston, marked by a modern sculpture. We had a sunny morning and a really pleasant start to the walk through fields, small villages and farms, with great views back down to Ulverston, the beacon that overlooks it and Morecambe Bay beyond.

We remained in good spirits as we started to ascend into wilder territory in the Blawith Fells. The walk got a bit more difficult at this point, as we had to carefully pick our way through boggy ground around a tarn before descending through some bleaker landscape towards Coniston Water. Around this time the sky darkened significantly and it felt like dusk from around 3pm, before the clouds opened just as we approached the lake.

The final few miles of the walk, mostly close to the water’s edge through woodland, were very wet and it was difficult to appreciate the full beauty of Coniston Water in poor visibility. However we finally got to our stop for the night, The Black Bull at Coniston, damp and sore but relieved.

The Black Bull is an old Lakes coaching inn with a traditional oak beam and carpeted interior. We were staying in one of the ensuite rooms, which was spacious and clean. After a hot shower, we changed and hobbled down to the bar for a pint and dinner.

The Black Bull is the brewery tap for Coniston Brewery, much loved for their Bluebird Bitter, presumably named after the water speed record breaking boats of Donald Campbell, who drank at the Black Bull during his attempts on Coniston Water, the final of which resulted in his death in 1967. All of the Coniston range was on the bar, in cask, keg or bottle, so whilst I like the consistent, pale, refreshing, sessionable Bluebird, I appreciated the ability to try the US-hopped variant Bluebird XB and the more robust and malty US-influenced Infinity IPA on cask, both of which were very good examples of New World-hopped cask ales.

Food at the Black Bull is pub grub done superbly and generously, and even after a long walk neither of us could quite finish the massive plates of succulent gammon. After dinner I tried a bottle of another beer, Coniston No. 9 Barley Wine, 2012’s Champion Beer Of Britain, following Coniston’s previous success with Bluebird in 1998. It was everything you could want in a barley wine and a nightcap: sweet but not oversweet, mellow and warming. A fitting end to a tough day in a very nice pub.

Stringers Sharp & Dry Damson Beer with Damson Cobbler

September 16, 2012 8 comments

I’ll be putting up quite few posts about Cumbria over the next couple of weeks, following a week’s holiday there and an only partially successful attempt to walk the Cumbria Way. The full 72 mile Cumbria Way starts in Ulverston, and it seems appropriate to mention Stringers, the excellent brewery based there.

Presumably only due to Stringers’ capacity, we don’t get a lot of their beers in Leeds, but you can buy their very satisfying Amarillo-hopped bottled IPA in Booths and recently North Bar did a tap takeover event. I managed to pop in to North for a couple of halves after work and picked up two of their special bottles to take home with me, one of which was a damson beer.

Damsons are small plums and are particularly associated with Westmorland, specifically the Lyth and Winster valleys near Kendal. Unfortunately there has been a particularly poor crop in Cumbria this year, so I’m not sure if this beer was actually made with local damsons.

To go with the beer, we (primarily Kate) made a damson cobbler/crumble from a recipe by Dan Lepard. The small, sharp damsons that we used were from Kent and had been bought from the new fruit and veg stall that has recently filled a greengrocer-shaped hole in Chapel Allerton.

The beer itself is billed as being sharp and dry, to make it clear that although it is a fruit beer, it won’t be sweet. Pouring as dark as a Belgian dubbel, it had a crisp blackcurrant nose and a dry, tart and, in fact, slightly lambic, gueuzey sourness.

I enjoyed the beer a lot, but I think the sweet, sharp damson crumble wasn’t necessarily the best match for it. Next time I have one of these beers I think I’ll try it with a nice creamy hard cheese, perhaps a Lancashire, to balance the acidity.

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