David Hughes Visits Dorset

A Trip Down South

 David Hughes in and around Dorset

It was October and a long weekend away was due.  Although I had been a-haunting in Bournemouth  during CAMRA’s Members Weekend in April, a Crookham Travel trip involving a number of brewery visits was found to be appealing. Due to the travel arrangements being made by the main party, a couple of nights were added to this trip under our own arrangements. So with my usual travelling companion, we made our way via the M6, M40 and A34 to Winchester.  No alcohol was consumed in the town, as our aim was to meet up with an old friend for a coffee and a chat; he no longer drinks salcohol because of ill health, but it was good to have an hour with him to catch up.

Our evening stop on this Friday was Ringwood, visited before without exploring the pubs. A lack of hotels saw our accommodation being a pub, the Lamb Inn.  It did serve two Sharps Beers and, funny enough, neither was Doom Bar. Our room was pleasant enough for a single night’s stay and, after settling in, a decision was made to explore a new brewery tap and micro-bar in nearby Christchurch, a place not visited before.

So, off we went.  The brewery tap was that of Drop the Anchor, situated on the upper level of an artisan market, where we found five beers available, three via hand-pumps two from polypins. Three halves sampled here all drinkable but, on reflection, work in progress comes to mind. On the western side of the town is the Saxon Bear micropub and an extremely good one I must admit.  Two halves were sampled here, including one from the Sixpenny Brewery  and a good conversation with locals and bar staff was had. We then made our way back to Ringwood for the evening but not before consuming a very good fish and chip supper.


Distant deliveries

Our accommodation was within sight of the Ringwood brewery but visiting its bars and having a quick half of Sharps Atlantic the landlady  informed me it was no longer possible to pick up beer from the brewery:  orders had to be made via a contact centre in the Midlands and were delivered from a transport depot in Southampton. It was then off to the centre of the town to try a few pubs. I had visited Ringwood a while ago, but I found the centre quite a disappointment, both for pubs and for beer quality. We tried out five pubs. four of which served Ringwood beer, fair enough, but the guests came from either the Marston’s stable or from other national brewers. I even had to return a beer at one of the towns GBG entries as it was well past its best

Our last port of call was was another GBG entry, the Railway.  What a difference –  four cask beers on sale, all from microbreweries and all in top-notch condition. We had taken ninety minutes walking around six town-centre hostelries but spent the next two hours in this good pub. Beers sampled included ones from Downton, Hop Back and Vibrant Forest.  It was then back to our evening;s accommodation for a nightcap before retiring.

The following morning we had a fairly early breakfast before moving on to Salisbury, where we parked the car at one of the large Park and Rides available to join up with our Crookham Travel colleagues.  Catching a bus back into the city, we went into our Wetherlodge (we had booked a room here for the evening of our return) for a coffee whilst awaiting our assembly time at the railway station. It was just another five minutes walk to the station, where we found a couple of the party waiting and the main party delayed by some type of hold-up on the railway system. Our coach for the rest of the day then arrived, so those waiting placed their luggage on it and sat waiting the main party from London before we set off for three days of exploration.

Community pub

The first stop was the Drovers Inn at Gussage All Saints, in the heart of the Dorset countryside.  This establishment won CAMRA’s  inaugural Community Pub award as it was rescued from Marston’s plans to sell it off as a building plot.  I was impressed by what the local community have done to this hostelry and wish it continued success.  Four cask beers and several ciders were on sale. nearly all from within the county  – interestingly, there was one who’s provenance was unknown and we found out later this was in fact a beer from a nano brewery in Winchester. I sampled all the casks available on the day and there was no complaint about the variety nor quality of those on sale.

Time to depart and our next port of call, or should I say station, was Swanage where we had a ride booked on the preserved railway up to Norden.  We found a Pathfinders rail tour already alongside one of the platforms and, lo and behold, three well- known imbibers were amongst the passengers, so pleasantries were exchanged and a beer sampled in the buffet.

Our train came in and departed before the Pathfinder tour, which was bad as we were later held up by over forty minutes to allow it to pass. Eventually getting to our station, we hurriedly rejoined our coach and off we went to the Dorset Brewing Company at Crossways for a 45-minute visit, where plenty of beer was enjoyed, surprisingly to me as I am not usually a fan but the four seasonal beers available to the party all met my taste and quality assessment. The brewery is in a new location to me, treble the size it was when I last visited. and it has a new head brewer, all positive signs. A a bonus,  we all were given a bottle or two, which was appreciated. I would point out that this was a purpose-built industrial unit and it shows in the way the brewery storage and offices are set out.

A short coach trip took us to the industrial estate on the outskirts of Piddlehinton and the Piddle  brewery,  where we found two beers available for sampling. Set up in a small unit, it is a bit cramped, utilising all the available space and with a new bottling unit installed this year. A short history of the brewery was given and the owner and brewer answered some interesting and occasionally difficult questions. Visiting both of these breweries in a relative short time was informative for me, and the contrasts were striking.

Weymouth woes

It was then a relative short journey to our hotel in Weymouth, where an evening meal awaited and there was the possibility of visiting a few pubs. Arranging to meet up with my travelling companion at one of the two Wetherspoons, I ventured out into the elements,  cold and windy, with horizontal rain falling. The Ship Inn, a Badger pub, was my first call, a pub previously visited on a number of occasions but which has been ruined by development of open areas from its former multi-roomed interior,  and the beer quality was awful. The Duke of Cornwall was quickly visited and a half of a Skinners beer was sampled, which just passed the quality test. I looked in the Dorothy Inn, once a place to visit but not any more with just Doom Bar available, so a quick exit was made.  The Black Dog beckoned, a Greene King pub with Doom Bar again in situ plus Greene King IPA, so again a quick exit was made. The Duke of Wellington was next to be visited, with two Ringwood beers and a Marston’s rebrand, where a half of Fortyniner was sampled. I then went to the Swan Inn, the original Wetherspoons in Weymouth: at least this had a number of non-national brands and I met my travelling companion for several halves before we retired after quite a hectic day.

After breakfast in our hotel on Sunday, we wandered out for a look around the town before catching a train to nearby Dorchester arriving there just before opening time.  We walked the short distance between the station and the Brewhouse and Kitchen, where I enjoyed three thirds of their beers plus a half of a Halloween beer. It’s a good pub but if I have to be judgemental not the best of these themed brew-pubs and the beer was pretty average. It is situated almost next to the old Eldridge Pope brewhouse and there are stll buildings showing this.

Just outside the station is the Pie and Ale House.  I cannot remember its former name but it was a pub I frequented only once in my past visits.  This time, I found it fairly full  and serving three national cask beers, a quick half only then of a national bland. The Dolphin nearby was the next pub visited, a Hop Back pub which has recently reopened. Two cask beers from the brewery, GFB and Summer Lightning were available. I sampled the Summer Lightning  then walked a short distance to the Georgie Porgies pub which proved a big disappointment as there was no cask beer available, which they claimed was the result of a heavy night the evening before, so we left and  walked to the town centre and its Wetherspoons, the Royal Oak, where I managed to scoop two of the remaining festival beers required. At least this venue did have a good selection of beers, unlike many others which now feature a reduced range. My next port of call was the Convivial Rabbit, a micropub down an alleyway, with four beers from Piddle Brewery available of which two were in polypins and already passed their best.  There was also a seasonal beer from Dorset Brewing Company.

Better luck this time

It was then back to the main road and Tom Browns, I have memories of an interesting beer range plus the beer brewed on the premises.  Now, the beers on sale were brewed at the Dorset Brewing Company and the quality was poor: the fact that there was just one customer other than myself and my travelling companions says it all. A quick couple of halves, and we soon departed crossing the road and visiting the Blue Raddle which by comparison was jammed. Here we sampled a couple of well-known St Austell beers served in top condition We then returned to the station in time for a mid-afternoon train back to Weymouth, where we visited the town’s other Wetherspoons the William Henry, an interesting place on the corner of the esplanade.  I found the range here slightly better than at its sister pub and even scooped two beers, an unusual occurrence other than during their festival periods.

We then returned to our hotel for our evening meal before visiting some bars to the west of the town. Crossing the river bridge, the first of these is my favourite pub in Weymouth, the Boot Inn.  Although  a Marston’s tied house, it does feature some interesting West Country guest beers.  We spent over ninety minutes here with a few other from our party, enjoying sea shanties from a duo singing in the main bar. A quick look in the Belvedere Inn found us drinking a half of Palmer’s Copper Ale before we walked back on our route to the old town.

Here we visited three pubs: the Kings Arms pub had an uninspiring range and a quick exit was made,  then the Old Rooms Inn, which featured a Brains beer from their craft range, an interesting pub but not many customers, then the Red Lion in Hope Square, mainly DBC beers but a couple of guests from Otter Brewery, one of which was my choice on this visit. We then returned to our hotel via a few back lanes, visiting the Globe Inn for a last drink in Weymouth of this trip.

Brewery history

A 9 o’clock start on Monday found us winging it to Bridport and Palmer’s Brewery, not visited before, for an early morning tour and samples. Now, some might say that one brewery is very much like seeing all breweries. I find this statement quite untrue as each brewery has unique features and this is certainly true in Palmer’s case.. Our guide was a retired college tutor, whose side interest is British brewing history and he is also a member of the Guild of British Beer Writers. He brought out aspects of the history of the company which I had not known, highlighting the early history rather than the time pre-war. We had two beers in the brewery, which as one would expect were in top-notch condition.

We departed on time and travelled into the town centre to the Tiger Inn, home of Stripey Cat Brewery, which fortunately for our party had held a smallish beer festival over the weekend.  some 25 beers had been on sale on a gravity sillage in the outside area. One of their beers was amongst these, but a bonus was the beer from two breweries new to me were also available.  I could have stayed longer as there were at least eight scoops amongst those on sale –  well, I did manage four and it wasn’t even thirty minutes past noon. As this was a special request stop, our time was limited and too soon we were back on the coach and winging our way to Lyme Regis.

Our target was the Cellar 59, a basement bar on the main hill where we had a Ploughman’s lunch and a few halves. Most of our party sat here for the two hours allocated; I did have a small wander but would say Cellar 59 is definitelyy the best of the pubs in this seaside town. This was the first time I had visited the town: it does require further exploration but that’s for another weekend.

Contract brewing

After our allotted time, we re boarded our coach and made or way to the Gyle 59 brewery, just a short distance from the town. Sited on a rural farm industrial estate down a narrow lane, the joint owners and brewers were there to welcome us and, after a sample, we were given a shortish history of the brewing operations and the work history of the proprietors. Further samples were offered and drunk, while we found out that the Lyme Regis brewery had a premises within the industrial estate where they store their malt hops and other items.  Although no brewing equipment was visible, brewing may be transferred to this location later. For interest, Gyle 59 contract brew for at least two other brew companies.

It was now mid-afternoon and we still had another brewpub to visit, a forty-minute coach journey along not the best of our trunk road network.  Plus it was in another county.  We arrived at the Volunteer in Seavington St Michael, Somerset, the home of Windy brewery.  This pub is sited in the middle of the village on the main road. Beer was being poured as soon as we entered and again a brief history of the pub and brewery was given, while those who were interested were given the opportunity to visit the extremely small brew-house at the side of the pub. A couple of more samples of Windy beers were again undertaken; I found them a bit sweet for my palate and not the best undertaken on this trip but, there again, a new beer was welcome.

Now early evening, it was time to depart to enable our party to get their railway connections back to London or, in our case, back to Salisbury.  It was a fifty-minute coach journey to Gillingham Station and a fifteen-minute wait for our train. We said our goodbyes as we approached Salisbury and ten minutes after arriving we entered our accommodation for that evening at one of the town’s Wetherspoons.  Due to a rather large consumption of alcohol during the day, I just had a half in the Wetherspoons and a half at a neaby Fuller’s pub.

The following morning, after a Wetherspoons breakfast we caught a bus up to the car park and made our way back to North Wales via Salisbury Plain and M5 North.

Another Crookham Trip over and thanks to those organising it: good venues, good accommodation, good food and good beer.  What more could you ask for?