Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival 2012

It’s that time of year again – the Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival. This is a great festival to really kick-start the year – lots of dancing, lots of music, and lots of following a Straw Bear around from pub to pub drinking good beer. I won’t talk about what the festival is all about as I have done this before on previous posts, but click here and here  if you want to know more.

Straw Bear parade

Straw Bear parade

We took the train to Whittlesey from Cambridge – we decided this was the best mode of transport as last year we saw that every pub in the town was holding a mini beer festival. We changed at Ely; the journey only took just over 40 minutes. On Ely platform it was pretty obvious that most people were festival-bound – many passengers were carrying musical instruments, and some were Morris dancers with bells and bright clothes hidden under their thick overcoats. It was bitterly cold; one poor chap could barely drink his coffee as he was shivering so much. The fields were white with frost, the mist was rising from the rivers and streams and dykes, and at one point we had a white-out. Mist was all around us in the heart of Fenland.

Morris dancers outside the George

Morris dancers outside the George

As soon as we arrived in Whittlesey we headed with the crowds up Station Road and made for The George in a prominent position on Market Place for a big warming breakfast. This lovely old Wetherspoons pub was heaving at 9.45 am and we were lucky to find a seat. On at the bar was Grainstore Cooking, a great beer brewed in the town of Oakham (not brewed by Oakham) which I have enjoyed a couple of times in the Grainstore brewery tap. There was also the lovely Oakham Straw Bear on draft. I decided to opt for a warming cup of tea at this point, but others had already started on the beer.

Straw Bear and his minder

Straw Bear and his minder

Hubs Place beer fest

Hubs Place beer fest

We made it out for 10.30 to watch the parade which was bright and colourful with its 250 dancers and musicians. We watched a bit of dancing, and then headed indoors to thaw out. We chose Hub’s Place on the Market Square as I remember there being a beer festival in the courtyard garden last year. I wasn’t wrong; there was a cute outdoor bar set up selling Oakham Straw Bear, Oakham Inferno, Elgood’s Straw Beer, Everards Tiger, Woodfordes Wherry, Woodfordes Nelson’s Revenge, and Black Sheep Ale. I chose a Straw Bear at 4.4%, and sat inside by the fire, joined soon after by lots of Morris and Molly dancers with their painted faces. Straw Bear is a lovely straw-coloured peachy tasting beer, very refreshing, but not an awful lot of conditioning in this one which was a pity. It was pleasant enough though.

We moved around the corner, checking out the Falcon and its beer festival in the yard where they were also selling Elgood’s Straw Beer amongst others, and moved onto the Letter B. It’s quite unassuming from the outside, and it was only when we were inside that I realised it was Peterborough’s CAMRA pub of the year 2012. And what a fantastic little pub it was too; a traditional proper pub, and heaving with Morris and Molly dancers. On the bar was Oakham Straw Bear, Elgood’s Straw Beer and Tydd Steam Beartown. I bought a wonderful hoppy and sweet Beartown. I then realised that they had more beers out the back in the Grufton bar. (I found this out when I heard a man ask the barmaid: ‘Do you have any proper beer-coloured beer, rather than this pale stuff?’ and she directed him there).

Bruce's beer

Bruce's beer

I spotted that Oakham had brewed two special beers for this pub, and on asking the barman about them he told me they were brewed for the landlady and the landlord for winning the Pub of the Year award. The landlady’s beer, the Special, had already gone, so I had the landlord’s beer – It Has to ‘B’ Bruce’s Beer, with a picture of Bruce on the pump clip. It was chestnut coloured, maltier than a normal Oakham, but still with that Oakham sherbet hop flavour – the hops became more apparent and the malt less so the more I drank. It was good to meet up with Alcofrolic Chap here  who was also enjoying the beers on offer in the many great pubs in this small market town.

Hero of Aliwal beer fest

Hero of Aliwal beer fest

Next up was The Hero of Aliwal, round the corner and by the river, where we stood and watched some Morris dancers performing outside, followed by the solemn and black-faced Old Glory Molly who took a girl from the crowd  and performed what she found out later to be a fertility dance. Her friends were aware of this and were laughing all the way through. We went inside this pub that felt like more of a clubhouse and found an indoor beer festival. There were several Greene King casks, but they also had on Oakham Preacher which was a new beer and a nice find. It was 4.3%, relatively dark and full flavoured with sweet hop notes and a touch of fruit. We then decided to cross the road to the Boat.

Oakham Preacher

Oakham Preacher

Inside the crowded Boat there were several Elgood’s beers on tap. We moved to the courtyard outside to the mini beer festival where it was freezing cold (Alcofrolic Chap said it’s always cold here as it’s close to the water, and he was right!) and saw that there were 3 more Elgood’s barrels: Straw Beer, Black Dog and Cambridge Bitter. I hadn’t had a Straw Beer yet so opted for this, which was light and honey-flavoured, and very tasty. And freezing cold. We were about to leave when we spotted the Straw Bear himself entering the pub with his minder and followers. He had a bit of a dance, then set off for the Hero of Aliwal where we followed him. His minder patched him up where his straw was coming loose, I posed for a photo with him (you have to, don’t you) then we followed the parade of bears, dancers and musicians around the little back streets, where he ended up in the Falcon.

We walked to the heaving New Crown Inn and then to the Black Bull on the High Street, but couldn’t even get in the door.

Bricklayers Arms

Bricklayers Arms

Bricklayers beers

Bricklayers beers

We then went to the Bricklayer’s Arms, down Station Road, a small, crowded and very lovely traditional pub. There were lots of Morris dancers in there, and some musicians were playing in the corner which added to the atmosphere. There was a bar with about 6 barrels set up in the corner, including Bombardier, Tydd Steam Dr Fox’s Cunning Linctus, Marston’s Pedigree, and Tydd Steam Barn Owl – I went for the latter as I fancied finishing with another straw coloured ale (it’s Straw Bear Day after all). Very sweet, hoppy and refreshing. Old Glory Molly walked in, with their entourage of female musicians wearing hats of ivy and long black coats, and they proceeded to dance in the tiniest of spaces with their jerky, forceful movements – I had to squeeze past them, trying not to be elbowed as we left for our train.

All in all, it was another great Straw Bear and I look forward to the next one. And with all the good pubs in Whittlesey and the many beer festivals, the train is definitely the way to do it.

           

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Town and Country Show and Covent Garden Street Party, Cambridge

Food stalls and ferret racetrack

I just had a very enjoyable day in Cambridge. First of all we strolled down to the Town and Country Show on Parker’s Piece, an Oakleigh Fairs event. This festival has craft and food tasting marquees, a beer tent with live music, food stalls, animal demonstrations, ferret racing, steam engines, kids rides, mediaeval village, battle re-enactments, and more – it’s a nice friendly festival in the centre of Cambridge. And it was sunny. Result. Naturally we headed to the beer tent. The ales on offer were Oakham JHB (3.8%),  Dark Star Hophead, (3.8%)  Woodforde’s Wherry (3.8%) and Titanic White Star (4.8%) – a good selection of very nice beers. I went for the Titanic, Adam had the Dark Star.

Beer Tent

Beer Tent

Both were good but the Titanic came out on top with its hops, smooth tones and mellow fruity character. The Hophead was a bit more bitter, but very hoppy and drinkable all the same – just not as lovely as the Titanic.

We then had a wander along Mill Road en route to Bacchanalia (a fantastic beer shop where we go for our bottled beers, they have a wonderful selection and very friendly staff – the wonderful Brewsters Pale Ale was one of the beers we came away with ) and came across the Covent Garden Street Party taking place on a closed off Covent Garden, where the tiny Six Bells pub is situated.

Covent Garden Street Party

Covent Garden Street Party

Covent Garden Party Ale

Covent Garden Party Ale

It’s a traditional old pub and in a nice spot, tucked away on a side street off busy Mill Road, and hosts pub quizzes and open mic nights. It’s just a real shame this is a Greene King pub (in my personal opinion). The beers are just regular GK offerings; there were no interesting guests on ( and am I not counting Ale Fresco even though GK would want me to, another of their uninspiring ‘guests’). Anyway, the pub was bustling inside and out, and the street was decorated nicely with lots of bunting, stalls, a stage area for musicians and poets, and dancing, all to raise money for local charities. I was very pleased to come across a stall at the end of the road near the drama centre selling Covent Garden Party Ale from the barrel (and cider from a barrel too).

Covent Garden Party Ale is a brew from Cambridge Moonshine – not a rebranded beer, but one specially brewed for the street party. How nice. Lovely and golden, light and hoppy with malt flavours coming through, easy to drink. Nice job, Moonshine, one of your nicest beers I have tried.

We then headed to one of our favourite pubs, the Cambridge Blue. Lots and lots of beers on tap, as always. We took advantage of the nice weather and sat in the large beer garden; I drank Oakham Bishops Farewell, similar to JHB but stronger, with a more rounded flavour but bursting with citrus hops – not to the extent of their Citra though. They also had the lovely Oakham Inferno on at the bar. Adam had some tasty Tydd Steam Roadhouse, a bitter with beautiful hoppy flavours. Then we left by climbing over the wall into the cemetery (yes, they left a gap in their trellis especially so you can do this – nice way to enter and leave the premises I think!).

Cambridge Blue beer garden from the cemetary

Cambridge Blue beer garden from the cemetary

I reckon we’ll probably head back to the beer tent at the Town and Country Show tomorrow; it’s on for two days after all, so it would be rude not to. More Titanic is in order. Let’s just hope the sun is shining still by then…

Strawberry Fair 2011 and Oakham Ales

Strawberry Fair Parade

Strawberry Fair Parade

Saturday June 4th was Strawberry Fair day in Cambridge, a summer event that I always look forward to. This one day festival, with its live music, entertainment, wacky stalls and hippie vibe, returned after a year off, having had to cancel last year due to licensing and policing issues – and it has changed quite a bit. There are still the old favourites present like the Parade, the Wigwam stage, the Acoustic Tent and the chilled out Green Area, but there is now a Village Green and bandstand where events are staged, a Mad Hatter Cafe where you can get tea and cake, a makeshift pub (the King’s Head), and a fenced off Kids area. Strawberry Fair ParadeIn fact, the whole festival is now all fenced off, with security on the gates. Due to the fencing, it’s now a lot smaller; the festival once sprawled across Midsummer Common until, well, as far as you could be bothered to walk. The food stalls were noticeably limited, with just a handful of oriental stalls (my favourite Chinese food stall wasn’t there) and Jamaican barbeque stands. There is no longer any camping permitted, which meant no campervans parked alongside the river and tents surrounding the area for days. This created quite a different festival to what it was previously.

The Green Area

The Green Area

Anyway, this is a beer blog, so onto the beer. As usual, Oakham brewery stocked the majority of beer for the festival, and I was pleased to see that Oakham ales were available in both the King’s Head and the Acoustic Tent, the latter having the bigger selection. Prices were higher than normal, but it didn’t matter too much; I was prepared to pay for decent beer, and besides, everything’s expensive at a festival anyway.

 

On offer in the King’s Head was Oakham White Dwarf (4.3%) and Marston’s EPA, 3.6%, so naturally I chose the Oakham beer, a very pleasant White Dwarf full of beautiful hoppy and fruity flavours which went down well on this sunny day. In the Acoustic Tent was the main Portland bar from the Portland Arms pub (which also hosts some great live bands), and on offer from Oakham Ales was JHB (3.8%), Citra (4.2%), Inferno (4%), White Dwarf (4.3%) and Bishop’s Farewell (4.6%). There was also Gulping Fellows (4.2%) from Fellows Brewery, just up the road in Cottenham, and CB1 from Cambridge Moonshine (4.2%).  I had a very pleasant light and easy to drink JHB, followed by refreshing golden Citra, bursting with grapefruit flavours due to the plentiful Citra hops. All beers are served in plastics (which are inevitably left laying around on the grass for all to stand on once used) and the beers are generally pre-poured and sitting in allotted spaces to speed up the serving process at the bar. I haven’t noticed this affecting the quality of the beer, however, as demand is pretty high; as soon as one beer is being served the next beer is being poured.

So my Strawberry Fair was spent listening to live music, eating lots of expensive but tasty festival food and drinking good beer in the sun (we were very lucky with the weather). It’s a shame the Strawberry Fair only lasts for one day as I could have easily returned today for more Oakham ales and festival atmosphere. I’m looking forward to the next Strawberry Fair already, but luckily I don’t have to wait that long for my next Oakham beer – now where did I put that bottle of Citra….?

Oakham Straw Bear beer

Straw Bear

I went to the Straw Bear festival in Whittlesey on Saturday, mentioned in a previous post of mine in January 2009.  I just wanted to mention an amazing beer that I discovered there, one to rival Elgood’s Straw Beer at 4% which I enjoyed last time I attended the festival.

The Parade

The beer is Oakham Straw Bear, 4.4%. I discovered this in the Bricklayers Arms on Station Road, Whittlesey, whilst waiting for the parade to begin just before 10.30 am. I don’t know what time the pubs opened there that day, but I was very impressed and pleased to be drinking at that hour along with lots of other fellow revellers!

Happy with my Oakham Straw Bear beer

Outside the Bricklayers, looking happy with my Oakham Straw Bear

The beer is another wonderful Oakham cracker – pale, light, hoppy, incredible grapefruity – it was like lots of my favourite Oakham ales rolled into one.  I am sure there must be Citra hops in there (anyone?!) , so if you are a hop monster it’s a beer you should look out for.  However, I don’t know where you will find it as it’s probably only brewed once a year, hmm… next January then, same time,  same place?

Whittlesey seemed to have loads of real ales everywhere this year – some pubs were holding mini beer festivals: The Bricklayers, where I found the Straw Bear ale, and out the back there were more beer barrels including the wonderfully citrussy Tydd Steam Barn Ale as well as other interesting ales; the Falcon on London Road was holding a mini festival in its courtyard; Hubs Place restaurant on Market Place had lots of ales on gravity in its courtyard with some delicious sounding beers (including my wonderful Oakham Citra).  And these are just the festivals I saw.

New Crown Inn

We had a wander into the newly re-opened George Hotel on Market Place.  It was great to see this old coaching inn no longer boarded up, and instead converted into a Wetherspoons pub. The pub was filled with morris dancers and musicians so it was hard to get to the bar to see what beers they had on, but Wetherspoons do generally have a large selection of real ales on tap. The New Crown inn is also one of my favourites in Whittlesey, a cute thatched pub, with the added bonus of molly dancing outside (the fantastic Pig Dyke Molly).  I had some of the Elgoods Straw Beer, 4%, and it was lovely – light, easy to drink, hoppy, flavoursome. But between Oakham Straw Bear and Elgoods Straw Beer,  I have to say that it was the Oakham beer (or bear?!) that won me over this year.  Wonderful beer. Now, how can we convince Oakham to brew this ale all year round…?!

Published in: on January 19, 2011 at 8:15 pm  Comments (2)  
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Thriplow Daffodil Festival and The Green Man

The annual Thriplow Daffodil Festival took place on the weekend of the 20th and 21st March. Thriplow is a small village in Hertfordshire, located only 8 miles south of Cambridge, and every year it holds a village festival to celebrate the coming of spring and the blooming of the first daffodils, and the money it takes goes towards supporting local charities.

Thriplow Daffodil Festival

Thriplow Daffodil Festival

This is more than just a little village fete; for these two days, Thriplow sees about 10,000 visitors, far more than I expected. It was heaving on the Sunday when I went, and I can honestly say that it  felt like the first day of spring with the sun blazing down upon us. Granted, there weren’t many daffodils in bloom, but I bet by the time I write this they will all be out and in full force as they were just on the verge.

Horse and dray

Horse and dray

But the daffodils are not the only reason why people come to this festival. There are hundreds of craft stalls, live music, open gardens, horses giving dray rides, demonstrations in the local smithy on the village green (which was great to see), delicious barbeques, owls to stroke from the Raptor Foundation (and I did my fair share of stroking, sorry children if I hogged the owls for a while!) as well as morris men dancing outside the local shop and pub.

Local cider

Local cider

Devil's Dyke Morris Men

Devil's Dyke Morris Men

Which brings me onto the pub, the Green Man. It’s a pretty pub in a perfect location, situated on the green in the middle of the village, and a natural spot for morris men to dance outside. I purchased a cold and tasty Woodforde’s Wherry (3.8%) from inside the heaving pub and headed outside to watch the dancing, beer in hand, perfect. (We even had a photo taken of us which was shown in the Royston Crow newspaper, something I wasn’t aware of at the time – spot the Wherry by my feet!)  The pub is a free house; it also had Nethergate’s Suffolk County, 4.0%,  on tap and has regularly changing ales. The bar staff were very busy, but they kept it together to serve the never ending crowds. The pub also has a pretty rear garden, but I preferred to go and sit out the front where all the action was taking place.  A lovely pub in a perfect location; I look forward to going back there when the village is back to its sleepy self once more.

Morris dancers outside The Green Man, Thriplow

Morris dancers outside The Green Man, Thriplow

The Royal Oak Tingewick, the Tingewick Village Hall, and Richmond Fontaine

On Friday night we went out in a village called Tingewick, near Buckingham. It’s not a place we have ever been to before, but we were there to see Richmond Fontaine, an excellent band from Portland, Oregon. And they were playing in an unlikely little venue, the Tingewick Village Hall.

Tingewick Village Hall

Tingewick Village Hall

Upon seeing the village hall in the afternoon we were sure we were in the wrong place – surely this venue couldn’t accommodate a band? There were no signs that a band would be playing there that night, it was just an empty – and tiny – village hall. We started to get a bit worried. But after double checking in the Royal Oak, the pub across the road from the hall, we were assured this was indeed the right venue, and it would get very busy later!

The Royal Oak

The Royal Oak

The Royal Oak is a lovely old pub with a lounge bar, antique decorations with a fake wood- burning stove, a pool table, really friendly staff, good Chinese food, and the obligatory pub dog, as well as pub cats who took great pleasure in trying to wind up the poor old pub dog.  Richmond Fontaine were in the pub having a meal and a beer before the show, and Willy Vlautin, the lead singer and also a wonderful novelist, was kind enough to sign his latest book for me ‘Lean on Pete’, which I just so happened to have with me in my bag. (It’s a great book I must add, so read it if you get the chance).

Inside the pub, with pub dog

The pub serves a couple of real ales, GK IPA and Courage Best (I went for the latter), but this pub is really not about the range of ales on tap; it’s about the atmosphere and location. This is one of two pubs in the village, the Crown being the other, but I think the Royal Oak is where the village’s heart is at. They even let you take your beer across the road to the village hall which doesn’t have a bar. It must always be an interesting place to be for the locals, chatting to new people all the time, sometimes from the other side of the world.  And I hope that Richmond Fontaine enjoyed experiencing a little piece of England in Tingewick in the local pub before the gig.

Richmond Fontaine

As it happens, the village hall as a venue was great. The gig was promoted by Empty Rooms, and we had a chat with Mike from the company and asked him how he managed to get Richmond Fontaine to play in this village hall;  he said, with a twinkle in his eye, that it was down to his charm and charisma, and I can well believe it! The venue holds just 150 people making it a really intimate atmosphere, the sound and lighting was excellent, and I managed to get up nice and close to the band who were fantastic. In fact, the word ‘fantastic’ doesn’t quite do them justice, but I can’t find the right words; I think they would understand what I mean. Thanks to Richmond Fontaine and everyone at the Royal Oak for a wonderful evening. And see you next week guys at the gig in London!

 

 

 
Update 22.03.12 – Richmond Fontaine brought out some beer-related merchandise last year to coincide with the release of their new album ‘The High Country’. I have been getting  lot of people searching on my blog for Richmond Fontaine Beer – for more information about their ‘beer’, visit @pintsandpubs blog by clicking here!

 

 

Straw Bear Festival

Last weekend was the Straw Bear Festival in Whittlesey, near Peterborough. The festival lasts for 3 days, and this was the 30th anniversary of this unique Fenland custom. Over the weekend there is a whole host of events such as live music, dancing, and storytelling, but the main day of the festival is the Saturday, kicking off with a morning parade through the streets. The parade includes several teams of Morris and Molly dancers, musicians, Clog dancers, Mummers, Sword dancers,  Appalacian dancers, and last but not least, the Straw Bear. The Bear is a man dressed from head to toe in straw, and during the festival he is guided around the streets of Whittlesey by his minder, who takes him from pub to pub during the day to watch the dancing and to drink beer!

The Straw Bear

The Straw Bear with his minder

Straw Bear on the move

Straw Bear on the move

The festival generally falls on the weekend before Plough Monday, and is revived from the custom of a young boy being paraded around the town on the Tuesday after Plough Monday decked in straw to entertain the locals and collect money, gifts and beer.

It was freezing on the Saturday; the cold was biting during the parade and everyone was jumping up and down to keep their circulation going.  The dancers were, I am sure, the warmest people there, excluding the Bear of course.  We decided to look for a pub to warm up in, and we found a pleasant, traditional pub called the New Crown Inn, where we had some of the festival ale brewed by Elgoods, Straw Beer – and very nice it was too at 4%.  Lovely, light and hoppy – just right for a drink at 11 am! The bar staff were very friendly and helpful. Also on tap was Black Sheep, another favourite of mine. Another popular pub was the Black Bull on the High Street, but it was far too crowded to get in to see what beers they had on offer – even the Bear couldn’t get through the door!

On the Sunday, the final day of the festival, the Bear is burned. I understand that it’s all about renewal and making way for next year’s bear from the new harvest, but there is something quite sad about a bear enjoying his beer one day, and then being destroyed the next. However, I think quite a few of us have felt like that before…

straw-beer

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