10 of Britain’s Best Microbreweries

There are now nearly 2,000 breweries in the UK.

Many of these are microbreweries, some literally nothing more than the back room of a pub or a glorified garden shed, while others are slick operations with a wide range of ales commemorating every event and anniversary you could think of!

All of which is great for real ale fans, and where better to sample it than right at the source…

1. Black Sheep Brewery…great for families

black sheep

Wellgarth, Masham, Ripon, North Yorkshire HG4 4EN (01765 689227,)

Open daily; tours £6.95 adults, £4.95 children (under-5s free)

Founded in 1992 by Paul Theakston (of the Yorkshire brewing dynasty – the Black Sheep name is a sly reference to his decision to go it alone when Theakston’s was sold off), this brewery is  now something of a Dales institution.

Occupying a solid Victorian building at the entrance to Wensleydale, it has a top-notch visitor centre including a bar (sorry, “Baa…r”) and bistro serving hearty English food: sausage and mash, fish and chips.

Children are welcome – older ones will appreciate the bubbling brews and gleaming vats (and might even learn some science!), while youngsters will be drawn to the sheepish memorabilia and groan-worthy puns in the gift shop. Bring your sense of ewe-mour…

Drink this: Riggwelter – described as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”, it’s a dark beer with heaps of chocolate malt flavours.

Also in the area: the Wensleydale Creamery – these days, it’s also something of a shrine to Wallace and Gromit.

2. Beartown Brewery…great for a relaxing pint

Bromley House, Spindle Street, Congleton, Cheshire CW12 1QN (01260 299964, )

Open daily; tours (must be booked ahead); £8.75 per person

“Congleton rare, Congleton rare, sold the Bible to buy a bear.” So says a 17th-century rhyme commemorating an early example of council cutbacks: bear-baiting was big business here, so when a new animal was needed, officials raided funds set aside for a new bible rather than risk disappointing the locals.

The tag has stuck, and since 1994 the Beartown brewery has produced a grizzly line-up including Bruins Ruin, Bearly Literate and Pandamonium .

Beartown is close to the centre of this pretty market town, and an ideal refreshment stop after walking to the top of The Cloud, a rocky outcrop at the edge of the Peak District that offers spectacular views across the Cheshire Plain as far as the Welsh mountains.

Drink this: Ginger Bear – brewed in honour of the town’s gingerbread-making tradition, this blond beer is given an added kick by root ginger.

Also in the area: Little Moreton Hall, a grand yet charmingly wonky Tudor manor, as seen on TV in Moll Flanders.

3. Hawkshead Brewery…great for walkers

Mill Yard, Staveley, Cumbria LA8 9LR (01539 822644 )

Open daily; tours Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 2pm or groups by arrangement; £6.50

So successful has this Lake District brewery been that it has outgrown the pretty village where it was christened and moved to a new home on the other side of Lake Windermere.

Good news for visitors, though, because instead of a ramshackle barn, it now has a glass-walled beer hall that lets you gaze into the brewhouse, cellar and fermentation room while you sup.

It serves a range of “beer tapas”, too, ranging from bite-size pickles to a whopping 2lb pork pie. The menu says it serves 4-8, but if you’ve just tramped up a fell or two (High Street, at 2,717ft, is the loftiest nearby) you might see that as a challenge. There’s also regular live music and a summer beer festival.

Drink this: Hawkshead Bitter – named CAMRA’s champion bitter of the northwest, this pale hoppy brew is just the job for thirsty hikers.

Also in the area: four miles to the west lies the town of Windermere. Orrest Head is a modest climb from the centre but rewards you with spectacular views – it’s the walk that got Alfred Wainwright hooked.

4. St Peter’s Brewery…great for history buffs

St Peter’s Hall, St Peter South Elmham, Bungay, Suffolk NR35 1NQ (01986 782322)

Open daily; tours Saturdays & Sundays every hour and a half between 11.00am – 3.30pm; £7.50

This brewery is housed in a cluster of pretty listed farm buildings beside the 13th-century St Peter’s Hall.

In keeping with the historic setting, St Peter’s brews old-fashioned ales such as honey porter and seasonal fruit beers, as well as traditional bitter and mild, using water from its own borehole.

In terms of volume, it’s at the top end of the microbrewery spectrum – it produces 83,000 pints a week and exports them around the world – but the ethos is authentically micro. The beer looks the part, too, sold in distinctive oval bottles modelled on a 1770 design.

Drink this: Golden Ale – a pale brew that’s a great British alternative to pilsner.

Also in the area: wander the Norman ruins of Bungay Castle, still impressive after almost 850 years.

5. Woodforde’s…great for nature lovers

Broadland Brewery, Woodbastwick, Norwich, Norfolk NR13 6SW (01603 722218)

Open daily; tours generally every second Wednesday in high season; booking essential; £10

Bird-watchers will appreciate Once Bittern beer, especially when they learn that for every pint sold, Woodforde’s will donate a penny to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust.

The breeding population of bitterns in the region is booming (in more ways than one) thanks to the NWT’s efforts, so be sure to stop off at this pretty thatched brewery, tucked away down a quiet lane on the edge of the Broads National Park, and lend your support.

Once you’ve bought the beer you can try to emulate it yourself with the home-brew kits available in the shop. Next door is the brewery tap – the aptly named Fur & Feather Inn, which serves ales straight from the cask and locally sourced food.

Drink this: Once Bittern, of course – a “booming marvellous” copper-coloured brew with a hint of spiciness.

Also in the area: seek out the real thing at NWT’s Hickling Broad reserve, half an hour’s drive away.

6. Black Isle Brewery…great for purists

Old Allangrange, Munlochy, Ross-shire IV8 8NZ (01463 811871)

Open daily; tours free

In 1998, David Gladwin set out on a mission “to make top quality beers that could stand among the best in the country – and to do it using organically produced barley and hops”.

Since then, his brewery has gone from strength to strength, brewing award-winning beers totally in-house.

You can follow the process on a free tour. A speciality are the bottle-conditioned beers, which undergo extra fermentation in the bottle rather like champagne. The yeasty sediment is good for you, says Gladwin – “it’s full of vitamin B!”

Drink this: Heather Honey Beer – made with honey gathered from the moors, it’s bottle-conditioned and has lively citrus notes.

Also in the area: Inverness, seven miles away, has plenty more drinking dens, including Hootananny, a live music venue with Black Isle beers on tap.

Just a taster

Lots of microbreweries are just too small (or too busy) to cater for visitors, but it’s worth tracking down their beers. Often you can buy on site even if you can’t take a tour; otherwise check out local pubs for these specialities:

7. Williams Bros, AlloaClackmannanshire – Fraoch Heather Ale is based on a Pictish recipe that goes back at least 4,000 years. Said to be the oldest style of beer still produced anywhere in the world.

8. Fox Brewery, Heacham, Norfolk (01485 570345 – “official” tours are only available to groups, but anyone can sample their unusual beers on site at the Fox & Hounds pub.

9. Roosters, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire  – look for their floral brews such as Orange Blossom Ale and Elderflower Ale. Perfect summer sipping.

10. BrewDog, Balmacassie Industrial Estate Ellon, Aberdeenshire – one glance at the punkish labels, with names like Trashy Blonde and Hardcore IPA, will tell you that this is no ordinary microbrewery. Book a ‘Dog Walk’ for the freshest ales and 4 interactive tastings!

National Walking Month – 10 spring walks to enjoy in the UK

With winter over and warmer, sunnier weather on the way, spring is a fantastic time of year to blow away the winter cobwebs and get out into the countryside for a spring walk.

From woodland to open countryside, coastal walks to picturesque villages, the UK is home to a number of fantastic walks that will allow you to enjoy the region’s abundant flora and fauna while getting a healthy dose of fresh air.

1. Walk the Cotswolds Way

Head west and enjoy all that Gloucestershire’s Cotswold Way has to offer. The route is 100 miles in total, running all the way from Bath to Chipping Campden. Depending on which part of the route you choose to walk, you will be able to visit Snowshill Manor, the iconic Broadway Tower, Sudeley Castle and Hailes, which is home to the ruins of a stunning abbey.

2. Daffodils in the Dales

Lovers of spring flowers will enjoy the Daffodil Walk in Farndale, North Yorkshire. This one and a half mile walk sees around 40,000 daff lovers each year see the carpet of bright flowers (reputedly planted by medieval monks of Rievaulx Abbey).

3. The South Downs Way

Those looking for lowland walking may enjoy a trip to the South Downs in Sussex, and the popular South Downs Way. One of the most popular South Downs Way routes is the ascent up to Chanctonbury Ring: the remains of a hill fort from the Iron Age which is circled with a ring of beech trees.

4. The Three Shires

For a longer walk through the countryside of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, the Three Shires Way is a 49 mile walk passing through beautiful rural areas and takes in picturesque historic villages including Shelton, Knotting and Lavendon.

5. Wales Millennium Coastal Path

If you would prefer a bracing coastal walk, head to Wales and the Millennium Coastal Path in Llanelli. This 22 mile stretch of pathway is completely traffic free, open to pedestrians and cyclists only, and takes in both coastline and stunning woodland.

6.The Wyre Forest

One of the largest ancient woodlands in England, spring in the Wyre Forest, on the border of Worcestershire and Shropshire, sees the forest come to life with seas of celandines, daffodils and bluebells – there’s also a Go Ape adventure course if you fancy an aerial view!

7. The Sizergh Castle Estate

Bird watchers should head to Cumbria where, at the Sizergh Castle estate, they may be able to catch a glimpse of the haw finch. The Sizergh Wildlife Walk also gives walkers a chance to see the estate’s hornbeam trees, various woodland flowers and great views.

8. Hiking in the Highlands

Use spring as a time to enjoy the Knoydart Peninsula in the Scottish Highlands, separated from the rest of Scotland by an imposing ring of mountains. Visitors must make the sea crossing from Mallaig, with guided walks and tours for those unfamiliar with this beautiful, wild location.

9. A Yorkshire Ramble

Enjoy the Hardcastle Crags woodland wildlife walk just west of Halifax in Yorkshire. With beautiful birds returning from warmer shores, animals coming out of hibernation and trees and flowers coming back to life, you can enjoy a gentle ramble and stunning views.

10. The Norfolk Coast Path

The Norfolk Coast Path is the perfect place to dust off the winter cobwebs, with bracing sea air, sand dunes and salt marshes. The Coasthopper bus service can take you from location to location, and bird watchers can enjoy guided bird walks arranged by the RSPB.

Celebrate National Walking Month

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Rhossili Bay: “Breathtakingly wonderful” seems like an understatement!

If you want to really feel alive and refresh those senses this summer, it’s time to get outside and start walking. This month is National Walking Month, and here in the UK we are extremely lucky; the terrain makes it the perfect place to walk. Whether you want a gentle, family stroll, or you are an experienced walker looking for your next challenge, our list of favourite scenic walks has something for everyone.

Easy or family walks

Rhossili Bay
Distance: 5 miles circular route
Starting point: Rhossili National Trust visitor centre
Suitable for walkers with little experience and families
Map

Rhossili Bay is such a stunning area it has earned itself the number 1 place to visit in Swansea on the independent review website, Trip advisor. Visitors to the area have left reviews on the website describing the area as “Paradise” and “Breathtakingly wonderful”.

But don’t worry. Despite the fact that 750,000 people visit Rhossilli every year, this beautiful walk never seems too busy and it’s the perfect walk for all the family. It covers moorland and one of the most glorious sandy beaches in the UK. It even has its very own shipwreck visible at low tide, the ill fated Helvetia that has been there since 1887.

From the highest point of this walk, you can see an uninterrupted 360 degree of the entire tip of the Gower Peninsula including Worms Head and Burry Holmes. On a clear day, you can even see as far as Devon.

Getting there: Catch the bus to this beautiful bay from Swansea, or you can drive and park in the National Trust visitor centre.

Wye Downs (using part of the popular North Downs Way)
Distance: 4.5 miles
Starting point: Church in Wye
Map 

Get to know the beautiful Wye Downs by following paths and tracks through open fields and luscious woodland. On this walk you will get the chance to see the fantastic Wye Crown, a massive crest that students cut into the chalk hillside in 1902 to honour the coronation of King Edward VII.

You will also pass through the Wye National Nature Reserve with its beautiful landscape of chalk, woodland and scrub. Moths, insects and orchids that are essential to conservation efforts have made their home here. From the nature reserve you will get the chance to take in enthralling views of the Devil’s Kneading Trough, a 260 feet deep steep dry valley.

On the way back, make sure you take time to look around the historic village of Wye and stop off at one of the pubs for a rewarding, refreshing drink

Ben A’an
Distance: 2.5 miles
Height: 1,491 feet
Start: 200 yards west of Tigh Mhor near Loch Achray
Map

The extraordinary views over the Trossachs and Loch Katrine from the summit of Ben A’an are what makes this walk unbeatable. Although relatively short, this walk involves steep climbs through woodland and steep steps on loose rock, so it’s more suited to those with a good level of fitness. Don’t worry though, it also covers easier terrain you can meander through and enjoy the stunning views while catching your breath.

Along the path there are large rock areas often used by picnickers. You will also find steep, rocky trails that offshoot from the main path, ignore these and stick to the main path. Typically, it takes about an hour to reach the summit, though if you’re really fit you can do it in much less.

The path ends at 1,491 feet at two rocky peaks, both of which give enthralling views across two vast landscapes of Scotland, west over Loch Katrine towards the ‘Arrochar Alps’ and and south east over Loch Achray towards the Campsies. If you’re lucky, you may even see the Sir Walter Scott steamer as she travels across Loch Katrine. One thing to remember is that this walk does get busy at times, but its popularity is just testimony to how beautiful it is.

Getting there: There is a car park A821 near Tigh Mor opposite the track.

For the more experienced walker

Dunskey Castle at Portpatrick

Dunskey Castle at Portpatrick

Southern Upland Way
Distance: 214 mile (340 km) coast to coast
Starting point: Portpatrick
Map 

Often overlooked for other Scottish walks such as the West Highland Way, The Southern Upland Way is a stunning, if rather tough, walk. It begins in Portpatrick, a small fishing village on the Scottish west coast and finishes in Cockburnspath on the east coast.

At 214 miles, this walk isn’t the longest in the UK, but is known as one of the toughest. Overwhelming mountains, thick forests and beautiful moors make up this enchanting walk. There is accommodation en route, however this walk is rather isolated and you won’t stumble across many day trippers or holiday makers on your way. The walk visits stunning spots such as Castle Kennedy, St John’s Town of Dalry, St Mary’s Loch, Galashiels, Lauder and Longformacus en route.

It’s worth remembering that on the Southern Upland Way the path can be challenging with a loose, steep, rocky and muddy surface. Hill walking boots are a must!

Le Tour Yorkshire

Photos from an incredible weekend! If you’ve caught the Yorkshire bug and can’t wait to visit ‘God’s Own County’ then take a look at our website for featured properties in Yorkshire with availability starting from this weekend, cycling friendly cottages and more.

Best spots for enjoying the Tour de Yorkshire

unnamedWith the start of the Tour de France now just days away, the excitement, anticipation and support of the people of Yorkshire is palpable.

From stringing up bunting to writing humorous notes in the local dialect along the route, locals have well and truly got into the spirit of the event and are set to make it one of the most memorable tours ever.

Taking in some of the most beautiful towns, villages and cities in the country, as well as the stunning Yorkshire Dales, both competitors and spectators will be treated to some spectacular views long the way.

So if you’re heading to God’s own county to watch Le Tour, here are the best spots from which to enjoy the sights and sounds of one of the greatest sporting events in the world.

Addingham

As the tour passes through this pretty Yorkshire village during both stage one and stage two, it’s the perfect place to head to if you want to make a weekend out of the event.

Located just outside Ilkley, the Addingham bypass will be closed and used as a public car park over the weekend, so best get there early to avoid travel delays.

Buttertubs Pass

Stretching for 4.4km and reaching gradients of up to 20%, Buttertubs Pass is one of the most revered climbs in northern England. With fantastic views over the local countryside, this steep spot is guaranteed to see some classic Tour de France action with riders powering to the top of the slope.

If watching all that hard work and exercise makes you tired, head to the nearby village of Reeth where you’ll find some nice pubs and cafés to relax in. As this is likely to be a popular spot, the atmosphere should be pulsating, though you’ll want to get your place early to avoid getting stuck in the crowd.

Harrogate

Like Addingham, Harrogate is lucky enough to see the Peloton come through twice. Firstly, as the riders are sprinting to the finish on day one, and then again the following morning as the Peloton makes its way from York to Sheffield.

The beautiful town of Harrogate will make a great backdrop for the event, and once you’ve watched all those elite athletes pedal by, there are plenty of shops, restaurants, cafés and attractions to keep you entertained.

Haworth

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Located in the heart of Bronte country, this picturesque village, with its steep cobbled high street and charming shops, is well worth a visit at any time of year. However, with the addition of excitement generated by the Tour de France Haworth is a must see on your tour de Yorkshire.

Settle into one of the cafés on the famous main street to watch the riders power their way up the hill, before enjoying some delicious local food and drink once the excitement is over.

Hebdon Bridge, Calder Holmes Park

In addition to roadside spots, this year also sees the addition of spectator hubs, designed to allow visitors to enjoy the great atmosphere and competition of the day.

Free to access, the spectator hub in quirky Hebdon Bridge is located in Calder Holmes Park and boasts big screens, spectator entertainment and locally produced food and drink.

Holme Moss, Holmfirth

One of the most iconic climbs in Britain, Holme Moss is guaranteed to be one of the most popular spots from which to watch the Peloton on race day. The 4.7km, relentlessly steep climb will be tough even for these elite athletes, causing the riders to slow down and allowing for great views of the race.

Though it may be crowded on the day, it’s easy to find your own vantage point by climbing up the steep sides of the hill, and your efforts should be well rewarded by the electric atmosphere and fantastic competition.

Jenkin Road, Sheffield

If you’re more interested in the stamina, tactics and determination of the riders than the spectacular views afforded by the Yorkshire countryside, then this brutal climb, 5km before the finish line on day two, could be the perfect spot to head for.

Reaching gradients of up to 33%, Jenkin Road is one of the steepest climbs the tour must overcome. Though it’s just 800m long, the stretch is so late in the day the riders will be looking to make last ditch attacks in order to win the stage.

Guaranteed to be a weekend like no other, the Tour de Yorkshire is set to be an event that the county will remember for years. If you want to be part of the action, now is the time to book your accommodation, grab that camera and get involved. Check out the Tour de France website for the exact times and locations of each part of the race to ensure that you don’t miss a thing.

‘Women in Waves’ takes to the sea in Sussex

We had a great time at Surf Life Saving Great Britain’s  ‘Women in Waves’ event last Saturday (14 June). Approximately 50 people turned out to take to the water off Brighton Beach and learn some valuable lessons in surf safety – in fact the only person who appeared to be missing was the sun!

Undeterred, the participants joined in, had fun and learned some valuable lessons about being safe in the sea in the process. Thanks to Surf Life Saving Great Britain and everyone who came down!

Surf Life Saving Great Britain is a charity of over 6,000 volunteers who aim to make beaches safer and more enjoyable. You can find more info on their website and also register for the following events:  Saturday 28th June 2014 at Blyth Dave Stephenson Centre, South Beach Blyth from 10 – 4pm and Saturday 12th July 2014 at Perranporth Beach from 10-3.30pm.

Hope to see you there!

Celebrate National Picnic Week! 

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In a world where we live our lives increasingly indoors, and where families eat together far less often than they used to, picnics offer the perfect chance to come together and enjoy some al fresco food and drink as well as each other’s company.

It’s also a great bonding opportunity away from the distractions of home and work. Even if the weather isn’t at its best, it can still be a hugely enjoyable and beneficial experience. Equally, if you have a large extended family and not that much space indoors, or if you don’t have a big garden, a picnic can be one of the best ways of relishing being outside spaces.

Taking place this year from June 16-22, National Picnic Week aims to give families the ideal chance to come together over an outdoor meal, with tips, advice, recipes and other information, so that you enjoy the perfect picnic. It encourages people to get outside and find great local al fresco dining sites, and the event has grown hugely over the decade it’s been around.

That’s because, while it may be a hoary old cliché, food really does taste better outdoors! There aren’t many better ways of making the most of the summer.

In the rush to get overseas for holidays and the like, it can be easy to forget how lucky we are in the UK to have a huge range of open areas for picnics, from forests and woodland to Britain’s dramatic coastline, hillsides, fields and meadows. Or how about having a picnic on an island, the grounds of a stately home or in a lovely country park? Your perfect family picnic spot may be closer than you realised.

Of course, like most things, a little preparation is required. As well as planning and making your food with care, you will need to choose your family picnic spot in advance, and give some thought to the decision.

Here are just some ideas. Even if they aren’t close to where you live, they could provide inspiration for the sort of spot you’d like to take your family to.

Country Parks 

In the UK, we are very lucky to have a good number of these. In Wiltshire, for example, the Avon Valley Country Park covers some fifty acres of gorgeous land right by the River Avon, and there’s stacks for grown-ups and children to do. Kids, for instance, will love the youngsters’ assault course and there are some great riverside rambles to do while you work up an appetite and decide where to unfurl your picnic rug.

Another good place is Wellington Country Park, with its 350 stunning acres of Hampshire countryside, not to mention a miniature railway, crazy golf, oversized snakes and ladders game, nature trails and more.

North of the border, Beecraigs Country Park in the Bathgate Hills near Linlithgow makes another idyllic location for a family day out. There are activities from kayaking to archery, a fishery and deer farm as well as a campsite, so you could stay a few days and enjoy not just one but several wonderful al fresco meals.

Still in Scotland, the Glenkiln Sculpture Park in Dumfries and Galloway has six sculptures in its eight miles of land.

Historic Sites 

Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey

Avebury Stone Circle in Wiltshire makes an unusual picnic spot, at Europe’s biggest stone circle, thought to be four thousand years old.

Alternatively, in North Yorkshire the ruined Rievaulx Abbey, surrounded by woodland, dates from medieval times and will give your picnic a unique atmosphere. Or what about picnicking in the grounds of Dorset’s Corfe Castle?

Open spaces

The heather and bracken of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall offer a dramatic backdrop to any outdoor meal, as do the North Pennines, from Northumberland’s Hadrian’s Wall into Cumbria. In Wales, the Clywedog Valley and Trail has seven miles of great walking and you could visit the local lead mines. Or take in the hills, woodland and Iron Age fort of Devil’s Dyke, East Sussex.

Beaches and Islands

Still in Wales, Barafundle Beach in Pembrokeshire is a little known spot, but discover it and you won’t want to leave. For island settings, think about beautiful St Herbert’s, Cumbria, or Dorset’s Brownsea Island, dotted with idyllic picnicking locations.

Stately homes

Ragley Hall in Warwickshire provides a superb family day out, with 400 acres to play in, an adventure playground incorporating a maze, climbing frames and a trampoline. You may want to spread out your picnic rug by the lake, where its’ nice and peaceful, and you may see the odd peacock strutting around!

London 

Finally, if you thought the city was no place for a picnic, think again. Somerset House lets you escape the chaotic capital with a massive courtyard complete with fountains, in front of this glorious eighteenth century palace. Another idea is the gardens next to the Horniman Museum, which have sixteen acres and where there’s always something going on.

With so much to enjoy, what are you waiting for? Pack up your picnic basket this summer and head off to enjoy the best of what the UK has to offer- and don’t forget to capture the moment for your Big Kid Bingo card!