Thursday 9 June 2016

BRAPA - Ayrshire (Day One - Ayr & Kirkmichael)

Day one of my annual Scottish BRAPA trip took me to Ayr, and despite leaving York at 8:35am, I wasn't in a pub until 5:30pm.  Grrrr.  Having changed trains at both Edinburgh and Glasgow, I checked in at the ace Appin Guest House where I learnt that mine host Melissa's hubbie was a " proper ale pub man".  A good start.

I then had a TWO hour wait for my bus to take me to the only GBG pub in South Ayrshire, so I chilled out / got impatient, hot and bothered on the beach.  It could have been Spain, apart from the fact that the locals were blinding me with their pale complexions, and everyone thought that rather than sunbathe, barbecuing as much meat as is humanely possible is a better course of action.

Ayr beach, it is where we go to fry meat.
The bus was typically delayed, I was gagging for a pint by now, and 40 minutes of rickety bus journey later past about 15 hospitals, we were in the remote (and I mean remote) village of Kirkmichael.

923.  Kirkmichael Arms, Kirkmichael

One thing I am learning this year in BRAPA is "never visit the official pub website".  They always manage to make a cosy village pub look like some frightful restaurant and here was no exception.  I was pleased to see the attached "curiosity gift shop" closed as it seemed to sell the kind of tat (scented candles, tartan teddies) that even a posh middle aged American woman would turn her nose up at.  The pub was a delight though, just six burly local men under a very low ceiling, turning round to appraise this strange visitor.  As I ordered my Ayrshire "Scaur O'Doon" (it had to be a Rabbie Burns poem didn't it!), I have never sounded so much like a 1950's Eton schoolboy.  Am sure one local rolled his eyes.  Not to be intimidated, I perched on the window by the bar and tried to understand the strange language.  The first of many boring Brexit chats were witnessed, eye rolling man excitedly telling everyone that Nicola Sturgeon was virtually the most powerful woman in the world.   His joke about Poles/Polls was even worse.  Excitement followed as an unknown blue car was spotted at the bus stop.  "Probably a tourist" commented the burliest man and they all looked round and laughed.  I chuckled back nervously and buried my nose in the local CAMRA mag, hoping to pick up some local pub clues, only to discover most of the mag was dedicated to the local branch trip to Leeds.  Bloody typical.  The beer was ace but the bus was due only 30 mins after arrival, so I scarpered.  A pretty amusing start in a lovely pub.

As much of the locals as I was brave enough to photograph

Great pint, and great mag (if you wanna read about Dirty Leeds!)
I took the bus as far as Maybole where I had some tea and waited at a very tranquil train station before coming back to Ayr, where the conductor struggled to annunciate his words.  I'd past my first Ayr pub earlier near the seafront so I knew where it was.

Give 'em the boot at Wellingtons
924.  Wellingtons, Ayr

It was now a race against time to get the 5 Ayr pubs in before closing time, although not really when I saw they all stay open til half midnight even on a Monday (take that South Yorkshire!)  This was one of those lovely peaceful underground ale bars like Under the Hammer in Aberdeen or Jolly Judge in Edinburgh, and soon I was talking to a nice calm version of Billy Connolly about all things ale and pubs, oh and that the East Coast trains are worse than the West and how I should start every BRAPA journey from Leeds!  The brunette behind the bar was a bit of a live wire too, owning up to drinking an entire jug of gravy earlier on before declaring she was off the Dundee to meet a man but she might come back with tattoos and start acting crazily.  Billy C suggested she become a lesbian but she wasn't convinced.  The Loch Lomond ale was amazing, possibly the best pint I had all trip and that is a lot of pints as you will see.  BC then said Yorkshire was just like Scotland, on it's own away from the scummy south east (oh please don't go all referendum on me), but he took the edge of it by saying he'd just said the same to a couple from Lancashire, presumably about Lancs and not Yorks.   Some other locals were pleased to hear I was going to Geordie's Byre next, and said I might meet some juicy policemen - not sure my blue tartan trousers (which I later left in my B&B!) were having the desired effect!  

Southern Summit by Loch Lomond - try it today!
 This next pub was the only one that took me north of the bridge, and when you say "north of the bridge" in Ayr, everything changes.  Drunkards on the streets, awful karaoke bars, gargling locals and a man running down the street topless and laughing before half-heartedly trying to climb through a window (all things I witnessed in my 5 min walk).

925.  Geordie's Byre, Ayr

About the only thing I read from this month's 'What's Brewing?' paper was that this pub was going to be presented with some pub award in June.  No sign of it happening tonight as two short, squat Krankie-esque females (mother & daughter I'd guest) perched at the corner of the bar, conspiratorially chatting until I arrived.  There were two old men chatting, and that was it, in a small basic but incredibly classy little square pub.  It was all very quiet and serene as I supped my Jarl (pronounced Yarl you English scum!) and was eyeball to eyeball with one of those stuffed foxes in a glass case, though this was the least convincing one I've seen looking more like Transfer from 'Around the World in 80 Days with Willy Fog'.  A third man came in to declare Andy Murray was about the most powerful man in the world (there's a theme developing here) before one the old boys decided he wanted a whisky, he wanted Grouse but they didn't have any because landlord Eddie (who I was later told was a 'colourful character') had fallen out with the Grouse representative!  It was like a Scottish version of Mossley's Rising Sun all over again! 

Pint of Jarl, Skinners beermats, stuffed fox, local whisky drinkers.  All life is here.
Back over the bridge avoiding the terrifying women outside the karaoke bar, a nice sunset fell over Ayr signifying I was moving back over to the calmer south side of town.  

I liked Ayr's main centre, I'd compare it as a cross between the Isle of Wight (my favourite BRAPA trip until this one) and an imagined version of Blackpool where the whole town is disinfected, the heroin addicts were told to behave themselves, and the teenagers were given daily swabs. 

Sunset over the imaginatively titled River Ayr

926.  Glen Park Hotel, Ayr

Being the home of Ayr brewery, I'd been told lots of positive things about this place, and the huge amount of awards on the walls speak for themselves.  However, it all left me a little bit cold to be honest.  It wasn't the cosiest hotel bar, and though I went in eager, wide eyed about their ales (and obviously not a local), I thought the barman would have perhaps tried to "sell" them to me a bit.  Okay, so I complain about "tasters" and the "what type of beer do you like?" question BUT a little bit of spark and enthusiasm wouldn't have gone a miss under the circs.  True, he wanted to get back to chatting to his crones (smiley and friendly though they were) but I just thought, local brewery tap, come on, be proud of your produce.  Pour it down my throat!  After all, Melissa at the B&B, young Billy C and his mate, and all been quite rightly raving about the local ales, and the "Betty and the Gardens" (a misheard song title or something) was strong but excellent.  The only other customers were two young lads who didn't speak to each other, just communicating through downloading stuff on their phones,  then grunted when asked if they'd be back in tomorrow!  Interestingly, the place smelt like Blackpool Winter Gardens Punk Fest when they'd just cleaned it and you go in first thing on the Sunday morning.  Late drama as the local crone who was a bit like a prettier Rose West had received scam text messages to say she'd been looking at porn on Google.  So she said.   It was that kind of pub.     

10pm, still daylight, still about 20 degrees, it didn't feel like when I was pub ticking in Wokingham at this time of night a couple of months back!

927.  Chestnuts Hotel

The gravelled driveway up to the building, and the reception desk where I had to ask where the bar was told me that this was not ever going to be the best pub experience of my career!  This was the kind of ultra furnished, posh place that you almost feel guilty coming into just to order a pint of real ale, whether it is in the GBG or not.  Luckily, the young bar chap looked so exhausted I felt compelled to ask him when he'd started his shift (6am or something improbable).  He assured me he got paid well so it didn't matter.  A whisky drinking local (yes, he was on the Famous Grouse) got very excited to hear this and said "just wait til it's pay day, he buys everyone a drink!!" which went down like a lead balloon sadly for him.  I was quite reassured to get sat next to a group of blokes who were unmistakably Yorkshire (were they lost?) though one started whistling everytime he spoke.  A bunch of EU referendum bores inevitably appeared to my left.  A more well groomed clientele started appearing, all Robbie Savage hairstyles (including the girls), pristine white shirts, and sunglasses after 10pm.  Ok, so I admit I was 5 pints in now but this was a peculiar, but not bad, place to drink.

I thought it said "bar slippers" at first (I want a pair!)

I expected a ferrero rocher mountain to be waiting for me.

928. Abbotsford Hotel, Ayr

Another hotel bar, so wasn't expecting a great deal after the last place, and with the time past 11pm when I arrived, I was just praying it was open (regardless of the advertised time).  It was still buzzing though, and when I ordered my second Jarl of the night, the helpful barmaid asked if I'd had it before and I just dismissed her with a sharp "YES" when I should have said "no my darling, please tell me about your Jarl".  I felt even more sorry for her when she tried to engage three student geeks in conversation and they just kept laughing at her.   The hotel bar was an absolute cracker, tartan carpets, amazing decor including the toilet doors!  Such a warm cosy hubbub too.  A group of men to my left were all drinking coffee, coffee at 11pm in a real ale hotel bar?  Surely the Yorkshire chaps weren't amongst this group, but I couldn't be sure.  I scowled at them anyway in a "my Jarl is better than your cappuchino" kind of way.  Barmaid sloped off home looking dejected, but was replaced with a smiley blonder one (new staff coming on at 11:30pm is a new one on me!) and I wondered how long it would take the geeks to break her spirit too.  Landlord appeared and was very impressed to see my GBG, even more so when I told him about BRAPA and he ordered the barmaid to pull me a free half of Thwaites Wainwright.  I was then introduced to the oldest looking man I've ever seen in a pub (about 250 years old) and though I couldn't understand half of what he said, we had a really nice chat about pubs in Ayrshire, he knew pretty much everything.  I hope I'll be like him when I've finished ticking the GBG.  Lovely people!  Absolutely first class establishment.

The Abbostsford is still open, hurrah!

250 year old man, enjoys a quiet drink before he was ordered to talk to me! 
So, there we go, day one complete.  I slept with the window wide open and it was still boiling hot.  You could come to Scotland for 50 years and not get temperatures like I did for my 3 day stay.  Day two would see me get out up the west coast for more Ayrshire pub ticking.



  1. The head of the 250 year old man is attached to the wall. He was hung drawn and quartered and ordered to talk to tourists about pubs.

    1. He looked like that when I spoke to him, glad it wasn't just the amount of ale I'd drunk.

    2. Can you see the head attached to the wall Si ? Looks like a witch.

  2. When I was in Ayr in 2010 I went in Wellingtons where the beer was soup-like and they were unable to produce a drinkable pint. I thought the Glen Park Hotel was quite nice, though. Best of the pubs I did visit.

    I never made it across the river to Geordie's Byre. Ayr is also where the local numpty council won't allow people to use their Spoons tokens as they think it's an irresponsible promotion.

    1. Glad Wellingtons has improved, possibly pint of the week. Felt Glen Park had more to offer and perhaps Monday evening wasn't a great time to see it at it's best. Anyone would be brave to cross that river north, sunset or not!

      Glad I didn't visit "The Kirk", Ayr's Wetherspoons in a church which sounded and looked impressive until I spoke to that old man and he said Prestwick Pioneer was much better, and as you saw, that had it's problems!

  3. Before I end up charged with a charge of my own for breaching the code of conduct, I must point out that this is only an observation, and I will not try to influence pub strategy. I thought I had worked out your tactics with all the extra north west and Yorkshire efforts of late, which have been highly commendable, but an Ayrshire trip bamboozles my thought on what you were going to do next completely. Which is probably a good thing. I hope that hasn't gone as badly as Phil Brown being careful to avoid an FA charge that Tuesday night on the radio.

    Sorry about having to change at both Edinburgh and Glasgow and an extended journey time. Due to electrification works, Queen St High Level is currently closed so journeys between the two are taking longer as you have to go via Shotts, Carstairs or Bathgate. Changing at both is probably cheaper as the direct Glasgows are mainly Voyager units.

    I find the best way to not sound like an Eton school boy is to know bugger all about the poetry to begin with. Some will argue that is a bad thing. The alternative is, I suppose, to feign stupidity, point at the pump and ask for a pint of that one please.

    BC is right to say that Scotland is a lot like both Lancs and Yorkshire in being detached from the south east.

    I don't trust Rose West or pretty versions thereof. The real reason that she got the email was that she was looking at pornographic material. The scam was a scam of her own making.

    I note your admission of the smiley blonde in Abbotsford. The tables are turning.

    1. If I can bamboozle you of all people Tom, I feel BRAPA is being successful in it's mission. I just wish even I knew what I had planned for the 2017 equivalent. I have 5 options swimming round in my mind, 4 Scottish, one not.

      I read about Queen St, I wondered if that affected me. Couldn't remember having to suffer the likes of Shotts before. The Wellington man said I should have done York to Leeds on my pass and straight up to Glasgow, your thoughts?

      Had I known Rabbie Burns, maybe I could've pulled off a broad Scottish accent and confused the locals into thinking I was one of the gang.

      Yes, I did think RW was very naive from what she was saying. Like the internet had only existed since 2015.

      Haha, are blondes going to prove me wrong as this summer progresses!?

    2. Given potential longer term ideas, I thought you'd have been minimising Scotland for know, if you get my drift, skip.

      There aren't any Leeds-Glasgow directs anymore, apart from a spell in the late 90s there hasn't since the Notts-Glasgows were diverted away from the S&C, probably early 80s. It is still a fairly sensible route though, particularly to Ayr as you could cut out Glasgow completely, apart from the fact that Appleby-Carlisle is a bus for the forseeable due to a landslip. By the way whilst said disruption is in progress, there is a Leeds-Carlisle line £15 day ranger if you need anything around Appleby.

      You know I am always right. That extends to blondes. The smiley example just happens to be a bit rarer.