Bath Winter Ales Festival 2018
Bath and Borders CAMRA held their 3rd Winter Ales Festival over the weekend of 9-10 Nov, once again in the modern setting of Widcombe Social Club. The festival was Bath and Borders 40th festival and visitors were treated to 28 beers in a wide spectrum of styles from 26 breweries and kept in great condition by regular bar managers Graham and Dave. Just over half of the beers came from breweries in the Bath and Borders region with the balance from more distant English, Scottish and Welsh breweries. This years event was timed to avoid the congestion associated the Bath Christmas Market and we ran two sessions, the first on Friday evening from 6 to 11 pm and an all-day session on Saturday from 11.00 am to 7 pm. The large majority of tickets were once again sold online and we had a good range of age groups. Abbey Ales offering was their new 5% IPA Monsoon and that proved quite prophetic as the Friday session coincided with weather conditions that may have impacted attendance but the less wet Saturday session attracted the largest attendance since the event returned to the Widcombe Social Club in 2016.
Visitors may have been damp but they were also thirsty with Juicy from Tiny Rebel and the iconic Jaipur from Thornbridge selling out late on Saturday afternoon. Most drinkers left our Winter Ales Festival regular, Wessex Russian Stoat (9.0% ABV), to the end of the session where it slipped down very smoothly. At the end of the event we still had 24 beers on though Chocolate Stout (Rudgate), Ohm Sweet Ohm (Electric Bear) and Black (Three Daggers) casks were extremely light when it came to strip down!
The Widcombe Social Club hosts a wide range of interesting events throughout the year and we are very grateful to Jake and his team for supporting the festival and to our sponsors Electric Bear who sponsored the festival glasses and Ralph’s Ruin who sponsored the programmes. Andy Murray, owner of Twisted Brewery, kindly provided logistic support and Steve (multi award winning) Plumridge again helped enormously with graphic design of the programme. Generous donations were made to the Royal British Legion and our silver tongued membership secretary signed up some new members. Customers seemed to go away happy (some very happy!) and hopefully we will do something similar around about the same time next year.
The Cross Guns, Avoncliff
Sitting beside the picturesque River Avon close to the historic Kennet and Avon aqueduct, enjoying an excellent pint of cask ale and watching the swans paddle by, is a perfect way to spend some quality time. The location is the recently refurbished Cross Guns at Avoncliff, where a sensitive upgrading of the pub and terraced garden has resulted in a major enhancement of the drinking and dining experience in beautiful surroundings.
The Tudor core of the pub dates from 1496 and the inn opened for business in the early 1600s as the Carpenter’s Arms. With the coming of the Kennet and Avon canal the premises were expanded and following the formation of the 9th (Bradford on Avon) Battalion of the Wiltshire Rifle Volunteers, a rifle range was established alongside the canal and the pub was renamed the Cross Guns.
I received a warm welcome from Jack Werner and his general manager Ian Liddle, both ardent supporters of CAMRA. Jack has owned the Cross Guns, on a 25-year lease, since December 2016, and also has the nearby Inn at Freshford and the Old Crown Inn at Kelston.
The Cross Guns sources cask ale Cross Guns Under new ownership from many breweries, with some supply agreements in place, and I drank a very acceptable glass of Dark Star Hophead (3.8%). Box Steam’s Soul Train (4.7%), Vectis Venom from the Island brewery on the Isle of Wight (4.8%), and Barabiku golden ale were also available on draught.
Bottled ales from Electric Bear and other breweries may be found in the chiller cabinet and there is also a huge range of spirits displayed to good effect on the back wall of the bar. Honey’s Midford Cider and two other rotating ciders are also on sale.
The terraced garden has been completely renovated with three new levels and there are tables on the lawn by the river. Seating capacity is approximately 250 in the garden and 60 in the pub. Long-term customers will appreciate the improvements to the previously rather primitive toilets located outside the pub!
The outdoor deli is located on the top terrace and serves sandwiches, pasties, cakes, hot drinks and soft beverages to feed the passing clientele of walkers and cyclists. The pub opens from 11.00 to 23.00 every day with food served from 12.00 to 21.00 and 12.00 to 19.00 on Sundays. The menu includes light bites, baguettes, sausage and mash variants, awesome burgers, pies and freshly prepared mains.
The interior of the pub retains all of its historic structure but the woodwork and décor is much lighter, creating a comfortable and relaxing atmosphere with no distracting television screens.
On the social side the pub aims to attract a traditional clientele and there are regular weekly events including singing at the bar on Tuesdays and Morris Men musicians playing on Wednesdays. Typical one-off events this year are a charity vintage motorbike rally (27th May, as Pints West is at the printers) and a BBQ Week from 29th May to 4th June. Look out for the three pubs beer festival from 15th to 17th June.
Jack Werner and his team of 20 staff at the Cross Guns have plenty more in store for 2017 and a visit to Avoncliff, served by footpath, road and rail, will prove to be a recreational and relaxing experience.
Tucker’s Grave: alive and kicking
New landlady Sue Gait was presented with a ‘Special Pub of The Year’ award by Bath & Borders CAMRA in May, because Tucker’s Grave is rather special and the award is recognition of – and a big thank-you to – the new owners who bought the pub from retiring landlady Glenda Swift in December 2017 when it was feared that this unique roadside cider house would be lost forever.
It is now owned by a local family and Sue has breathed new life into the pub while retaining its much-loved character. Sue is putting on many new events including regular music, food evenings, the inaugural wassailing ceremony in January (one for the diary next year), classic car events and the campsite – including some glamping – is now open and proving very popular.
The range of traditional local ciders has increased with old favourite Thatcher’s Cheddar Valley still on offer, with Rich’s Farmhouse and new sparkling Mallet’s cider now regulars and a number of guest ciders to choose from. The ale remains Butcombe direct from the cask.
For those of you who have not been, Tucker’s Grave is one of only eight remaining traditional pubs in the UK without a bar counter and is included in the National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors for its remarkable surviving interior. So get down there (after checking the opening hours) and sample its delights! Find out more on the website www.tuckersgraveinn.co.uk and follow their Facebook page ‘Tuckers Grave Inn and Campsite’.
Tucker’s Grave is located on the A366 between the villages of Norton St Philip and Faulkland about 20 minutes south of Bath.