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John the Gardner – Beer festivals in the UK

February 13, 20190
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It’s off we go by bus and train to Morten in Marsh. The festival is held at the cricket ground approximately a 12 minute walk from the railway station. It is a lovely little town full of rich history and lots of nice pubs so well worth going to anyway. The weather was kind to us dishing out wall to wall sunshine – always appreciated on a November day. It is a standard CAMRA run festival featuring a wide range of beers and ciders with onsite food. Camping is available at £5 a night and £7 if you bring a car, which also gets you into the festival next day.

Just a bit jaded the following day and off to the rugby club in Royal Wooten Bassett.  It is run very much on a CAMRA line, with good food available. A nice day out although public transport can be a bit of a problem if you are not careful as you can get stuck in west Swindon, or even get the wrong bus entirely and end up back in Swindon. Which for me meant another hour in the glue pot waiting for the number 55 bus to Chippenham.

So off I go to the Arkell’s 175th Beer Festival at their brewery. They last did one for their 170th birthday – so it’s a big celebration. Brewery tours are available and there is plenty see with classic cars, motorbikes and static engines. There are plenty of easy transport links from central Swindon.

The old wandering Gardner is now in full swing as it is off to the Welsh Festival in Cardiff. Yes, it is a big one but retains the spirit of a smaller festival. It is held at an old industrial site known as The Depot, which is also used as a night club. Well catered for, but you can also take your own food.

The outstanding weather is still holding and it is off to Weymouth for a festival held at the Pavilion overlooking the beach. You can’t take your own food to it, but it is the seaside so fish and chips on the harbour wall is a must. Always a popular festival, it was well attended and I noted that they have gone back to using half pints and full pints, after dabbling with the third pints last year and concluding that it didn’t work for them.

It is the Swindon Beer Festival next. You can take your own food to this, but there is plenty of catering onsite. It was crowded on the Friday lunchtime – so get there early. They had the traction engine in attendance and the 9” Heritage gun. It was part of Swindon in the Great War and in association with Great Dorset Steam Fair Ltd as part of their WW1 display.  I also made it back on the Saturday too, which was less crowded – but some of the beers had been drunk dry.

It is now deep into November and time to take bus and train to Oxford, for their 21st Beer Festival in their spectacularly good old town hall not far from the covered market. A very well-run festival by the CAMRA crew. They put on 130 beers on the Thursday and then release another 40 beers on the Saturday to keep momentum going. Begging the question of whether to back again for more?

The Bath Winter Ale Fest which is the 3rd day run in the Widcombe Social Club which is a quarter of an hour walk from the railway station. Standard run CAMRA style beer festival with food served in the room downstairs. There is no separate Saturday evening session – they are open on Friday and Saturday lunch times only.

It is now into December and I go to a new festival on me based in Abingdon at the Abbey Buildings. Not a CAMRA run festival, but they use the same ticket standard structure and it was free to enter.

The beer festival is run by the friends of Abingdon Abbey, The Loose Cannon Brewer and the Very Best of Oxfordshire Beers. Good music and it is a small festival with only 20 beers and 5 ciders featured.  They only open in the evenings on the Friday and Saturday 6-11. There is a good bus service back to Didcot – everything has to go through that hub. With a good pub opposite to wait for your train… so no problems. I made it back to Swindon all the way to the Woodlands Edge, fell out of there at 12:30 and having missed the last bus to Purton long ago walked home. Found a ditch on the way – but no harm done.

The last wandering of the 2018 season is the Hop Kettle Festival in Hawksworth, where you can also do your ordering of beer in bulk for your Christmas sessions and you can have a good look at the brewery and the brewing kit. And very impressive it is too – all state of the art. My comrade in this event managed to fall over a wall on the way home and got lost. Things like this can happen. It was a good year!

Problems to watch out for

Rural bus services are sporadic, so you do need to take care when planning and putting it together. It is a bit like the book: ”The lost bus routes of rural England”. These problems are not just limited to Wiltshire, it is everywhere. Sometimes it feels like you have purchased a taxi company just to get you home. Example being the taxi fair from Swindon to Purton is more than the return to Weymouth by train. That is it from the wandering Gardner in 2018.

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