We all know that there are many attractions that bring visitors to the UK; our great cities, our fantastic history and our wonderfully varied countryside are big pulls. The Great British Pub is another. Other countries have cafes, bars, and beer halls but they are not like British pubs. From back street local 'boozers' to former Victorian created gin palaces and rose covered historic coaching inns our pubs are unique. Cask ale is also unique to Britain - often the beating heart of a good hostelry and these days with a myriad of small independent brewers creating a wonderful cornucopia of brews. When these elements combine we have something very special to offer to visitors to the UK. Many want some this.
Pubs are third on the list of things to do for overseas visitors. Pre-pandemic, VisitBritain estimated that 2020 would see 39.7m of them in the UK, many from America and China. Some 42 per cent planned a pub visit. Hopefully, these figures are recovering from the Covid prompted slump.
At Beer Tours UK (www.beertoursuk.com) we are doing our own small bit to help make this happen. Now this is where- - rather bashfully - we do blow our own trumpet a little, just to demonstrate what we can do for ale enthusiasts wanting to combine beer tourism with other activities.
We recently hosted a great group of Canadians who joined us to visit excellent pubs and drink cracking cask ales travelling from the Scottish Highlands to the rolling countryside of rural Shropshire. It was a big one. We dubbed it ' TJ's Peaks & Pints' beer tour as the group, led by the eponymous TJ, combined their beer tasting travels with scaling the three highest mountain peaks in the UK: Ben Nevis, Scafell and Snowdon.
TJ and some of the others in the group had been with Beer Tours UK previously when they did a 'Tough Mudder Challenge' in Cheshire. Now they wanted to do a Three Peaks Challenge, albeit over a week, and once again sample our unique cask ales in our unique British pubs.
We were asked to organise the whole of the week-long tour (without us doing the mountain climbing bit though), right from their landing in Glasgow to departing from Chester; all hotel accommodation and transports for the trip along with, esentially, advising on good cask ale pubs from Fort William, down through Cumbria and into Snowdonia. And this time, for good measure, they were bringing partners.
We were delighted to take it on, although the tour was not without its logistical challenges with the three mountain climbs to fit in and some serious travelling. Fortunately we were able to link up with some excellent mini-bus partners to provide a fairly smooth operation from Glasgow Airport to Fort William, Fort William to Cumbria and Cumbria to Snowdonia before Happy Buses of Chester took on the remainder of the trip.
The week culminated with a three day beer tour beginning with a pick up in Snowdonia, travelling to Chester via North Wales pubs. These included the Grade II one time drovers' inn the Crown at Llangihangel Glyn Myfyr, with a warm welcome from licensees Richard and Caroline and three ales from Facer's Brewery of Flint (www.facers.co.uk ). Then we had a must visit to the most unpretentious 19th century Rose & Crown at Graianryhd (yes, get your tongue around that one) where we enjoyed well kept cask ales with inimitable landlord Rod McGregor and his very friendly regulars.
That day was followed by a trip to rural Shropshire to visit the unique St Annes Brewery (www.stannesbrewery.co,uk) followed by a calls at Shrewsbury's admirable six cask ale strong Admiral Benbow ale house and the neighbouring Coach & Horses, a pub dating from the 1860s with a selection of Shropshire ales from Salopian and Stonehouse .
Much thanks to St Annes owner Chris Jones and his team for their hospitality - great pies, great Three Erics bitter and Major Stout - and giving the group a very memorable visit, including a trip up the bell tower .
The church was built in 1888 by Samuel J Hawkes, rector until 1909, as a private chapel dedicated to his mother, Anne. A curate was appointed in 1938, but it was denied the honour of being a parish. When St Annes had fallen into disuse and disprepair, the early 2000s saw the Grade II listed building saved from the housing developers by Chris' late father Eric, who took on the ambitious restoration work which included a concert size pipe organ he purchased from Cricklewood for £1; he then spent £50,000 installing it.
Eric died in 2013 but Chris has carried on with the restoration to recreate the church as a community venue for concerts, choral events and family occasions, including weddings, alongside a shiny new brewery. The idea is that beer sales will help sustain the cost of the restoration work.
A working brewery in a 19th century church is not something to be stumbled across every day in the beer tourism of any country we think. See https://www.beertoursuk.com/post/beer-tours-uk-at-prayer-photo-special for our report of 2019.
We returned from Shropshire to Chester via a meal call at the Hare at Farndon (www.hareatfarndon.co.uk) - where they found room for us in their fine private dining room on a busy Friday night and we enjoyed a line up if four cask ales.
Finally, following an exciting afternoon watching Manchester City beat Southampton 4-0 at the Etihad Stadium, the group's valedictory evening was spent in the pub rich city of Chester with an excellent meal at the Henry Potts (www.thehenrypotts.co.uk), formerly the Big Hand Alehouse. Landlord Jonney Cox and his team ensured a terrific atmospheric evening with a specially tailored menu of traditional British dishes and an impressive range of real ales from local Weetwood (www.weetwoodales.co.uk), Staffordshire's Titantic (www.titanicbrewery.co.uk), and North Wales' Big Hand (www.bighandbrewing.co.uk), and Purple Moose (www.purplemoose.co.uk) - with one pump dedicated to TJ under his own clip. We rounded the meal off with a sampling of British barley wines with tasty puddings.
Below we give a glimpse of the smashing pubs visited along with the unique St Annes Brewery.
All in all the eight strong group covered some several hundred miles and a lot of pubs to enjoy some of the very best of British beer tourism.
Here's what, sparing our blushes, the group had to say:
"We have been on two tours with Beer Tours UK and Steve Hobman. Our goal on the first trip in 2014 was to experience the proper cask beer tradition in the beautiful UK and Wales area.
"One of our mates was able to connect with Steve and he arranged two days of amazing breweries and pubs throughout the Cheshire region. Steve even helped us on some of our other excursions for football games and other events to ensure that we had proper pints prior to and after each event.
"Our second trip Dubbed “Peaks and Pints” this year in 2022 was just as well planned out and managed that we hardly had to focus on the trip, except for which bitter on the tap might be worth the glass. It was completely effortless when in the hands of Beer Tours UK.
To top it all off, Steve’s keen palate and support of the local brewer’s work are top-notch. He knows the places he arranges to take you, understands the history, and is always great to provide the information at every location. Our trips without Steve would not be the same, every time you are in transport with him it is an adventure. You can’t do beer better than with Steve and Beer Tours UK ."
Nathen, Peaks and Pints, Calgary Alberta, Canada. October 2022