One of the things I love about Cornwall is the walking. Whenever we visit the wild and woolly South West of England, Ruth and I haul out our trusty book of short (and not so short walks – aeriously guys some of the instructions could bare a review once a decade!). Another thing I love about Cornwall is the beer. Sharps, St. Austell and Skinners are ok in a pinch (I have to admit I did enjoy a well-kept pint of Sharps seasonal, Amber Pilsner in The Red Lion at St. Kew Highway) but give me a fresh pint of Tintagel Castle Gold; served cellar cool, as a guest ale in The Golden Lion in Padstow and I’m in heaven.
What better way I hear you ask (go an ask damn you) to while away a few hours on a hazy summers’ day then than to dig out the OS Map and whip-up a DIY walk that takes in a really decent ale house? Or so I thought …
We were dropped off just north of Wadebridge and headed down the lanes and across the fields, first stop Chapel Amble. Quickly bypassed the Maltsters Arms, which was serving Sharps Doom Bar and St. Austell Tribute and headed onwards to our destination, St. Kew and the the inn of the same name. Some stunning views en-route after you gain some height. St.Mabyn can be seen clearly across the valley.
St. Kew is a bit of a wormhole to get into, we never approach it twice from the same direction. It’s almost as if the village rotates and roads you thought you recognised push you elsewhere – see the Old Forest near Hobbiton for further details. This visit was no different and we came in from a totally unexpected direction, again. Arrival. Ruth bagged a good table outside and I headed into the bar … cue ominous music …
Waited patiently for the guy in front of me to be served his rather effeminate J2O and then I launched into my tried and trusted.
“Pint and a half of HSD from the wood please?”
Please do not read on unless you are of stout mind and heart …
Before I go on, some background. This pub has for many years had sherry casks behind the bar and decanted St. Austell HSD – known locally as High Speed Death but actually Hicks Special Dark – and Tinners from them. and while the thermometer-toting loons amongst our CAMRA friends may argue “that’s not HSD” it made for a very fine, uniquely flavoured pint. One which I and many of my beer-swilling compatriots have enjoyed for a goodly while..
“Sorry, we don’t serve HSD or any of our beer from the wood any more!” There then followed a lengthy *ahem* explanation; including such old favourites as too difficult to clean the barrels, the brewery decided … yada, yada and finally the beer wasn’t consistent. All I heard was – actually we don’t want to be bothered with that any more! Bzzzzzt! Wrong answer.
Flustered I looked behind the bar and spied barrels, at least, of St. Austell Trelawney. In for a penny I order a pint and a half. Cut to back pub exterior. If I was presented this beer to judge at Tuckers Maltings it’d go thusly. Condition: good, fine head on it. Appearance: Ok, not crystal clear. Aroma: swirled the glass (like the pros do) and took a sniff, got a faint whiff of malt and not a lot else. And now to the taste: I’d gauge it somewhere between Watney’s Red Barrel and Double Diamond. This is what can happen when a brewery gets too big for it’s brewing boots. I am not being sexist here when I say that I let Ruth finish my pint … and we left. Don’t ask me about Saleability.
The walk to St. Kew is still very much worth the effort but my advice to you if you seek a decent pint is to pick up a bottle of something from either Tintagel or Penpont brewery, make up a picnic, walk to St. Kew but turn left just before the pub and head into the 15th century churchyard of St James the Great. Find the bench just outside the main entrance and enjoy a fine pint of whatever you brought with you and your cheese and pickles’ there. Oh and make sure to visit Sir John Ballamy of Drewstenton In Devon – his tombstone, and many others, are well-preserved and worth a look. Lots of skulls and cr*p for those of you of a Gothic bent.
Footnote: If you are of a juvenile nature you may enjoy the following. A poster in the church entrance reports, in the large letters, ORGAN BATTLE (which should be enough to illicit a smirk from most of you) and beneath it “see all the action on our large video screens!” Is the Parish of St. Kew open-minded or what!