To Manchester, yesterday, for CAMRA's National Winter Ales Festival, and a chance to sample some of those dark, stronger ales traditionally associated with the winter months, but rarely seen in pubs.
The journey was not without difficulty: On Wednesday a train derailed and caught fire at a crucial junction in Salford. Fortunately no one was hurt but the incident disrupted all trains into Manchester from the north. Trains from Lancaster were terminating at Preston and, as usual, nobody really seemed to know what was going on. (Actually lots of people seemed to know, but they all knew differently!)
A promised connection at Preston failed to materialise and in the end I went down the main line as far as Warrington and got to Manchester from there. A little knowledge of railway geography can come in useful at times like these.
At the Festival I met up with occasional Starcross crew members Hugh and Duncan and also with a few other people that I only seem to bump into at events such as this. (Not that I go to too many, you understand). It would be impossible, even if one attended every session, to sample more than a small proportion of the beers on offer and even drinking halves rather than pints doesn't help much, such is the range. I concentrated on dark beers from the more established brewers such as Adnams, Fullers and Thwaites as well as from some of the newer ones, whose names, for some reason, seem to escape me this morning!
One thing that did please me was that the beer was either served direct from the cask, or by handpump without the tight sparkler that is so common in pubs these days and turns the beer into foam - knocking out all the taste in the process. Needless to say, all the beer was in excellent condition and most of it was well under £3 a pint, some as little as £2.40.
Travel arrangements weren't much better on the way back. By mid-evening an hourly shuttle service from Manchester Victoria to Preston was being advertised (Lancaster trains usually go from Piccadilly) but the 20.22 was delayed by 30 minutes so I got a Southport train as far as Wigan and changed there instead. (I do get to all the best places these days).