I was biking for a few days in and around the abbey town of Hexham, on the Tyne in Northumberland, researching routes with my friend Tim. We spent many hours exploring the town, most of it a vain search for decent beer.
The pleasant market square is dominated by mighty religious buildings such as the abbey and the car park. Regular farmers’ markets are held here, and less regularly, riots: the last was in 1761, sparked by a shortage of cask ale. I nosed around some indie local pavement cafes and bars in the name of research, and checked the Wetherspoon as well, for thoroughness.
There were some intriguing sounds coming from the park behind the Abbey, and the bandstand proved to have a rather good brass-funk band busking, with the interesting line-up of drums, soprano sax, baritone sax, and sousaphone. Brass Boppers, I salute you.
We had a quick evening spin along the car-free Sustrans route alongside river and railway, NCN72, west out of town, and into the quiet-ish country lanes towards Haydon Bridge.
The pub there, the Anchor, is an ideal place to sit and sup a good pint, overlooking the fine old peds/bikes-only bridge. Unfortunately a good pint wasn’t available, only keg stuff, so we moved on.
Decent, gravel-bike-friendly tracks and a splendid, almost untrafficked lane chuted us back to Hexham. But there, a common story developed: sorry, we normally have one real ale on, but not just now.
We eventually found one pub with proper beer on tap – the Globe, which conveniently had a courtyard for us and our bikes. (The Heart of Northumberland also had real ale, indeed several, as we found the night after, and – albeit just one – the Craft Union.)
We ate at the rather excellent Sardinian-run pizzeria Buongiorno, al fresco in cobbledy old St Mary’s Chare. (There are chares all over the north-east: it’s an old regional word for ‘lane’, evidently related to ‘char’, as in both ‘lady’ and ‘grill’). We chose it carefully, based on an intricately-weighted variety of factors.
Oh, all right, it was the place mats.