His pride is understandable. For many years the notion of selling beer that had been created just a few miles away would have been unthinkable in a pub like this. Now craft ale and its potential for myriad flavours and subtleties is a booming industry with new microbreweries opening every week. And as with a wine and its particular ‘terroir’, counties, towns and villages all over Britain are brewing up ranges to reflect their region, giving places and even pubs their own intriguing personality and flavour again.
Re-filling our water bottles at the bar, we trek from the Three Shires north for a mile and a half, skirting the lower flanks of Lingmoor Fell to drop down into Great Langdale. Through a fairytale-like forest of sculptural trees, where old logs are decorated with coins hammered into every crack, we follow a trail that runs between collapsing, moss-hanging walls into an oddly industrial setting: the eerie quiet of another slate quarry. This one half-resembles a ghost town from the Wild West. Huge, domed mountains with a dusting of snow frame the slumped telegraph poles and rusting machinery. At the bottom, Great Langdale Beck surges in a twisting tumble of clear water. We cross to find ourselves suddenly – and happily – in a manicured beer garden.
Wainwrights’ Inn at the village of Chapel Stile is the sort of place any weary-legged walker dreams of finding. Even on a fair-weather day like ours, the combination of old bar, flag floors, fires, settles and a menu of house-smoked meats is pretty irresistible. So too its range of beers. Seated by a window with views of the trail we just bagged behind us, we try out the freshly pulled ales.
Between us, there are pints of the incredible Loweswater Gold – a golden ale made in Hawkshead using German lager hops – and a robust best bitter called Hardknott Continuum from Hardknott Brewery in Millom. All are sunk quickly, partly because they are delicious and partly because on any pub-crawl, it never pays to get too comfy.
As we rise and pick up packs again, it’s clear that energies are flagging a tad. No one is admitting it, but on the way out I catch all four of us massaging creaking muscles with a grimace. Fortunately the hop to the penultimate pub involves less than a mile of gentle riverside rambling.
We breeze downstream along the beautiful beck-side footpath to the pretty village of Elterwater. At its centre, above a little green, the white-painted Britannia Inn buzzes with atmosphere, inside and out.
If it has changed in the last fifty years, it doesn’t show. The Britannia is an old-school Lakes boozer by any definition and all the more wonderful for it. Think hay bale-thick walls and wonky rooms with wooden pews and live fires. And in every nook and cranny, customers – the sure sign of a brilliant watering hole. Stepping into the taproom, I’m drawn towards the two beers brewed for the pub by Coniston Brewery: Britannia Inn Gold and Britannia Inn Special.
“You look like a Gold man to me.” The barman says, hand poised on the pump. “Am I right?”
Turns out he must be clairvoyant. The honey-coloured brew is cool, hoppy, and exactly what I need. It’s a tough job to motivate everyone back to their feet again. There are even a few unhelpful shouts from the barman suggesting we relax and order a taxi. But a couple of chocolate bars and talk of a hearty fish pie for dinner at the Ambleside Salutation Hotel, BW Premier Collection, provide the requisite boost.