Wednesday, January 30, 2008

More Ruralish Scotland Photos

I'm pretty backed up with publishing photos, so I do a few per day these days. Sunday two weeks ago I want on a hike in the area around Heriot-Watt, here are a few more photos from that hike...

Edinburgh from afar

Hilltop 5
I've been playing around with de-saturating photos these days, I like the effect it creates I think. Its like a compromise between B&W and colour.

Hilltop 1

More about Cambridge tomorrow I hope!

Cambrige Winter Cask Ale Festival

It was a little daunting walking into the packed room, as there was almost no room to move between the crowd. I have to admit I'm not too fond of crowds, so I was getting a little ansy. But my resolve held, and I forced my way toward the bar. For I was here at my very first CAMRA cask ale festival in the UK, and nothing was going to stop me at this point. I waited about 5 minutes to be served, at which point I randomly selected a half of Bartram's Marld.
Long story short: I had a great time. However, I wasn't terribly impressed by most of the beers I had... Now before I get murdered, let me qualify the second claim, after which I will make the short story long.

I said that I wasn't impressed by most of the beers that I had. Thats not to mean that there were no good beers there, its just that bad luck and bad timing resulted in me not getting to drink them. We arrived around 16:45 on the very last day of the festival, and at this point a lot of casks were empty. I assume that word spread about the best beers and those ran out quickly. One point against me for timing.
Second point against me... while we had a beer menu, it really was like shooting for fish while ordering a half of beer. I'd hear about a good one, or read something on the menu that I liked, but by the time I got a chance to order it was already out. So I'd end up ordering whatever was still on. Sometimes that didn't work out so well. Not that I really had any BAD beers, I just didn't have anything that really stuck out as awesome.

I do recall later in the night having one that did stick out as quite nice, that being Rhymney Dark from Merthyr Tydfil, Mid Glamorgan. Like I said, it was later in the night. But I had just finished an unfortunate bout of a couple of halves of heavier beers, and this at 4% abv was quite a nice change. Not only that, it was a nice easy to drink dark beer (I stop short of saying it was a stout or a porter, it was just a nice dark beer). I wish I was able to try a full pint, but alas, when I went to buy the round they were out. I instead ordered a full pint of some 7% dark beer that I can't recall nor find on my beer menu, but it was acceptable, even if it did reduce my sobriety quite a bit.
Upstairs bar
The first beer of the night was pretty decent as well: Bartrams Marld from Ipswitch, Suffolk. While I didn't take specific notes on this beer either, I recall it being a solid English bitter. Quite a bit of hop flavour if I recall correctly... and I do know at the end I was a little put off actually by some flavour unfortunately. I had trouble placing it, it didn't last into the aftertaste (which gave my mouth that lovely hoppy taste I love). I really liked it at first, I don't know what happened at the end there.

Now I know I'm being quite a horrible beer reporter by not taking notes on each beer I drink. Fact is I was concentrating on socialization for the night, really. I was there to have fun, and like I said, nothing really stuck out as unique and better than any beer in recent memory (I'm sure I'll get a few comments to the effect of "what the bloody hell are you talking about, there was X and Y and Z you wanker!" but lets not forget that I didn't try (or have the chance to try) most of the beer there).
Downstairs Casks
I had headed down from Edinburgh to Cambridge with my friend and co-brewing-student Simon, not only to drink beer, but to also visit my friends Melissa and Jon as well as see the beautiful city again. We arrived at the beer festival at quarter to five or so. After a couple of beers we mozied downstairs to see the sights. The fun of the evening really started up when my small female companion, Melissa, managed to squeeze her way into a small table. I came over and joined for awhile, happy to have a place to rest for awhile. Its at this point that we met Valerie, Mike, Bruce, and Kevin. Valerie was also from Canada visiting Mike but moving on soon. Mike was a postdoc doing... something I unfortunately forget. Bruce was a pig farmer and sausage maker from somewhere near wales. And Kevin was ... seemingly a decent bloke I never got much chance to talk to, other than try his good dry cider he had found. All around, a great fun crowd to add to ours.
High Five
The night carried on as nights do with new friends; the beer flowing, the conversation changing from the mundane slowly toward the ridiculous. The cameras come out and an outrageous amount of digital film is 'wasted'. I have many other cool photos beyond what I've publicly displayed on my flickr set, but I tend not to publish photos of people I know without their permission. The whole night really reminded me of how things worked when I backpacked around Europe in 2003... there are friends everywhere, you just need to meet them and drink a few beers. Beer as the great socializer.
Eventually my memories of the night become hazy, which makes it hard to relay the information of what happened...

I think we left the event around 8:30 pm or so, with most of the beer being gone by this point besides beers > 7.5%. As much as I'd like to try them, I don't think I could handle much more at that point.

My friend and I had a pint at a pub on the way back, after which I intended to write my girlfriend back in Canada a nice long love e-letter like I often do while in that state, but after laying down I realized that getting up was not an option.

In the end, it was a hell of a time. In the next installment: my 7 hr walk around Cambridge and the photos I took while doing that.
(Yep, thats me!)
In the end, I fell like ass the next day, but not too bad.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What if two clones fell in love?

Wouldn't that take homosexuality to a new level?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Cambridge Travels 1

Tapped Casks
So this weekend I took a wee jaunt down to Cambridge to visit with some friends, see the beautiful city (again) and hit up the CAMRA Winter Ales festival. I was disappointed by almost nothing... the weather was excellent both days, I didn't spend too much money, I took lots of photos (423 to be exact), and tried some interesting beers. Unfortunately we were there on the last day, and by about 8 pm pretty much all the beer was gone except the 8-11% stuff (and I really couldn't have too much more (don't worry though, mother, I was a good boy as always (yes, my mother reads my blog))).

I'll do a write-up on [what I remember of] the beer festival in a day or two, as I have about 30 min to get about an hour worth of chores done since I just got home. And why am I home so late you ask, interested as always for an answer? Well, let me regale you with a tale of woe I've only heard about in British rail system lore...

I took Monday off school to spend all day Sunday exploring Cambridge taking photos. I think I got some pretty good ones, by the way, which I shall eventually publish on flickr. So Monday morning I booked a set of trains leaving at 10:33, arriving in Edinburgh at 15:30 or so. First problem: in Peterbrough apparently there was something wrong with the reservation system, so all seat reservations were canceled. Luckily the train was only about 1/2 full so the annoyance was minor. I ended up sitting by an interesting gentleman traveling home from Melbourne to Edinburgh. I regret not catching his name before the events that occur soon.

Carrying on, just past Newcastle the train stops. Not uncommon, I suppose. I read my book (new book from Pete Brown, who writes about beer and I really like his style, I'll write a review one day... but I digress) for awhile and realized that about 20 minutes had passed while we were stopped and people were getting fussy. The conductor by this point announces that there are problems with the overhead wires up ahead, and they have no clue about what this will mean for our future overland transportation. 30 min... 40 min... after 45 minutes they announce that we are returning to Newcastle station... we'll be put on buses that will take us to a station further on, where we will catch a train to Edinburgh.

I forget the name of the town we took the bus to, but it was a bit of a zoo with a train of people getting onto buses. After a one hour bus ride, I ponder if I should just head into the local to get a pint and a bite to eat, since I believed this whole powerline outage was going to completely mess up the entire north-south train system and we might be there awhile. I was right, however I did not go to the pub. We stood at the station for about an hour (oh, its about 17:50 now, by the way)... a high speed northbound train passed through the station at some point... a little demoralizing, to say the least. Eventually a train comes, and we arrive in Edinburgh at around 6:30, almost 3 hours late. Well, at least rush hour is over...

In anycase, it turns out that if we were on the express train before us, it would have been fine. If we were on the express train after us, we would have been late (actually, as far as I can tell the train we boarded was the train after ours) but we wouldn't have had to get off and bus it. I figure they started busing us then the wire problem was fixed, so we just got caught in "emergency broken response".
To add insult to people traveling to Aberdeen, though, they canceled the service past Edinburgh. Ha.

Apparently there was a bloke trying to travel all the way to the Shetland islands today and certainly he missed his ferry. I hope the National Express put that guy up in a hotel!

Anyway... ok I wrote too much about the train, so now I should end this excerpt of my weekend travels. More tomorrow... in theory.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

360 Panorama and Cambridge Beer Festival

First, I'll post this... I just put together a huge 360 degree hilltop view from 115 photos. Its a little crude, but if you click on the photo below you can see what it was like at the top of that hill:
360 Panorama Near Edinburgh

Second, tomorrow I'm heading down to a CAMRA winter cask ales festival in Cambridge, England. I've been to Cambridge before and it is quite beautiful. It shall be nice to go again... I have a friend who just moved there, and another guy in the brewing program here is from Cambridge so I'm sure the combination of good beer and friends will make for a merry weekend... hey, maybe you'll see me there!


Monday, January 21, 2008

Brian's Hiking Blog??

"Brian" you say, "why has your so-called 'beer-blog' not had any updates about beer?"
Well, I suppose its simple... I'm in 'beer school' and by all accounts a professional brewer by trade. My classes all relate to beer, so there is a lot of beer going on in my head. But of course I need some hobbies that take my mind off of beer. It seems that I've turned to photography, hiking, and reading (btw, Ian Rankin writes some pretty good books set in Edinburgh). In a way, this beer blog was an escape from my old regular job too. I'll keep it up though, I'm thinking actually that it might be a good idea to start writing "articles" about topics I learn in school. It would be helpful certainly to learn the material after all...

For now, I'll leave you with 2 bits of information. First, I finally found a decent pub to go to with some cask ales within walking distance of where I live (on campus). You really can't get a pint of decent beer on campus, its all lagers. I suppose theres Guinness... but still. The Riccarton Arms has two cask ales on tap (Deuchar's and a guest beer), decent prices (£2.40) for a pint, not too busy, and its frequented by mostly locals. Its about a 25 minute walk from campus, and I've enjoyed going there to sit and read my Ian Rankin book(s). I suppose I could, in theory, also do homework there too... hm, maybe it'll happen.
Anyway, that makes me happy.

Second, I've taken to hiking of late, as I need to get in better shape. I jog too, but thats not as interesting. On Sunday (the 20th) I took off at 8:30 in the morning from the campus and headed west. About 7 hrs, 16 km, and 633 photos later I returned home. It was quite an interesting day. I enjoy relatively aimless wandering. I ended up hiking through a bog to get up a small hill. I took some good photos, but they'll take time to process. Here is a link to the photos I've processed so far, and some examples. Other than that... cheers!
Fragile Roof

Roadside Toilet!


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Cruach Ardrain Hike

Now I know what you're thinking... why haven't I been blogging lately? Not for lack of content nor time... like most people with an essentially pointless blog, sometimes I just don't get around to writing anything. Oh well. Anyway...
G7 IMG_4438 - Version 2.jpg
Last weekend I went on a hike up Cruach Ardrain. The weather was absolutely horrible. The wind gusts were enough to knock me over if I didn't hit the ground and dig into the snow. It rained the whole way up, with the rain coming in sideways. I had a rain cover for my bag, but it kept blowing off, leaving the interior to get soaked. The air temp was above 0 C, which was nice but also meant that the snow was melting, creating rivers of ice water under the snow that filled the inside of my boots again and again. I was ignorant to the weather that morning so the socks I wore were too light. My feet froze... not quite past the point of loosing feeling in them, but still quite uncomfortable. My entire body was soaked to the bone with either rain or sweat. I was grumpy before we hit the summit, but on the way down my morale improved greatly by sliding down the hills on my butt on the way down. Plus by that point the rain let up, and we were on the backside of the mountain so the wind died down a lot.

Basically I got my ass kicked by the mountain and the weather. I wasn't in great shape to begin with, and the weather really got to me. But I was determined to take it to the top (not that I could have turned around at all, it was white-out conditions by the time we got into the cloud cover, and I'd probably get lost on my own!). But I learned some key lessons for next time, although knowing my luck I'll pack all sorts of extra stuff and it'll be a sunny day. Oh well, better safe than sorry.

I'm glad I went, and I certainly learned to bring better stuff next time. Which should be a couple of weeks from now, up Ben Lawers.

My few photos from the trip can be found here (click the link). The camera I brought (Canon G7) got pretty wet, but still worked fine. I guess it can take a bit of moisture. Thats good to know!