By Fiona Sims
Pic: Our ride to Newport - a 1962 Routemaster #Beerandbuses
You’ll have to forgive me for forgetting certain parts of the day - pint number five and no lunch saw to that. I haven’t drunk this much since I was a student but it seemed churlish to order half pints. With dozens of different ales on offer at a line-up of different Island pubs, and with 70 vintage buses to get you there, it was always going to get a little messy. Welcome to The Isle of Wight Beer & Buses Weekend.
Now in it’s third year, it celebrates – yup, you guessed it – beer and buses. Or to be more specific, real ale and vintage buses. It’s a collaboration between the Isle of Wight branch of CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) and the Isle of Wight Bus Museum and this year proved to be the busiest yet, with festival goers flocking to the Island in their hundreds, judging by the queues for the buses on the Saturday.
We were smart though (or lightweights, depending on how you see it), we held out for the Sunday when crowds were a tad lighter and bars were marginally less jam-packed, starting the day at The King’s Head near my manor in Yarmouth, where manager and beer enthusiast Adrian Evans talked us through the line-up of ales on offer, from the island’s very own Ale of Wight from Goddards Brewery to Punter from Hampshire-based Upham Ale. We kicked off, though, with a pint of crisp, refreshing golden bitter called Innocence from Wiltshire’s Plain Ales.
Then it’s time for our first ride. The buses run every 30 minutes and we arrive just in time to hop on board a 1992 Leyland Lynx 2, which reminds the younger members of our party of rides to school. The oldest bus involved in the weekend dates back to 1934 - a Bristol on loan from the British Vintage Bus Group, and we catch it chugging merrily past later that day. Other highlights include a 1961 Routemaster and a 1962 Bristol – almost all the vehicles are privately owned.
Our Leyland Lynx drops us 15 minutes later at The New Inn, in Shalfleet, where we down pints of rich, hoppy Razor Back from the Ringwood Brewery, located on the edge of the New Forest. We watch as a 1949 AEC trundles past with its cargo of now flush-faced beer lovers, so we wait it out for a 1970 Bristol, which takes us to the island’s capital, Newport.
The event programme helpfully offers a seven-strong pub-crawl in Newport, for those who don’t know the market town’s boozers. We manage just two – a dive bar called Wren’s Nest, where we down easy-going Otter Bright, which is aimed at real ale novices and provides a temporary break from the hop action, before diving straight back in with innovative Horsham-based brewery Dark Star’s Hop Head at the Island’s smallest pub, the wonderfully atmospheric Newport Ale House (beans on toast de rigueur).
Back at Newport Quay we jump on another aged Bristol and head towards The Sun Inn at Hulverstone – it’s not just flushed faces that greet us now, but singing and laughter, as we bump through the countryside, crunching fallen conkers as we go, the soaring cliffs above Freshwater Bay shimmering in the distance in the late afternoon sun.
The ale is beginning to run rather low but bartender John squeezes out a round of Bombardier ‘Glorious English’ from the Charles Wells Brewery in Bedford and all is well with the world, until we realize we’ve missed the last bus and wait to be rescued - with one more for the road.
Next year’s Isle of Wight Buses & Beer Weekend will take place 14-15 October 2017. For more information go to iwbeerandbuses.co.uk
It’s difficult. We sympathise. Despite being an entirely different shape and size we have an uncanny ability to turn up in the same outfit (usually black) and order the same dishes. We both wear glasses, swathe ourselves in scarves and fancy Daniel Craig.
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© 2015 Fiona Beckett & Fiona Sims (the2fionas.com), photography © Gary Latham, website by Scend