CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> 4 Dumfries Pubs
Robert the Bruce, 81-83 Buccleuch Street, Dumfries, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland
Cavens Arms, 20 Buccleuch Street, Dumfries, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland
Tam O Shanter Inn, 117 Queensberry Street, Dumfries, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland
Ship Inn, 97-99 St Michael Street, Dumfries, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland
Last month we did an odd thing. While making the long drive home to Sheffield from a wedding on Loch Lomond in Scotland, we decided to split up our journey by spending the night somewhere in the borders of Scotland. This "somewhere" turned out to be the market and university town of Dumfries, where we found some good pubs and had a great Indian meal. That, of course, isn't the odd part. The fact that we came back up to Dumfries with two friends a mere three weeks later, just for another Indian meal and some more good pints, is probably a bit impulsive. But it was well worth it.
Located on the River Nith in what in Roman times was the Kingdom of Northumbria, Dumfries is known as the Queen of the South. Robert Burns lived here during his lyric-writing period, and he is buried in St Michael's Churchyard close to where we had our Indian meals. Dumfries is also the home of Greyfriars Monastery, where Robert the Bruce killed his rival John Comyn before seizing the Scottish throne.
On both of our trips to Dumfries we stayed at centrally located lodgings where we could walk everywhere. On our first visit, after spending an hour driving around Dumfries searching for a place to obtain a parking disk so we could actually park and get out of the car, followed by driving around searching for the town's elusive rail station where we were told the B&Bs were located , we quickly checked into our accommodation and then headed out for a badly needed pint.
We fell thirstily into the first pub we came across, the Robert the Bruce. This Wetherspoons pub is housed in a former Methodist church and is named after the well-known Scottish king. Sadly the Robert was out of local Scottish ales, so we had pints of Ruddles Best (3.7% ABV, Morland Brewery, Abingdon, Oxfordshire). As is the experience with Wetherspoons pubs, our round was only £3.80 for two pints, which is always a refreshing surprise. This was a good fine pint in a well-kept condition, with a bitter flavour that soothed our stretched nerves: a neckrub of a pint. We sat out in the rear garden and chatted with the locals about Scottish politics and motorcycle racing, as one does.
On our second visit 3 weeks later, when we drove up impulsively from Sheffield with Mike and Holly, this pub was also our first stop for an initial cheap round, and also where we met up with a local friend, Alan. Andrew and I had pints of Great Grey Owl (3.6% ABV, Butcombe Brewery, Wrington, Bristol). Described as an "American pale ale", this pint offers good sharp Pacific Northwest hops in a surprisingly dark amber colour. We all sat once again in the rear garden where Andrew and I bumped into one of the locals we'd met on the first trip. I had the feeling this was going to happen.
Reversing back to the first visit, Andrew and I next walked down the road to the Cavens Arms, which we passed on the initial drive into town and noticed all of its CAMRA award signs outside. The Cavens was also recommended by the gents at the Robert. It was a Monday night, the only night the pub doesn't do food, and the dining area in the front of the pub was fairly quiet.
But in the back of the pub there was a convivial crowd around the bar. We started with pints of Arizona (4.1% ABV, Phoenix Brewery, Manchester), a pleasant golden ale which promised a citrus hops zing but delivered very subtle and light hops instead. We allowed as how we were in Scotland, so we enjoyed the subtlety. We took our pints out to the tiny back garden and chatted with a Scot who lived in Bristol for years, and we also chatted with the former manager who gave us a map of Dumfries and directed us to a couple of good places to eat. We went back inside for our second round which included a pint of Flying Horse (4.1% ABV, Sulwath Brewers, Castle Douglas, Dumfries & Galloway). After three sips to clear our palate this proved to be a quality classic bitter with a nice hoppy push. Our other pint was Double Gold (5.0% ABV, Phoenix Brewery). Um, I can't think of anything to say about this. I was a bit disappointed with the weak character of this beer considering the high-ABV risk involved in drinking it. "Honey and nettles", commented Andrew. Yes, I think that sums it up.
Our second visit was on a Saturday night when the Cavens Arms was doing a fast and furious food trade. As we entered the crowded pub I held my breath and made the leading dive through the dense crowd that was waiting at the front for dining tables. When we emerged at the rear bar we found the back of the pub impressively crowded as well, but we all managed to find some sort of space in which to stand. Andrew had a pint of Bank Top Blonde (5.0% ABV, Bank Top Brewery, Bolton, Lancashire), which had a character that gave me an impression of drinking a hoppy pale around a campfire. Mike, Alan, and I all had pints of Bitter & Twisted (3.8% ABV, Harviestoun Brewery, Dollar, Clackmannanshire). Our pints were excellent specimens of this fine hops-ridden brew. It felt like a good clean hoppy sweep of a tired mouth after a dusty day.
On this second visit we had time to check out the Tam O Shanter. As we first walked in a regular customer offered me a taste of his pint of Solway Mist (5.5% ABV, Sulwath Brewers, Castle Douglas, Dumfries & Galloway), which I found complicated and warm. When the barman gave me a fresh taster, I found it complicated and cool, but it wasn't really to my taste. I also had a quick taste of Holly's Rosie's Pig cider that tasted just like apples. Surprising, isn't it? I settled on a pint of Clipper IPA (4.2% ABV, Broughton Ales,Broughton-in-Furness, The Borders). This is a nicely different brew, smooth in a rectangular sense with a fine velveteen mesh. It's a lovely beer. This is a great pub, too. Happily for us it doesn't do food, so on this Saturday night it wasn't rammed with diners.
After we got our pints we moved out into the central beer garden which imparted a certain inner-circle magic. As Holly chatted with a couple of locals we had an enjoyable conversation with the landlady and her dog Fizzy. There is a really good feeling to this pub that wraps around like a comfy fleece, and it was definitely our favourite pub in Dumfries.
On both trips we enjoyed a very excellent curry at the highly recommended Jewel in the Crown in St Michael Street. And on both trips, after our meal we headed down the road to the Ship Inn. This is a typical backstreet pub located on a main drag, and on our first visi we were obviously the only non-locals, two castaway visitors in a sea of regulars. I had a pint of Ossian Supreme Golden (4.1% AVB, Inveralmond Brewery, Inveralmond, Perthshire). This was a very nice follower to the excellent meal: golden with a lovely bitter chomp. On this Monday night the only other cask ale option was "Specky", aka Old Speckled Hen, because they'd just had a busy weekend and sold out of the other four cask ales. We sat in the front room near a group of local men playing cribbage in the corner underneath a sign that said, "Dominoes to be played in back room only!" Because I always associate exclamation points in print with shouting, I imagine this warning must have to be shouted frequently at this pub. Perhaps the domino-playing customers get rowdy, toppling tables and such.
Our second visit was 3 weeks later on the Saturday night after our meal with our friends. Once again we sat in the front room, probably at the same table we'd sat at before. There were more cask ales on this night, so I decided on a pint of Lia Fail (4.8% ABV, Inveralmond Brewery, Inveralmond, Perthshire). This has an auburn-tan taste, a good bitter character, and a distinctly brown flavour. It's very Scottish but wonderfully bitter, and it was another good brew to follow another excellent curry. It reminded me of rich brown Scottish legs beneath a kilt. It's a men-in-kilts bitter.
Although we continued on to two more pubs, the Ship was our final cask ale visit of the night. Driving back to Sheffield the next morning we all thought we should make a regular thing of going up to Dumfries for a curry. It's really not such a bad idea.