08 July 2009

Drag me to Hull

She's a sport, is my wife. I'm sure I've mentioned this before. It would have been pretty obvious to anyone marrying a massive fan of both The Beautiful South and Philip Larkin that, sooner or later, a trip to Hull would be on the cards. If I didn't write it into the wedding vows, I certainly meant to. My work trip to Manchester last week provided the opportunity, and when that wrapped up she flew in to join me and travel eastwards to Humberside.

While I waited for her flight I made my second visit to B-Lounge, just down from Piccadilly station. It's a trendy/businessy sort of place and I had been expecting to be drinking coffee as I took advantage of the complimentary wi-fi, so was delighted on my first visit to discover they had three handpumps. It was a return to old favourite Theakston's Bitter first time out, and while I watched the Manchester Airport live arrivals page, I supped upon Thwaite's Lancaster Bomber. Despite the name, I enjoyed this. It's light of body and somewhat lacking in condition but, served cool, was an excellent refresher on a muggy afternoon with its tannic flavours offering an iced tea kind of experience.

When m'lady arrived in to Manchester, food was top of the agenda and we made for Lees's Ra!n bar, as mentioned previously. Over pies and tennis I decided on a Lees Bitter for me but wasn't too keen on it. It's very malty and sweet but had just a slightly off-putting cardboard thing at the end. Mrs Beer Nut loved it, unlike the Brewer's Dark I'd recommended for her, so it was an easy swap.

And so to Hull.

Yes, it's grim. It's as grim as you've probably heard it is. The little we saw of downtown resembled the sort of British dormitory town that doesn't have to strive to be interesting -- except this is a major regional city and therefore should know better. We stayed up in Pearson Park, near Larkin's first Hull residence, the point where the city just starts to turn leafy and pleasant. After a long day, neither of us had the energy for anything other than a stroll round the park and a pint of beer in the hotel bar -- steeply-priced but quite decent Director's Bitter.

Next morning we struck northward to Grafton Street, site of The Housemartins', and later Beautiful South's, headquarters for many years. We were a bit early for a pint in the bands' local, The Grafton Hotel (spot the fanboy, left), but they do have cask ales according to the sign, which is encouraging for future reference.

Northwards again, to Newland Park, Larkin's final residence, and across the street to the university where he spent most of his working life. From there we made the long trek out to the quite pretty suburban village of Cottingham, and beyond to the small municipal cemetery where he's buried. After that, we were thirsty.

On heading back to Hull city, the first stop was The Whalebone, an ordinary little locals' pub which seems to mainly serve the surrounding industrial areas and depots. What it serves them with, however, includes several beers brewed on site. I opted for the Diana Mild and loved it: about the palest of the milds I met on the trip, it's an attractive shade of ruby with some lovely creamy chocolate flavours, almost shading towards caramel sweetness. My other half was on the Neck Oil, a clean and lightly hoppy bitter with that peachy, floral character we both love. One in the Whalebone was enough and we were getting a bit close to our train time, with another pub to visit on my list.

I had picked out The Wellington Inn simply because it was the reigning local CAMRA pub of the year. It looked nice enough when I dropped off Mrs Beer Nut there and went to collect my bag from the hotel. When I returned half an hour later she was drinking Pegasus, a very caramelly amber bitter with a sweaty sort of finish that would take a fair bit of getting used to.

Hot and tired from my walk I wasn't in the mood for random ticking (not that such things are tolerated here, see left) so on going to the bar I asked for something pale and hoppy. Two beers were proffered by the friendly barmaid. Icarus was the requisite shade of yellow but rather dull. Askrigg by the Yorkshire Dales Brewery, however, fitted my requirements perfectly. It's supremely hoppy with an uncompromising, unashamed dandelion bitterness with more than a little bit of metal about it, but it was palate-cleansing, invigorating and just what I needed.

As I sipped, I looked around and came to realise how The Wellington had earned its laurels. It's a bright, cool and airy pub on a more-or-less open plan with high ceilings and wooden floors. The decor is simple and consists almost entirely of breweriana, with a collection of pumpclips arranged by brewery in a way that makes me look like, well, someone who isn't an obsessive-compulsive maniac. As well as the six or so handpumps, there's a range of quality kegged beers from around the world and a magnificent bottled menu with most of what you'd want from the US, Belgium and Germany, including rare specials, and all displayed through the glass walls of a walk-in fridge near the bar. This lot, combined with the evident love that the management have for their beer and their bar makes The Wellington Inn one of the nicest pubs I've ever drank a pint in. Would I recommend you travel to Hull for it? Probably not, but if you make it to Humberside for any other reason it's simply unmissable.

We contemplated staying for another and getting a later train, but York was calling so, content with our lot, we got our stuff together and made the short walk to Hull station.

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