Last weekend I visited the Cloudspotting Music Festival in the Forest of Bowland. Four days in the middle of nowhere listening to good music, the kids being kept busy with activities with good beer and food. The festival is small, 5 minutes walk end to end with 2 stages, a food area and a large covered beer tent with DJ playing all day, bands play alternately at each stage, whilst after hours venues in the woods host acoustic or jam sessions. But lets get back to the beer. The beer came from a range of local breweries, selections coming from the likes of Bowland, Dent, Settle, Three Bees and Hopstar and Ribble Valley, with 5 ciders on offer accompanying the 6 ale pumps.
The beer was regularly rotated with a range of 10-12 beers appearing and reappearing over the weekend. I’d not say there were any spectacular beers, but what they offered was a good range of tasty session ales which were kept well and served well. I didn’t have a beer or cider I didn’t like over the weekend and I tried virtually all of them whilst on site. Pricing wasn’t over the top either with £3.50 for beers and £4.00 for ciders, when you consider they had a captive audience, 10 miles from the nearest decent shop. It is comparable with some town centre prices and when compared to events I have been to where beer is closer to £5 and is normally limited to the mainstream selections of a large brewer, I was happy to pay for a good freshly poured ale throughout the day. Of course, exceptional beers are a bonus, but when you have to cater for all tastes across thousands of people, good solid session ales are the way to go.
There is something about just being able to spend the day or three chilling out with a slowly supped pint in your hand, with no jobs to do and good live music within earshot. It is one of the joys of camping for me that everything slows down, breakfast takes 30 minutes to cook as you juggle pans and burners, at night you have ample time for a beer waiting for dinner to cook. Even on the Sunday when it rained most of the day, a golf umbrella and hiding in the beer tent got rid of that problem. It is an event I’d thoroughly recommend for both music fans, and as somewhere to chill out for a weekend, and plan to return next year if holiday plans allow. I’ve not been around a more friendly crowd of strangers in a long time with no sign of trouble all weekend, and that with several thousand people is saying something.
Now back to more local news. It appears the rumours I spoke of regarding the Ship Inn, Brighouse have come to fruition. As I looked inside last Thursday night, not actually going in, all mentions of real ale are gone. Replacing them are signs offering cheap Carling all day every day, special offers on Strongbow during the week, Bud at £1.50 per bottle. Add to this the emphasis on wall to wall music from the free jukebox, karaoke, DJ and live acts, suddenly it has become the new choice of low cost drinking in town, even competing with Wetherspoons on some beers. The Barge and the Commercial will definitely gain customers who don’t like this new Ship Inn for the lack of real ale, Wetherspoons mopping up some of those customers as well. Whilst the Black Bull and Ship Inn will now compete for a similar crowd, the pricing structure at the Ship will attract the less desirables and the Bull will get those customers who want a similar style of pub, but less “in your face”. The old format for the Ship Inn had found a good unique niche being a good real ale town centre pub, whilst not being Wetherspoons. The new one just doesn’t stand out, or rather it does for the wrong reasons.
Substantiated information from two trusted sources say that a new manager was insisted on by the business partner when Marsha took up her role at Oates Brewery. The initial choice of manager, who was keeping the existing business model, was soon replaced by the current one who is responsible for its conversion into a “Carling and Karaoke” joint. A sad end for a good period for the Ship Inn, it seems to alternate between being a pub you want to visit and a pub making you want to avoid it. I don’t want to see a business fail, but I’d like to see that dropping the real ale pub format was the wrong decision nevertheless.