The Stone Food & Drink Festival is held in the canal town of Stone, in Staffordshire. Now in its 5th year, it attracts people from the district as well as the casual Antipodean interloper. There are festival activities all week, leading up to the official opening on the Friday.
We arrived on Thursday afternoon with just enough time to check into our B&B, slip into our glad rags and walk into town to the Royal Exchange Hotel, where we were joining the ‘Real Ale Trail’. Sponsored by Titanic Brewery, we joined a fleet of mini buses, taking us to 8 pubs in the local area where Staffordshire Ales were proudly dispensed. Titanic is a member of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), a group that ‘campaigns for real ale, real pubs and your rights’ and in particular an appreciation of real ales, ciders and perries as part of the national heritage and culture. They sell at only 4 pubs and have great names for their beers such as Anchor, Lifeboat, Iceberg and my favourite – Steerage. The buses departed, each heading to a different pub to start with, to make sure that the pubs were not overwhelmed with too many merrymakers at any one time. With roughly 20 minutes at each pub, there was just enough time to sample a drink at each hostelry. If you were a local, this meant downing a pint but for the rest of us, a half pint was sufficient.
Each of the pubs had it’s own special charm and most could only fit a dozen or so people at any one time. All of the publicans put on beer and cider soaking food (sandwiches, chips, good old pork pies and at the smallest pub, SAOs – although their known as cream crackers here) and many had open fires. One (The Red Lion) was in a working farm so it was a bit like dropping into your neighbours rumpus room for a drink – complete with bar and novelty decorations (straight to the Pool Room). Almost all were free houses which meant they were not tied to any one brewery and could serve what they wished. I always remember when I was a kid and my Dad drove ‘all the way over’ to the pub in Salisbury (next suburb), just to buy some CUB beer for a BBQ my parents were having as all the pubs in our area were bonded to XXXX.
By the end of the evening, the 20 minute stops had dragged out to 40 minutes and the rate at which the pints were going down was decidedly slower. We were deposited back in town at 11.30pm with quite a few drinks under our belt and a short walk home (alas, no kebab shop on the way…) 8 pubs for £8 is a bargain in anyone’s currency.
The Stone Real Ale Trail
The Royal Exchange – 26 Radford St, Stone ST15 8DA
The Brushmaker’s Arms – Kibblestone Rd, Oulton ST15 8UW
The Roebuck Inn – Sandon Rd, Hlderstone ST15 8SF
The Green Man – Uttoxeter Rd, Milwich ST18 0EG
The Red Lion – Uttoxeter Rd, Dayhills ST15 8RU
Little Stoke Cricket Club – Uttoexter Rd, Stone ST15 8RA (a great place for Aussies to be as you can imagine)
The Greyhound Inn – Butterhill Bank, Burston ST18 0DR
The Railway Inn – Station Rd, Norton Bridge ST15 0NT
Fitzherbert Arms – Swynnerton ST15 0RA