Beer World (part six)

The Reliance in Leeds is a fine place to enjoy a Sunday lunch before heading home. Veggie sausages and mash, some odd mushy peas on the side, and all washed down with the house beer. Reliance Best, brewed for the pub by Acorn Brewery, is a bright, chestnut pint with lots of caramel notes and toasted malt. But it is in no way overpowering or cloying in the way that malty beers sometimes seem to me and, at 3.8% abv, I could imagine downing a few more than the train timetable allowed.

In any case, the Best was much more evocative of Yorkshire than the first pint of the weekend had been. When we walked into the Regent at Chapel Allerton on the Friday night, the giant plasma screens displayed the 5-0 score line, but the pub’s punters were stereotypically stoical about England’s dominance over puny San Marino. A pint and a – relatively – quiet corner to catch up and enjoy the glorious straw colour of Leeds Pale, an old-school pale ale, without the citrus; like Deuchars, but more rounded, easy drinking, light and quaffable if maybe a little too easily forgotten.

The next day we head out to Malham, to walk the well-trodden loop up to Malham Tarn and back. When I was thirteen, all of my friends at school had visited Malham on a geography field trip – I did history, which did not allow for such adventures. Thirty years late, I arrive ready to enjoy the scenery and geology.

We walked up via Janet’s Foss to the gaping mouth of Gordale Scar. Despite the bright blue of the sky, the ground was sodden – there had been a lot of rain, which didn’t bode well for the viability of scrambling up the face of the bottom waterfall. A short look at the rocks, the water, the invisible path through both, and I am decided – the head-cold, the terror, the desire for dry feet; we are not going up through the scar, despite Alex’s enthusiasm.

Back down the gorge to the little bridge and the friendly burger van, then off across the fields. Shadowing a wall, the path above is etched into the steep grass, up to the limestone crags hanging on the skyline. A style, a kissing gate, and we are off and up, following the shortening steps, boot-cut into turf, towards the bright blue skyline.

On the table-top of Malham’s famous limestone pavement, looking back to the south and the sunshine, there are sandwiches and rest. Then there are children, talkative and intrusive in the slow air silence, and we’re ready to go again. Skirting the edge of Gordale Scar, K walking inside the ramshackle wall, safe from the cliff, we amble over sprung turf until we reach the point we would’ve reached had we made it past the rushing waters at the bottom of the Scar. Peering over the edge, back down the sketchy path, K is grateful to be where she already is.

Then we are striding along the broad grassy path between slabs of limestone. Had I been on that field-trip all those year’s ago, I might have been able to describe the geology in terms other than ‘weird’ and ‘sublime’. Half a mile, maybe more, and we reach the road, overshooting at first, losing the step stile in the dry stone confusion. Then the path cuts across the Roman street, which leads off to the east where the map suggests there is an ancient fort, unseen. We continue north westwards, along a gravel track. The wind becomes uncomfortable, a presentiment of winter on the uplands despite the autumn sunshine. The long straight track heads off towards the trees and the glint of water’s dapple.

Malham Tarn is a very large tarn: to me, a tarn is a small reddish-brown patch of water, tucked under the shoulder of a fell, not a small lake beneath a grand house and served by two stone boat-houses. Nor do they drain over a nineteenth century stone race, feeding a broad beck. But such is Malham Tarn, the highest lake in England, and glorious it is under an October sun. A pause by the water’s edge before turning back to complete the loop.

The path leads down through a shallow gorge, a picture perfect location for a prehistoric film or a 1970s episode of Dr Who. Some incongruous Highland cattle punctuate the greenery; their disdainful stares masked behind their ginger fringes. Then the sky opens up above Malham Cove, the deep fissures of the cliff-top pavement home to miniature forests of diffident plants. The views from the lip give onto the rolling lowlands, and to Malham itself. Some walkers have installed themselves with bottles of beer on the cusp, legs dangling over the drop; others, like us, pick their way over the stepping stone surface, while amiable dogs canter carefree, untroubled by vertigo or caution.

Stone steps lead down to the base of the cliffs, in the bow of the cove, and a more manicured path takes us back to the village. Once more on tarmac, we give the Lister Arms a miss (there was a queue at the bar – an actual queue of people, apparently unfamiliar with the etiquette of pubs, standing in a line!) and instead made for the hikers’ bar at the Buck Inn. A pint of Timothy Taylor’s Golden Best, a light mild, all smooth amber tones and soft easy drinking, is the reward before heading back to Leeds.

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