Now I'm not known for too much walking, unless it's in the path of the little white ball, and the main reason I had for going to Masham was to visit the two breweries. First stop was the famous Theakston brewery, which is very picturesque (it has been used as a location in episodes of A Touch of Frost and Heartbeat) and over 300 years old. Five generations of the Theakston family had run this very successful brewery before it was sold to the giant brewer Scottish and Newcastle in 1987. Although most of the Theakston beer is now made elsewhere, there is still some fine ale made here. The tour starts in the small but well-stocked gift shop, and then a brewer took us round the brewery. The tour lasted 50 minutes and was quite good value at £4.50, with a half of Old Peculiar thrown in at the end. We then had lunch in one of the many fine pubs, washed down with some wonderful ale.
In the afternoon we visited the other brewery, Black Sheep, a new a vibrant producer of the finest ale. The Black Sheep Brewery was set up by Paul Theakston in 1992, in direct opposition to Theakstons when that brewery was sold; both breweries will tell you that they have a very good relationship with each other. The tour here is even better than the one at Theakstons, and much more professional: it starts with a film of the brewery, the brewing process, the history and the reason that the brewery was founded. We all marvelled at how Paul has managed to corner a very important section of the market in such a short time, and again we were given a free half at the end of the tour.
The visitor centre is a must even for those not interested in beer, and the shop reminds me of the Guinness factory shop in Dublin in its range of interesting and imaginative products for sale, in this case based on a black sheep theme. There is also a fine bar which is open to the public, and I met another generation of the Theakston family in Alex, who was helping out behind the bar in his gap year. Alex has also designed the label for their own-label house wine bottles.
After returning briefly to the B&B we went back to the Black Sheep brewery to dine in great fashion in the bistro, accompanied by copious quantities of Black Sheep Special, before it was decreed that we should finish off with a couple of pints of Old Peculiar in a pub in the town. (If you are like me and like your beer flat, ask the bar staff to remove the fizzer on the pump and the beer will taste more like it does in these parts.)
The following morning, after yet another healthy breakfast, we set off in convoy around the Dales for a leisurely journey home. I put on around 3 lb, but it was worth it. A great time was had by all, and we will be making this pilgrimage again.