Yesterday was a 'Civil Service Privilege Day', so since everybody else at work had the day off, so did we. But, the kids still had school, so after dropping our son off, we headed out for the Hook Norton Brewery for a tour. Tours are only offered M-F, so I had been waiting for an opportunity to go. There were nine of us from work that went on the 1030 tour.
The Hook Norton Brewery has been in operation since 1849. The six story Victorian tower brewery was built in 1896 and most of the brewery's equipment is still powered by a 25hp steam engine (I think she said single piston, double barreled?) installed in 1899. The water comes from their own wells and they used to grow their own grain. Apparently, they've always bought the hops. There is a fair mix of new and old techniques used in the brewing process - old coppers, new cooling machines. We saw various stages of fermentation and where the beer is put into casks (not kegs, BTW). It is at this point when they have to pay tax on the beer (not when it is sold as in the US). They still have draft horses to deliver the beer within a five mile radius - we would have seen the horses, but they were hiding in the fields.
After the tour we drove into the town of Hook Norton and had lunch. It was beautifully sunny, but we had a southerner with us who was cold (!) so we ate inside.
It was a very interesting tour, glad we went.
As the leaflet says, the Hook Norton Brewery is a place where progress is measured in pints.
If you like beer and would like to see how it is produced, join one of the brewery tours, which include a trip around the brewery, museum and village museum with sampling of a few kinds of beer. You will even get a badged glass as a souvenir. More souvenirs can be obtained from the brewery shop.
The interesting thing about the Hook Norton Brewery is that it does not follow the latest fads and produces its ale in a traditional way, as it has done since 1849. It's the only Victorian 'tower' brewery in Britain still driven by steam. On the ground floor is a 25 horsepower steam engine, supplying motive power to the machinery through a series of belts, cogs and shafts. All the stages of the brewing process flow logically from floor to floor: mashing is done at the top, boiling in the middle and fermentation and racking at the bottom. Beer is still delivered in the village by a horse drawn dray. Once a year they hold a fantastic beer festival, raising a lot of money for charity.
Open: Monday to Friday - 9 am.- 5 pm., in December also on Saturdays
Admission: Adults - 2 GBP, senior citizens and children - 1 GBP
No disabled access except to the shop and reception area.
Great Tew is a tiny village created partly by the landscape gardener John Loudon, the manager of the estate from 1809 to 1811. It was designed as an idyllic model village with extensive parkland overlooking the Worton Valley.
Even earlier, it was here that Viscount Falkland, the Secretary of State to Charles I, had played host to eminent scholars and writers of the time. One of them was Ben Jonson, the great English dramatist and poet. Unfortunately, the fine manor house where he would invite his guests is no longer there. Lucius Cary, Viscount Falkland was killed in the Civil War in the battle of Newbury in 1643.
The picture-perfect village, with wonderful thatched cottages with gabled roofs and beautiful gardens, once on the verge of dereliction, has now been saved by grants.
It's a pity that on the stiflingly hot day we visited the place someone was having a bonfire there and perhaps burning some rubbish, with the smoke making breathing difficult. Luckily, the smoke drifted away from the fairy tale pub, of which we took some pictures, but it made walking down the valley impossible. Finally, we had to leave without even visiting the 14th century church of St Michael, with its battlemented tower.
Chipping Norton has been a market town for centuries. Its fairs and markets gave the town its name, as 'chipping' means market. The town had its brewery, a glove making factory, a tannery and an iron foundry. As you approach it, you can see an unusual Victorian building with a tall chimney, once William Bliss's tweed mill, now divided into fashionable flats.
The tradition of markets is still being pursued, with a weekly market every Wednesday. In addition to that, the town has numerous smaller and larger shops, the antiques centre being one of them. It is actually a big place situated on two floors, where over 80 specialist dealers offer a wide range of antiques and all sorts of collector items. Even if you are not into antiques, it's a nice place to just browse through the stock where you are sure to find something of interest to you. Should you get tired doing that, there is a tearoom on the premises where, in a relaxed atmosphere you can sample fresh cooking, nice homemade cakes or just have a cuppa. From what I saw it looked as if it was the local people's favourite spot for small social gatherings of friends. I am not surprised. Although I didn't buy anything (but my hostess did - a lovely marble-topped coffee table), I enjoyed myself thoroughly examining the items and speculating on what some of the objects were used for.
What to buy: All kinds of period and country furniture, arts and crafts, clocks and barometers, pictures and prints, antique books, maps, porcelain, ceramics and glass, silver and metalware, jewelry, lamps, oriental art, art deco, textiles, costumes and rugs, old kitchen utensils, radios and gramophones, toys and teddy bears, memorabilia.
What to pay: Depends on what you want to buy, many items are very expensive but look out for a bargain.
Favorite thing: The most enchanting building in Great Tew is the Falkland Arms, a pub named after Lucius Cary, Viscount Falkland (more about him in my things to do tip). With creepers reaching the top of its chimneys and roses decorating its walls and doors, it is one of the most wonderful houses I have ever seen. We didn't try the food served there as it was too early for lunch, but if it matches the pub's looks, you may think that you have found yourself in heaven.