On an unusually warm and sunny Saturday in May, I boarded the 2.25pm steam train from Cheltenham Racecourse station on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway. After a leisurely ride through the glorious Cotswold countryside, the train pulled into Winchcombe station.

On arriving, it was immediately clear that local real ale enthusiasts – including a sizeable contingent from Cheltenham CAMRA – had come out in force to support North Cotswold CAMRA’s sixth Ale and Steam Weekend. Indeed, Franklin’s Citra IPA had evidently proved so popular that it had already sold out by the time I arrived, thereby earning it the Beer of the Festival award. After watching the train I had come in on depart for Toddington, I purchased my souvenir glass, programme and beer tokens and made my way to the back of the queue.

Once at the bar, I plumped for Mercury from Mallinsons, a brewery I’ve been very impressed by over the last year. It didn’t disappoint. With several Beer of the Festival awards from previous North Cotswold CAMRA beer festivals under their belt, Saltaire are another brewery you can’t go far wrong with. So it proved as I moved on to their Amarillo Gold. Indeed, this was my joint favourite beer of the day.

From where I was sat on Platform 1, I could see that the Cornish pasty lorry that was parked up behind the opposite platform was doing a roaring trade, so thought I’d better head over there for some sustenance while stocks lasted. I can vouch for the fact that their produce was of a very high quality!

Back on the beer, I ordered Kent Brewery’s Brewers Reserve and Foxfield’s Sand Cascade, before having the other Mallinsons beer that was available at the festival: Nelson Sauvin. Another good choice! Like Mallinsons, Tiny Rebel are another brewery that have been making waves in the past couple of years, and justifiably so. Their Zool was my next choice and was as good as expected.

By this time, several beers were starting to run out. Fortunately for me, however, one of the best beers of the day had only just come on: Triple FFF Citra Sonic. This was a beer I’d had on several previous occasions, but it was on cracking form here and very refreshing on such a warm and sunny day. It was my joint beer of the festival along with the Saltaire Amarillo Gold.

The departure time for the last train of the day back to Cheltenham Racecourse was fast approaching, so I finished up on McConnell’s Vanilla Stout from the respected Thornbridge Brewery, which made a nice change in style from what I’d previously had.

All in all, it was a most enjoyable afternoon – what could be better than chatting to friends over top-quality beer whilst watching steam trains come and go! While the weather obviously helped to entice people along, it was heartening to see so many people – young and old, male and female – enjoying real ale.

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