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The Harwich Ale Trail or Following in the Footsteps of Dafoe (When He Went Down the Pub)

Sometimes really good things are born of adversity and when the Harwich & Dovercourt Bay Winter Ale Festival was cancelled in 2015 the terrible prospect of a run-up to Christmas without the calming influence of a large selection of real ale and cider was very real. To the rescue of the drinking classes came the plucky innkeepers and publicans of the celebrated seaport of Harwich with a cunning plan which involved pubs, beer and some gentle walking. A variety of venues got together and planned to provide a plethora of real ale and cider over a weekend so that the general public could walk through the medieval streets sampling, chatting and generally enjoying themselves.

So popular was the first event that the publicans planned to do it all again in the spring of 2016, following which it has become a regular event in the Town's calendar.

In 2017 the event ran from Thursday 27th April to Monday 1st May and featured eight regular and two pop-up pubs combining to form an excellent selection of real ale and cider in some amazing venues. Travellers disembarking at Harwich Town station on the Saturday or Sunday had a gentle one hundred metre stroll to the impromptu firkin-based seating at the Harwich Town Brewery and those wanting a nautical view could bar hang at the prestigious Pier Hotel or follow in the footsteps of Victorian travellers at the Café on the Pier. Add to that historic inns like the Alma, Globe, New Bell and Hanover and you have a truly compact and interesting beer festival with food, fresh air and history all thrown in.

Some people, it seems, have sampling strategies for beer festivals but the quirkiness of the Harwich Ale Trail means that a full beer list is not published up front and it all becomes a bit of a voyage of discovery - highly appropriate for a town that has such a rich history and has been part of the journey for so many explorers over the years. Indeed as you sup in the Alma you can gaze across King's Head Street at the house where Christopher Jones, the master of the Mayflower, once lived and in the Globe you are standing in the watering hole of shipwrights who designed and built many a sturdy barque that took pioneers to the New World. In Shakers Bar you can imagine Lord Tollemache standing across West Street in 1904 surveying his creation and in the New Bell you can discuss current affairs standing in the same pub as people once talking about the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

Although there isn't a master beer list the individual nature of each of the pubs and some old-fashioned communication means that you get some interesting beer choices from light session beers up to some challenging specials for that final half pint - from Brewshed Pale Ale in the Globe to Green Jack Baltic Trader in the Hanover.

By Richard Oxborrow