The idea behind the Trail…
The first ever Real Ale Trail event was in 2009, created with the idea to become a big supporter of the village pub and a way of celebrating small local breweries in North East Wales. Worried about the number of pubs closing we gathered an idea to bring new customers to a cluster of small independent rural pubs in the county of Flintshire.
It all started with a problem as things do.
The lowering of the drink driving limit in Wales (we realise how this sounds…), and the ban on smoking cigarettes in public, took a serious toll on the number of people venturing out to visit country pubs, it was catastrophic and this shift of behaviour was enough to close thousands of pubs, forever. Public transport didn’t take you to the village pub so there was no chance of getting to and from the pubs. So home and town people stayed.
The first event we ran for the Flintshire Tourism Association as a real test of the concept put together by the founder Shelly Barratt. Would people get the concept, and would they support it, would people pay the ticket price for private hire (back then it was £5 a ticket and its not common knowledge that the government-subsidise the local bus tickets). We were helped by Flintshire Council Tourism Department who believed in the concept and funded us £500 towards the costs of the buses. The day of the event arrived, the buses were quiet as they shuttled good-spirited folk around one very wet Saturday to seven traditional boozers set in small largely unknown villages, we choose pubs with character and untouched by time. The landlords were very happy with their newfound popularity, and customers enjoyed not having to organise the transport, it was a success! Since then, the trails have increased in popularity and now visit other areas of the UK but still, the core value is the same, getting people to visit pubs off the beaten track pubs without worrying about driving.
The Ale Trailer is a great supporter of the village pub and champions small breweries (often hidden in villages). A lot of ales you sample on the trail are not mass-produced and are something rather special to the area, more often than not only available at these places. Such as our own RAT Ale made appearing on the trail and is brewed by microbrewery Facers in Flintshire.
The Real Ale Trail soon became the best excuse to gather friends together for a day out and explore the region’s best hostelries offering unique beery riches. To date, we have visited hundreds of pubs and transported thousands of people around the Great British countryside and we often feature on the Visit Wales and Visit Britain website for events. We were very proud to accept the prestigious award for ‘The Best Event’ chosen by North Wales Tourism, we were recognised not just for the innovation of the event but largely for the trail’s intent which has always been to help small pubs attract new people and do our bit to help the rural economy in UK to thrive.
Over the hill in Babell, landlady Jane Forkings-Russell from The Black said “Our village has no bus service. Some people who live a few miles down the road hadn’t visited us before the ale trail, but they’ve enjoyed the atmosphere and come back for an evening meal, now that’s a great event for us to be part of.”
Without the buses bringing people to the pub, lots of people wouldnt know we exisited, said Zac – The Royal Oak Caerwys
We have now run trails in lots of locations
We were the only beer festival in Britain done by bus and presume our event could be the only event in the history of the world that’s aimed at middle-aged humans, who are overly keen by the prospect of being delivered safely to the door of quality real ale houses.
The boom in microbreweries and the production of independent ales means that there is always something new to experience on every trail. No trail is ever the same apart from the scenery. It wasn’t until people kept commenting about the spectacular countryside you get to enjoy between pubs that we took note. Now we try and keep the route on as many small country lanes (without hanging branches), ones that can accommodate a 40ft bus loaded with grown men and women singing their way around the countryside.
“Our local bus service stops about 3.30pm,” said Judy Williams, landlady of The Crown Inn. “Without the the ale trail, many people didn’t know my pubs existed.”
John Les Tomos, of Y Dderwen in Hendre, said: “There were 14 pubs between Mold and Afon-wen. Now it’s only two. Every time we have the ale trail we pick up new customers.”