Branch History (1984 - 2009)

This is an article written for an edition of Full Pints which was published some years ago by branch founding member and former branch chair Mick Lee.


Most of you will be aware by now that the Ayrshire Branch of CAMRA celebrated 25 years of existence in 2009. As Chairman of the branch throughout those 25 years, I thought this would be an opportune time to look back over the highlights and main events of that time to see how the branch developed from small beginnings to where it is today. In this article, I pick out the main events in each of the years from 1984 to 1996 inclusive, and I will do the same for the remaining years in the next edition. This is based on notes in my diaries, so I apologise in advance for any omissions of events or significant people.

The Ayrshire Branch of CAMRA was formed in February, following a year of unofficial meetings, promotions and social events. I was appointed Chairman, supported by Secretary George English and Treasurer Neil Stuart, and other active members at the time included Tom Parish and Charlie Fisher, who are both still involved in the branch today. At that time, the branch was very much based at Dallam Tower at Loans. During the year, the branch visited Strathalbyn Brewery at Clydebank, and Dallam Tower organised a visit to Lorimer & Clark’s (now Caledonian) Brewery in Edinburgh. The new branch put forward a motion to the national AGM in Edinburgh, and I was press-ganged into proposing it at the meeting. Kenny Gillies, now our beer festival treasurer, joined the branch in September and attended a Scottish Branches meeting in Oban with me. We hosted our first Scottish Branches meeting at Dallam Tower in November, and there was a social with the Renfrewshire branch at the Cochrane Inn, Gatehead.

This, in common with those that followed, was a fairly quiet year in comparison with the lively start. A Pub of the Year certificate was presented to Dallam Tower (this was not repeated until the 1990s), and certificates for ten years in the Good Beer Guide were awarded to the Cochrane Inn and the Harbour Bar, Troon.

The branch hosted another Scottish Branches meeting at Dallam Tower, and I attended one at the Ormidale in Brodick, which was then in the Glasgow branch area. Otherwise, it was another quiet year, and sometimes the attendance at branch meetings was as low as two or three.

The Chestnuts in Ayr installed real ale, making it one of our longest continuous outlets, as did Windy Ha’ in Saltcoats, which was a stalwart in the area for a long time, but which has now been closed for some time.

George English stood down as Secretary and was replaced by Kenny Gillies. Dallam Tower hosted Scottish Branches for the last time before being sold and becoming Highgrove House, the first of the Costley empire. Fortunately, the Anchorage in Troon took over the mantle with an ever-widening selection of real ales.

Steven Grist and Adrian Scott became active members of the branch, and later both served as Branch Secretary. The Anchorage hosted the Scottish Branches meeting.

Kenny Gillies stood down as Branch Secretary as he was moving to Glasgow and was replaced by Adrian Scott. The Anchorage held the first real ale festival ever held in Ayrshire, and Geordie’s Byre in Ayr became known as a real ale outlet. I produced the first short-lived branch newsletter, which was very basic due to the limited computing power and software available at the time. It was printed at home, photocopied at work, and had limited circulation (just posted to members).

The Hunting Lodge in Kilmarnock added to the growing list of pubs selling a selection of guest ales. The first of many branch trips to the Dumfries area (to help with GBG surveys) and to Arran took place. The Anchorage held two more beer festivals, and the Hunting Lodge held its first and hosted a Scottish Branches meeting.

The Hunting Lodge held another beer festival. Dan McKay’s in Troon started selling real ale. Graeme Perry joined the branch upon moving to Troon from Glasgow.

Following a meeting in Carlisle to discuss splitting the Dumfries and Galloway area between two branches, the branch AGM agreed to expand the branch to include Galloway, resulting in the current branch name. During this period, there were four real outlets in Irvine and one in Kilwinning – who says no one drinks real ale in these places? Wellingtons in Ayr started selling real ale.

There were branch visits to Broughton Brewery and the short-lived Glaschu Brewery in Glasgow., and the Waterside Inn, Seamill (then a Brewer’s Fayre) held a beer festival.

The Branch AGM was held at Geordie’s Byre for the first time, and Geordie’s was also the first recipient of the revived Pub of the Year award. There was a visit to another short-lived brewery at Lugton. The Parkstone in Prestwick took real ale out after many years, leaving the town as a beer desert.

Geordie’s Byre hosted a Scottish Branches meeting and followed up being branch pub of the year by winning the Scottish Pub of the Year award. The Laurie Arms at Haugh of Urr (in Kircudbrightshire, no longer in our branch area) won the local award. Lindsay Grant joined the branch after moving back to Ayrshire after several years in Lincolnshire, and in the coming years, his ever increasing involvement in the branch was instrumental in it moving towards its present shape and size.

Geordie’s Byre was chosen as branch Pub of the Year again. Mick Lee was involved in meetings in his professional capacity about what would eventually become the Isle of Arran Brewery.

This was a relatively quiet year before the branch started to get more active. The Laurie Arms was again chosen as Pub of the Year as part of a to-ing and fro-ing that would continue for a few years.

As alluded to above, Geordie’s Byre was once again branch Pub of the Year, and the Laurie Arms repeated Geordie’s previous success by becoming Scottish Pub of the Year. Lindsay Grant put into action one of his suggestions to activate the branch by editing the first editions of the branch newsletter, Full Pints. First meetings were held to consider the possibility of running a beer festival, again suggested by Lindsay, with the decision taken in August to go ahead in 2000. At one point in the middle of the year, there were five pubs in Irvine selling real ale, but that gradually fell away, and there are none today. Wetherspoons opened their first Ayrshire outlets in Kilmarnock and Saltcoats. Pam Smith replaced Neil Stuart as Branch Treasurer, a post he had held since the branch’s formation.

Arran Brewery went into production around Easter time, and the three original beers were soon available in many Arran pubs. A third Wetherspoons opened in Ayr. The first Ayrshire Real Ale Festival was held in September, with Arran Blonde winning Beer of the Festival. Geordie’s Byre was Branch Pub of the Year once more.

Your newsletter editor and branch webmaster, Dougie Graham first got involved with the branch. The second beer festival was somewhat overshadowed by the 9/11 events in New York and Washington. Arran Blonde was Beer of the Festival again. The Pub of the Year award returned to the Laurie Arms.

A branch day outing to Newcastle-upon-Tyne took place, and there was a visit to the Heather Ales brewery at Strathaven. Sulwath Brewery in Castle Douglas held its first beer festival as part of Food Week. It was intended to try opening the beer festival on a Sunday for the first time, but the Beer ran out on the Saturday evening. Kelburn Goldihops was the Beer of the Festival. Geordie’s Byre was the Pub of the Year once more.

Scottish & Northern Ireland Branches meeting held at the Ardneil, Troon. The beer festival opened on the Sunday, but was not particularly well attended that day. Nethergate Umbel Ale was the Beer of the Festival. New owners brought real ale back to the Failford Inn after a gap of a few years. Geordie’s Byre was both Branch and Scottish Pub of the Year.

There was a memorable branch trip to Nethergate Brewery to present the Beer of the Festival award. The beer festival reverted to Thursday-Saturday opening, and Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted won Beer of the Festival. A different pub, the Steam Packet at Isle of Whithorn, managed to break the duopoly and win Pub of the Year. A Christmas pub crawl took place in Ayr, starting a new regular and popular event.

This year was the 21st birthday of the branch, and it was celebrated with a barbecue at Graeme Perry’s house, a quiz at Geordie’s Byre, a 21 pub crawl over a few months and a cake made by Pam Smith for the Christmas meal. The branch had a great day out at Loch Fyne Brewery. The beer festival was held in October because the original September date was double booked by the Council, with the Beer of the Festival being Sulwath Solway Mist. The Pub of the Year was the Failford Inn.

Windie Goat Brewery started brewing at the Failford Inn, which also kept up a branch tradition by winning Scottish Pub of the Year. One of its first brews, Priest’s Wheel, won Beer of the Festival. Current Branch Secretary Ray Turpie attended his first branch meeting and liked it so much that he’s kept coming back. Geordie’s Byre and the Blue Peter, Kirkcolm were joint Pubs of the Year. The Christmas crawl was in Troon.

A branch meeting was held at the Blue Peter to assess local support in Wigtownshire. The same pub went on to win Scottish Pub of the Year. It also ran a beer festival in Stranraer for the first time. The Failford Inn created branch history by being one of three runners-up in the National Pub of the Year competition. However, the visit to present the award was marred by a falling out about publicity in the newsletter, and unfortunately, relations between the pub and some of the branch were never the same again. Current Branch Vice-Chairs Ian Middleditch and Graeme Watt got involved with the branch. The Harbour Bar in Troon was branch Pub of the Year, Cairngorm Trade Winds was Beer of the Festival, and the Christmas crawl was in Ayr.

A public transport pub crawl from Girvan to Largs was held. The Blue Peter repeated Failford’s example by being a National Pub of the Year runner-up. A branch meeting was held at the Steam Packet, Isle of Whithorn (which also became the branch’s pub of the year again), followed by a visit to a beer festival held in the Grapes, Stranraer. Lindsay Grant and Pam Smith stood down as Branch Secretary and Treasurer, respectively, to be replaced by Ray Turpie and Jon Mansell. Ian Middleditch started a North Ayrshire social group, with the first social being at MacAulay’s, Largs. The Beer of the Festival was Thornbridge Jaipur IPA, and the Christmas crawl returned to Troon.

This year was the 25th birthday of the branch, and it was celebrated with a dinner at the Ardneil, Troon. Mick Lee, Chairman for the whole life of the branch, decided it was time to stand down, and Reg Smith took over for a year. Ayr Brewing Company began operations at the Glen Park Hotel, Ayr. More social groups were set up in East and South Ayrshire and in Wigtownshire. Geordie’s Byre was Pub of the Year again, Brains Rev James was Beer of the Festival, and the Christmas crawl was in Ayr.