Northampton used to have two CAMRA Festivals: One in the Autumn at the County Cricket Club, and one in the early Summer on a piece of land surrounded by both a canal and a river. This was called Nunn-Such Island, and access was over a footbridge which after a few pints became a bit of an adventure. As the toilets were the other side of the bridge, it did become a bit of a hazard to say the least.
Neither of these festivals still occur. I presume the Cricket Club either became too expensive, or they just were no longer interested, and Nunn-Such Island naturally went the way of Health and Safety regulations and festivals were banned there.
Northampton then went a few years without a festival as a suitable venue could not be found. All of a sudden last year, a festival was mooted and then arranged at Delapre Abbey, which as can be seen from the website is a 900 year old building which has housed its fair share of nuns over the years.
The festival takes place on the courtyard and the beers are kept in a marquee with seating outside as well as green areas to lay on should the weather be good. The weather in 2006 was pretty cold and windy, and the
marquee really proved too small for everyone to shelter. This year, though, everything was bigger and better, including the weather which, after a huge downpour on the Thursday evening, was lovely thereafter. The marquee was three times bigger and thus the beer range was bigger too. The programme promised 121 beers, and I reckon that was about accurate. There were about a dozen ciders/perries also.
Every Northamptonshire brewery was represented with at least three of each brewery's beers available. Additionally there were two test brews for Phipps Brewery which I have written about here.
There was a fair selection of Welsh breweries represented but sadly no Scottish.
I sampled 23 beers and one cider during my three visits. The odd few were poor but the vast majority were good or even better. I particularly enjoyed three beers from Alehouse Brewery from St. Albans. Alehouse seem to have the knack of hopping their beers in quite an extreme way for a British brewer, but balancing perfectly with the malt levels unlike some other highly thought of brewers.
My Beer Of The Festival was Rockingham Black Forest from Blatherwycke, Northants. This was a beautifuly balanced stout, said to be conditioned for two months at the brewery. It is a smoky fruity stout with a low level of roastiness but very tasty.
The festival has a good atmosphere on each of my visits, but was particularly busy with lots of families present on the Saturday afternoon, where free entertainment was provided by The Sealed Knot. This was great fun, but the loud cannons were two much for a lot of the young ones including my two year old daughter.
All in all the festival was a great success. There was still plenty of beer left on Saturday at 4o'clock when I left and I hope that remained the case up to closing time. I was worried that the trek to the toilets would prove too much but it wasn't as bad as I thought. I say roll on next year, and I am sure even the nuns would have approved.