All in the name of furthering education

Morpeth Lions on the day out at the Falkirk Wheel.
Morpeth Lions on the day out at the Falkirk Wheel.

The August Morpeth Lions Club article by Chris Offord is about the Lions Educational Trip.

LAST month, I looked back to the late 1970s and the staging of the Roman Romp on Morpeth Common, which involved considerable time and effort.

This month I look at a Lions activity which is purely social, namely the Lions Educational Trip. These trips are funded by us and are separate from Lions funds.

The term ‘educational trip’ was something of a misnomer when it was first coined several years ago. This is unless you can call the understanding of the intricacies of whisky distilling and the brewing of beer of educational value.

There are plenty of Lions who think this is the case and go to some lengths to refresh their understanding on an annual basis.

It is amazing how men of a certain age forget their annual lesson in order to visit another brewery or distillery so they can participate in the tasting session.

However, as time goes on we find our capacity to test the full range of brewery or distillery products is somewhat diminished.

Those who overindulge are usually to be found fast asleep in the back of the minibus or worse, requesting numerous pit stops on the way home – a straightforward journey can take twice as long as normal with the frequent toilet breaks.

A few years back, it was decided that the educational trips needed some diversions of alternative educational value so that the Lions could pace their drinking better. Not only this, but recent trips have included an element of physical exercise where a brisk walk or leisurely stroll is involved. How times change.

This month, I look back at some of these trips. Lion Robin Cooper has organised the day for several years. The first duty is to interest enough members to fill a minibus in midweek.

There have been several occasions when we have offered a spare seat or two to members of the Chamber of Trade, who doubtless are there to cast a professional eye over other market towns. The minibus is hired and driven, invariably, by a non-drinking Les Sage.

Financial considerations mean that the minibus is not top of the range. Indeed, basic would be a good description.

One summer, we headed off to the Jennings Brewery at Cockermouth, as well as the Motor Museum and Wordsworth’s House and Garden.

This particular minibus could have been exhibited in the Motor Museum as it was old enough.

We drove steadily west and to our delight managed to overtake one car – a three-wheeler of the Del Boy variety – while going uphill. Imagine our dismay when it promptly overtook us on the next downhill stretch.

There followed a game of tortoise and hare with us in the ascendancy uphill and the Reliant Robin being faster downhill.

This continued to Cockermouth where we were led into town by the Reliant Robin – the shame. Since then, we have paid a little more for the minibus hire.

We had one trip where neither a distillery nor a brewery was on the itinerary when we set off. This was to the Falkirk Wheel, west of Edinburgh.

For those not familiar with the Falkirk Wheel, it is a system enabling barges and other craft to navigate across central Scotland.

Prior to the 1930s, the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal were linked by a series of locks, but these were dismantled at that time.

The Falkirk Wheel was a £84.5million Millennium project. It was opened by the Queen in 2002 and is the world’s only rotating boat lift.

Boats and water enter the upper gondola and their weight raises the lower gondola.

Just to prove this was an educational trip, we had to brush up on the Archimedes principle in order to understand how it worked.

The beauty is that the system uses very little energy.

We thoroughly enjoyed the trip and explanations of the Falkirk Wheel and then it was time for lunch.

We had booked lunch at a nearby pub advertised as selling real ale, but a disaster awaited – there was no real ale.

In a somewhat depressed state we ate our lunch but had the initiative to ask a waitress if there were any real ale pubs nearby.

She said they were few and far between in Falkirk but recommended a new microbrewery with a bar not far away.

After detailed instructions on how to find it, we set off with renewed enthusiasm. Sure enough, we found it nearby and ordered their brew.

While drinking our first pints the brewer came into the bar and asked if we were interested in tasting his brand new beer, named the Falkirk Wheel, before it went on general sale.

It was an offer we could not resist – of course, purely in the interests of consumer feedback.

He kept on bringing out jugs of the brew until even the hardened drinkers had had more than enough, but we were pleased to have been of help to him in his consumer survey. So a trip organised as purely educational turned out to be an afternoon in a microbrewery.

To set the record straight, we have visited York Brewery but also roamed the city walls and visited the Railway Museum. The latter was an interesting visit as we had time to learn more without having children or grandchildren in tow.

On the return trip, we visited racing stables at Coverdale, Middleham in Wensleydale, where we learnt about the skills involved in preparing horses for the big events.

We have also been to the races at Ripon with the alternative programme of a visit round the adjacent Newby Hall. The hall and gardens are well worth a visit if you are in the area.

We often head out west along the Roman Wall, stopping off at the various forts along the way.

On a visit to the Roman Army Museum, we were delighted to find a replica Roman cart, which had been donated by another Lions Club.

In recent times, the main attraction to travel west is the Geltsdale Brewery at Brampton. This is the brainchild of Fiona Deal, who opened the brewery in 2006 and subsequently has expanded into adjoining premises.

Before moving into the larger adjoining unit she had a hand pump for visitors to help themselves on her office desk. This was a concept we thought could be introduced at other workplaces – perhaps not though.

These are good days out but we always spare a thought for Les Sage who has to look but not taste.

I have not asked for wives or partners to contribute any thoughts on the state of the Lions on their return from the Educational Visits. That would be a whole new article but these things are best left unsaid.

Personally, I usually just fall asleep.

However, we regularly look at our social events and, consequently, the format evolves with time. We may up the ‘educational’ content in future years and work towards healthier livers.