The Bradford festival is not held in Bradford at all, but a few miles out of the city towards Keighley in the Victoria Hall at Saltaire. A good venue despite this being a multi roomed hall on several levels capable of holding a large amount of people, ideal for a festival. But sounding ideal, and working in practice are two different things. I will try and explain. The Friday lunchtime session opened at 1130 am and was free to Camra members or £3 to pay on the door. £10 then supplied you with a beer ticket and a festival glass and you were up and running to sample the beer. I got there a little after 1140 am, and although the queue outside had dispersed, the place was already on its way to being packed.
Anyway, I managed to fight my way through the crowd to order my first beer. The problem then was where to go to get chance to read the programme and work out what I wanted, and where to find it. Seating was at a premium in the downstairs hall so I made my way upstairs. Here it was a little less crowded, and I came across some of the other hardy tickers who had made their way from all over the country to sample the beers that Bradford had to offer. But still the seating was a problem, and I only managed to sit down when someone else left to get a beer. Also there were no tables, which meant hanging on to your glass, or placing it on the floor, a risky business with people walking around, whilst trying to read the programme. As I said, the hall is multi roomed, and there were four bars in operation, all well staffed, it was just a question of working out which beers were in which rooms. Again, a fairly logical plan was in place with breweries in alphabetical order, mostly, so that I could start upstairs, have what I required there, and then move downstairs and do the same in the other two rooms.
Beer was sold in thirds, as is CAMRA policy, and prices were reasonable, being graded according to gravity. I was soon into my stride, picking up new breweries, (happily 3 of them started with 'B' so no need to run up and down to collect what I needed). The beer was mostly served on stillage but some was handpulled, and although a lot of what I chose was not to my personal taste, it was in good condition. I was soon into the swing of the festival, taking advice from my fellow drinkers about what was good and what to avoid. However, after a few beers the need for toilets became urgent, and this entailed a trip down to the basement to the gents, effectively 2 floors down.
Nevertheless, I managed to combine the trip with a visit to the downstairs bars for some other beers I wanted but the crowd in the main bar had multiplied in my absence and getting to the bars was often a real struggle, and more than once I found a beer I wanted had not been sent and had been replaced by another, (there were notices to that effect but I only saw them on leaving). Thankfully, one of the staff took pity on me when I ordered one beer, and offered me a taster before pulling my third, it was awful, or in his words 'an acquired taste', (where have I heard that before !), so I tactfully declined.
Food was served in the main hall, and there were a few tables in an area there, but not enough to prevent me being knocked into by people struggling with glass in one hand, and pie and peas in the other, and as time went on my tolerance was wearing a little thin. My beer ticket was running out, and as I wandered around the bars to select my beer I started to notice some beers being turned round. The Bradford dipstick strikes again ! My pet hate at Bradford was always that they kept back beers for later sessions, so not all the beer you wanted was available. It seemed this was starting again. And it was my cue to leave.
As I left, there was a line outside of people waiting for others to leave before they could go in, so no doubt someone was happy with my decision to quit early.
All in all, a curate's egg of a festival, good in parts, but sadly the sheer volume of people made drinking a chore rather than a pleasure, and the lack of seating made it an uncomfortable experience. There were some decent beers on offer though, and even for the most hardened ticker, some unusual breweries. I was happy with what I had, so maybe the afternoon was not a wasted trip after all.