Absolutely Darvellous

To Darvel, a small Ayrshire town in the Irvine Valley, halfway between Strathaven and Kilmarnock for a very rare local Good Beer Guide tick. It’s best known as the birthplace of Alexander Fleming, whose discovery of penicillin in 1928 immortalised him. He has a statue in Madrid, funded by grateful matadors and a more modest memorial in Darvel, which failed to give the local tourist trade a much needed shot in the arm.

Darvel was once a much more prosperous place than it is now thanks to a thriving lace making industry that survived until the late 1970s, whereupon it went the way of so much of Britain’s manufacturing industry at that time.

Looks the same today but less busy

Today’s attractions include an annual music festival and a telephone museum which you have to phone first to arrange entry, appropriately enough. There were 4 pubs but the Turf Hotel, a one-time cask ale outlet, shut in 2006 and the Horseshoe ten years later, leaving the Railway (even though the railway itself was axed by Beeching in 1964) and the Black Bull.

None of these had ever graced the Good Beer Guide, until now. Indeed the only listing under Darvel has been the Loudonhill Inn three miles away. It last appeared in 2004 and is now a bed and breakfast. But three hearty cheers because the Black Bull is in the 2023 Good Beer Guide.

Not only that but it’s one of the sixty pubs where musician Paul Heaton put £1k behind the bar. It lasted just the one night but was much appreciated. It’s an interesting list for us compulsive tickers.


Meanwhile in the Black Bull regular customer Daniel was holding court on a wide range of issues, ranging from cricket to his mother’s trade in cheap underwear. His father was once the licensee at the Loudonhill Inn when it was on the convoluted Western buses route from Airdrie to Ayr. Daniel said the drivers used to come into the pub to make sure the customers didn’t miss the last bus home.

There was a friendly atmosphere in a cosy, dark wood bar lined with old pictures of Darvel and the single cask beer from Five Kingdoms was in good condition.

Absolutely Darvellous indeed.

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