top of page


I’m sitting on a canary-yellow Ikea settee, sipping a Belgian Tripel. I’m not in Brussels or Bruges nor an out-of-town furniture store, but in Ayton, Berwickshire, a solid, attractive village eight miles north of the Scotland/England border.

Hemelvaart Bier-Café is a sweetshop for beer lovers. It offers 150 bottled world beers – with an accent on Belgian lambics, gueuze and aged beers – and local cask ales from the likes of Creedence and Bear Claw from Northumberland, Tempest (Galashiels), and County Durham-based Sonnet 43, plus six revolving craft kegs by Wild Beer Co, Tiny Rebel and rare Fritz-Kola soft drinks. 

On the plate, burgers, steaks and pizzas meet Jarvis Pickle pies raised in Kirkcaldy and filled with pork and blue cheese, cauliflower and coconut curry, or Cullen Skink which, bizarrely, is a soup.

Hemelvaart is aptly named – Hemelvaartsdag is Flemish (and Dutch) for Ascension Day, the commemoration of Christ’s bodily rising. I prefer “died and gone to heaven” which I’m sure owners John Atkinson and Phil Walker meant in the first place.

A collection of sofas, picnic tables, school assembly seating, cinema sets, Methodist church pews, a small chair covered in pages from the Beano, and endless beer paraphernalia might not appeal to all tastes, but together they look and feel absolutely right.

Ayton has a population of around 500, the village coming complete with handsome houses, a mini-mart/post office, a couple of hairdressers’, a cattery, and a Grade A-listed baronial castle. Its High Street bank closed in 2015, but the continental-style Hemelvaart risen out of the long-deceased Black Bull pub has helped reverse long-term commercial wane.

Hemelvaart Bier-Café is also gaining a reputation for entertainment with appearances by comedians Sarah Pascoe and Gary Delaney (Sarah Millican’s husband), while music-wise, Rob Heron And The Teapad Orchestra and X Factor star Emily Middlemas (her favourite venue, she claims) have been recent visitors.

The name Hemelvaart could also be a line of Ikea furniture and if you’re one of those who can’t leave the superstore without munching a hot dog, consider how a Cullen Skink and Timmermans Lambic combo influences a return visit.

*Hemelvaart Bier-Café, High Street, Ayton, Berwickshire TD14 5QL (07968 359 917

bottom of page