HUNDREDS of ale lovers are heading for Colne for the start of the ninth annual Pendle Beer Festival today.

The best breweries from across the north of England, including 13 from East Lancashire, will be among those gathered at Colne Muni Theatre until Saturday.

This year’s theme is ‘The Great Outdoors’, with the brewers expected to produce more than 100 tipples for punters.

The festival, which kicked off last night with a return of last year’s successful ladies-only preview, is raising money for Pendleside Hospice.

Volunteer Karen Pashley said the idea was for women to try real ale in a relaxed and friendly atmos- phere.

She said: “With so many beers available it’s difficult to decide which ones to try.

“This event provides an introduction to beer styles and will help women to find their favourites while they sample some great beers.”

Burnley giant Moorhouse’s and Blackburn favourites Thwaites will be among those showcasing their ales.

Members of the Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA) can attend events for free for the duration of the festival.

Martyn Pashley, the festival’s organiser, said: “CAMRA was pleased to hand over a cheque to Pendleside Hospice last year for an amazing £5,000 and this year we hope to top that amount.

“We look forward to seeing what’s sure to be another amazing real ale fest- ival.”

Musical highlights of the festival include rock ‘n’ roll quartet The Witnesses from 8pm tomorrow, Waggy’s Solo, PYO Music and Sugar Cool Bones on Saturday afternoon followed by headliners Vicky and the Big Combo from 7.30pm on Saturday evening.