Sunday, 23 September 2012

Lancashire pubs and beer escapade


     well, as mentioned in my previous post, I went out all day yesterday in the automobile with Wee Fatha to the far away land of Lancashire (and Cumbria, briefly) for a day of culture, ruins, beer and most importantly, pubs. More precisely, I wanted to visit one particular pub that I had known about for years. Would my much vaunted failure to visit unspoilt pubs by procrastinating over arranging to visit them scupper my plans once again?

Well, in order to find out, Wee Fatha arrived at 8.30 and we set off out over the snake pass to Glossop, then on to them there Motorways, before we eventually got onto roads promising scenery, and headed for Whalley, near Clitheroe.

Now, Clitheroe is an interesting enough place for me, because every time I go there or meet someone from their I inadvertently cause offence. Its an inescapable fate which makes such visits problematic. More importantly, the excursion I took last time I was there many many years ago, involved suffering the indignity of going by taxi to Whalley, and going to a nightclub, the name of which escapes me, which cost about £6.00 to get in (a stupendous amount back then) and which only played happy hardcore. It was immeasurably shit, and I have hated Whalley ever since.

So it was with some surprise that driving through in glorious sunshine I noticed it was actually quite nice, had a seemingly decent real ale pub according to the GBG, and also some decent ruins for me and Wee Fatha to visit. Finally I can put my irrational fear of Whalley behind me - although, there is still a nightclub, called Rendezvous. I'll have to block that from my mind.....

Off next through spectacular scenery in the impressive trough of Bowland and on over the fells to pop out near the sea, heading for the ruins of a premosntratensian abbey. WF, who helps out at Sheffield's own premosntratensian abbey, at Beauchief, has decided to set himself the challenge of visiting all the orders relics in the UK, and further afield. Given that he does not use the Internet, or visit the library, his depth of knowledge is fairly impressive. And so it was we were off to Cockersands abbey, now just a single circular building and some walls, stuck out on a remote headland near Glasson port. The views back to the Bowland fells, and out towards Overton were spectacular, but all this walking was making us thirsty....

Our first refreshments came near here as well. The Stork at Conder Green is a large old building with a multi roomed but modern tweaked interior, on a corner near where the river Conder snakes its way into the Glasson Marina. There were 4 real ales on the bar, 3 from Lancaster Brewery and Taylors Landlord. WF had a half of Lancaster Amber, myself a pint of their Lancaster Black. It came to £5.20. Yep, that means had they both been the same beer they would have been about £3.45 a pint. Hmmmm

Don't get me wrong, the pub was nice, the food looked delicious, and the garden was sunny and comfortable if a little muddy, but I can't see how the beer would cost that much. It wasn't immediately obvous that the prices were displayed either, and whilst that isn't the end of the world, its particularly galling when you end up paying over the odds. Still, drinking the Lancaster Black on cask gave me the excuse to get another monkey off my back - because I was fairly underwhelmed by it in bottles. On cask, and it was well kept at the Stork, it tasted far better, with a hint at what it perhaps was intended to taste of in bottle. Delicious.

Off next into Lancaster, where we fortuitously got parked near the Sun Hotel, which is where we were going for a beer. Wee Fatha had reasoned that being on Church Street it would be near the Cathedral, and so he went off to find that whilst I went to sample the wares. The Sun Hotel is a Lancaster Brewery venue (it does rooms like what a proper hotel does), in so far as their beers are the predominant ales on offer and their logo is on the menu. It has been modernised, and maybe lacks a comfy chair or two (sofa's are too low for Wee Fatha) but is a nice place to relax and sup. I was also impressed to be able to buy a packet f Lancashire sauce flavoured crisps - not everyone has heard of Lancashire sauce, so to make it a crisp flavour was a commendable feat.

Beers here were once again pricey, although they averaged less than the Stork at around £3.15, with the "strong" Lancaster Black (4.6%) £3.25. The prices were in the menu. Of the 5 of their offerings I had halves of Golden Feather, a 2.8% light ale, Straw, at 3.5%, and their Black, along with a half of Purple Moose Snowdonia Ale. The 2.8% beer was malty but tasted overwhelmingly of biscuits (and I don't think it was sub £3.00 a pint either, despite the apparent tax break...) and the Straw, also quite a weak malty beer, had little depth of flavour, but was sessionable.

Here the visit was soured slightly by the importance the staff placed on clearing tables at all costs. I had a swig or two of Straw left in my half glass, along with my two newly bought beers, when I popped to the loo. As WF was getting ever later, I knew he would have neither the time or the desire what with driving, to buy another half, so I figured he could have a bit of the Snowdonia, and the remaining taster of Straw. When I got back, the beer had gone.

I asked the lass clearing the tables if she had took it and she said no, and I explained why it was annoying and she did say sorry, but laughed and walked away. Now, I get that its only a modicum of beer but which school of bar training tells you to take away a beer from a table where someone is clearly still sat, whilst they are in the loo? Given the swish modernity of the establishment and its high quality looking menu, I would imagine this is meant to be a sleek operation, but what should have happened is that the glass should have remained on my table until it could be ascertained that it was finished with.

As this didn't happen, someone should have come back with a replacement sample once the situation was made clear, which it was. Since I was unable to locate WF, and with time running out to get back to the car within the hour I didn't really want to go and wait at the bar to wrangle some of my beer back, but its still shoddy. Two Lancaster Brewery outlets in and it was expense and getting the basics wrong which stood out, although I concede the Lancaster Black was excellent once again.

Ruskins View, Kirby Lonsdale
Off next to Kirby Lonsdale, in Cumbria, via a rather fruitless search for a premosntratensian nunnery which WF conceded was likely just a farm built on the spot. The path along the Lune disappeared before I could reach it so the search was called off. Kirby Lonsdale is of course in or at the very least overlooking Lunesdale, and boasts a brewery and their Tap. The Orange Tree is just past the church and sells, according to the ever optimistic GBG, about 6 of their Kirby Lonsdale brewery beers plus guests.

I don't mind at all that they don't, but at least be realistic - theres only 6 handpumps! We got in about  10 to 6 intent on ordering food and supping their Lonsdale beers. There were two on, Radical Bitter (oh dear) and Monumental. I went for a pint of the latter as it was stronger, and WF a half of the Radical. We were told we'd have to wait 10 minutes to order food, and then whilst we waited for my pint to settle, and having sent WF to secure a table, the lass behind the bar informed me there was no change in the till, so could I wait a moment. She then went on to serve a number of other customers, before another staff member came to ask if he could help.

I explained I wanted to pay and only then the lass confided to him they needed some change which he went to attend to. I now noticed WF's half hadn't even been poured in the 5 minutes I'd waited so asked for that, and got a very lively beer - but the wrong one. That finally rectified I went and sat down, having set up a tab rather than wait any longer to pay, to find no menus on the tables, in a pub where almost everyone was going to eat.

By this time everyone else had made up their minds what to order and was queueing in a throng at the bar whilst we deliberated. Almost all the food was burgers or Mexican, but with none of the affordability that you associate with such foods. There were a few pub standards but they were expensive. We were slightly pushed for time and they didn't seem very competent or organised, and also, there would probably be a long wait for food. So we decided to pay for the drinks and leave.

The beers were good, both about £2.80 a pint, the Monumental had a very pleasing bitterness, and the darker beer had a fantastic roasted barley/red ale sort of flavour. But ultimately the pub was poorly run on this occasion, which was a shame.

We went round the corner and spotted a Theakstons pub with signs along its front proclaiming its food, and cask ales, so went in. Black Bull and Best were on offer, but when we asked for a menu they said they'd stopped serving. It was 18.15. Words fail me.

Our saviour was the Red Dragon, a Robbies pub with 5  beers and a fairly large menu. Not too expensive, not especially exciting, but I knew what to expect having eaten in Robbies pubs before, and although it was basic mass produced fayre it tasted fine and filled a hole. Crucially, the staff were well organised and competent, the beer was under £3.00 a pint, (the Triple Hop was going off but we had good halves of Hartleys Cumbria Way) and we were out not much later than we had wanted. Good on them.

Our final call was to be the jewel in the crown for me, the Limeburners in Nether Kellet. Wee Fatha plotted a route through the lanes and we raced the sun to get their in daylight. Even though we stopped to photograph a magnificent sunset over Morecambe bay there was still daylight when we reached Nether Kellet. But would there be a pub to visit?

As I mentioned before, usually my desire to visit an interesting or unspoilt pub ends in disaster. Notable examples include the Dun Cow at Billy Row, the New Inn in Springthorpe in Lincolnshire  and the Queen Adelaide on Snelston Common near Ashbourne. On ringing the phone number Friday it seemed not to exist, and the village newsletter, which is quite informative, made no mention of the pub in the copies I read from 2011, so all looked bleak....

But it was open. And it was every bit as excellent and unspoilt as I had hoped. The pub has a plain frontage, being one half of two large cottages,  with an old 60's or 70's illuminated sign and circular stone steps to the door. There is then a small lobby with the lounge off to the right, which wasn't in use, and the main bar room to the left. The bar is in front of you slightly to the left with a door to the other room and out through the back to the toilets which are in the yard. As you walk out to the yard you can see into and indeed could walk into the bar, much like at the Seymour Arms in Witham Friary, Somerset.

On the bar are two old handpumps, with Matthew Brown Bitter and Mild pumpclips, and a couple of keg fonts, with the handpump in use being at the back of the bar, dispensing the guest ale (I think the Boddingtons referred to may be keg, but we didn't investigate). Unfortunately we had just missed a beer form the local Cross Bay brewery but the one we tried from Wadworths was very nice - Wee Fatha said he said he couldn't remember what it was, but my pictures show it was Horizon, which is 4.%. Crucially though, it was £2.20 a pint. That's right, AKA fantastic value. Are you listening Lancaster Brewery?

We got chatting to the locals and the landlord Joe, and he let me and WF take photo's whilst WF was given a tour of the bar by a local bloke who sometimes opens up the pub when Joe is busy at his farm. At one point a local lady came in with some apple pie for the landlord so he had a break to eat that whilst we chatted about pubs. We were told it gets busier around 21.30, which maybe reflects the kind of work that most of the regulars do. The Duke of York at Elton doesn't open until 20.30 because Mary has to finish off at the farm then drive over. This is a similar set up for the landlord and customers here, it seems.

I knew about the Limeburners from the GBG recently but in fact had been told about it by a couple we met in the Turf Tavern in Bloxwich about 5 years ago. I had remembered the conversation, but only the description, I only knew the pub they told me about was in Lancashire and has some sort of boiling or burning or melting in its name. Fruitless searches of the Internet for the smelters, leadboilers and similar resulted in nothing until the Limeburners appeared in the 2011 GBG. Thank God it did.

The atmosphere was convivial, the locals and landlord friendly, and the pub was every bit as unchanged as I had hoped. However, unfortunately we had to leave about 20.30 for the long drive back to Sheffield, satisfied with our days travelling and the fact that we had got to visit the excellent Limeburners.

What I found out based on this trip was there was a predominance of expensive pubs and malty light flavoured beer in North Lancashire, (and Cumbria)  in fact, the Lancaster Black was by far the strongest beer I saw all day. Its not fair to make a full assessment of the "scene" on the basis of this limited visit, but I think on my next foray we might want to try a few more free houses to see if the pricing, and range of styles and strengths improves.

And we definitely want to get back in the Limeburners again!

Wee Beefy.

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