on Sunday I met Wee Fatha out Abbeydale Road way to be picked up and whisked off to Manchester to meet up with Dimpled Mug (DM) and to visit a rather impressive list of pubs, not least the Racecourse Hotel in Salford, and the Queens Arms in Patricroft that DM himself had recommended.
WF as always chose a crow flies (drunkenly though) route down minor roads all the way to the Snake before following a familiar if busy route onto the motorway heading for Eccles. We arrived just gone 14.00 but it was near half past by the time we got parked - albeit next to the pub we were heading for, The Lamb which is on the National Inventory of Unspoilt Pub Interiors (N.I).Once inside, I quickly remembered that I didn't actually know, with any certainty, what DM looked like. Cue much confusion when a bloke came up and said "Hello Iain" and started telling WF how to sort out the car parking problem.
WF piped up "have you found your mate then" and spooked by this I asked the guy if he was Dimpled Mug, then quickly made the situation worse by saying I was meeting a bloke in the pub but didn't know what he looked like. Luckily I added the caveat that he was interested in pubs, but the bloke had walked off by then.
DM found we finished our pint and a half of Holts Bitter and Mild and headed for Patricroft. En route we mentioned that I hadn't been in the N.I listed Stanley Arms nearby so we made an impromptu stop there, me and DM with pints of Holts Bitter, WF on tomato juice, poor lad. The Stanley Arms is a fantastic street corner local, and despite the large ostentatious excesses of the Lamb, the Grapes and the Royal Oak, I think this is perhaps my favourite Eccles pub. A small, busy vault at the front plus a lounge on the left, a small bar and corridor (with a 3rd room being all but domestic) this is a cracking little pub that I'll visit again.
Next we arrived at the Queens Arms Patricroft. What an astonishing boozer. Up a road cum track that goes back on itself as you head from Eccles, I can't imagine anyone would ever find this place by accident. Granted, being one of, if not the first purpose built railway pubs, passengers at Patricroft Station would have known all about it but I doubt even Wee Fatha remembers it being open.
Its relative isolation and non-existent passing trade have perhaps contributed to its unspoilt features - and there are many. A lounge, in the more literal sense is on the right, with a long front vault and the bar in the middle. An unusual standing lobby style area is separated by a wall - this was probably the off sales. The floor is covered in fantastic black and white tiling which leads to a room on the back right and another longish room on the left, with the entrance slightly enlarged (in fact the back room is just that now - it would have been two). A long corridor with half height paneling and another serving hatch and entrance to the vault runs the length of the pub beside the bar, at the end of which are toilets which even include a baffle.
Beer wise in here we had pints of Thwaites Best since the Blonde that they usually sell had run out. The combo of large fireplaces, old brewery mirrors, snob screens, original doors and windows made for an intoxicating mix. Many thanks to DM for this excellent recommendation.
Next off for a contrasting pub, the Racecourse Hotel in Salford. A ginormous dull grey warehouse of a building but of admirable mock Tudor inspiration, fantastic internal features and innumerable internal rooms. The huge gantry-less bar with the spirits housed on stands reminded me of a poorer version of that in the Central Bar Leith, and the large paneled rooms to the right and back left were austere (in their size versus furniture), but this was accentuated by the movement of tables and chairs in preparation for an upcoming 50th.
The Oakwell Mild was alas run out so it was pints of Bitter for me and DM, whilst we spent time exploring this |N.I giant, including the huge "vault", bigger than some pubs on their own, and with a separate entrance, that was hired out to clubs and groups. As I mentioned on Tuesday the pub will close on Sunday 26th May so I'd highly recommend you go and take a look. A real shame.
I had never been to Higher Broughton before. To be honest, except for the roads leading to the Racecourse, my only previous experience of Salford was Chapel Street and the area round the Crescent. So I didn't expect anything but derelict buildings, flats and wide dual carriage ways as we headed to the Star on Back Hope Street. WF and DM however were already assuring me of Higher Broughton's finer points and reputation. Even then I was surprised and impressed as we trundled up a cobbled tree lined lane and parked behind Back Hope Street.
Walking down there is in fact another pub bang opposite our destination with some fantastic tiling advertising Openshaw Brewery ales and stouts on the side. Alas the Horseshoe may have been closed for a while, though its in good nick. Luckily the excellent Star Inn has been brought by a community co-operative. It has a brewery, an unspoilt interior and is a focal point in Higher Broughton. It's brilliant, to be quite honest.
Architecture wise there is a tiny bar as you enter to the right with seating for all of about 10 people, then a small joining corridor to a long lounge with a fireplace at the end. Through the door on the right is the loos and a back room on the left which used to have a pool table but is now more empty and better suited to revealing interesting period furniture and features. Fully deserving of its place on part 2 of the N.I, there are up to 3 real ales served, but we were all on the Star Inn brewery Starry Night, a very palatable pint.
Sadly DM had to meet some mates elsewhere so left us at this point, whilst we trekked on towards Bury to become discombobulated trying to find the Irwell Works, a building advertised by only a banner across the top floor, it seems. Once inside however we found a range of about 8 beers on, WF having some of my pint of Irwell Works Tin Plate Mild, after which I moved onto a pint of their excellent Eldorado pale ale. Great views of the area through the windows and a friendly atmosphere wiped away some of our frustration at not being able to locate it.
Back into Manchester next we had food on the mind and headed to Pi at Chorlton. My first visit to the area was a pleasant one, with the bar reminding me very much of the Treacle Tap in Macclesfield, to the point where I have to assume they are owned by the same company?
We had inexpensive pie and mash in here (my beef and chorizo with beer gravy was incredibly satisfying) and drinks wise WF had his sought after Tatton Blonde, and me a pint of their Penny-less pale ale. Afterwards, I also tried a half of Millstone Vale Mild and a very enjoyable Red Willow Witless, which even I concede is better on Keykeg. The end is nigh....
Our penultimate stop was for Wee Fatha as he wanted to visit the Cheshire Line. Its something of a large Marstons eatery more than a pub now and was painfully quiet, but the halves of Ringwood 49er and Marstons Empire were decent enough, though the Marstons was in fact by far the better.
We rolled up finally at our last stop in Woodford and visited traditional Robbies house the Thief's Neck, AKA the Davenport Arms. I think this pub suffered in my estimation from having seemed by description a really unspoilt pub, which via a combination of tiredness, being busy, and light free loos made me slightly less able than expected to appreciate the place.
That said, in terms of traditional features, outside loos is a sure sign of a good pub. And the friendly staff laughed off my rather mardy complaints (they hadn't turned the lights on see, but I thought there was a sensor or light switch which...ah well...) and the beer was enjoyable - WF had a single atom of his Unicorn best and I had the rest plus a pint of Robinsons Seasonal Uncle Sam.
Before long we'd got back in the car to set off home and I awoke about two minutes later, nearly home. I never realised Woodford was so near...
Thanks to WF for driving me to the corners of Greater Manchester, and to DM for his company and knowledge. A fantastic trip that was the perfect end to my two weeks of sottish excess.