this weekend saw Wee Fatha celebrate his birthday. For reasons which make us, his passengers, seem like we have enslaved him in automobile ferrying servitude, he came up with a plan to visit some of the best unspoilt pubs in Staffordshire, and one in Cheshire, on a day long escapade that promised up to 11 pubs. Given this level of self sacrifice, it would have been rude not to attend and sample some excellent boozers along the way.
We set off in a howling maelstrom and consoled ourselves that there were really only views from car windows and the inside of buildings awaiting us - as it was there were sunny spells all day - along with ferocious showers. Luckily more time was spent inside pubs than walking to them.
We started in the wilds beyond Eccleshall down a network of lanes that once were tracks and lanes that had since returned to being tracks, to arrive at the Anchor at High Offley. This two roomed canal-side pub has a fantastic setting up a flagstone path from the waterway near a bridge affording views along the Shropshire Union. There are outside toilets, one real ale, and conversation prevails in the bar, which comprises two giant settles, an open fire and a quarry tiled floor. WF and WK were on halves (and once again, please remember WF has no more than a quarter of every half), whilst myself and Miss N were on pints of the Wadworth 6X.
The only minor shame from a photographic point of view at least, was that the pub was still quite brilliantly and painstakingly decked out in Halloween decorations. That didn't make the company or the surroundings any less enjoyable though, and we were there for nearly an hour in the end. Pub 2 and pub 6 were studiously removed from the itinerary to accommodate this reckless but wholly necessary extra long stop.
We parked up at Norbury junction for our dinner then headed onto the Swan at Whiston. Set in acres of land and bathed in bright winter sunshine this long white pained building is not really in Whiston at all - its just the nearest group of buildings find-able on the map on the isolated road the pub stands beside. Included on the basis of it having long been a Holdens outlet, here I had a pint of the mild at £2.35, Miss N a Harvest Pale at £2.90 and there were also halves of Enville Ale and Holdens best to try. The mild was perhaps the best of the bunch, although the Harvest was in good nick.
Into Cannock next and the Crystal Fountain is owned by Black Country Ales (or at least run by them) and is on the National Inventory of unspoilt pub interiors. An unusual high wall forms the frontage with entrances at both ends linking and giving access to the main bar and snug with access to the lounge and function room from the left. A good range of beers included 3 from the Black Country Ales fold - WK had the BFG and WF the Pig on the Wall - whilst myself and Miss N opted for pints of the excellent Great Heck Citra. The Pig on the Wall was great but the BFG a tired and disappointing brew - which is surprising as the session bitter in that breweries pub.
Despite that this was a cracking boozer, the interior of which is, to my mind, 1950's - lots of austere lines and frugal yet elegant fittings. For more info on the interior, here is a link to the Heritage pubs website.
Into Stone next and a chance to visit the ever popular Swan in daylight. This pub sells Coach house and Joules (are they not the same?) beers plus guests in a large multi-roomed pub wit real fires and stone floors. We chose halves of Coach-house Wizards Wonder, Rudgate Thunder Flash, Coach house Gunpowder Mild and Blythe Bridge Ridware Pale. It was telling that the non Halloween themed beer was far and away the best - but this was an enjoyable visit to a comfy, welcoming, busy pub nonetheless.
Outside Stone a couple of miles away lies Oulton. Curmudgeon profiled the Brushmakers here back in July, but visiting now in the dead of winter the photo on the blog was of limited use - since the sign had been lost. Luckily, blind boy here spotted an illuminated Bass sign and insisted we went back for a look - and sure enough there it was. The Brushmakers is a one room (I think!) drinkers pub selling three beers - two from Thwaites and a guest. On this occasion we all went for the Coach House Dick Turpin which was a pleasant drop, and settled in the corner to talk and soak up the scene. There was sport on the telly and plenty of customers, and nearly as many dogs, with a refreshing mixture of ages chatting convivially in the warmth. Well worth a visit.
Food came next as we broke our own rule and visited Cheshire - just over the border at Scholar Green to visit another National Inventory pub, the Bleeding Wolf. An impressive interior of dark wood and leaded glass windows on the bar along with impressive heavy wood doors to the loos in a style similar to the Racecourse in Salford awaits - along with three real ales. We all went for Trooper and ate from a menu that was somewhat more expensive than your usual Robbies fare - not that it mattered because the food was excellent. On the way out I noticed some Robinsons bottled ales stained glass features in the glass either side of the entrance door - a nice subtle and more easily photograph-able touch.
Back into Staffordshire and despite getting lost, which is customary, we did eventually find our way to the Vine at Tunstall. A quiz was on in the darts room in this unspoilt back street boozer, also on the National Inventory and which boasts outside gents, a long drinking corridor, lounge, and a redoubtably old gas fire in the narrow bar. Our round of J2O for WF, bottled Guinness for WK and halves of Walkers something unreadable on keg for myself and Miss N came in at under a fiver. Although, arguably, the Walkers was sufficiently dire to make that total about right. Alas this was a short visit as time was getting on, nut its good to see the Vine still quietly and unassumingly getting on with being a proper boozer.
Time was literally getting on for our penultimate stop - the Coachmakers at Hanley. The bus station across the road has been built and despite opposition from a mixed brigade of concerned and passionate supporters plus people who know what they are talking about when it comes to pub preservation, the powers that be have confirmed demolition will go ahead to make way for a car park.
Despite this the locals remain upbeat, unified by an understandable dislike of the municipal overlords who seem to have ploughed on with the decision to show that they were right all along rather than for any claimed benefit. They also seem convinced that the demolition is a long way off, but I'd still get there sooner rather than later before its too late. On our visit, halves of Black Sheep Ruddy Ram, plus a half and a pint for me of the Bass from the cask in the cellar were ordered. We sat in the right hand room warmed by the fire listening in on the conversation and plotting our next move. Lets hope this wasn't our last visit.
Our final stop was to have been the One Legged Shunter - a pub seemingly with no phone number or website, attached to a heritage railway and situated down a dark lane. The GBG claims it opens 18.00 til 23.00 weekends in winter but the fact that the station isn't on Caverswall Lane and we had reached it without spotting signs of life suggested our search was fruitless. We did turn down a few lanes initially before returning to the station to spot a pub open sign behind the locked gates. Perhaps they don't open Sundays in winter anymore, and no doubt its run by volunteers and is not exactly likely to attract passing trade on a chilly Sunday, but its surely not impossible to announce such a decision or confirm such an arrangement via the tinterweb. To be fair, a search on the web in the comfort of my home identifies a phone number but it still says they open 12-23.00 on Sundays. A case perhaps, with this being their FB page, of getting but not utilising social media. Humph.
Unperturbed we pushed on to Cheadle where the Hunstman was holding its quiz. A range of about 7 beers heralded some LocALEs including Joules but I went for the Lymestone Einstein - an overly sweet beer that I probably should have had a taste of first. Initially the loud music round was a bit annoying but once we'd found a corner to sit in and guessed a few of the answers, along with listening to Fawlty Towers and Blackadder in the loos, I think we all rather warmed to this pub.
So started a long punt home and ended a tiring day out for all concerned. Stand out pubs were probably the Anchor, The Swan and the Brushmakers but there wasn't a bad pub in the ones we visited. A great advert for unspoilt pubs in Staffordshire, and the existence of the National Inventory.