Friday, 21 September 2012

A real ale way to leave

There are so many opposing factors, variables and considerations which combine to make the happy event of wishing a colleague well, a potentially disastrous exercise.
Some people want to go for food, while others want to stop in for a quick drink and dash off.
There are those who crave chrome bars and over-priced lager while sensible folk prefer good pubs and real ale.
Then you have got to keep an eye out for the pint-pinchers who only go in pubs when obliged for wakes and leaving dos.
Once a few dusty moths have escaped from their wallet they will either sulk in a corner and moan or get outrageously drunk, make a pass at their boss and vomit over the rest of the group.
Last weekend I was in Preston for two consecutive leaving-do nights out and more than a little apprehensive at least one of them would go to form.
On Friday Michelle from LEP Towers was out to celebrate her return back to the wrong side of the Pennines with a good few pints of real ale.
Her department contained a slightly older crowd who have been swilling ale in Preston's best pubs for a generation or two, so I felt confident I was on safe ground.
I caught up with them at the Black Horse in Friargate at around 8.15pm where they were quietly making their way through the eight ales on offer.
I joined them in their discerning pursuit to find their preferred ale and before I knew it, everyone else had gone, the pub was shut and we were being heaved out the door.
After spending the following day with lead weights dragging on my head I was back in the Black Horse to celebrate Miss Chardonnay Sidekick's three-month sabbatical to India where she will be building wells, toilets and cask pumps (the latter was the suggested usage for my donation).
With a larger, younger crowd I expected us to be away from the pub and off into the bright lights of the city quickly. But a poorly coordinated multiple rounds system meant we were all going to the bar at different times and the night once again slipped away.
By 11.30pm I was determined my entire weekend should not be spent in just one pub and lead the stumbling rabble over to the Wellington in Glover's Court, for yet more real ale and the house's finest cocktails for Miss Chardonnay Sidekick (Bombay Smash).
Buoyed by our adventurous voyage across the city we resolved the Warehouse should be the final destination for a night of good music and awful dancing.
But when we got outside I heard the screech of taxi tyres and realised the group had thinned to just three.
So, into the trusty Old Dog it was for one last ale to make sure the lead weights would be fixed to my head the following morning.
Having spent an entire weekend observing the intricacies and pitfalls of a leaving-do night out I am now planning my own for two weeks today.
Having been lured by the promise of a world of wonderful pubs, my liver and I are moving up to the Lake District, so this will be my last real ale ramble. 
Thanks for reading.  

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Golden Ball, Liverpool Road, Longton

After a week in Budapest spent saturated in the finest glasses of white wine 80p could buy, Miss Chardonnay Sidekick was well and truly off the sauce.
So she kindly clocked on for taxi duties to search out a good pub in the countryside.
For a couple of years now I have been half-heartedly toying with the idea of walking the 73-mile Ribble Way, from it's source in the Yorkshire Dales, to the Dolphin Inn, in Longton.
So in a bid to build a little motivation to take on such a challenge, I thought the best thing to do would be to visit the pub to check on the prize which would await me at the end.
'Of course I know where it is, don't worry about it', I proclaimed after a cursory glance at a map.
'It's a pub, I never have much bother finding them'.
We drove along Liverpool Road into Longton where we came upon the Golden Ball and having not seen Marsh Lane, I immediately abandoned my plan and decided to stop here instead.
But turning to park at the pub we found Marsh Lane and continued down the road.
We kept on going, finding nothing resembling a pub and eventually came out a few hundred yards from the Golden Ball.
So the Golden Ball it was.
The sun made a rare appearance for Bank Holiday Sunday and the front and back beer gardens were packed with groups of drinkers basking in every one of the luke-warm rays.
Inside the pub was similarly packed with large groups who had come together for a good few pints or a bite.
From the outside its appearance suggests a traditional village pub and I was surprised at how much modernisation had taken place within.
The main bar area was wide and open-plan while there were a number of smaller rooms tucked away, including one which had gone for a coffee shop look, with a number of settees.
I wasn't too impressed with my pint of Robinson's Blonde which seemed to taste a little musty.
But then again my beleaguered taste buds which are not so discerning at the best of times, may well have been reeling after a week spent in the company of Hungarian lager (real ale hasn't got that far yet).
I was however, impressed with a patch of grass at the back of the car park because it included one simple feature; goal posts.
As a child who spent many a sunny evening playing in fields at the back of pubs, one cheap little goal post set would have transformed a mundane bike ride to the pub, into an afternoon of endless entertainment.
Cuppie, heads and volleys, whack the football at my sisters, the possibilities would have been endless.

And though goalposts would not technically be needed for the latter, it would have provided a legitimacy for a painful strike in the event a formal complaint was lodged with my parents.
'You've made Lyndsey cry', my mum would say in a scolding tone.
'Ah but she was in goal, that's what happens', I could cunningly reply.
'And anyway she's 24 now, she's old enough to decide if she doesn't want to go in goal'.
We left just as a band was setting up and more people poured into the pub, exchanging a hearty medley of handshakes and back-slaps.
'I think I found us a popular little local there', I remarked to Miss Chardonnay Sidekick as we headed back to Preston.
'Yeah only because you got us lost immediately.
'How do you ever expect to be able to tramp across the country?'

Pear Tree, Penwortham
Bitter Suite, Preston

You can follow me on Twitter @RobinsonBee

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Pear Tree, Leyland Road, Penwortham

The sun was out so I scrambled for my bike and tumbled out the front door, with the intention of powering into the rolling countryside, to soak up a little serenity.
'Just me, my bike, the twisting country lanes and the sun on my back.
'This is going to be bliss', I told myself.
After a few minutes I was in Penwortham, then I found my way to Lostock Hall, then it was Bamber Bridge, followed by Lostock Hall again.
Then it was Bamber Bridge again, then it was Penwortham again....
Then I got sick of the whole caper and skulked off home, furious at myself for thinking that following my nose would actually work.
The first time I whipped past the Pear Tree, flying down Leyland Road, I made out the colourful blur of a decent beer garden and I was tempted to slam on my rusty old brakes and give it a closer inspection.
But on one of my later laps I came out of Middleforth Green, and seeing the pub head on, was put off by a 'E' missing from the sign.
'Drink in a pub with a missing E, who has ever heard of such a thing', I muttered to myself before clunking off down the hill once more.
But on Tuesday with an unexpected evening of sunshine, Miss Chardonnay Sidekick and I felt compelled to spend the evening outside. And that can mean only one thing – a beer garden.
We arrived just moments before a big rush drinkers piled into the pub and filled the bar.
I wondered whether everybody had had the same idea as us but after sharing greetings with half the pub's customers, it was clear they were regulars.
With the entire bar area full of thirsty locals I was expecting a long wait for our drinks.
But the chap, who I assume was the landlord, served a couple of people who were before us and then poured my Caledonian Flying Scotsman, keeping the banter gang waiting at the bar.
I was next in the queue but not for one second would I have begrudged him keeping his locals happy over serving a couple of silly shorts-wearing sun chasers sporting daft glasses (Miss Chardonnany Sidekick).
I nearly panicked and ordered a lager, such was my shock at the man's good grace so seldom practised.
Outside there is a good-sized grassed area with thick shrubbery and a decent covered decking for smokers. We were lucky to get the last free bench in the garden.
You would have to say the place could benefit from some money spending on it, starting with a new 'E' and a lick of paint or two inside top priorities.
The beer garden was green and pleasant but it could be much better with a few plants and a bit of love.
But taking all of that aside, when we were in on Tuesday, the pub was full of people chomping through meals or catching up with friends and the beer garden had clearly drawn in the crowds to soak up the last of the sun.
So maybe dropping the 'E' is the way to be!

Ship Inn, Fylde Road, Preston
Bitter Suite, Fylde Road, Preston
You can follow me on Twitter - @RobinsonBee

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Ship Inn, Fylde Road, Preston

Some time back I went into the Ship Inn and it seemed to be drifting rather listlessly, lacking purpose or promise.
A once favourite student haunt, the lease was available for a new tenant and there seemed to be little effort, being made to get the place going.
But last Friday after a few pints in the Bitter Suite (see previous post) and a few more in the Mad Ferret, my mate Chris and I were stumbling back home, when the Ship docked in our path.
An acoustic performer was knocking out a few tunes and the assembled crowd seemed to be appreciating his efforts.
Having decided I needed to rise before midday Saturday I was not keen to go in.
But after a moment’s arm twisting, I agreed to listen to a couple of songs and ‘then we’d be off’.
But seeing they were now serving Hobgoblin, I quickly revised my plans and we were soon settled for the rest of the night.
Despite approaching the small hours, it was clear there was more happening than the last time I was in.
Two good live acts kept people entertained when other pubs were closing and with a supply of real ale my plans for Saturday were quickly abandoned.
Whenever I have spoken to students who have studied at UCLan in the last decade, they have almost all claimed the Ship Inn had been as important to their student experience as the university itself.
And with the next intake of students arriving in Preston next month, there may well be hundreds more ready to climb aboard.

*You can follow me on twitter @RobinsonBee 

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Bitter Suite, Fylde Road, Preston

'We've three bands on this evening and the first one's starting in just a couple of minutes', the woman sat at a little exam desk said.
'It's £4 entry'.
'Not so great'.
'Go on then it's Friday night, it's been a long week, a bit of live music might just do the job'.
With the backs of our hands stamped we walked into the venue to join the crowd.
Then we realised we were the crowd.
Just then the band struck up in a thrash of demonic fury.
The drummer brought his sticks down on the helpless symbols like a serial killer making sure the job was done, as the vocalist produced a terrifying guttural groan like the sounds of a devil dog ripping up a rabbit.
I was trembling.
'Do you think will notice if we slip out?', I shouted to my mate.
'Can't hear you, lets just edge backwards towards the door very slowly'.
This was my first visit to the Bitter Suite several years ago and as first impressions go, I was left with more of the 'bitter' than I normally get in a pub.
But last week we decided to make a long overdue return for a couple of Friday night pints.
Despite it being in the heart of the student strip which suffers in summer, it was packed last Friday night with a friendly crowd who have all clear been locals for a good many years.
No gimmicks to try to drag customers in here.
But my attention was very quickly diverted from the happy hum of people's week being dissected, to the bar, loaded and ready with six real ales of my choosing.
I felt like I'd been reunited with a lost relative, someone who'd left for Australia so long ago I no longer recognised their face, until their beaming smile brought it all back.
We excitedly kicked off the evening with a couple of pints of Columbus, then Forest of Bowland's Hen Harrier, before going for some dark, chewy stuff which went down a treat.
And unlike almost every other pub in Preston which displays the same nostalgic old pictures of Preston bought as a job lot from, they have got some brilliant prints of every-day sights in the city from a perspective you had never imagined.
Even if you are not a fan of real ale or friendly locals, I would recommend popping in for a drink to have a nosey at the 'pool room photo gallery'.
I waved goodbye to my long-lost brother with a genuine intention to meet again.
Maybe next time we will even have another go at a band.

*You can follow me on Twitter @RobinsonBee and let me know where I should go next

Friday, 3 August 2012

The White Hart, Watling Street Road, Preston

Once upon a time Preston built things on a humongous scale.
There were giant mills with enormous chimneys hulking out into the sky, huge factories teeming with workers who lived in thousands of terraced houses with ceilings so high you could squeeze in a couple more floors without having to stoop.
And after a long day spent at work in a huge building, where did the people stop in to relax before sidling through their  100-foot front doors?
A pub the size of the bus station of course.
Nice blooms at The White Hart
Now this potted social history of Preston is based nothing more than a few obscure, baseless musings I conjured the other day, but they seemed to fit perfectly when I arrived at The White Hart in Watling Street Road.
I have passed the pub countless times without investing in it any more of my time in it, than the occasional raised of an eyebrow as if to re-affirm it is still a 'really big pub'.
But the Central Lancashire branch of Camra reported it had starting serving real ale and it has some cracking hanging baskets outside, which was enough to draw me in.
Impressive blooms aside, my first impression of the place remained the same as it had been the countless times I drove past.
It was vast.
But while in its heyday (taking my flawed history theory) thousands of workers would have been pouring out of the mills and filling places like this, at 6.30pm one weekday evening, the appearance of my mate Big Dog Dave and I, was not enough to push the total clientèle into double figures.
With a pint of Young's London Gold we took one of the very many empty seats.
A couple of big screens were dotted around the place and with lots of streamers and banners, they were trying to get into the Olympics spirit.
But everything seemed to be swallowed up into the enormity of the place.
On a Saturday when North End are at home I am sure it gets busier but you could probably get a good portion of a 10,000 gate seated in there, in perfect comfort.
In decades long gone, your typical Preston worker pouring out of say Tulketh Mill at 5pm on a Tuesday, may well have popped into their local for a quick pint to relax after work, while your call centre crew emerging there today is more likely to head straight to yoga or spinning (which is ironically what their predecessors may have been doing all day).
The only solution is to entice more people in and they can do worse than starting with a decent pint of real ale, some cracking blooms and the sense you are in a pub which gives you plenty of room to breathe.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Harley-Davidson cafe, Strand Road, Preston

“I'm off to an American diner at the back of a Harley-Davidson showroom, so what I'm going to do is put my leather jacket on, don my Weetabix helmet and cycle into the car park making throaty revving noises like a badass.”
“For Pete's sake Ben, you're a 28-year-old man, you need to grow up.
“You'll get smacked in the face and they'd be within their rights.
“In fact I'd smack you in the face if I was there...”
“Alright mum chill out, I'll just walk instead”, I said before quickly hanging up the phone mid-tirade.
I met my friends, Bainsey Four Bellies and Big Dog Dave in the car park, before sidling painstakingly among hundreds of hypnotically shiny bikes. Gleaming exhausts stretched my face while a tiny fob sucked it in as I became transfixed by a million distorted images of myself.
Just as my nose got within a hair's length of the handle bars I caught I glimpse of the price which sent me scuttling to the cafe at the back, terrified by all the noughts.
With fixed-table booths, assorted bowling pins and swathes of chrome, Harleys captured some of the authentic American roadside joint.
Instead of savouring a sense of the States however, we took the highway dining theme a little further and sat on the terraced area, off one of Preston's most famous highways – Strand Road.
We barely scanned the menu before making our choices.
“Jeez can you imagine us out on Route 66 pulling over for a cheese and ham toastie?” said Big Dog.
“Yeah that sucks”, agreed Four Bellies.
We were all set for a 'Phat Boy Burger' apiece, which included two hearty burgers, bacon, cheese, salad and relish, (3.95) but Four Bellies hadn't eaten for over an hour and decided it might not sustain him.
So he chose a Cornish pastie (£1.65) with gravy and a hot dog (£2.45) just to be sure.
No mention had been made of French fries and I assumed they were a given but when I checked, I was told they cannot cook chips because the smell and the grease perforates through into the showroom.
My first instinct was to baulk at such a preposterous ideas as an American diner without chips but then all those mesmeric twinkling bikes shimmered back into mind and I could see the problem they faced.
The Phat Boys lived up to their billing perfectly. The waitress borrowed one of United Utilities' cranes stationed nearby to lower them onto our bench and there they sat towering over us.
With the top buns hanging backwards they looked like the mouths of angry ogres bellowing at us (perhaps about the lack of chips).
But we need not have worried because the Phat Boys were more than enough to contend with on their own.
And Four Bellies was also impressed with his plates declaring at least three of his stomachs were full and contented, which had not happened since his infamous 24 hour takeaway challenge of 2010.
With the three sodas the whole bill came to an incredibly reasonable £15.05, which is why I've decided to treat my mum next time she rides into town.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Sherwood, Sherwood Way, Preston

It is a stark confession but I have to come clean and admit I didn't want to go to the pub.
There are few occasions in my life when I can make such an outrageous a proclamation without falling silent for a dramatic pause, before slapping my leg and bursting out into rolls of laughter.
'Got you again, what a lark', I say.
Oh how they laugh.
But after spending a weekend at my friends' two-day wedding bonanza, including continuous supply of free real ale (with sneaky trips to the pub before and after the service), my barrel was empty.
With Miss Chardonnay Sidekick temporarily unavailable for Sidekicking duties and the entire sum of my friends, saying he was going to the cinema tonight, I was left to slink into The Sherwood alone.
I took my pint of Wainwright and sidled into a seat in the corner, where I settled down to read my paper, slowly sip my beer and mind my own business.
On the table next to me a group of men, including a conspiratorial father and son, jovially plotted ways of continuing their night in town without 'Yer mum getting wind of it', while another small group popped in for a pint to take the edge off a day at work.
To my left a dad and three teenage children scurried through the door, ushered by the rain and made their way to the dining area, to break up the week with a cheap meal out.
As this steady tea-time hum built around me I sat quietly and enjoyed my pint, which seemed to offer me a little more flavour with every lazy sip.
Suddenly I realised, aside from the music (Middle of the Road and The Droaners), I had been perfectly relaxad for the past half and hour, without feeling the need to move at all beyond my left hand turning the pages and the right one to hoist my pint from time-to-time.
'This is a revelation', I thought to myself as I left.
'It's like relaxing at home except better because you're in a pub.
'Wait until I tell the others about this.
'No on second thoughts, it might be better to remain my little secret'.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Eagle and Child, Weeton

Sporting hanging basket head gear, clogs with a story to tell and braces grappling to hold the show together, the Original Garstang Morris Men danced like it was 1972.
The motley troop was once a fixture on the gala day circuit including starring performances in the 1972 and 1992 Guilds, before they danced off into the sunset.
After several of the troopers left Lancashire, with some even moving abroad, commentators claimed the Originals would never perform again.
But like former welterweight boxing champion Ricky Hatton chomping for a return, the Original Garstang Morris Men craved one last hit of glory in the Guild spotlight.
After long and complex negotiations between agents, the troopers dusted off their old kits and met at a top-secret location to begin practising for the most sensational of comebacks.
Within days the internet was awash with rumours the Originals were back. Their spokesman issued a public denial and after several men wearing flowery hats were photographed entering a church hall, he claimed it was a ‘coincidence’.
But later that week a press conference was called and before the world’s media, it was announced they would be performing at the Weeton Gala Day with a Guild date to follow if it went well.
And to the delight of the assembled crowd every clog clip, streamer stretch and tricky twist was performed with the same gay abandon which made them such a hit in their prime.
They formed up among a fantastic array of creativity and colour including a marching swing band,  excited youngsters in fancy dress and a  Muppets float to name just a few.
And what was at the very centre of this fantastic festival of British quirkiness?
Where was its heart? What bound the whole thing together? The Eagle and Child.
Set back from the green, jam-packed with character, tradition, a big beer garden and plenty of real ale, it is pretty much as good a village pub as you could hope for.
But occasions like the Weeton Gala Day show that places like this are much more than jumbles of old wooden beams and tankards, they are the fabric of rural society which turns a scattering of posh houses in fields, into a community of friends.
The Originals are now said to be stepping up their preparations for their Guild gig though they were last spotted enjoying the pub beer garden.          

Monday, 2 July 2012

My Euro 2012 Adventure

Every time the location of a European Championship is announced, my friends and I fly into action with a flurry of texts.
‘Right this year, we’re going to go’, one will say.
‘I’m up for it, agrees another’.
‘No this time I’m serious, we’re going to do it, it’s now or never’.
We usually get as far as searching the price of a pint in said country before abandoning it as non-starter.
Short of traipsing across Europe, the best on trains, planes and automobiles,  the only  way we could be sure to capture a bit of that Three Lions matchday atmosphere , was by hitting the pubs of Preston.
For our tournament’s opener against France, on the Monday cars were abandoned at LEP Towers as we hot-footed it down to The Sumners, in Watling Street Road, just in time to miss the first 15 minutes of the match!
Thankfully however, lots of other people seemed also seemed to have got stuck at work and we were able to get a seat close to one of numerous big screens. Popular with North End fans, I had expected it to be packed out by the time I got there, so a prime seat was an unexpected bonus.
The second match against Sweden was on a Friday night and I was in the mood for letting my receding hair down and enjoying a few pints of ale, so we headed straight for the Old Black Bull.
Ringing with nervous tension I quickly ordered a beer as I scoped out the best place to stand.  By the time kick-off came I was so excited, all I could do was sup my beer to keep me from jumping around the place.
My pint of Duck and Dive was pretty much gone by the time the players had mumbled the national anthem so I dashed back to the bar for a refill. Only then did I realise said beer which I had gulped down was, at 5.9% proof, rather stronger than my usual tipple. It did, however, make for a lively night which on the way home culminated in the enthusiastic re-enacting of several jaunty lunges, based loosely around the beer’s name. The atmosphere in the pub was good too from what I can remember.
For the Ukraine game we headed to The Wheatsheaf, in Water Lane, Ashton.  I knew exactly what I would get from this one; lots of big screens, bargain priced real ale and free snacks at half –time. You cannot go wrong. They even gave three locals a ‘Director’s Box’ treatment with the best seats in the house, along with free beer all night.
For the crunch quarter-final against Italy we decided against one of Preston’s sports pubs and instead went for Hartley’s in Mount Street. In the back room which is often closed off, they had created a ‘Euro Bar’ and invited regulars to reserve tables to ensure they all got a seat.
The room was just busy enough to build that collective tension which makes watching football so exciting without having to be crushed against a wall and because many people knew each other, the atmosphere was jovial (until the end).
Obviously it all ended in disappointment as it always does but at least it gave me more excuses for evenings in the pub.
‘Now to Brazil for 2014’.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Water Witch, Canal Tow Path, Aldcliffe Lane, Lancaster

I first came upon The Water Witch when, one sunny Saturday, I decided to go for a little poddle on my bike up the Lancaster Canal and, to my surprise, ended up in Lancaster.
Intending only to have a quick scoot around Preston, I did not take so much as a dribble of water for my jaunt in the searing heat.
I had been hallucinating about drinking long before The Water Witch popped her head out in the distance and beckoned me towards her with a spindly, crooked finger.
Like any dedicated cyclist I knew it was vitally important to rehydrate so I went straight for a pint of real ale and some nuts before quickly returning outside to grab one of the last benches on the tow path.
My plan had been for a quick pint (maybe try to find a bottle of water too) before cycling home.
But I got chatting to a fellow who lived on a barge moored outside the pub who proudly told me of his perennial battle to to keep one step ahead of the tax man (with a home that floats you can just keep moving apparently), before he up and left in case a letter should arrive.
Then I found a newspaper and slumped back into the shade of an umbrella and quickly realised that I was feeling just a bit too content to be going traipsing back down the canal.
So I had a couple more pints and got the train.
In the couple of years since I did the ride, my memory had morphed and moulded the Water Witch into a place of mystical beauty like Xanadu in Coleridge's opium-fuelled poem Kubla Khan (though I wasn't on drugs).
So it was with the excitement of a 'big kid' whose Christmas list is made up entirely of beer, that I returned to The Water Witch.
By the time we arrived the sun was straining to cast its last waning shards on the tow path, so it was decided by those who did not have a decent woolly jumper to keep off the chill (ahem Miss Chardonnay Sidekick) that we would sit inside.
The building was originally a canal company stable block and only opened as a pub in 1978, taking its name from a passenger packet boat that once trawled the canal.
Inside, with bare stone walls and floors it retains much of the character of its former use, while there is a newer mezzanine floor used largely for dining.
On the evening we visited, it had been a sunny day and the pub felt strangely quiet, with just a handful of people left eating and a few scattered drinkers.
The bar staff were working at double speed to re-stock the bar after what must have been a day-long deluge of sun-worshipping locusts working relentlessly through their supplies.
I enjoyed a nice pint of Guzzler from the York Brewery while Miss Chardonnay Sidekick broke with tradition and ordered a Pimms (my round).
We had a perfectly pleasant evening sitting on stools next to a window looking out at the canal but I could not help feeling, to really get the best from the place you've really got to stagger upon it at collapsing point, half dead with thirst or hunger.
Or, go when the sun is out, that would work too.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

The Borough, Dalton Square, Lancaster

Society is riddled with baseless advice about things which seem appealing but should be avoided at all costs.
We should never, apparently, meet our heroes because they will be a horrible let-down.
Footballers must never re-sign for a club where they have previously played because it will send their careers into terminal decline.
And I was always told (though I forget by who) that you cannot contrive to recreate a happy experience and expect it to be as good as you remembered.
But my happiest memories don't involve unforgettable holidays, stunning dawn sun rises or moments of epiphany.
No, the majority of my happiest moments involve good pubs and real ale.
So I find I am regularly able to create my perfect sunrise without too much fear of disappointment.
But after a great night in Lancaster last week, I was a little reticent about going back, in case I could not stumble upon another beery coup.
But thankfully, as soon as I came upon the splendid Dalton Square and slapped eyes on The Borough, my concerns melted away.
Unlike most pubs, where the bar is the most dominant eye catching feature, in The Borough it is hidden away to the side, an almost forgotten afterthought.
Instead you step into a lavish parlour with chandeliers, sumptuous leather settees and, to Miss Chardonnay Sidekick's delight, a rocking chair which kept her entertained for the duration.
Her only regret was having forgotten to bring her knitting!
The restaurant area was also popular and seemed to be doing a roaring trade but I was less interested in this than the gem which was concealed behind the bustling diners.
I picked my way through the restaurant, pushed open the back doors and slipped into a dream.
Under large canopies among great big trees and twinkling lights, sat serene drinkers, as a barbecue sizzled in one corner and music bounded from another.
It was perfect. I stood motionless and confused.
'Am I asleep? Or is the restaurant door some strange portal into another beer dimension, the likes of which I could never have imagined?'
I stepped back into the restaurant to test it again but it was still there.
'Ben in Beer Wonderland. That's what I will call this', I proclaimed as I dashed back into the pub, to tell Miss Chardonnay Sidekick of my revelation.
'I'm not moving, I like this rocking chair', she growled..
'It's out of this world I replied, 'You'll love it. And where did you get that knitting from anyway?'
Engrossed in someone else's cross stitch, I left Miss Chardonnay Sidekick and floated back into Ben in Beer Wonderland, knowing I can recreate the most perfect epiphany, whenever I like.

*You can follow me on Twitter @RobinsonBee

Saturday, 9 June 2012

The Myerscough, Samlesbury

We wandered peacefully along the beach, forming satisfying imprints on the crisp, wet sand freshly smoothed by the retreating tide.
The glimmering sun tickled the ocean and a gentle breeze urged us enticingly onwards.
'Right sack this caper, we need to get ourselves back to Lancashire and quickly.
'It's all very well us living it up here in Prestatyn but this is precious beer garden weather', I announced to Miss Chardonnay Sidekick whose face began to curl.
'But we're on the beach, it's a beautiful day and we're having a nice time'.
'Exactly, it's perfect', I replied reassuringly.
'Just think how nice the beer gardens will be today in all their glory'.
On the promise of a cool glass of Chardonnay in a sun-drenched beer garden, I somehow managed to negotiate our hasty exit from sunny Wales for a quick dash back to Lancashire.
But as we neared home the clouds began to roll in, becoming more threatening as we came closer to Preston.
'Not good', I thought to myself, 'There's going to be trouble here'.
So thinking on my feet I resolved to drive until I found a sunny break in the clouds and pull up at the nearest pub. Genius.
Preston was not looking great so I carried on down the A59 until Samlesbury where I found those glorious rays beaming down.
Quickly I pulled into The Myerscough and headed for the door.
It was mid-afternoon on Sunday when we got in and the place was packed out, without a single seat to be had. 
Each table was packed with families and groups of friends young and old who were either tucking into Sunday roasts or hungrily waiting for their meals to arrive.
I took my Robinson's Dizzy Blonde and followed Miss Chardonnay Sidekick out into the beer garden.
There we sat alone in the large, pleasant grassed garden, enjoying the 'sun' which was not offering us quite enough in the old temperature stakes to stop us from shivering ever so slightly.
'So this is pleasant isn't it?', I said. 'Nice little pub with a traditional feel to it, though I suspect it has been altered a fair bit inside'.
'Triffic', she replied.
I was about to make a joke about Rodney Trotter when a thick, dark cloud rolled over and seemed to settle itself just metres above our heads.
We looked up to see this great, angry mass appearing to strain like a dog on a poor diet.
'Is that hail I can feel?' said Miss Chardonnay Sidekick.
'Oh no I don't think so', I replied just as a deluge of ice bricks came crashing down on top of us, missing the rest of the garden, which remained bathed in sun.
We dived into the car just as the evil ice cloud clocked our movement and unleashed the rest of its freezing arsenal on the windscreen.
'Well that was a bit of fun, where do you fancy going next weekend?'

The Sun Hotel and Bar, Church Street, Lancaste

You could argue all day about the Royal Family, dissecting their value for money and relevance to modern Britain but after the fantastic Diamond Jubilee celebrations, I can honestly say I am right behind our Royals.
With a long weekend in prospect I turned off my TV, unplugged the radio and my cheap computer was wheezing anyway, so I was completely free to indulge my life's biggest passions; curry and beer.
With Miss Biryani Side Order in tow we munched through a celebration of spices at my local Indian, while plotting how to make best use of our long weekend.
On such an historic occasion, we thought there could be nothing more appropriate than zipping on the train up to Lancaster.
After a little carefree wandering around the city centre, achievable only in the knowledge you won't be back at work in the morning, our rabble came upon The Sun Hotel and Bar, and decided to give it a try.
It was immediately clear the bar area has been modernised extensively but in its brickwork, nooks and snugs, plenty of the building's long history remains.
It also sported a war chest of real ale, from which I chose a Thwaites Lancaster Bomber, followed by a tangy pint of Lancaster Red which is brewed by the pub's owner Lancaster Brewery.
We started out in the beer garden before retreating to a tiny cubby hole of a room with a covered well in the middle, where some of the group ordered great looking (and I'm told tasting) meals which made me regret binging on curry for endless hours and days.
Grumpily, I waddled off to the bar for another pint and I became further riled when a large group piled in ahead of me and went straight to the bar.
Spewing muttered Victor Meldrew quotes, I decided the night was on a downward spiral but to my surprise the well-staffed bar dealt swiftly with the group and I was soon at the front of the queue being asked whether 'I wanted my pint in a straight glass or one with a handle?'
Such lavish choices I had never before known and it initially caught me off-guard.
But, living on the edge as ever, I decided it was a holiday so I would go mad and have a handle.
A revelation it was I tell you, especially when hoisting my glass up high to toast our good Queen for bearing the gift of a Bank Holiday Booze Cruise.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Ancient Oak Merry Trees Lane, Preston

‘No it’ll be one of those soulless new pubs, unremarkable on the outside and dripping with generic laminate fittings inside. A flat pack pub - not for me’. 
This was the well rounded, considered and thoroughly balanced view I had formed of the Ancient Oak, after driving past it along Tom Benson Way every day to work. 
‘I’ve seen such a place before, they won’t catch me out’, I would ramble out loud to myself as I rolled by every day.
But with the sun battling to give us a smile one afternoon, I spontaneously decided to give it a try.
I was pleased there were plenty of benches outside, including some sheltered by trellising, closest to the pub. 
Inside, it is a pretty vast place, which seemed to be split between a dining area and the main bar where people could also order food. 
There was one real ale available (Speckled Hen) when I went in, which I took and scurried back out to a bench, to try to make the most of the fading sun. 
Eventually the weather gave up on its spring bloom and I retreated back into the pub to find a seat. 
The decoration was similar to how I imagined but it looked and felt clean, tidy and well ordered. 
By the time I had settled down and worked my way through my beer, I had been joined with a steady stream of people, who were stopping in for a quick drink and a chat on their way home. 
As these locals took their seats, greeting one another warmly, I began to see the place in another light.
This pub I am told, is the only shop of any kind on the enormous, sprawling housing estate that is Cottam. 
Residents have to get in their car if they want a paper or a pint of milk but at least they have somewhere they can go for a bit of company, to release the stresses of the day or have a cheap meal. 
Just imagine if they had built yet more blocks of flats there instead of a pub; people who live just a few yards apart could go weeks of months without ever crossing paths.
If I had to choose one amenity to be built on an estate where everyone is pocketed away in houses and flats, it would be a place where everyone can be sure to find a friendly face.
‘Flat pack pub you proclaimed’, said Miss Chardonnay Sidekick after I got home.
‘Well I quite like flat packs now’, I replied.
‘Lovely, I just bought a wardrobe for my flat today, I’ll be back in an hour’.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Chorley Night Out

'You should get yourself down Chorley one Friday night', bellowed my colleague Matt Squires, who I suspect is part of an underground cell which will one day launch a coup to overthrow the Government and reform society, with Chorley at its epicentre.
'Okay mate no need to shout', I replied. 'I'm only sitting opposite you'.
So with his words ringing in my ears, I boarded a train for my first big Chorley night out.
After a cracking curry and a few pints in Vujon we made our way into the heart of the People's Republic of Chorley'.
Our first stop was The Market Tavern, in Cleveland Street.
I walked through the door which was surrounded by an appealing traditional frontage and very suddenly came to a halt.
Two steps inside the pub were as far as I was going to get, at least initially, because it was completely packed out.
Eventually I wriggled my way to the bar and bought a pint of Theakston Mild, a weak keg beer which reminded me of many evenings spent in snooker halls.
Edging round I tried to work out what all the fuss was about?
Why were so many people crammed into this little pub?
Then it struck me. A note. The wrong note.
I spun to my left to see a lady on a small raised stage piling her heart into a tub thumping karaoke hit, though it was difficult to decipher which one.
But the crowd loved it and a steady stream of singers got up on stage, buoyed by the encouragement of an appreciative audience.
Deciding against having a crack at Bon Jovi, we slipped out and moved on to The Sir Henry Tate, in New Market Street, a new-build Wetherspoon pub which looked like many others.
There was however one feature which set it apart from its branches in Preston and elsewhere; music and lots of it.
The big beats bounced off the walls as happy drinkers got geared up for their final destination; Applejax.
With good real ale at very good prices, a Wetherspoon pub always manages to strike a chord with me, even if many of them have been built in places more suited to carpet shops.
Our final destination was The Imperial, a large and airy pub which was busy with a good blend of drinkers old and young, having a quick one before the club, or enjoying a last pint of the night.
With a pint of Thwaites Wainwright in hand, I fell into the latter category as I reflected on a night spent in bustling pubs whose owners have worked hard to make sure their customers keep coming back.
'What did you reckon then mate', Matt bellowed (though this time it was fair enough because it was noisy).
'Sign me up. Vive La Revolution'.

*If anyone would like to suggest their ideal Chorley pub route, please feel free to leave a comment on this blog  or find me on Twitter - @RobinsonBee

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Adelphi, Fylde Street, Preston

For a few fleeting weeks after I moved to Preston, evenings spent in The Adelphi were a comforting reminder of my lazy, hazy student days.
But, in spite of myself, I came to the forced realisation I was no longer a student and regardless of how many pound coins I shoved in the pool table, those day were gone.
After reluctantly removing my student-beer goggles for the final time, I looked at the place objectively and realised there was not too much there for me. 
Aside from the students merrily sinking pints without worrying about getting up the following morning (which suddenly became irritating) there was no real ale and the place seemed to be decorated to resemble some sort of garish play pen.
So grumpily I drained my pint of cheap keg bitter and stomped off to reassess my place in the world - I had not been back since.
But earlier in the month the pub reopened after a major revamp, so I was keen to find out how the place had changed.
Things began to look up as soon as I walked through the door and spotted four cask ale pumps, each stocked and ready to serve the good stuff.
I was also pleased they toned down the decor a lot and while a partial colour blindness on my part means I am not going to have a punt at the exact colour they chose, it created an atmosphere which said ‘Sit down and relax’, rather than jumping out and shouting ‘Boo - got you haha’.
With excellent beer, better decor and cheap meals, I reckon there’s now plenty there to entice me to stop in for a pint or two without dusting off my outdated student spectacles.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Top Lock, Copthurst Lane, Chorley

With the early spring sun coating me in a gentle warmth, fanned by the faintest breeze, I knew it was time to dig my bike out the shed.  
I carefully consulted several maps before tossing them back in my wardrobe, accepting I would, as usual, just follow my nose anyway.  
So after several hours looping up, down and around in circles, I ended up in Blackburn where I cursed myself for not having followed a map. 
This was not the rural idyll in the heart of the Forest of Bowland, I’d had in mind.  
I was angry. It was the first day which felt like spring and I wanted to celebrate it in the beautiful countryside which blankets much of Lancashire.  
Instead I’d found Blackburn. 
Logically I couldn’t have put the blame at our East Lancashire neighbour’s door, it has always just been there right where it is, minding its own business (usually) 
The blame lay much closer to home and that made it much worse but I found that an inconvenient truth which put me in a worse mood, so I went ahead and blamed Blackburn. 
But on the ride back along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal I came upon The Top Lock, which improved my mood instantly.  
I slammed on my rusting brakes which drew me to a gentle halt about half a mile further down the tow path.  
The day was rescued.  
When on cycle trips I ban myself from having a pint unless I am within pushing distance of home, in case the flood gates open and I am rendered incapable of safely operating my beaten up old rust roller.  
So I sat outside with a pint of Coke and watched the plump ducks lumbering around and reflected how everything was right in the world, before leaving with a vow to return soon. 
This was two years ago but I never forgot how the place had revived my day. 
With endorsements ringing, last weekend my neighbours agreed to drive over to have a closer look. 
I almost punched the air when I walked in, delighted as I was that my fond memory of the pub was not formed entirely upon my disappointment at what had preceded it.  
The pub was packed with traditional character, from top to bottom with an imposing array of real ales, from which I chose Timothy Taylor Landlord, a beer for all occasions. 
The pub is very small with just one main room but there is plenty of seating and I know from my fleeting visit a couple of years ago, being outside is every bit as enjoyable as being tucked up within. 
With the fair-weather bike riders’ season upon us, I am hoping my aimless outings will throw up a few more gems.