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.

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