Tuesday 28 August 2018


I started my visit to Crosby at the beautiful Crow's Nest:
This listed architectural gem never changes, thank goodness, the wonderful interior has leaded glasswork, dark wood panelling etc.  The lounges and the snug are served via hatches from the servery.

Quality real ales are served, I had Yorkshire Blonde from Ossett - Very nice.  I noticed table service continues in the lounge, although whether this is official or just for regulars I don't know.

The place was very quiet with just a few people in, the only sound was the banter between them and the landlady.  One of the regulars was writing the real ales on the blackboard, putting up with much heckling - Apparently someone had spotted a spelling mistake recently and complained to the landlady, so she was especially keen that he got everything right.

Just along the road is the Birkey:
What a pleasant Greene King pub, two sided, both deserted at one on a Tuesday.  There weren't any menus visible where I sat, it's unusual to find a GK house which isn't in one of their dining chains.  Perhaps all the menus are in the other side.

Last time I was here, back in 2002, it was keg only, so I ordered real ale with a little trepidation, but my pint of Old Hoppy Hen was spot on.  I wonder how many different words the marketing people can put between Old and Hen to stretch this franchise.  I've seen Crafty, Spooky, Golden, Hoppy, and of course the original Speckled.  Anyway, mine was hoppy as advertised, and delicious.

The only other customers were a small kid and his grandad.  The barmaid soon had the paints out so the little'un could do some pictures, while grandad looked on, bored.

I strolled past the Crosby, which is closed and up for sale:

Onwards to the Endbutt:
Greene King seem to be taking over the world!  This is another place that was keg only back in '04, but now has GK brews plus Landlord, my pint of which was very good.

Inside the impressive 1920s building, the interior is bog-standard twenty-first century chain pub, all knocked through into one enormous room.

Unlike the Birkey, menus were everywhere, under the Time Well Spent brand, and with fish and chips for seven quid it looks good value.

Custom was sparse on a Tuesday afternoon, the piped music mixing with a little quiet chit-chat and the occasional click of pool balls.

I should record my first sighting of Christmas publicity here, a small display at the end of the counter exhorting me to book my Christmas feast today.  The year's nearly over!

Back towards Crosby's centre, and to the never before visited Pioneer:
This up market brasserie is very welcoming to drinkers, with some tables unsuitable for dining.  The bar menu includes various sharing platters.  In the other room, out of use with the chairs stacked on the tables at three on a Tuesday, I think there's a restaurant menu.

The decor inside is very well done contemporary, creating a comfortable ambience even when it's empty.  The only other customers were a noisy group sitting at a table outside, drinking San Miguel in the cold.  I stayed inside, alone.

So, as I often say, not my sort of place, but good nonetheless.

Needless to say, now that I've mentioned Christmas, this place had a number of adverts for breakfast with Santa, Christmas dinner etc, etc.

On to the Edinburgh:
Once again a pub I had logged as keg only now has real ale.  My pint of Black Sheep was maybe not the best but it wasn't bad.

The classic interior has been preserved, and I was served at a tiny hatch in the bar back before adjourning to a lounge.  A gentle hubub of chatter from the bar mixed with racing commentary from the TV there, in the room in which I sat was one other customer, drinking lager and fiddling with his tablet (As was I), and total silence.  I mean I was fiddling with my tablet, not his, but I think you'd already worked that out.

I noticed around the walls bell pushes for table service, I assume they don't do anything in the 21st century.

Thursday 23 August 2018

New Ferry

I started my New Ferry research in the Cleveland Arms:
Inside I found a well cared for pub with a popular bar room partly knocked through into a side room, and there's also a pool room at the rear.

The decor is plain, well done and well maintained, much the same as last time I was here.

I was surprised to see two hand pumps serving Brimstage brews, so with some trepidation I selected Trappers Hat.  "A man of taste" commented the bar fly.  The ale was spot on, a great start to the day.

Back in 2003 I wrote that the jukebox was too loud, I was just about to note that that no longer applied when someone turned it up!  The lively chatter of the regulars was mostly drowned out by the music.

It was raining gently as I left, and in the 50 yards to the next pub this turned to a torrential downpour, so I dashed to the door of the Wirral Hotel, this picture was taken on the way out:
My guide entry from 2003 was somewhat disparaging; "A scruffy one bar pub with a deafeningly loud karaoke".  I'm pleased to report it's nothing like that now, spotless decor with a rather attractive rough wood theme, and the music was at exactly the right level.  A handful of locals were keeping the place going, cheerful chatter mixing with Duran Duran.

It's a little surprising that two pubs can survive so close together, but both seemed to be deservedly doing OK on a Thursday evening.

At this point my plans began to unravel.  The next target, Shillings, had a big sign on the door saying PRIVATE MEMBERS CLUB, so that's one off the list, and a big bloke lounging in the entrance meant I didn't dare take a picture.  A few doors down, Alice's had the shutters down:
I'm not sure whether it's closed permanently, but it looks like it to me.

On the other side of the road, I already knew the Farmers Arms had been closed for some years and is now an Indian Restaurant:

So, I headed to Wetherspoon's John Masefield:
Also known as Adolph's Place, perhaps because the pictures of the eponymous John which adorn the menus show him with a Hitler-style toothbrush moustache - surely Charlie's (Chaplin) would be more tasteful.

Cultural Insert:  John Masefield 1878-1967 was a poet.  His most well known lines are probably "I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky".

It was fairly busy, but with tables available, and I settled down to enjoy a spot on pint of Pendle Witches' Brew.

Now, a particular reason for me visiting New Ferry was to tick off Freddie's Club, one of the few Good Beer Guide entries in Merseyside I've never been to, but it doesn't open until seven on a Thursday, so suddenly I was an hour ahead of schedule, and having saved the Railway by the station for the homeward journey I had run out of pubs.  Should I hang around here for an hour and a half, or take a walk somewhere?

I decided on the walk, and headed towards Rock Ferry.  The problem with going off plan is I hadn't pre-checked Streetview, and I must confess to a sinking feeling as I turned off the main road onto a side street which had new houses on both sides - surely the pub has gone, and I've never ticked it.

But wait, what's that in the exact place of the blob on my map.  Yes!!  The Derby Arms is still there and it's still a pub:
The interior consists of a number of areas partially knocked through around the servery.  All have excellent restrained decoration, creating a comfortable ambience.

Unfortunately there were only a few customers in, I really hope they get enough to keep the place going.  Maintaining the interior to this quality can't be cheap.

A bonus tick I wasn't expecting today.  Should I walk on and get another?  Why not...  So I strolled to the magnificent inter-war roadhouse that is the never visited Kings Arms:
Inside, nothing original remains, it's a pleasant modern "Hungry Horse" outlet, doing a roaring trade with a 50/50 mix of drinkers and diners.

I perched on a high seat near (but not blocking!) the counter and swigged my beer.  I browsed the menu and I must say under eight quid for fish and chips is good value nowadays.

A further walk took me to the prime objective of the day, Freddies Club:
Would it be open?  Would it have decent real ale?  Would I be allowed in?  The sign "Private members club" didn't bode well, and having ignored that, the empty room with barmaid and one customer wasn't promising either, but in fact the answer to all three questions was absolutely Yes.

One large pleasant main room with bar counter, plus a side room from which I could hear the clack of pool balls, constitute this rather fine social club/pub.

My pint of something from Brimstage was excellent, and once again I was complemented on my taste by the resident bar fly!  (Not the same one.)

How do you provide quality real ale in a quiet place like this?  Or maybe the question we should be asking is, if they can do it why can't other places?

I enjoyed my tasty pint in the peace and watched cricket on the large screen.

With the new Good Beer Guide out in a week or so, I wonder if this will still be in.  Judging by my single sample I would say why not?

I think we will gloss over the incident as I departed.  Eh?  Oh, alright, if I must:  While I enjoyed my excellent pint, a couple came in with a dog.  After she'd served the humans, the landlady put out a bowl of water for the dog.  When I'd finished my beer I returned my glass to the bar and then turned towards the gents.  Unfortunately, I trod on the water bowl, spilling most of it on the carpet and the rest up my trouser leg.  How embarrassing!  Profuse apologies all round!  I blame the dog.

Time to head for the station to go home.  But hang on, what's this?  I walked past before and completely failed to notice Charlie's Bar:
A plain nicely done corridor bar, this, with a number of locals sitting at the counter.  No-one behind the counter, they shouted and eventually someone interrupted their smoke break to serve me.

The clean modern decor is well done in here, and the regulars were obviously enjoying their chatter with the staff.

Finally, back towards the station and a strategic toilet break before the train home, in the Railway Inn:
Well, what an unfair designation "toilet break" is for this pub!  They serve quality real ale and I had another Trappers Hat in a very comfortable open knocked through one bar pub.

Gentle background music mixed with chit-chat from the many Thursday evening customers.

It was (well past) time to go home as I reflected on a very successful day with eight pubs ticked, four for the first time.  And about four miles walked.

Coming soon:  Crosby.

Saturday 18 August 2018

Price Differences in Cambridge

On one of my regular visits to the City of my birth I took a chance to visit a few pubs.  I started in the Clarendon Arms:
This pub probably scores low with CAMRA because they only have three real ales, Greene King IPA, Abbot, and a guest, but the ones I tried were spot on, so I'm happy.  (Of course, now I've said that it'll probably pop up in the next Good Beer Guide, expected next week.)

The food looks good, and is popular, but it's not cheap.

At half twelve on a Saturday the main custom seemed to be foreign family groups dining - It's pleasing to see visitors enjoying a "proper" British pub rather than using some chain chicken outlet.

I can't make out the interior architecture here, the floor is mainly ancient looking stone flags, but the part where I was sitting had polished concrete tiles.  The walls are painted wood panelling.  Anyway, it's very pleasant, which is the important thing.

On to the Saint Radegund:
The smallest pub in Cambridge says the sign, but it's no Lakeside Inn.  One small room with a counter in the corner is decorated mainly with rowing paraphenalia, including some Bumps trophies for the St Radegund VIII.  I see on one that they bumped Champion of the Thames, my next destination.

They serve quality real ales from Saffron Brewery, I had a wonderful porter.  I was somewhat startled when the landlord said "That'll be two pounds."  "Er, is it always this cheap?"  "Yes."  All ales £2 says the sign, now that's more like a decent price - I paid £4 in the last place!

Just me and two regulars arguing over whose round it was (In a good way - "It's my turn to pay", "No, I'll get these") constituted the custom at one o'clock.  Three more came in later.

Why have I never been in here before?  It's a wonderful pub!  Probably because they don't open during the day, except on Saturday.

I particularly like the nameplates marking late regulars' places at the counter.

Next, down the road to the Champion of the Thames:
Back to Cambridge prices here, my pint of a tasty guest was £4.50!

A great antiquey interior in this small two room pub, serving quality real ales and great pork pies, I must say.

If you want more than a snack, it would seem that they have Thai food delivered from a takeaway nearby.  I'm not sure how this works, do you order at the bar?

Apparently, this pub is run by the same people as the Clarendon, perhaps that's why the guest ale was the same.

Finally, on to Wetherspoon's Regal for reasonable prices:
A quality pint of Woodforde's Once Bittern (get-it?), for only £2.79, minus 50p with a CAMRA voucher.  (Mind you, my local 'Spoons charges £1.99, so here is still not cheap!)

This enormous converted cinema (Which was once advertised as the largest pub in the country, it has now lost that title to another branch, in Ramsgate.) was doing a roaring trade on a Saturday afternoon.  It was busy, but not so full that I couldn't find a table.

I've always thought it was a bit gloomy inside here, a cinema has few windows, of course.

Annoyingly, I never visited the other Cambridge Wetherspoon's before it was closed by a fire.

Tuesday 7 August 2018


On previous visits here I've used Conan Doyle and Ray Davies references for the blog title, what to do this time?  I couldn't think of any Abba puns, and my woeful ignorance of history means I can't say anything clever about Napoleon or the battle itself.  My next attempt was to use the name of the first pub, liver and onions perhaps, or maybe it's an offally good pub, but nothing funny enough came to mind.  Oh well.

I headed inland from the station and reached the Liver just before the rain started.  The busy road junction makes it hard to take a good photo of this pub:
Why do I like this pub so much?  Fine old building, pleasant interior, quality ales, friendly staff, but it's not the only place that can claim those attributes; there's something extra I can't put my finger on.

On a Tuesday lunchtime there were very few customers, and most of the gentle chatter I could hear was amongst the staff.

The karaoke team (judging by the amp and box of CDs) arrived to set up while I was enjoying my excellent pint of Fab Four from local brewery Rock The Boat.

Just round the corner is the Ferndale:
A very nicely decorated former member of the Oak Lodges chain, this.  Back in 2011 I used the word tatty, certainly not applicable now.

Surprisingly, they've got a bank of four handpumps on the counter, but not in use so I stuck to Carling.

Two customers, one chatting with the barmaid, the other sat on his own, plus me, were the only trade for the pub at one on a Tuesday, and I don't think my half is going to add much to the profits!

One more customer came in while I drank, to report that the rain had stopped.

Back towards the middle of Waterloo, and Stamps Too:
I'm not a great fan of tasters of real ale because (a) I can't really judge a beer on one sip, and (b) if I don't like it it's a bit embarrassing to say no.  However, when I saw a beer from Wigan infused with tea I was intrigued so I asked for a sample, and it seemed great so I had a pint.  It was a standard pale hoppy ale but with just a hint of something unusual in the flavour, and it was very tasty - highly recommended.  The landlord had said it was very popular, and then "I could have predicted that" when I ordered the pint.

I think I was the only customer, unless one was hiding round the corner.  Oh yes, there he is.  Towards the end of my pint three more came in.

The folding doors were open at the front, creating a pleasant open atmosphere, cleverly they've got a little porch at one side of the frontage which can be the way in in colder weather.

Admirably, unlike some real ale pubs, they had an "ordinary" ale on as well as the unusual stuff, in this case Butcombe Gold, which I seem to recall is very good.  No cask snobbery here either, they also offer Tetley Smoothflow.

I surveyed the display of pump clips, including Cains 2008, possibly my all time favourite English real ale, what a shame it's no longer available.  There's some other favourites such as Hawkshead Windermere Pale, Dark Star Hophead, and Oakham Citra.

Next the never visited Parnells:
The windows all plastered with cheap drink offers didn't bode well.  However, inside was not the down market dump I had expected, but instead a very well done room with comfortable-looking booths with their own tellys along one wall.

No real ale, of course, so I had a Carling.

Just one or two other customers, chatting with the barman, and then while I wasn't looking they disappeared out the back leaving me alone in the room.  Free top-up anyone?  (No, I didn't)

On to the Railway:
Possibly the most down-market of today's calls, but still well cared for and spotlessly clean, with a handful of regulars sitting at the bar keeping the place ticking over.  One of them shouted to summon the barmaid for me.

The whole place seemed a bit untidy, with a stack of chairs in one corner, and a large telly leaning against the wall, but the bench seat I sat on was clean, comfortable and well maintained, and there are lots of other places where you can't say that.

Next, the Alexandra:
I've not been in here since 2003 because it spent some time closed and boarded up in the intervening years.

Surprisingly, it doesn't seem to have changed much behind the boarding up, and still has a rather fine interior with dark wood panelling.  There's some great ceramics behind the counter.

Definitely the busiest of today's ticks so far, the place was a hive of chatter and my ideal, a seat alone in a quiet corner, was impossible although I did manage a table to myself.

The three handpumps on the counter were purely decorative (And could do with some Brasso by the way) so I had a lager.

Saturday 4 August 2018

Cains Brewery Village

I waited at home until England had won the cricket (What an exciting match!) and then headed into town to visit what I expected to be a lot of pubs I'm not going to like.  But let's not pre-judge, they could all be great.  Cains Brewery Village is a complex of bars and restaurants in the former Cains brewery.  I started in Peaky Blinders:
Very different to the Southport branch, this one has the converted warehouse feeling you expect in the Brewery Village, with the original iron beams exposed, and a concrete floor.

I didn't like the look of the handpumps, I bet they don't sell much, so I plumped for a Hoegaarden for a change.  Is it me, or has it been dumbed down over the years?

The place was ticking over nicely, I imagine it'll be packed later.  I managed to find a quiet corner with a very comfortable high-backed chair.  The clientele were all younger than me, I think, and I was certainly the only one sat on his own typing on a tablet!  Not my sort of place, in theory, but actually I like it.

I could see people in the other corner of the room putting on and taking off coats and hats.  What's going on?  I eventually spotted a sign "Peaky Blinders Photoshoot", so I guess fans of the show can dress up and be photographed.  Never having watched it, I can't really comment.

Luckily there is one proper pub here, and the Brewery Tap is as wonderful as ever:
I was a bit concerned by the hen-party crowd in the street, and the fact that all the outside tables were occupied, but inside I found an oasis of calm and real ale.  I selected Reverend James, and it was just what I was looking for, a perfect pint of "best bitter".  The atmosphere, quiet music and gentle chit-chat, was great.

Even in this "proper pub" half the drinks served seemed to be giant goblets of strangely coloured drinks with bits in - I mean gin.

Is it that time of year already?  There was footie on the telly.

Now the complete opposite, the Baltic Market:

A large high converted warehouse with a bar counter in the middle and a number of food stalls round the sides.

I selected their house lager which came in one of those high grade plastic glasses that feels like glass until you lift it and nearly throw it over your shoulder because it's so much lighter.  I wonder how much these cost, they might be the future.  Depending on whether they're as recyclable as glass.

The place was extremely busy, background music drowned out by the chatter of hundreds of happy customers, most eating.  I managed to find the corner of a table to sit and type this, while people buzzed around me.

I noticed they've got those vibrating hocky-puck gizmos to signal that your food is ready.  Last time I had one was in Queenstown, New Zealand.

Again, not my sort of place, and certainly not a pub, but rather fun nonetheless.  I was the oldest person in here, I'm sure.

Where next?  How about Dock Leaf:
One high room plus more seating upstairs, and a roof garden above.  In the tiled wall of the ground floor room there's a gap in the tiles to reveal the original stone laid by Robert Cain in 1902 when the brewery was completed.

They've kept some of the brewery pipework along the wall as part of the decor, roughly cut off where it turned to cross the room.  I hope the pipe insulation wasn't asbestos!

I had something from Open Gate Brewery here, that's part of Guinness in Dublin, I think.

It seems to be the theme of today; not my sort of place but actually I like it.

On to the Old Gas Station:
Located just up the road from the main Cains complex, this is apparently a music venue, although it seems too small, but at four in the afternoon its a great place to sit outside under the shade of a giant umbrella and enjoy a half of lager, named Alhambra which I thought was another bar somewhere here?

There's a wafting smell from the barbecue place next door, but I resisted!  The fairly loud music mixed with the cries of the gulls overhead.

One more call, the Tank Room:
One very high ceilinged room plus a number of tables outside make up this bar where their main output seems to consist of real Czech lager, I had a pint of Krusovice in a proper glass.  The decor is the inevitable faux-industrial lights in a room full of modern-looking steel beams.  This being part of a modern extension to the brewery, the beams don't look nearly as old as those in Peaky's next door.

In the sunshine, most customers were at the tables outside, so I was able to sit in splendid isolation inside and enjoy my lager, while a steady stream of drinkers came in and out.

There are a number of other places for me to visit here at the Village, including Alhambra and Black Pearl:

A couple of final thoughts about Cains Village:  The whole place was busy with happy customers sitting outside all the bars on this sunny Saturday afternoon, but I wonder what it's like on a damp chilly February day.  The ability to easily move on to another bar would be less attractive if you need gloves and an umbrella.

On a more positive note, one common theme to the bars I visited today was the quality of the staff.  Without exception they were cheerful, friendly and efficient.  Often, while my drink was being poured another one would ask if I was being served, and in the busier places my order was taken while the previous customer was being served.  You can't ask for more than that!

Another common theme I noticed was the trend towards American-style toilets, i.e. not nearly enough for high-volume drinkers.  I've been in large American bars which only had one unisex toilet where the English equivalent would have a large gents and ladies.  That seems to be the standard here, although since I never had to queue today I can't really criticise.  Perhaps I'm out of date about this, maybe people don't drink as much on a night out as they used to.  I certainly saw plenty of halves, even among all-male groups.