Following on from last week's trip to Hoylake, I decided to continue to search out Good Beer Guide pubs I've not done before, so I headed east in intermittent rain to Newton-le-Willows. If I'd known it was racing at Haydock today I would have chosen somewhere else for a survey, the train was jam-packed.
First I headed to the Millstone:
Unfortunately it was shut, although it looks like it might be operational, I might have another try later.
Back under the railway and on to the Kirkfield Hotel:
Many years ago, I ignored this place, dismissing it as a residential hotel. Then, for a number of years, it stood derelict. So, you can imagine my surprise when it arrived in the Good Beer Guide last year.
It's still a hotel, but the multi-roomed lounge area has two bar counters, one of which supports a selection of handpumps. My pint of Cheshire Cat was lovely.
Initially crowded, the place calmed down as large groups headed off towards the racecourse. How they got there I don't know, a lot seemed to be waiting for nonexistent taxis. I hope I can finish today's ticks before they come back!
The decor here is modern plain, with the usual pastel coloured walls, and some areas of bare brickwork. Altogether very well done.
I peered out of the window, the rain was getting heavier and the bridesmaids were getting wet at the wedding over the road. I dawdled over my pint in the hope it would ease off.
So, after the initial wobble, a good start to the day: A great pint in a GBG pub I've never visited.
A walk to the far end of the high street took me past a number of targets for later and on to the Oak Tree:
This pub has rather good antiquey decor with some old-ish features retained, although the knocking through has destroyed any historic value. Two handpumps but no clips, so I just had fizz.
There were still a few besuited groups in here, were they waiting for the rain to stop before heading to the track, or perhaps they'd decided not to bother and have a pub crawl instead.
About half the tables were occupied, with a wide range of customers, and gentle chatter filled the room with muzac in the background.
Now, in heavy rain, back in the direction of the station, and soon a bedraggled wet figure approached the Firkin:
Ten handpumps on the counter, how do they manage to keep the quality high with so many, I wonder? Suddenly, amongst the array of no doubt tasty beers I'd never heard of I spotted Bass. It would be rude not to! It was good but, I think, lacking some of the Burton snatch.
As my Bass was being poured I studied the blackboard. An 11% coffee stout looked very tempting, could I resist staying for another drink? We'll see...
Gentle conversations and the click of dogs' feet on the floor were the only sounds here; the dog that came to visit me was, I discovered, wetter than I.
As I enjoyed my ale, more and more people came in, until the place was quite full. The rain eased off and the view of the street got brighter.
Over the road to the Pied Bull:
My researches on streetview had shown this place as a building site, so I was very pleased to see this was for a splendid external refurbishment. The wet weather meant it looked deserted until I opened the front door and found a very busy room pretty much unchanged since my previous visit, filled with happy diners and echoing with chatter. No clips on the four handpumps so I had Love Lane for a change.
I wasn't allowed a table without consulting the waitress, so I sat at the bar. Actually, I'm not sure there were any free tables anyway.
No less than six staff were busy organising food and drink, and I was in pole position to observe their work, I watched all sorts of drinks being prepared, including a shot glass of something inside a glass of Red Bull.
I must say, the custom in here was amazing. Admittedly, I don't often survey on a Saturday, but at three o'clock I didn't expect to find myself in party central. Good news for pub survival, all they need to do now is add real ale.
Someone ordered a wine so posh it had a cork; the waitress made a right pigs ear of opening it.
Next, Stocks Tavern:
The down market end of the Newton experience, but there's nothing wrong with that. This is a well done plain two-sided boozer, and it was very busy at four on a Saturday.
Rugby was on the tellies but the commentary was drowned out by cheerful chatter from the many customers.
Three handpumps on the counter but I suspect they are purely decorative, so this time I had a Guinness.
The staff were very busy keeping a constant stream of drinks leaving the servery.
It's great to visit a busy pub like this; while I do like hiding in a quiet corner of an empty pub on a Thursday afternoon, we really need places to be busy to keep them going. This one and the last are certainly managing that.
Now comes a choice: Do I try the Millhouse again, or just head for home?
I took the lazy option. On my way to the station I noted that the former Legh Arms, which was a building site for many years, has completed its transformation to residential use:
Miles walked: 1.3
Maybe coming soon: St Helens, Thornton Hough