Saturday 25 May 2024

Closed and Closing in Bootle

I started today's excursion with a train to Bootle where my first target was the Merton:

As I'd already noted in my database, this one is well and truly closed.  I have ticked it a number of times over the years, before, during and after its time as a Wetherspoon.  It's a shame to see this rather fine building disused.  Give me a few million quid and I'll reopen it as a real ale outlet! 

I walked on, skipping the Jawbone because I've done it once this year already.  Soon I reached the Albion.  Would this rather out of the way pub be open?

It certainly is.  Something of a classic this one, with a dark wood and mirrors interior, beautifully maintained.  If I'm nitpicking, there was some gaffer tape involved in the comfortable bench seat along the wall, so perhaps a reupholster is called for.

Nearly a dozen regulars were keeping the place going, one or two watching the racing on the tellies and maybe nipping out to the bookie. 

Next, I retraced my steps towards central Bootle for a look at the Mayflower which I was also expecting to find closed:

And it was.  Another regrettable loss, this was a classic down market boozer where one drank lager or stood out as a stranger. 

On past the long closed Wharf, last visited in 2004.

And on to Lock and Quay:

Without checking my notes I seem to recall that in 2019 I felt both the interior and the ale were past their best.  Perhaps a false memory, and certainly not true today, the inside is comfortable and well looked after, and my pint of Republic Of Liverpool (A Bootle brewery) Pale Ale was excellent. 

Only a handful of customers at half two on a Saturday, they all seemed to know each other and the barman, always a sign of a good local pub, I think. 

Live music is clearly important here, there's a stage at one side of the room.

The bloke on a mobility scooter dropped something and half the customers started searching the floor.  They didn't find it. 

Next, on to the main reason I'm here in Bootle, the Top Rope Brewery:

This place is only open one Saturday a month so a few weeks ago I had it pencilled in for today.  Then this week I learned they are to close down at the end of June, so it became more crucial. 

Just like I'm back in Texas, an array of tables and chairs in the corner of a warehouse, but the ones I visited there are open for four or more days a week, not once a month. 

I was 'captured' by a friendly woman who guided me to a seat and then fetched me 2/3 of Oatimus Prime which turned out to be a rather gorgeous fruity hazy pale, once again reminding me of my American holiday.

They have got one handpump but sadly not in use.

Now I'm in American mode, I ought to have a stronger one before I go so maybe Bossk Time Imperial Stout, 10.5%.  Wow!!!  I'm always fond of strong stouts and I've sampled lots of them.  This one is an all time great, nutty and coffee flavoured, sweet (maple), smooth and heavy, just wonderful.  

Where next?  The nearest "required" tick is a long walk and I can't be bothered, so perhaps I'll visit what was the Wetherspoons Wild Rose when I was there in December 2022, to see what it's like post-spoons.  Well, that was the plan as I left the brewery, but on the way I spotted Aurora:

This used to be Iona House, after which it had changed to a restaurant many years ago.  Much more recently, in 2021 I think, it became a bar once again.  So not strictly a new tick for me, but long overdue as I was last here in '04.

Inside I found four customers watching the FA cup in a rather wonderfully decorated room.  The excellent apparently hand painted murals include some liver birds. 

Perhaps more of a late evening place, I think, but comfortable and welcoming at four on a Saturday.

The reds were leading two nil and I wondered if there would be anyone in here if it wasn't for the footie?  

Time for home, I think...  The previously sunny weather was getting darker, am I going to get wet?  The sun came out again before I left, so maybe not...

Pub of the day: Lock and Quay
Beer of the day: Bossk Time Imperial Stout
Miles walked: 3.9
Maybe coming soon: Bebington, Maghull, Canny Farm

Saturday 18 May 2024

Melling, Waddicar and Fazakerley

As I wandered around Kirkdale last week it occurred to me that I was wasting the fine weather, and it was time to do some more out of the way pubs.  So today I began with a train ride to Maghull.  I turned away from the excellent Great Moghul by the station and walked out into the countryside. 

I soon reached the Bootle Arms:

It is twenty years since I was last here and although I can't remember details that far back I suspect not much has changed.  This is a classic country pub inside and out.  

I waited impatiently at the bar, eventually noticing the Ring Bell sign.  I rang it just as the barman arrived.  Three handpumps but only one cask ale so I had Hobgoblin Gold which was very good. But what on earth is that glass about?

Actually, it's quite comfortable to hold, I could learn to like it.

Rather quiet at one on a Saturday with only a handful of other people in, but there was a gradual trickle of custom coming through the door, all locals judging by the conversations with the bar staff. 

I looked at the menu of pub standards, fish and chips is £13.29 which I guess is about mid-range for prices nowadays.

Only a mile and a half of walking down pleasant country roads and I soon reached the Horse and Jockey:

A contender for the worst picture of a pub award!

I headed to the plain pleasant bar room in this two sided operation, and enjoyed a pint of Neck Oil as there was no cask.

Gently ticking over with a number of customers scattered around both sides.  I could see no sign of a food offer, because it is only in the other side, so I can't comment on the selection nor price.

Another mile, mostly through open fields, brought me to Aintree and the Blue Anchor:

There were Greene King IPA handpumps on the counter but they had no cask ale so I had Guinness.

A Hungry Horse outlet where fish and chips is only £8.29, a whole fiver less than the Bootle Arms.  Despite that, this very large pub was mostly empty; it was now half past two and one would expect to see more people than this on a pleasant sunny Saturday.  Ah, due to staff problems the kitchen is closed, no wonder I couldn't see any food.

The decor in the enormous open space was rather well done chain pub standard style.  Well cared for, clean and tidy.

All they need is a hundred more customers and this place would be doing well.  My mind went back to the Farmers in Morton last year which was a very busy dining pub, admittedly a bit later on a Saturday.

Next, a walk beside the racecourse ...

and on to Longmoor Lane, Fazakerley.  My first target was the Avenue Lounge:

A particularly desirable tick for me because last time I was here, back in February, I walked past without even noticing it existed.  Fortunately someone told me in the blog comments - Thanks James!

A rather well done shop conversion, plain yet pleasant and very comfortable.  Yesterday I ticked a newish shop conversion in Huyton, called Dos Urbano, and the one negative I noted was that all the chairs were wooden without padding.  People who know me might comment that I have my own padding built in, but nonetheless I think I want something a little soft to sit on.  No complaints on that score here.

Sadly, there were no other customers as I enjoyed my Carling.  I've said it before and I'll say it again:  I can't save the bar trade on my own, you all need to come out and get drinking!  What are you waiting for?  Use it or lose it!

Finally, just a short distance down the road, is the Foresters Inn, last visited in 2018:

Ah, so this is where all the Avenue's customers have gone!  Hardly packed, but certainly doing a good trade at four o'clock.  

Plain, pleasant, traditionally styled decor in the down market boozer style; apart from the lack of split levels this could be a classic Oak Lodge.  The customers, some very drunk, were definitely in the down market bracket; nothing wrong with that, they were enjoying their Saturday afternoon, as was I.  I looked around, it's not often I'm the youngest one in the pub, but this might be such an occasion.

What a fine survey:  Plenty of healthy exercise, one new tick, one twenty years old, all five "required", all that was needed to make an all time great research trip would be more cask.

Pub of the day: Bootle Arms
Beer of the day: Hobgoblin Gold
Miles walked: 5.1
Maybe coming soon: Bootle

Saturday 11 May 2024

Last Home Match Of The Season

Everton's last home game of the season, so it's time to head for Kirkdale where I might find some match day only pubs.

I looked into the doorway of the Melrose Abbey as I passed and there's the same friend as I spotted last time, back in January.  So again I had to join him for another chat.  There were eventually five of us, they were all off to the match, of course, so the topics for discussion included VAR, points deductions and so on.  As you would expect, the pub was very full and very busy.

I left the gang and wandered up to County Road where I started in the Chepstow Castle:

It was crowded when I got there but the time I'd got my Carling in a plastic glass everyone was leaving for the ground and I easily found a table to sit at.

My notes for here refer to an island bar but there's no such thing now.  Did I miss the change when I was here in 2018 or has it happened since my last visit, I wonder. 

The crowd rapidly dispersed and the bar staff busied themselves collecting empties and tidying up ready for the post match rush.  Suddenly there were only about a dozen customers, what a transformation!  Eventually the music was turned down to match the levels of customers, thank goodness. 

Now the place was empty I could look round:  Plain traditional decor in one large well looked after room.

At 14:50 there were just three other customers that I could see, perhaps one or two hidden by the columns. 

Next, the closest to the ground of today's targets is the Spellow:

Ouch, match day pricing here, my Carling cost £5, still, on the plus side it came in a proper glass. 

The bar staff were a bit slower here than in the Chepstow, and all the tables inside and out were still full of empty glasses which were slowly disappearing into the dishwasher. 

I sat inside to better observe goings on.  The place has been completely redecorated since I was last here, in 2018.  A rather unusual, and to my taste very good, style with doors and everything below the dado painted black.  Above, Everton memorabilia, brewery stuff and, hanging from the ceiling, five canoes!  Above the canoes the ceiling is covered in random movie posters.  Altogether a rather attractive effect, it's really great to see that someone has put some effort into design for a backstreet boozer.  Well done, whoever you are.

Quite an impressive list of imported bottles on the wall, from Erdinger Dunkel to Singha via Kriek Boon.

I don't want to be the purveyor of negative vibes but I fear this place will be winding down towards permanent closure about a year from now, despite the excellent decor and beer list.  I hope I'm wrong.  Thinking about it, one or maybe even two of the pubs around the ground will probably survive long term serving the locals, it could easily be this one.

The landlord/barman was attempting to get the match commentary on the speakers, but the BBC wouldn't let him, and eventually he gave up and restored music. 

Now, back to County Road and a new one spotted as I passed on a bus a few months ago, JT's Bar.  There was a loud cheer from the ground as I walked up, could Everton have scored?  Yes they did.  

Well I never!  I certainly couldn't have predicted the opening of a new bar on County Road but here we are.  A pleasant plain but nicely done shop conversion, fairly narrow until it widens out at the back where there is a pool table.  Too many scatter cushions on the comfortable bench seat for my taste but other than that very nicely done, a cheerful friendly locals' boozer.

Only four taps on the counter, offering Poretti, Erdinger, San Miguel, and JT's lager.  I selected the house beer which was good.  And cheaper than the others! 

It's always good to get a new pub, that brings my total to 1,479.  The 1,500 milestone is getting closer! 

A delivery arrived, lots of bottles of lemonade and a keg of beer, and three empty kegs were returned.  Saturday afternoon is an odd time for this, I would have thought, and it's lucky it didn't come before kickoff or after full time.  Maybe the bar fetches it from a wholesaler in which case they would know when was a good time. 

The match reached half time, still 1-0.  I should be able to complete my research before full time and beat the crowds on the train home.

Just one more today, a few yards from JT's is the Harlech Castle:

This one is unchanged compared with my 2018 visit, a very nicely done two sided pub around an island servery.  I couldn't see the wooden beams I've noted in the past, perhaps they've been painted over or maybe they are only in the other side.

Cash only said the signs, I've been paying cash all day so no problem. 

Quite busy just after half time, I'm assuming it will be jam packed come five o'clock but I'll be long gone! 

Plenty of non-football customers in here, keeping the staff busy serving in between loading glasses into the dishwashers.  I tried to resist following the Premier League action on the telly or my tablet, but it was hard! 

Five pints, four required ticks, one a new one.  Time for home I think.

Pub of the day: JT's Bar
Beer of the day: JT's Lager
Miles walked: 1.7
Maybe coming soon: Bebington, Greasby

Saturday 4 May 2024


A bus carried me under the Mersey for a second consecutive Saturday, this time to the little area of Claughton.  I commenced my research in Houlihan's:


A comfortable friendly cheerful boozer with plenty of happy customers at half one on a Saturday.  The barman called me "young man", always a bonus nowadays.  That rings a bell;  did he say the same thing six years ago? 

I have a vague recollection that it was quite dark in here last time I came, either my memory is wrong or they've changed things because it was pleasantly light despite the heavy grey overcast outside. 

Footie was on the telly, from Ipswich.  I was amused to see that the camera positions were rather unsatisfactory and when the crowd raised their hands to salute a goal they obscured half the picture.  If I were one of those fans and I knew about this I would be making rude signs, or a bunny rabbit silhouette.  

As I had entered Houlihan's I could hear very loud rock music emanating from the Claughton Hotel across the road.  Was I going to be deafened?

The noise in the street was terrible (From a sound level point of view, that is; there was clearly some talent in this band.) but it was from upstairs and was almost inaudible in the comfortable pub interior. 

I took another Carling round to the empty rear area where there was plenty of space.  For the second time today the pub seems nicer inside than my recollection from 2018, has it been nicely refurbished since then or perhaps I was just having a grumpy day last time.  Actually, perhaps both are true; apart from some nasty mould in one corner the decoration here is immaculate.  They really need to fix that leak, though, there's even some fungus growing under a picture frame.

The windows here have some old leaded stained glass perhaps from a 1930s refurbishment, some have been re-glazed over the years and I think all the front windows are plain glass.

Next, the pub I felt was most likely to be a fail on today's excursion.  Tucked away up a quiet side street is the Heather Brow:

Happily my fears were unwarranted and it was open.  On my previous and first visit I described this as a hidden gem, and there's no reason to change that assessment.  A beautiful classic. 

Plenty of customers were sitting at the counter, I took my third Carling and headed to the empty back room. The decor here is plain, traditional and very well maintained. 

I can't enthuse enough about this wonderful boozer, all it needs is real ale to make it perfect.

Ipswich were celebrating promotion on the screens, having won the match I was watching in Houlihan's.  Poor old Birmingham went down another level despite winning.  Why is this all happening when it's not even three o'clock?

Piped music, perhaps a little loud in the empty back room, mixed with conversation from the much more popular front rooms. 

Eventually a couple of regulars joined me to make the room seem less empty.  They spent a lot of time fiddling with the jukebox, after which some rather good Talking Heads was followed by more quality 80s stuff, I'm sure I heard her suggest "Stupid Cupid" but I must have misheard, or perhaps she was joking.

Having completed Claughton I caught a bus back towards Birkenhead, jumping off at the Queens:

I've never been sure how much of this giant building is still a pub.  I entered by the front door into a large open one room boozer with a long counter behind which no less than four barmaids were busy pouring drinks.  The room was reasonably busy but not packed enough to justify the staff.  The decor in here, plain well done traditional with a dark wood counter front and bar back - all repro I think - looks very good. 

I took my Carling to the raised area at one end of the room where I sat alone, overlooking the rest of the space.

My inaccurate recollections again, probably, I had this in my mind as a bit of a dump, certainly not true today.

I could hear music and speech from behind a door and people kept coming in and out that way, so I concluded there was some kind of a function in there.  So all of the building is probably still in use.  Should I sneak through to have a look?  I didn't.

A couple of unobtrusive tellies were showing racing with one of two of the regulars watching closely.  I was interested to note two vacuum tube TVs on the porch roofs, you don't see many of those nowadays.  The one facing me was not working, I imagine both are long dead but too much effort to remove.  (I remember when I got rid of my last tube telly I had to get a friend round to help me lift it and take it to the dump.  Thanks, John.)

It would be foolish to leave this end of Birkenhead with one overdue visit so I walked down to the Crown for a fifth tick:

When I first came here back in the 1990s it was something of a real ale destination but not long after they gave up cask.  Moving on nearly thirty years, the wonderful interior remains along with ten well polished handpumps on the counter, but no real ale now so a fifth Carling for me. 

I retreated to the rather good side room, which has a pool table surrounded by very well done bench seating and dark walls enlivened with brewery mirrors.  It really is beautiful in this pub, if only they could bring back the cask...

A gang of five or six women were occupying the pool table, they were enjoying their afternoon without being excessively noisy nor disturbing the rest of the clientele.  I think many other groups of women could, and should, learn from this!  Fortunately they ignored the old bloke in the corner typing on his tablet.

Five Carlings, five overdue ticks, time for home.

Pub of the day: Heather Brow
Beer of the day: Carling
Miles walked: 1.2
Maybe coming soon: Kirkdale, Bebington