Sunday 6 December 2015

BRAPA - Ashton-under-Lyne and Stalybridge

Half a day off work on Friday allowed me to return to Greater Manchester, my 5th most visited pub county, now just one behind East Yorkshire after a productive five pub afternoon.

The bar at the Dog & Pheasant, Ashton-under-Lyne

The Huddersfield - Wigan Wallgate stopping train did it's usual trick of arriving early, filling up late, and then being inexplicably delayed but at least it allowed me to relax and line my stomach with some M&S overpriced goodness before the session ahead.

In true BRAPA style, I decided to get the most difficult pub done first and had a fair trek down the Oldham Road when arriving into Ashton.  Let's just say this isn't the most salubrious town I've ever visited, reminding me a bit of the Beeston/Middleton area of L**ds.

752.  Dog & Pheasant, Ashton-under-Lyne

And the "no tracksuits, strictly over 21's, no caps" warning on the door didn't exactly scream out "real ale utopia".  However, a banner proudly proclaiming "21 years in the Good Beer Guide" meant they are obviously proud of their commitment to real ale.  Known as the "Top Dog", just a few minutes down the road I'd walked past a 'Dog and Partridge' and with my recent St John's Hotel debacle in mind, you can see how the wrong pub can be visited at times!  I wondered if a Dog & Ptarmigan was situated a bit further north.  You have to keep your wits about you in this game.  This was a Marston's pub, and as I chose a seasonal Wychwood Snow Belle (lacking Oomph I thought), the landlady seemed distracted, reading the food menu down the phone and then serving me pretty much with her back turned at all times.  A roaring little real fire in the front bar so I perched as close to it as possible, without disturbing three pensioners enjoying some fish & chips.   This was a very cosy multi roomed pub though, full of old fashioned charm, probably more of a winter time place.  It was 'Christmas decoration putting up afternoon', and it's amazing what you can do with some old tinsel and an industrial staple gun!  All had seemed calm and perfectly civilised until one of the pensioner women wailed "I'M TRYING MY BEST!" and stormed off to lock herself in the loo, upset with something the man had said, who then got a telling off from the other woman - high drama and I looked at them as if to say "this is going in my blog you know".

Top Dog drama in Ashton-under-Lyne
753.  Ash Tree, Ashton-under-Lyne

A good 25 minute walk back into the centre of town allowed me to form an idea in my mind of how this Wetherspoons would play out.  It was 2:15pm so I expected a post-lunch lull before the after work weekend revellers swelled the bar at 4pm.  Nothing of the sort!  This place was positively heaving with young and old, male and female, shoppers, christmas shoppers, students, people from the tanning salon, yes it felt like "all Ashton life" was here.  I often think a Wetherspoons is a good social barometer.  Under the circs, I was pleased to remember my 50p off voucher, making the pint one of the most ridiculously cheap of the year at £1.39 or something, and being a local Stout from Millstone, it was strong and delicious.  I took a table of 4 to myself and felt a bit guilty as the people just kept on arriving, but I'd been on the other side of it in York's Trembling Madness the day before so felt it was justified.  I then had the typical problem of locating the gents, I wish someone would invent a "phone App" for this - I always manage to walk in every direction except the correct one.  I can't say it was the comfiest experience, but always nice to see a pub busy.  

Busy 'Spoons fayre in the Ash Tree, Ashton-under-Lyne
My train was again delayed, but time was on my side and it was only mid afternoon still.

A bit like Dewsbury, I've never thought of Stalybridge as anything more than a railway station with a rather cracking pub on it, so I had to take a deep breath and push on past the Buffet Bar or else I may never have got into the town centre!  

754.  Society Rooms, Stalybridge

A second 'Spoons on the spin as I decided to strategically forgo the White House in case I'm passing Stalybridge in the future, but this was a far nicer 'Spoons experience than the Ash Tree.  Firstly, a note on the ales - both Oakham Green Devil IPA and Acorn Old Moor Porter.  Two of my all time faves, both in 'Spoons where sometimes I don't know what to choose - typical!  I went with the Porter as I was having a dark beer day.  The place was quiet, and I had to choice of several large leather booths in this impressive former Co-op store.  Even the toilets were clearly signposted.  It was school chucking out time, so quite surprisingly, a gaggle of primary schoolkids with parents came in, ordered their tea, a soft drink, did homework for about 2 minutes, before getting too excited by the surroundings and running around like maniacs!  I didn't mind at all, which is testament to the Old Moor Porter and relaxed booth area.  There was one unsavoury incident as a little boy went flying across the floor, another boy looked accusingly at 'Mum' who claimed "he pushed me, so I pushed him back, it's only fair!"  Hmmm, you don't get this in York, darling!  An older couple near me then argued, and the wife stormed off elsewhere saying "I'm divorcing you!"  When their food came out, the hubbie had to gingerly explain that his wife was now sat at the far end!  I don't know if Storm Desmond was putting the locals on edge, but this was three 'dometic' incidents now.....

Great ales, great seating, but more domestic mayhem in the "Soc".
As dusk fell, I carried on south to Acres Lane where two pubs were listed, but only one "dot" on my GBG GPS meant I was confused - maybe I should return to old fashioned maps?  

755.  Old Hunters Tavern, Stalybridge

After two Spoons houses on the spin, it was a refreshing change to be in a characterful old pub, full of friendly happy staff, after work local chaps and a fine range of Robinson's beers like Trooper and Unicorn which I always welcome around these parts but would probably yawn at if I say, saw them every day.  As it was, I ordered festive guest Frosty Frolics and it was delightfully dark and full of winter berry flavours.  The pub was quite shallow, so even sitting in a far corner, you feel very much part of the pub ambiance and atmosphere - though a music channel showing some of the most terrible Christmas hits I've not even heard of did actually distract the majority, Luckily, Shakin' Stevens saved the day!   I could very imagine the locals thinking that the Buffet Bar is good but for tourists, whilst this place is the real heart of the Stalybridge ale scene. 

As dusk falls, it's time to get back to a real old fashioned pub experience.
A fine pint of Robinsons in the Old Hunters.

756.  Stalybridge Labour Club, Stalybridge

 As predicted, I got a bit confused trying to find this place as it was set back off the road, and quite a large club,  As usual with these GBG Clubs, I was armed with my Beer Guide, CAMRA card and reasons for being here, but they were so welcoming, I didn't have to show anything as with every club I've been to with the exception of the West Herts one in Watford.  Firstly, an old local said "how do" at the door, the friendly brunette barmaid was smoking but said she'd follow me in and serve me, and then apologised for the lack of ales on but I wasn't complaining, and after a taster, was enjoying a Stockport Ginger Tinge.  She even gave me a CAMRA discount,   Now I'm not a big fan of ginger ales but this was a lot more palatable than most, excellent in fact.  This was a big place, and most of the action was in the back room which was home to a few snooker tables and some serious looking players, who kept rolling up with their own cues and stuff.  I sat opposite a halogen heater (my Mum has the same one so it must be good!) and just basked in that unique clubby atmosphere, chuckling along to what the locals were saying though I was quite merry by now.  

Halogen heater, a nice ginger and a great carpet - what more could you want?! 
The wind had really picked up by now so I was unsurprised to see the trains delayed when I arrived back at the railway station.  There was only one thing for it, I'd HAVE to join the masses in the Buffet Bar for a quick half of "Coffee Anise Porter" to pass the time.  My Dad did his usual trick of ringing me to discuss plans for the weekend just at the drunkest, most chaotic moment of the day, but I was soon on a train wending it's way directly back to York for a bit of Salford v Hartlepool and fish & chips.  

Another good BRAPA day out, and a good start has been made to December's pub ticking with nothing new in the offing on Saturday due to only going to L**ds.  Still I got a fantastic new pre-emptive tick in the shape of new Leeds brewery pub, the Lamb and Flag where I can report friendly staff, excellent Reindeer Porter, and some comfy if overly modern surroundings.  

Me arriving at the Lamb and Flag yesterday morning. 

The West Yorkshire midweek trail rolls on on Tuesday, only three to do now but running out of chances before the end of 2015, so this will be a good opportunity to get another done.  

See you tomorrow for a special feature on the 'formation of BRAPA' and those early days!  




  1. Congratulations on forwarding your Lancashire and Cheshire campaign (other counties may lay claim to parts of Stalybridge).

    What tends to happen with the Hudders - Man Vic (or Wigan, Liverpool, Southport or wherever else they run through to in Lancashire) stoppers is they tend to be held at Hudders for a late running fast(s) to go west before winding on their merry way. It is not the fault of the stopper. Similarly, you will often find they sit in the loop at Marsden. If the electrification and associated enhancements are done properly, this will know longer be a problem.

    The children in the Weatherspoons of Stalybridge are far too honest. The one who didn't go flying should have followed the example of many centre halves and claimed the other had dived or tripped over their shoe laces or something. The one who dives should have been clutching their head and let out a little shriek in the style of Jay Tabb.

    Is the barmaid with the dark brown hair eligible for nomination for the brunette award. I'm not sure she'll win, but I think she deserves to be on the shortlist.

    Am I right in thinking you had another pre-emptive not mentioned on here?

  2. Cheers Tom, yes I know GMR isn't real but I am humouring the GBG compilers in Tyne n Wear style.

    Brunette deserves a shortlist place but won't win, in fact I will let you judge this category as I cannot remember any of them!

    Yea, I forgot West Riding, the Leeds pub. Busy, fizzy Leeds pale the only ale, modernised since dad's last visit a year ago for the worse, more 'bonus' than pre -emptive but will add it ze master-race spreadsheet.

    Isn't FA cup 3rd round draw most exciting part of season?

    1. Si, I have thought about your kind invitation to judge the brunette category and it would be an honour to do so. However, I shall have to decline, my reasons are set out below:
      1) I feel it is above me. You are the boss, I am merely an occasional BRAPster and commentator, together with my voluntary associate role.
      2) I haven't been to all the pubs, thus haven't seen all the brunette barmaids, thus can't judge fairly.
      3) I suspect I also can't remember all the ones I have seen.

      When I am willing to do though, after the final Rotherham pub, is to advise you with my opinion on the candidates I have met. I'm happy to do the same with any other category also.

    2. Ok Tom, makes sense and yes you can be "chief advisor" for that category! I have no idea by the way! Don't forget Preston on 28th too.

  3. For a long time, I thought there were no pubs in Wigan because it didn't occur to me that it was in Greater Manchester. I automatically looked in Lancashire.

    Are you going to have to do a brunette spreadsheet next year. They are your speciality. You could even do a general barmaid contest.

    FA Cup 3rd round draw used to be my favourite day of the year, yet alone the football season. Now I find it the most upsetting, as it is one of the days I hate Allam the most, as I know that whoever we get I will boycott the game. I do hope he dies soon so that I can go to cup games again.

  4. Love those photos, particularly the Robinsons. I also recall officious behaviour in Watford Social - but they take their role as only GBG "pub" in the town very seriously. Most social clubs couldn't care less.

    Finding the stairs to Spoons toilets is like finding the exit from Tescos.