Altrincham bus station was thankfully attached to the trains, and 25ish minutes later, I was in Lymm.
|Lymm Cross, about 11:50am Sat 17th September 2016|
901. Brewery Tap, Lymm
Considering I was stood on a bridge watching this pub open dead on 12 noon, I''ll never understand how I was not the first customer - a man was already swilling round a half of 7% cloudy beer and making intelligent "beer approval noises" like hmmm, aaahhh and ohhhh. You know the type! Had he slept under the bar? He had a scruffy dog too. Maybe he lives here. A helpful young barman wanted to me to do the whole "try before you buy" on a milk stout, I did my old "no, I'm being brave" routine, though it sounded like I didn't trust the beers. He smiled a lot and was polite, but wondered if it'd been trained rather than came naturally. The two room bar was modern but cosily green, cream and brown and I sat in a sunny front window, not yet warm enough to laud it over the canal scum above me. An old man on crutches clocked me, said hi nervously, then revealed he had gout. Man with dog said "don't come near me". He was assured gout wasn't contagious. I think he was a benefit cheat though probably retired too. The next two men who entered were also on sticks, drank pints in 10 minutes, then hobbled out whilst a sour faced woman with nicer hubbie sat reading papers. I read a beer menu (very Sam Smiths!) and discovered this was Lymm brewery tap, not Dunham Massey I probably had chosen the wrong ale, even if it was delicious. The good music obscured any further conversations, but a man started bringing pork pies to people outside. Promising start .....
I then took one of the more interesting walks to Agden Wharf, sticking as close to the canal as I could - the outskirts of Lymm into woodland went from Tilehurst to Beenham alarmingly quickly (sorry but I can only use Berkshire analogies when walking around the UK these days):
|Walking through canal side woodland|
|Carved owl - sadly not stuffed or on a spike|
Well, it didn't look hugely like a pub from the outside and although you could walk to the bar and choose from a great range of local ales, this was a restaurant. Not even a pub with a restauranty feel. I guess the canal running directly parallel to the back window is the added draw, as you munch down your lobster thermidor. Goodness knows where I'd have sat on a cold winters day, but as it was glorious, I sat out the front with another carved specimen, a brown bear, for company. A chauffeur-cum-waiter man walked past and told me "you've got the best seat in the house!" Must've been a pub man, The pub was doing a good trade judging by the number of cars pulling up, and I did spot a canalside outdoors area to the rear but it seemed full of Hooray Henry's and Geronimo Jessica's. There were a couple of other owls around too, but none of them stuffed or on spikes, this wasn't the Green Owl by any means and proof that just cos a 'pub' has owl in the name, it's not bound to be marvellous. My Storm beer was frustratingly perfect. Like so many pubs of this ilk (North Rigton springs to mind), it also had unnecessary sexy lady photos in the gents and a most confrontational hand drier called "Rips the Skin off Your Hands" or something. When pub toilets are accidentally the most interesting part of a pub, you have to have your doubts.
Another walk next in the heat, this one felt harder despite apparently being 0.1 miles less than the last one according to Google Maps, and I was soon walking down a country lane in Lower Bollington.
|Not far to go....|
|A pub of interesting characters|
What the difference is between a Nick and a Neck is I'm hoping some pub sign expert can tell me, as you tend to get both but on reflection, I prefer the good old traditional Necks of Stockport. A pint of Old Tom in the heat here certainly might have finished me off for the day. Again, diners dominated though at least this place had some allusions to being a pub. It was a sunny Saturday lunchtime so what did I expect? At the bar, we had early drama as a man rushed his runny bottomed child into the gents, only for the barmaid (a stern faced woman who was actually quite pleasant) to say only the Ladies has baby changing facilities. Well, what if he'd been a single father? Just as I was imagine a beer bellied man dressed as Batman abseiling down the pub wall chanting "Justice for Fathers, Give Gents Baby-changing Facilities", Mum appeared on the scene to save the day. Shame. Next to me on the other side, a young interracial gay couple were celebrating their first pint of ale together since the 2017 GBG release (or some anniversary). It was a moment for CAMRA to embrace, and reflected the eclectic mix of the pub. An old couple of chaps with sticks (so probably from Lymm) appeared just in time to check out the arse of a brunette beauty with Prosecco. It got a bit too much though when a South African Twild, supposedly searching for rocks(!) disturbed a snail from it's "home" and had to be reprimanded by a Mum with the voice of Oscar Pistorious. Because the human race are sheep, everyone had squashed into one small section of the beer garden so when I went to the far end table, all nicely isolated, all the fore-mentioned characters stared as if it say "I can't believe he's actually sat there!" Okay, there were enough wasps to give my Dad nightmares, and I was eventually invaded by a family of bikers (the boys in Liverpool shirts had set up temporary goalposts using cars and had a penalty shoot out) so it all made for an entertaining pub experience.
|A great pint of Dunham Massey Obelisk amid the entertainemt.|
The bus journey went okay even if I discovered Hull City were losing, and I was back in Alty but where was this "pub", I was confused. Surely not just a stall in the market??
904. Jack in the Box, Altrincham
On my last visit to Alty, I feared it had finally waved the white flag to trying to retain it's own identity and was happy to go down the Chorlton route of upmarket, young and hipster. The days of drinking a lunchtime Wobbly Bob in the Old Market Tavern whilst a scroaty man with headphones and a Glasgow Celtic shirt sits on your knee because you are in "his seat" are long gone. Now it all Costello's and Pi's ,complimentary peanuts and outdoor blankets, and now this place, making Tap East in Stratford look like the Atherton Arms. Depressing to me, but not the vibrant young folk of Alty living the trendy market dream. Each "space" looked the same, most visitors simply refering to Jack in the Box as "the beer stall". To the right, people drank fancy wines like there was no tomorrow - this one was called "Reserve". There was a "Great North Pie co.", there was a "Wolf House Kitchen", and a "Tender Cow". Wasaabi Popcorn was on sale next to me for £2. There was not one seat in the whole place, so I stood facing the bar wedged between three barrel tables, somehow still in the way. The staff were good, the ale from Hawkshead was probably my pint of the day, but how could I possibly enjoy this experience? One old chap was sat at the bar with his headphones in ignoring the world, oblivious to anyone. Perhaps he was Glasgow Celtic man. He had the right idea. I feel like I'd seen a hellish vision of the future!
|Nice colourful straws make the pain go away....|
|A snapshot of hell.|
|As close as you'll get to an external pub shot|
|It's up the stairs we go......|
And WHAT a place to try and find! I wandered upstairs and whispered to the friendly young lady behind the bar "is this the Sip Club?" It felt like I was entering a secret society. Her Mum was sat in the corner, giving the illusion of a lady in a rocking chair knitting, even though she wasn't! I chatted with them for a while, it was all the brainchild of the young lass, with one of those entrepreneurial power business woman names like Heather or Hazel or Margot. I can't remember. I encouraged her not to put a "Sip Club" signed outside, though she told me she felt a bit guilty when people arrived traumatised and drenched from rainstorms because they couldn't find it, despite being stood outside. She told me most visitors demanding a sign were from Chorlton-cum-Hardy. "Stuff them" I told her, "they have enough one syllable bars in their own town!" I deserved a bigger laugh for that comment. "And why only open at 2pm?" I asked her, "Is it to keep the Man Utd fans out on matchdays?". "No" she laughed, "I just like a lie in!" I went through to the other room, where sun was shining in. It was all gingham tablecloths and scratchy 50's rockabilly coming out of a beat up old speaker. It would have been perfect if not for two boy Twilds divebombing off a chair onto a leather sofa. 'It'll only end in tears', I thought, and it did, but not quite as I imagined. In propelling themselves off the chair, it flew backwards and smashed their Dad in the leg. He wasn't very brave. Made me laugh though as he hobbled out, his wife telling him to man up.
Back on the tram, I jumped off one of the Manchester stops which seemed to be just a few minutes walk from my final "pub of the day".
906. Pie & Ale, Manchester
Okay, so I wasn't expecting a dark traditional pub full of Steptoe types drooling over polystyrene tray filled with steak n kidney pies, topped with mushy peas and a bit of optional mint sauce if you are like me. The place smelt nice and all, but I got the distinct impression that "Pies" here were probably about £20 a go, filled with things like Braised Lamb and Raspberry Jus on a bed of Rocket. I didn't see or hear the word gravy once during my almost 45 minute stay here, that saddened me. What also saddened me was the fact that I had to walk through two rooms, and peer into two serving hatches selling food before I finally found the room with the bar. I was feeling a bit worse for wear by now so ordered a "Pick Me Up Coffee Porter" and waited and waited for it to "Pick me Up", It didn't. It was almost like I was putting more alcohol inside my bloodstream or something?! A group of Geordies behind me were being drunkenly obnoxious, to each other, but eventually left and it was quiet as most people were in the separate dining area eating their pies.
|Ale but no Pie, at the Pie and Ale|
A great day even if the standard of the "pubs" was not always to my taste, great walking, great weather, the Sip Club was a revelation. I'd set out to do Alty and work my way back in to Manc, but when I thought (not for the first time) I could get a bus to Little Bollington, that soon became Lymm, and then I noticed Agden Wharf between them, being the first alphabetically Cheshire letter so now, I've got one eye on Alsager wherever that is! Funny how plans evolve, I'm feeling very much like I want to explore Cheshire now.