It was that time of year where a bearded man in sandals visits me in my sleep and tells me of the urgent need to go on a pilgrimage. "Where to this year, my lord?" I ask him, "Bethlehem? Nazareth? Jerusalem?" "Don't be daft, lad!" he replies, "I'm sending to you to Runcorn, more scope for new pubs there".
I confess I'm starting to wonder whether this vision I see just before Easter every year is actually J.C. himself, or simply the ghost of an old CAMRA member.
After a horrendous Thursday at work where I had to stay two and half hours later than planned, it was after 7:30pm by the time I checked into my Warrington Travelodge (perhaps THE best Travelodge in the UK due to the use of actual keys and breakfast only in a box). My planned trip to Culcheth had to be curtailed for now, but I had a back up plan, so at the nearby bus station, I hopped aboard the 17 for Westbrook.
Westbrook seems to be one of those made up places, for all it had of note were lots of roundabouts, a cinema, a giant Asda supermarket, and a Marstons dining pub - my destination.
1291 / 2037. Seven Woods, Westbrook
With the flashing neon lights, raucous laughter from within, and boom boom boom of whatever was pumping out, it wouldn't have been out of place to have seen this new-town's namesake 'Daniella' snorting a line of cocaine off a nearby bar counter. The bar was strangely split into two to allow an extra 'leaning' place which meant you couldn't see all the ales in one go, meaning you had to keep bobbing your head around the pillar like a crazy meerkat. The staff were young and confused, so I offered a young lad with one of the worst bum-fluff moustaches every witnessed in a GBG pub to rightfully 'go before me'. Did he thank me? Course he didn't. It's rare to enter a BRAPA venue and find everyone much more drunk than me, but the mainly twenty-something crowd knew the true meaning of Easter, to get a good Maundy Thursday session in due to the forthcoming bank holidays. My Hobgoblin Gold was superb quality, up there with the best ales all weekend, though I probably appreciated this one all the more for a horrid day. A few middle agers were dining below me, and trying to look unruffled by the chaos, but they were terrified, you could see it in their eyes. There wasn't much point venturing too far, so I leaned on the 'split bar' section with a bloke who told me he was drying his hat. It was dry now. Just about. Scintillating chat, yet he disappeared when I observed the weather had turned rather inclement in the last two hours. He wasn't here for chat like this, and he got another Carling in and grunted. It was time to leave and run for the bus.
|Beers on 'my' left hand side of the bar.|
|The main party gang looking quite calm in this rare footage|
|Oh dear! Feeling the bank holiday pain.|
Runcorn East was a LONG way from the centre, but I was happy of the long morning stroll.
It gave me chance to assess a place I'd heard mainly negative reviews of, but determined to make up my own mind, I was relieved to find the first part of the walk very picturesque, with little squirrels hopping about, birds twittering, and lots of peaceful woodland and dog walkers smiling at me in a friendly manner.
|The Runcorn they don't tell you exists!|
It carried on through Norton and Halton, which seemed to be great little suburbs, and things only really went downhill (literally) as I past Halton Brow and then Halton Brook towards town. Suddenly, things like men crouching in their back gardens shivering and smoking pot, fly tipping, burnt out prams, dog shit all over the pavement, and eventually, a coot swam past me on the canal shrieking a scouse message of warning "don't go any further". But tough luck coot, I've got pubs to tick.
And all the while, people continued to be friendly and that is 90% of what makes a place in my book.
Hard to sum up Runcorn really, it is quite unique. I guess you could say it's like the spawn of Portsmouth and Swansea after a liaison in an airing cupboard after too much red wine at a dinner party, which was then adopted out and raised by Lala from the Teletubbies and Stephen Mulhern.
Anyway, I'd 'thought' for long enough, and the pub was FINALLY in sight .....
1292 / 2038. Ferry Boat, Runcorn
Being pre-12 noon, I couldn't really rely on much other than a 'Spoons to be open, so this was a strategic decision for pub number one. Although it looked a bit gloomy from the outside (I was suddenly put in mind of Luton which can never be good), the entrance way was surprisingly lined by the Encyclopedia Brittanica which I wasn't expecting, very much the Wikipedia of its day. At the bar, a chatty barmaid apologised for keeping me waiting, only she was telling her sob story which she then repeated to me. She had 4 more hours to work today, had a really bad hangover, was working every day this bank holiday weekend, and wasn't getting double time, or even time and half! "Think you'll need to have a word with Tim Martin" I observed as I seamlessly handed my 50p Mudgie voucher over. Her and the barman next to her laughed, surprised I'd heard of their boss(!), I was surprised they'd heard of him! She told me my vouchers were only just in date. Something weird about my Plum Porter, the glass seemed to be lined with a rim of sugar, making an already sweet beer sweeter. Was this a 'Spoons Easter surprise? All the normal low seats were gone, leaving a swathe of posing stools so I sat next to this man with accent no one could understand outside Runcorn, praying he didn't ask me anything. Facing all these fruit machines made me feel like i was in Vegas, if I can mention Vegas at this difficult time. An above average 'Spoons, had a nice atmosphere - typical from what I said in Oakham that Dad wasn't here to experience a good pub in the chain.
It was time to get myself south west of the town, already my legs were feeling it, as I headed towards a place called Weston where there were two pubs in the GBG, although the new online App (which I've now decided truly is a downgrade) could only identify one.
Walking down Weston Road with the River Mersey out to my right, you could smell both chemical chimneys and farming, as it became surprisingly rural surprisingly quickly, and pub two was just on the main drag.
|Stupid Enterprise van pulls up just in time to ruin my photo.|
1293 / 2039. Prospect Inn, Runcorn
And I could continue to blame Enterprise all the way into the pub, as I held the door open for the van man who was carrying two heavy canisters (probably of nerve agent) into the pub, which made me go through the right hand door, simply cos he was going in through the left. And this was an error cos I was now in the dining part, and not sure, but think the other side was pubbier. Not that this was bland in any way, and a second pint of Titanic Plum Porter went down well, just with less 'frosting' on the glass this time! I pretended to browse a menu as staff and old ladies alike were starting to look expectantly at me, but the pressure was taken off when a Mummy, Daddy and Child teetering on the Twild brink but not quite getting there, ploughed on into the pub. The young lad wanted scampi, but was not quite as passionate about it as Daddy, who exclaimed "THEY'D BETTER HAVE IT, IT WAS ON IN HERE LAST TIME, WHERE IS IT? IS IT ON THE SPECIALS BOARD?" he said peering in my direction. Was he speaking to me? The young lad was looking almost tearful. I realised I was sat closest to the specials board. Oh, so I'm the 'guardian of the specials board' now am I? Well, it was on, but whether or not they realised, I'm not sure. Before I could say anything, they seemed to do a 180 degree turn and ordered 3 Full English breakfasts. Strange. Old couple got up to leave, the bloke lingered. And when he couldn't find a staff member to say 'thanks and bye' to, he decided to address the rest of the pub customers instead. So his wife says to me "And they say women can talk, not true .... MEN!!" and strode out without him.
|No I'm not your Specials Board guardian|
|Great beer, wrong glass|
|Piss off BRAG or I'll sue.|
I'd spotted something disturbing on Google Maps .... the other pub down here, it said 4pm opening! Well, it was a bank holiday, the sun was out, it wasn't too far, so best go and check it out. 11:30am according to the GBG. Sadly, my fears were confirmed on arrival ......
|Buses apply Sunday hours on Bank Holidays, shame pubs don't!|
Infuriatingly, there were lights on, and people at home. I could see a gap in the fence, a bald man stood in the garden smoking, and possibly digging a hole. Wonder what/who it was for. It was still only 2pm, I didn't feel I could linger.
So time for the long walk back towards Runcorn East, where my remaining pub was situated en route in the 'lovely' part of town:
1294 / 2040. Norton Arms, Runcorn
And as was the case in 'Spoons earlier, I was able to get some chat going with our brunette host (mainly about loose change but I'd also been foiled by one of those pointless 'coming soon' beer signs!), she was obviously in competition with her predecessor for an outside shot at 'brunette barmaid of the year', a category which may well be scrapped now due to the delicate age in which we live. She was quickly over to spray my table (and me) with cleaning fluid, reminiscent of last weekend's experience in the Wheatsheaf at Langham. My uncanny recent knack of accidentally finding the dining section was in evidence again, I was drawn to a chink of light coming through the curtains at a table recently vacated by a couple who thanked me for errrm, just being great?!?! A few bar-blockers had already politely cleared to let me see the pumps, yes this was another pub full of quality folk. Also symptomatic of my recent pub form, what had seemed a quiet area in which to be seated descended into chaos as every group decided they wanted to sit as close to me as possible. First were the road tripping group getting passionate about American takes on the English Breakfast, where a man appeared to prod the girl next to him in the eye with his nose, whilst biting her nose - anyway, the conclusion was that Americans like to serve baked beans in a ball shape, and it is wrong. Worse was to follow from the lycra cyclists who sat even closer to me. In perhaps quote of the weekend, a male adult declared "I'm new to porridge and the texture of it makes me feel sick". And that perhaps, summed this really nice little pub more than anything.
|The cleaning fluid gets ready to do it's job|
|English brekkies in America chat|
|Arty shot towards the bar|
|Close up courtesy of Miss San Jose Cat Lover off of Twitter|
So that was that, not a clean sweep due to the closed Royal Oak, so the pressure was now on to get myself back to Warrington, replenish, and try and get three ticks done in the 'evening session' which I will review in the next few days. But Wolverhampton first to kick of April so see you tmw on Twitter for that one.