Sunday 18 September 2016

BRAPA - Going Out on a Lymm

I was glad I'd taken an earlier train out of York to Manchester on Saturday morning, when an announcement suddenly sounded on the tram advising we were terminating at Timperley rather than Altrincham as planned.  The reason was unclear, but Alty Alistair Sim looked deeply angered, and kept shouting "LATE!" randomly until the replacement eventually turned up.

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
Having previously insulted a lady by asking whether Lymm was in Greater Manchester, I was unsurprised to see a pretty well-to-do little town where the locals loved themselves a bit too much, lots of tannnig, muscles, and bright white teeth on display, everyone walking around with their noses in the air, the canal boat people thought they were George Clooney and wife in Monaco.

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
Apart from a bit of mud and balancing on wooden planks, it was a nice walk and I was excited about pub two, as I love owls as you know:

Carved owl - sadly not stuffed or on a spike
902.  Barn Owl, Agden Wharf

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
903.  Swan With Two Nicks, Lower Bollington

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.
I then found a bus stop on a hair raising bend opposite Dunham Massey Hall and National Trust park to take me back to Alty.  An old couple joined me who tried to make me responsible if we didn't succesfully flag it down as it sped round the corner.  But we were okay.  Fair play to Dunham Massey, one day they are winning awards for their stout, the next, they have a huge hall and gardens, even some deer,  presumably out of the proceeds from generous CAMRA!

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.
Shaken but not stirred, I took the tram as far as Stratford where I rang Mum to tell her of Hull City's fightback.  By the time I found my 5th pub, we'd conceded two more!

As close as you'll get to an external pub shot

It's up the stairs we go......
905.  Sip Club, Stretford

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
I hadn't timed the train back very well, so "had" to pop in to the always characterful and cheery Bull's Head where I had a swift half of Sunbeam and shared a bench with 4 animated old chaps who were having what they thought a very entertaining political discussion.  One especially loved that I was chuckling along, but what they didn't realise is that I was chuckling cos they were talking utter crap.  So I politely kept saying, "well, you've both got a point" (there may have been 2 of them but I was seeing 4) before quickly absconding after the obligatory "handshakes all round" session.

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.



  1. Astonishing day's pubbing there. Always good when you can go off-schedule to visit places.

    Alsager is really Stoke; you'll love it.

    1. Alsager's easy enough to get to. It's the first stop on both the Crewe-Derby and the Crewe-London Euston trains.

  2. Hmm, on some familiar territory there. The Barn Owl was originally, many years ago, called the Admiral Benbow, and has become steadily more upmarket and restauranty over the years. When I was last there, the section on the front left by the bar was still fairly pubby, though. It’s also worth noting that it’s still situated in the midst of a rather scuzzy canalside industrial strip.

    Couldn’t you have walked there from Lymm directly along the canal towpath rather than messing about in woods?

    The Swan With Two Nicks is certainly very much still a pub, but, as you saw, very much given over to the middle-class dining trade. Not far away on the other side of the canal is Sam Smith’s excellent Vine at Dunham Woodhouses, but obviously Trafford & Hulme branch are never going to put that in the GBG in a month of Sundays.

    Next time you’re in that neck of the woods you can try Brunning & Price’s Little Manor at Thelwall a couple of miles further on past Lymm (in 2017 GBG) which really will have you reaching for the guillotine.

    1. I did contemplate for a moment whether "Admiral Benbow" was an anagram of "Barn Owl" until I realised I was several letters short!

      The canal water looked very scuzzy, even with the sun shining down on it, murky.

      I did try and walk right along the canal path but ended up lost in a newly built housing estate, where a woman sat outside laughing to herself, so I legged it to the main road for a bit.

      A Sam Smith's pub was exactly the kind of thing missing from the six visited on Saturday. I even got nostalgic for the Holt pub in Swinton as I sat in Pie & Ale.

      I looked at Thelwell as on my bus route, thought I may combine it with a Warrington day. More notably (beginning with an A), Appleton Thorn isn't far away but it seems to have difficult opening hours!

  3. The good people of Alsager would be appalled at the suggestion that they are really Stokies, and are keen to suggest that they are definitely part of the historic borough of Cheshire East.
    It's an odd sort of place, pleasant enough in an unremarkable way but lacking much identity, it reminds me of one of those characterless Home Counties small towns/ large villages.
    A possible stopping off point on the way to somewhere else .

    1. Sorry Malcolm, I know it's in Cheshire but they're Stokies. See them at the Brit rather than Gresty Rd on Saturday. And being a Stokie is a badge of honour.

    2. I've only been to Crewe twice and I cannot remember anything about the town on either occasion. Yes, there was beer involved (a pint of Old Tom once) but am wondering if Alsager will be like a smaller version of Crewe too?

      By characterless Home Counties towns Malcolm, I hope you are meaning the likes of Theale, Tilehurst, Bracknell, Maidenhead (not to pick on Berkshire but they are freshest in my mind).

  4. Martin, for some it may be, others less so.
    There are Cornishmen who go to Exeter to watch their rugby because the Chiefs are in the Premiership, I guess the same applies in the wealthy world of wendyball.

  5. Si, Alsager is in Cheshire, just south east of Crewe. The vast majority of Crewe - Stoke trains stop, as Mr Lawrenson states these mainly end up at Euston (though in a future timetable revision this will become Brum) or Derby. It could just about work for Stoke when we run out of pubs there if you haven't knocked it off sooner. If doing it on a non football day, I reckon it will go well with Congleton and Kidsgrove, which I think is over in Staffs. Both are market towns, I'd be surprised if either of them didn't have an entry, just from the vibes I get of the towns.

    To settle the debate, I have carried out a scientific test. Mr Google reveals that there is an oatcake shop in Alsager, thus they are Stokies. It sounds like an entertainingly crap establishment. I might go there just for amusement.

    Trams being pined at Timperley, often at late notice, is a common occurrence. It is designed to get late running trams back on time going into Manchester or to ease out congestion on the single line stretch into Alty. The trouble is that Metrofarce don't actually publish a timetable, so it is tricky to figure out what is happening.

    No pub is as good as the green owl, it is just that some pubs are further from the standard than others. However, I would state in my view I often find the pub toilets the most interesting part, although that is normally because the bogs are highly characterful rather than just having more bizarre modern features to the rest of the pub. Bridge Hotel, Rotherham is a classic example of this.

    I have looked in the OED and the word nick is only defined in the ways you would expect and an Australian usage meaning to go away. I see nothing to do with swans or necks in there.

    Do I get the feeling that the entire of Alty market is poncificated? The beer stall, whilst the concept can work, sounds a failure, wasabi popcorn shouldn't exist. A market should have a couple of butchers, a few greengrocers, a bakers, cheesemongers, fishmongers, perhaps a cobblers and an egg man. The odd bit of tat and sweets thrown in, jobs a goodun. What you describe sounds like hell both as a market and a pub.

    The chair colliding with the blokes knee is superb. I just wish there was a video of it. There isn't perchance a conveniently located CCTV camera is there?

    I should point out that this whole article is absolutely superb.

  6. "Mr Google reveals that there is an oatcake shop in Alsager, thus they are Stokies"

    Tom is a sensible man; either that or he's just agreeing with me to curry favour in my own Blog's Quiz League. Why do we say "curry favour" ?

    Yes it is superb.

    1. I think calling me a sensible man is a bit far but in that instance I was being truthful. You are right to realise that I will try to curry favour, offer bribes or outright cheat in order to win any competition if I see the opposition.

    2. One of my earliest Tom memories are you and your Dad searching for oatcake shops before or after a Port Vale away game so I trust you implicitly in this.

      I did not even know Alsager had a railway station before I read all these replies so I'm even more happy about my potential visit now. Congleton has pubs but not Kidsgrove. The football team probably ate all the pies and bankrupt them. Poynton does too and I could perhaps jump off the train and do something like Gawsworth or (Big) Bollington! Plan forming.

      Glad you enjoyed article Tom, shame I cannot imagine Sip Club being very CCTV friendly, unless it was facing from bar to street to look for confused looking potential customers.

      Yes, Alty Market isn't a market in the traditional sense that we'd like to believe, more where people "come to be seen" which unless you are Mrs Goggins displaying her prize marrows on the way to the village hall marrow championship, isn't very traditionally market as far as I'm concerned.

      I think the Bridge in Rotherham was a pretty traditional pub in most ways, nothing could match the loo but I couldn't really say it was modernised. But you were soberer than me.

      I wondered if the Timperley thing might be less of a one-off as the women (well everyone apart from A.Sim) just rolled their eyes as if to say "this happens all the time!"

    3. I regret to say I require my Vale Park ground tick. I can't remember why we didn't go when we lost 2-1 and Nick Barmby scored a late equaliser, I suspect Father was working. The day you are thinking of is probably the 3-0 win at Stoke City when we went to that very good Titanic pub in Burslem, Andy d'Urso denied the ball had crossed the line after about 30 seconds so we scored pretty much from the rebound of the behind the goalline clearance anyway (I want to say Nicky Forster but it was too early for him so deduct me a point on the next on this day quiz), Boaz Myhill saved two penalties, the Stoke City supporters rioted in the home end while the rozzers invaded the away end and Jon Parkin waltzed majestically through the Stoke defence rather than doing what a proper big centre forward should do and shoving them out of the way and/or eating them. Daryl Duffy score a goal as well. Thinking of previous Stoke visits isn't helping the unexplainable severe pain of Allam stopping me going tomorrow night for the League Cup second round.

      Oatcake shop and pre-emptive in Kidsgrove then as a change is required there anyway. I'll even buy you a cake if you are good, the existence of which in such an establishment probably is a symptom of it being the posh Stokie area.

      The Alsager plan fits together very well in my opinion. Potential for Macc and/or Stockport on the way back also if time and code of conduct allow. I have my Congleton and Alsager shack ticks but not Poynton.

      I've looked at the Alty market website. It is entirely possible that I will have nightmares tonight. It seems to be a similar level to the ponce hessian bog shitehouse in Shorditch.

      The Bridge was not modernised in any way, that was intended as my point. Sorry if I worded it badly.

  7. No entries in Kidsgrove ? That means the Blue Bell is out, which I find is due to new licensees. I'd visit that one while you're in the area, bound to get back on (he says).

  8. For Nicks vs Necks, there is a nice explanation on their website.

  9. Thanks Richard, really interesting to finally knows about necks and nicks. It also explains the pub called Old Swan Uppers I went to down on the Beds/Bucks border. Next time people ask me "what did we do in the days before social media?", I can say with confidence "they counted swans".

  10. You are welcome. I must say that between you and RM, I am constantly laughing. Thank you both for being so entertaining. It is a great way to start my day.

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