But with a late finish on the Friday, a 2pm opener in Wigan and a cancelled train, not to mention Ebor day at York races meaning absolute mayhem in my home city, I really felt like I had to fight my way kicking & mainly screaming to one of the North West's scariest yet strangely brilliant towns.
I even rang my bank and signed up for Apple Pay. Don't know why, don't know how it works, but I did it anyway. I officially feel 0.245 years younger, so there is that.
I'd got off lightly though, a jolly Geordie told me how glad he was that a group of crazy party hens had got off at York, when he saw me lining up the following photo of my 'train beers' ......
I didn't really drink these, I might have licked a bit of stray Prosecco that dripped down my arm but I am still saying I was sober at 14:48.
Anyway, by the time I'd reached my first (and one remaining Wigan tick), I was raring to go like this .....
Though in Horwich about seven hours later, I'd be more like this:
Anyway, stop wittering on Si I hear you say, this is already more words than an entire Martin Taylor pub blog, we've got pubs to review ......
I've seen Wigan try this before, to try and go as far away from the Wigan stereotype as possible by 'offering something different', but don't people love Wigan for its Anvils, Berekeleys, Ravens and Swan & Thingies? I know I certainly do. And I bet they all had more customers at 2:48pm then here, where I walked into Blundell's Cafe Bar (1738 / 2711) and after a brief smile and dawning realisation that they had a customer, Mr Blundell stepped up to serve me, a friendly chap though him and wife seemingly busy in corner doing 'pub business'. All the more surprising then to find my Mallinsons (always a top brewery) in great condition as I suspect I was first customer of day, unless someone had come in at 2pm and departed before 2:48pm which I guess is possible (pub tickers n all that!) A mural of Venice covered one wall, boxing prints on the other, they have it candlelit on evenings I hear, this isn't the Wigan I recognise but fair enough offering something different I guess. With zero customers entering during my half hour stay, Mr B went off to do important pub business in a different location but Mrs B called me 'luv' twice which was nice, once when I went for a wee, once when I returned my glass. I wonder if they've had another customer since I left, I certainly hope so!
|Just like Venice|
|Judgey monkey as close to another customer as I could find|
|The pub at large|
I was actually thinking 'Tom Irvin would be so ashamed of me' as I walked back into the street, when a woman jumped out of Specsavers entrance and offered me a free eye test! I didn't take her up on the generous offer, but the message was clear, she wasn't happy with my M&Sing.
It rattled me enough into entering Galloways for a Meat & Potato pie which I ate on the train to my next pub, not easy wearing bright white shorts but I made a decent fist of avoiding gravy spillage.
|Precarious pie perching|
Whoever said the schooldays were the best days of your life was clearly mad. I hated them, and anyone who wants to become a teacher must surely want to exert their over inflated ego and power over others There are exceptions to the rules of course, "some of my best friends work in schools" is true in my case, and if you are reading this and work or have worked in a school , you ARE that exception so fear not.
Beer School, Westhoughton (1739 / 2712) was a concept I was willing to get on board with if they went full 'balls to the wall' with it. Problem is, they didn't. All pubs have blackboards (admittedly, roller boards like this are rare but have seen once or twice in pubs) , noticeboards are commonplace, seating you'd get in a science lab or art room are pretty standard (and uncomfy) and bookcase wallpaper as you know by now is a BRAPA pet hate though less frustrating in this context. I'd like to see the poncy dry flowers removed from the tables and replaced with tables with inkwells and quills! Real books rather than wallpaper shouldn't be too hard. Let's go the full Bash Street Kids old skool school. Get the staff wearing mortar boards and gowns even on hot days. Instead of the 'craft can fridge' let's do up a vintage can machine so your cans can career down, vending style! Pump in a musty smell of old school books, bit like York Viking Centre would do! And maybe give the customers a 'Beer School' branded tie or badge on arrival, some semblance of a uniform and a nice little 'souvenir' of your visit. I say this all tongue in cheek of course, but it's kind of a good idea. My Cloudwater beer was cloudy, was it supposed to be, again I don't know, didn't taste bad but not as good as my Blundell's pint. Old people moaned how unusually quiet it was, even when a huge group of about ten cute codgers arrived. Didn't dislike the place, staff were friendly and smiley, but I just felt it could've been so much more schoolie!
Worse to follow as my train was cancelled. No way I was staying here for an extra hour but luckily a bus right outside took me to Bolton. Now the day could really begin ......
I always feel that when I visit Wigan and then Bolton in the same day. Bolton doesn't want to be outdone in terms of weirdness. Their ailing football team (full of kids and a Hull City reject) had just lost 0-5 at home to Ipswich, awful when I think how terrible the Prancing Ponies were last season but they are in dire straits, and as with Bury FC, I hope someone saves this proud historic club (that was the serious bit, hope you're keeping up).
The pubs looked welcoming as we approached Bolton Interchange .......
|Not in the GBG sadly|
This was a warning to BRAPA not to expect to have an easy ride in our next pub, not the above but the almost equally terrifying Elephant & Castle (1740 / 2713).
Pubs like this making the GBG are such a rarity, that when they do appear, the novelty factor is so great that I actually enjoy it! I'm talking about heaving deafening sports bars, awash with screens, blokes in Liverpool shirts, patient wives looking after five rowdy kids each, groups of ladies on Prosecco and twenty somethings full of tattoos and piercings doing 'bantz' and talking about accumulators, sides of chips and the fallout from Love Island. So Bolton CAMRA deserve immense credit for seeing through all the bullshit to reach one conclusion, that the beer quality is bloody brilliant. Not many CAMRA branches would've had the balls to put this in I've had Bank Top before, all have been 'decent', but this, in here, wow, even in a week of strong competition, I'd declare it beer of the month so far. Took me ages to get it mind, as me and guy weren't sure who'd got to the bar first, I insisted he should go, and immediately regretted it as he was ordering food for a table of six and had to go back and check his table number, the type of chips he wanted, his daughter's shoe size, and probably a few other things! By this time, a bawdy lady had pushed in by the side of my, giggling as she forget her order. A bit like a Bolton Babs Windsor. Had I wanted to watch Liverpool v Arsenal, I couldn't have been in a more prime seating position, so pretended to look interested. A group of six twenty somethings asked if they could share my table. A group of older ladies under the TV obviously thought 'shit, what have we walked into here?!' and drank up as soon as they could, freeing up the table for the gang of six, who strangely said 'thank you for your services!' which made me sound like a male prostitute hiring out my dirty table for naughty goings on. Phew, as nice as this Bank Top was, I was kinda glad to leave, Liverpool scoring on the way out whilst I peed to a deafening roar from within (cos of the goal, not me peeing superbly). And no Bolton or Ipswich fan in sight.
|Multiple Klopp and Bolton ladies wear same expression|
|View of my pint of the month|
|Later on, three twilds were throwing themselves all over this sacred seating|
I had to fathom out how to get to my fourth pub, about half an hour off Bolton centre. Walk or bus?
I'll tell you all about that, plus a cheeky Horwich duo in part two.