"Cheeeeadle .... Cheeeeadle ..... ugh, I hate that word!" said Sister BRAPA (not a nun) when she asked me where I'd be spending my birthday weekend.
NOT even just the one Cheadle. The Staffs one, AND the Greater Manchester one ..... and before you say "Simon, I think you will actually find it is in Cheshire", I'm going by Good Beer Guide county boundaries, because quite frankly, as a GBG ticker, it'd be confusing if I did anything else. I was also off to Cheadle Hulme, for a bonus Cheesy Cheady Cheadle. I hope my sister isn't reading this, she'll be cringing.
|Col and a semi-Keto breakfast|
The morning made me realise how much more pleasant train travel is in the football close season. Today was the last official day of the season for many. First I had to avoid optimistic Middlesbrough fans heading to Preston. And when I arrived in Stoke, I found it full of Coventry fans, and police!
Relieved to be on the bus to Hanley, even more relieved to be on a bus straight out of Hanley to the Staffs Cheadle. I've never seen so many flabby wastrels as there are in Hanley bus station.
|".... and on your right you will see Hanley bus station, an amazing feat of modern engineering"|
This Cheadle was a different flavour of Leek in many ways. A bumpy, overly long bus ride, increasingly rural, with a fair few rewarding ticks at the end of it in a small town nestled between hills.
I didn't warm to it as much as Leek, pubs not quite as good. A town not designed with pedestrians in mind. Pavements kept giving up on me, forcing me to cross road after road, whilst cars ploughed on through at a frightening rate, like we were in Rome or downtown Los Angeles.
Pub one was situated out of town, a 20 minute walk up a hill ......
It was hard to know what to make of the Huntsman, Cheadle (2200 / 3763), I wrote 'identity crisis?' in my notes. On the one hand, it was a scruffy roadside pub and quite down to earth. On the other, it seemed to be a family tourist stop off point on the way back from Alton Towers or the Peak District. I wasn't in the mood for pale ale, so the polite young chap gives me a Tim Taylor Landlord. It is a good drop. A man who might be the guv'nor is fiddling with some wires, the walls are half painted. The 'bang bang' of some potential DIY is coming from beyond. The sink in the gents doesn't seem to be attached to the water supply, people are encouraged to use the 2020 sanitiser station instead. The locals who come in all have an Irish lilt (their accent I mean, not a totally tropical drink with a shot of whiskey ..... actually, I might patent that). It is hard to know how deliberate this 'styling' is, or whether the pub is a 'work in progress'. I'm down to the final slurp of my TTL when a young family crash in through the back door and ask what flavour fruit shoots are available. That is my cue to leave, if ever I saw one!
Back into Cheadle centre for my final two ticks, starting at the one furthest from the bus stop for bladder related reasons, of course.
I passed a very gothic looking local church .....
... and at the bottom of a long residential street, the pub was looking just green enough not to fall into the 'grey' category (me and SeeTheLizards were musing last Saturday that grey paint must be the cheapest, considering how many pubs opt for it) ......
Bird in Hand, Cheadle (2201 / 3764) was, as it turns out, my pub of the day. A glorious throwback to a bygone age, one of those pubs that just doesn't care what visitors think about it, it just exists to serve its locals in the most honest and unpretentious way possible. A few nods on arrival, and a warm welcome from the elderly landlord with an element of the late Paul Daniels. His wife, who has no Debbie McGee about her, emerges from the loos a few minutes later looking quite relieved, before picking up a giant dish of strawberries and cream and devouring them with gusto. With the bubbly locals tightly packed into the front bar, I took my well kept Stout Coffin to the back bar. I didn't feel like I was isolating myself because of an open door between the rooms, and a view through the bar area. I guess in 90% of pubs, a wall would've been knocked through a few decades back to join the whole thing up, thus spoiling the ambience. In a move that sums up what was so great about the pub, the landlord appears from a private door and plonks a plate of bread & jam (buttered of course) alongside me and wolfs it down (for a minute, I thought it might be complimentary snacks!) I don't say anything cos his mouth his always full, but when he's finished, he declares "right, that's breakfast and dinner sorted!" with a chuckle, and disappears. You don't get that in your local Ember. I leave the back way, where I find the old couple smoking on the bench like a pair of lovebirds, and thank them for a cracking pub experience.
One pub left in Cheadle 1 to go then, and this one was closest to the bus back into Stoke ......
Impressive for a pub that only opened in 2017 in a former bakery, Baker's Arms, Cheadle (2202 / 3765) did not feel like your common or garden micropub. The separate rooms help with that, but even more so did a clientele who, in the main bar at least, seem hellbent on being part pantomime villains and part Jeremy Kyle regulars. 'Get a room!' jeered some men at the couple blocking the bar with intense snogging. 21st century bar blockers? Whether it is more or less palatable than the usual CAMRA guys bent over the handpumps, I've not quite decided. A lot of effort has gone into making this place look old, and it fooled me, what with its nicotine painted walls, portraits, and horse racing fans. Commendable. Less commendable was the ale, my Charrington (which I chose because of Bass connotations) just didn't clear, and whilst it was drinkable, it wasn't great. Nice in the side room away from the mayhem, just me and the lads wot beer. Cheadle - definitely a pub town worth visiting on the basis of this trio.
Bus back to Hanley. Quick widdle. Bus to Stoke station. Annoyed I'd timed my Stoke departure with the end of the football, but at least the majority of Cov fans were heading in a different direction.
I had my smart new Hull City jacket on I'd got for the birthday (thanks Daddy BRAPA!) and was half hoping a Coventry fan would see it so I could help them understand that if 99/100 of the ball crosses the goal line, it doesn't actually count as a goal, however unfair as that might seem if you are a desperate Sky Blue.
I was delighted to see that Cheadle Hulme had direct trains from Stoke, so I waited a bit longer for one of these to show. Hate changing trains, puke! Time for pub four ......
I'd been very impressed by the Chiverton Tap on my previous visit to Cheadle Hulme, back in those dark 'after work ticking Manchester area' days of 2017/18 which feel an eternity ago, and today's pub exceeded expectations too, though my mind had subconsciously lowered them away from any Cheadle Bird's in Hand. Archive Bar & Bottle, Cheadle Hulme (2203 / 3766) was a teensy bit light, airy and leafy to fully get my teeth into, but the two lads behind the bar were exemplary in their service. Chatty but chilled, friendly, not overbearing, the perfect balance. I was pleasantly surprised to see Draught Bass on, and they told me just how many folk had remarked on it today. Am sure it won't be the last time. 'Twas excellently kept, much better than the one I drank amidst impromptu Meatloaf karaoke in the 'colourful' Unicorn in Manchester last month. Colin slid down the vine clad staircase. Nothing else happened, no chance an old chap was gonna eat bread & jam in my ear in here, but you know, no complaints from me.
Time for a long walk (well, 39 minutes) to t'other Cheadle. I was sure there wasn't a bus between the two but John Clarke tells me there's a 42 bus. I look it up and he's right, fairly regular too. Damn! Oh well, the exercise will do my little beer belly good (Keto only goes so far when you drink as many pints as I do!) The sun shone bright, and there was some surprising green little curious short cut bits to break it up from the suburban sprawl. I even crossed a grassy area between two football pitches where everyone was smoking pot, which was nice.
Here are the highlights .....
Finally, the pub loomed out from around a corner like your old uncle Rolf.
What a difference a Hydes makes! Probably best not compare it to the Robin Hood Inn in Helmshore which I'd visited just 48 hours earlier, but James Watts, Cheadle (2204 / 3767) was more in line with previous Hydes houses I'd visited. Bright and modern, harsh acoustics. Clanking cutlery, dragging chair legs and the shrill of upmarket fifty-somethings all echo punishingly. Did nothing for the Tinnitus I've had ever since Melt Banana. The set up is a bit higgledy-piggledy, like some giant from up above took the roof off the pub like a doll's house and scattered a pile tiny chair and tables haphazardly about the place. The Hac Best by Ralf & Alf (A Hydes spin off I'm informed) is a quality ale, one of the best kept today, though I asked for 'Haq the Beast' like I was talking about Pakistani cricket. She knew what I meant in any case. The highlight probably came when I wasn't even concentrating. Lost in my phone (safest place for me), a child walks past with his Mum and must've pointed at Colin. "Yes, it is a cauliflower" says the Mum in the most bored voice ever, like she's sick of seeing the damned things everywhere she goes. Maybe she has an allotment in Altrincham? Two more Hydes on my agenda this summer, John o' Gaunt in Lancaster and the Nursery in Stockport. I wonder whether they'll be like this one or Helmshore or a happy medium?
Speaking of Stockport, a bus ride there made the most sense now.
My original plan had to be back in Manchester nice and early enough to catch a Bolton train and change for Bromley Cross, which has suddenly become a bit of an outlier - and I've only got myself to blame for poor strategic planning.
But Stockport had a required current tick, and the 'town' (sorry, city feels wrong) was blossoming (pun intended) with a vibrant early evening hubbub.
Like all ticks with a number in the name, my expectations were suitably lowered as I enter Project 53, Stockport (2205 / 3768) - something to do with lines of latitude, I'm reliably informed. When I open my Tropic of Capricorn Micropub in Formosa (Monday evenings only 5-8, please ring ahead), then the tickers will be sorry! I've arrived here just at the right time, it is soon three deep after I'd got served, and the worst kind of three deep, everyone ordering elaborate cocktails with only one poor overworked barmaid. In fact, the pulling of my beer was so meticulous and carefully done to ensure I got a full pint measure. Well, if I was being churlish, I'd rather have had a 99/100 full pint a bit sooner, but hey, the attention to detail was honourable. With most people content to stand and chat to make themselves look young and cool (jeez, am turning into such an old man!), Col insists we grab a seat opposite the bar. The strong smell of garlic and toast was making me hungry, huge number of pizzas flying about but not sure how Keto they are in any case. Wielding the green highlighter was probably the most satisfying moment otherwise, for Stockport, like Preston, always likes to throw a new entry the ticker's way. A hard place to finish, unless you live there, which most people do!
Back in Manchester, I had a good 40 mins until the train, time to give my northern Parcel Yard, the Bull's Head, Manchester another try. If you recall, I was locked out just shy of 6pm a couple of Sunday's back, but today was Saturday and time for forgiveness.
I skulked around outside, pushing a few panels, peering through windows, tapping wooden doors that didn't look like they'd opened since 1975.
And then, absolutely from nowhere, brazen as you like, two young Japanese ladies cross the road like a bolt from the blue and stride straight in. A main door had been open all this time, oops! I scurry in after them, capitalise on their indecision and get served first #PubTactics
Despite it being £5 a pop for an okayish sort of pint of Banks Sunbeam which I still find hard to accept of this place, I just LOVE it.
How can anywhere this close to namby-pamby Piccadilly, Craft Central, be so authentic? I've been coming here nine years now, and it always has an amazing olde worlde sort of atmosphere. Where lairy blokes randomly break out into song and hug each other, before going a bit too far, getting a stern reprimand from a matronly barmaid, who they respect like their own mother. I always get the same seat, at the foot of the stairs. I come in here on average three times a year, and it never changes. And I hope it never does. Three drunk lads had to be talked down from the stairs up to the gents. They were getting a bit emotional.
Shame it all had to end, as I step back into Piccadilly station for the train home .....
... but then notice TRAIN CANCELLED! Hour til the next one! Darn it. "Back to the Bull's Head Colin?" 'Oooh go on then Si, I fancy a Pedi this time and I don't mean a foot massage LOL'.
Oh Colin, you are such a joker.
I did get back to York eventually. Six good ticks done, the Staffs & GMR 2022 completion dream is still alive. And only 45 pubs until the GBG halfway point. Which pub will it be? I have no idea. Where am I going in June? I have no idea.
See you on Friday where I will tell you whether or not the new GBG ticks around Preston are as good as the Black Horse .... but I think you can guess.
Take care, Si