A fully green Lancastrian section of the 2022 Good Beer Guide now seems a very real prospect after the Fantastic Mr Sutton helped me to do some of the harder to reach pubs around Blackburn and Accrington two weeks back.
But I'm going to have to pay some serious attention to those one horse towns and villages just a short bus or train ride from Preston if I'm to be successful in my quest.
We rang the changes to the starting line up. Colin was 'rested' (dropped but we'll say rested, better for morale) to give a debut to Plum Porter enthusiast, Pedro the Plum. Keane Lewis Otter was also in the squad as Pedro's 'Emotional Support Otter'. Meanwhile, Sainsbury's had controversially substituted my usual Arctic Coffee for a giant Emmi Cafe Latte, like a litre of coffee!
Anything remotely Preston is a perfect opportunity to renew acquaintances with local legend, font of all local knowledge, font of fonts, and BRAPA illuminati Matthew 'SeeTheLizards' Lawrenson, who I found at Preston Rail Station Bus Stop Stand A, last Saturday. He's Pedro's uncle too.
Arson had replaced stabbing as Preston's new favourite hobby since my last visit, TWO fires started deliberately today, and although we didn't hear Prodigy in any pub, the locals put 'Fire' by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown on every jukebox they could find, as if to taunt the local authorities.
Still, I should be grateful, on my 2003 debut when my sister started Uni here, a totally naked man jumped out of a shop entrance on Fishergate, in the middle of the day! The incident was treated with much 'cheeky' mirth back then, it'd probably be a hate crime in 2022.
"Cheer up Si, it might never happen" said a famous curmudgeon on seeing this photo. "It already has, I'm in Preston" I told him. Joking of course, Preston is ace, but the Blackpool fraternity enjoyed it.
The day got off to a rocky start.
Waiting for the Number 2 bus, already delayed, a 3 arrives. I don't realise this isn't our bus. Matthew sort of does, but can't alert me in time and the 2 shoots past the stop, not even looking to see if anyone wanted it!
My App tells me another bus to our intended destination is close by, but it is almost deja vu. It is delayed. Another bus arrives first, then ours shoots past just behind it! Luckily, a combination of a frantic old woman and Matthew's lazy arm mean he screeches to a halt.
Soon, we are in the little village of Longton with its forced cafe culture. Pub one finally? Well not quite, it is a 30 minute walk to the pub in the middle of nowhere! Grrr, who puts pubs in such silly places?
It all gets quite posh, quite farmery, quite pavementless. The weather is good, we plough on, and before long, we're (almost) there .......
We walk inside, there's a corridor, loos, and a large bar. All looks very function room with a couple of keg fonts. "I don't think this is the place!" says Matthew. We step back outside and a few paces on ..... take two, the actual pub .....
I'd expect to be rewarded a bit more considering the efforts it took to reach the Dolphin, Longton (2206 / 3769) but I think we all know pub ticking doesn't work like that. It isn't the most hospitable place to walk into. Plenty of bulbous nosed local lads turn and stare, I try a couple of gentle 'alrights' but get zero in return. The staff aren't much better. She's talking to me. She's looking at me. But she isn't SEEING me, if you know what I mean, it's like I'm a ghost. It is a bit awkward as we stand there in silence. Matthew says he isn't averse to a high stool, so we plonk ourselves down in the centre of the room with our quality pints of Rudgate (it is rarely this good even in York). Difficult circs for Pedro to make his debut, his winning plummy smile hardly in-keeping with the surroundings. A couple of blokes sit down to watch Celtic v Motherwell behind us. Frustrating pub, you've got gorgeous dolphin stained glass bar tops and bathroom tiling, a giant 'range' (is that the word for a massive fireplace thing?), the stolen Booth's supermarket box shows ingenuity. But the limp atmosphere plus a fair chunk of 'reserved' tables - some for dogs FFS, cannot be overlooked. 'Oooh we're rural so we have to do food to survive' goes the age old excuse. Yeah, when you aren't as good as the Wonston Arms, and when you haven't got the balance right like the Dawnay Arms in West Heslerton etc etc, it is easy to say that. Frustrating pub which could be so much more.
|'A quality tick from a quality (left handed) player'|
|'Meg the Dog'|
|'Molly' definitely a dog|
It was such a stop start, but mainly stop, start to the day.
During the walk back into Longton village, Google Maps lied to me, saying our bus was 20 minutes delayed. Luckily, and thanks to fellow ticker Eddie F, I remembered to look at live bus times on bustimes.org and it told me Google Maps was talking shite. It was pretty much on time.
But getting to Banks, which is so western it is practically Merseyside, was still a bit of trial.
Daytrippers all bound for the bright lights of sunny Southport all piled on with their buckets and spades and toothy grins and Kappa beachwear. 'Sit down Chelsie, sit down Ethan, the buzzz is setting off'. And then there's the roadworks and the deliberate diversions around Tarleton. I was rapidly losing my patience.
Amazing to think, when we stepped off the bus at 14:01, our second pub had only been open for 1 minute. The Dolphin had been a rarity - an outer Preston pub opening at noon.
I assume Preston folk must be very abstemious and not like to go in too hard, too soon, even on a weekend. Very mature behaviour, well done Preston.
No sign of Ralph (if that's his real name) at Ralph's Wife's, Banks (2207 / 3770) which is as much coffee shop as bar - Google Maps confirms it. Leafy decor, plenty of homemade cakes sat atop a craft fridge selling the kids fave Doom Bar, but no Plum Porter. Despite having just opened, a group of old ladies were sat waiting for a friend to arrive, and when she did, they swiftly buzzed off outside to enjoy the sun, leaving us as the only two customers. The two ladies serving aren't unfriendly, the Southport 'Eagles Dare' drank well even in the elaborate glassware (well, not what I'd choose to drink out of anyway) and they insisted we sit down and they'd bring them over. Matthew lightens the mood by talking me through his retro music devices he has with him - Minidisc and iPod if you are interested, I was. Bruce Springsteen is piped through the pub. He's influenced so many bands I like but I've never quite 'got him'. An 'okay' kinda place, but consider how enthused some of my fellow tickers were by their visit here, I was expecting a bit more.
Time to start meandering back towards Preston, and it doesn't get much more meandering than the 2 / 2A bus route.
Tarleton (pronounced Tarlton, not Tarleyton - thanks Matt!) is a bit of a hub. Buses route themselves through the village in a very peculiar way, making it impossible to know where they'll stop and which direction they are travelling in. Oh well, maybe the pub will be good ......
The young lad serving has a bit of vim and vigour about him at the Vestry Tap Room, Tarleton (2208 / 3771) , I cannot work out whether he just loves people, or is quite bored and wants someone to talk to. I suspect the latter. It is eerily quiet, I think there is an outdoor area where the Tarleton ladies who love Prosecco (so said a sign in the pub) were catching some rays. Pedro is chuffed to see an ale called 'Porteresque'. Perhaps not Plum Porter-esque but the closest we've got so far. And I always like Wigan Brewhouse stuff. Thornbridge with integrity (LET IT GO SI, IT'S BEEN FIVE MONTHS!) I make a vague joke about 'thinking' Chelsea v Liverpool is 'live' when it is quite obvious we are watching a retro cup final, what with Kenny Dalgleish and Didier Drogba knocking about, but my comment falls flat. A bit like this bar really. It is really quite a boring place of no discernible character, good as the porter was. Only a haunted hand dryer which turns itself on and off whenever the wind changes could be considered a 'quirk'. Matthew tells me the Vestry in Freckleton which I need to tick is identical to this. I can hardly wait(!)
Our final stop off point on the 2/2A bus route (never again , please) was Penwortham. Again Uncle Matt helps me with the pronunciation. Emphasis on 'PEN', then you whizz through the rest under your breath. So basically PEN-wthm. NOT Pen-WURRRTH-um like I'd been saying, all East Lancs style.
The pub is across the road. The locals are being sun whores like this is the only day out of 365 they expect to see the sun. Matt had told me Preston was the third rainiest place in the UK after Glasgow and Cardiff so maybe they are right to be pessimistic.
|Looking quite slim, must be the Keto|
It might be the relative proximity to civilisation in comparison to our Banks and Tarleton ticks, but as modern micro bars go, at least Tap & Vine, Penwortham (2209 / 3772) had a bit of pubby hubbub about it, pubbub if you will. A bit disconcerted to be served by two lads so fresh faced, even this skeptical 43 year old who looked 15 when he was 27 had to wonder if they were of legal serving age. Vanilla Stout off of First Chop fame was as close as Pedro could see to Plum Porter (things were getting tenuous now) but he shouts from my bag 'oi Si, want that one!' I'm so glad Col and KLO allow me to pick my own beers, KLO isn't even too fussed if I don't go with Otter Bitter. This bar is a bit like fishing i.e. a perch and take your chances at type of place. I can't remember anything exciting happening. I asked Matt when I saw him again a few days later, he confirmed, no nothing happened.
Back into Preston then for our final tick of the day. I had considered Bamber Bridge's Beer Box (Brig n Barrel closed mysteriously on my birthday, the day I was planning this trip, probably just a coincidence!), but what with the hourly train and time ticking on, we both felt it'd be best tackled another day.
I suddenly found one of those Blur style 'enormous sense of wellbeing' moments sweep over me as we arrived at Winckley Street Ale House, Preston (2210 / 3773) and 'blur' is quite apt at this, my notoriously difficult fifth pint stage of the day. My joy was partly down to the realisation that we were done with that nightmare 2/2A bus route which had felt laborious from minute one. But it was possibly more to do with the welcoming barmaid, a real firecracker with her red ringlets, sparky personality, neck tattoo and winning smile. And it is a deliberate pun because the subject of Preston fires I mentioned at the beginning of this blog is red hot in Preston (sorry I'll stop now) and she shows us videos of them on her phone, or glowing plumes of smoke. Little did I know at this point that I'd be back in Preston the following Thursday, and guess what, a THIRD fire! We sat at the back of the room, eclectic music playing, and I have vague memories of some rather harsh bars and grates making up the 'decor' - a bit like being in Wentworth Detention Centre, which is no criticism when you are a Prisoner Cell Block H fan like I am. Okay, so the clientele were more Pixie Mason than Noelene Burke, but you can't have it all. A happy little bar on which to end the day's ticking, and the Rivington was drinking well. Which reminds me, their Bowls club cafe thing has to reopen soon, surely!
|KLO showing off cos Pedro has had most of the attention today|
But I couldn't go home just yet, oh no, that would be sensible! Matthew knew a pub, rather well as it happens, selling not just Plum Porter, but Plum Porter Reserve, Pedro was like "I'm all in mate". Me and KLO were happy to tag along.
Black Horse, Preston is one of the pubs that most made me fall in love with the things, even if my first of many visits to date back in 2003 was 11 years before BRAPA officially began. It sowed a seed. In fact, with that and the pubs of York, Duck & Drake in L**ds, and a few Hull Old Town classics making up my early drinking experiences, you could say that when I finally hit Bedfordshire, I was shocked to discover that not every pub in the UK was an olde worlde grade II listed heritage gem!
After a PP Reserve, and the barman was a good sport tolerating Pedro and KLO, I asked Twitter if an extra half of Old Tom (you don't see this on cask often, and thanks Matthew to discouraging me from a full pint) was a good idea. 82% of people said yes. Pretty unanimous. Thanks to the 64 who voted. And to Mummy BRAPA for creating many Twitter accounts to make up the 18% of naysayers. Gorgeous drop.
Here's the highlights ......
After that, Matthew wisely realised I might need a bit of help locating the train home to York!
I felt a bit woozy in the early stages of the journey, but amazing what the powers of a bottle of weak lemon barley and a scotch egg can do, and by Burnley Manchester Road, I was feeling right as rain!
Back in York, I made a strong coffee and watched Eurovision voting under a full moon .....
All going great for the UK, I was properly getting into it, drumming on my pouffe, not a euphemism, as the 12 pointers came through.
But then from nowhere, some bloke just went "Ukraine ... 420 points" and that killed the whole thing, talk about anti-climax. I was gutted, for about two minutes, and then decided it was time for bed!
See you on Sunday/Monday for more from outer Preston, this time we head north to a village called 'Lancaster'.
Take care, Si