Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pub Reviews: Leigh and Wigan

I have slightly redesigned the pub pages on www.towpathtreks.co.uk so I thought I had better do some pub reviews and add some new pubs to the guide. I have a list of about 15 pubs to visit this year. Today with the weather being less than glorious I thought we would try just 3 or 4. We left Liverpool and headed off to the lands where Rugby preferred to Football, Leigh and Wigan. 
Driving to Leigh on a grey rainy Saturday is depressing. I lost count of the number of closed down, boarded up pubs. By Leigh Bridge there was the Bridge, the Ellesmere and the Bridgewater, all potential pubs to review and all closed down. 
Luckily our first pub was still open; the Waterside Inn in Leigh. It is on the Leigh branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal near its junction with the Bridgewater Canal. The pub building is a converted canal warehouse. The warehouse is two Grade II listed buildings. One half is a stone warehouse from 1821, the other is a brick warehouse from 1894. There is a carpark at the front so no worries about where to leave the car. There is a large ugly Aldi next door which would be handy for passing boaters. 
 former canal warehouses

It was one o'clock when we got to the pub and it was not busy. We sat near a window over looking the canal. There were some nice old photos of the canal and the warehouse before it was a pub. The bar seems more aimed at people drinking bottled beer, wine and cocktails than real ale. In fact there were only two real ale pumps and one was off. The pub was quiet and it felt like it was set up for a busy Friday/Saturday night crowd rather than lunchtime. 
There is quite a big main menu, a kids menu and Sunday roast specials. We chose the cheese burger and the scampi, together less than ten quid. The food came quickly and was nice and warm. The burger was tasty if a little unadventurous, though there were lots of other options which would have been more interesting. 
I am not sure if I would go out of my way to go to the pub again. It would be a nice place to go for drinks with friends in summer when the outside seating would be nice. 
Leaving the pub we went over to Leigh Bridge which is number 11 on the Leigh Branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and number 66 on the Bridgewater Canal. Its a very low bridge, I couldn't stand up straight underneath it. I hope to cycle the Leigh branch sometime this year, hopefully when the weather is nicer. The rain started so we went back to the car and headed to Wigan. 


After Leigh we drove to Wigan, passing yet more closed down pubs. Things change, peoples leisure activities aren't what they were 10, 20 years ago. People stay at home watching the X factor rather than going to the pub. The smoking ban gets a lot of blame, the price of beer in pubs is high compared to the supermarket. In many places there just isn't the population density to support so many pubs like there once was. 
We arrived at the Top Lock in Aspull, Wigan. Here at the top of the Wigan flight of 21 locks the Leeds and Liverpool Canal meets the southern part of the old Lancaster canal. The area here was famous for its coal. There was a huge iron works here too. Now there is a quite housing estate and some light industry. 
The Commercial Inn (closed)

The weather was getting worse and it was getting gloomier.  We walked down to the Commercial Inn to see if the rumours were true and it had indeed closed. The lights were on but there was nobody home. It looks like it has joined the long list of closed down pubs. Hopefully it is just a temporary closure but I cant see there being enough trade to keep two large pubs going in such a quiet bit of town. The other pub was open and has had a recent refurbishment. 
Kirkless Hall Inn

The Kirkless Hall Inn stands out among the late 20th century housing estate. It is a large black and white mock Tudor building. The inside is just as unusual as the outside. The decor is best described as 1970s London underground. The seats and carpet have a definite retro appeal, bringing back memories of coach trips in the 1980s.  Either it had recently been refurbished like this or the pub is in some sort of Life on Mars time warp. But it was all clean and new and the barman was friendly. There are two rooms with a central bar serving both. We sat in the bright canal side room which has framed photos of canal boats. On the other side of the bar is the pool room which had the TV on. The pub does food, nothing too pretentious, baked potatoes, sandwiches, soup etc; only the steak was over £5.00. Even the black pepper on the tables had a 1970s air about it. In a good way. I was pleased to see a bit of Christmas decoration hanging from the ceiling. Its something I always look for in a pub. Next time you go to the pub check the ceilings in the corners of the room, there will be a bit of tinsel or shiny plastic stuck there with sticky tape or a drawing pin. We were the only people on this side of the pub, the other side seemed to be favourite with locals. I know my place, I am just a passing tourist and will sit where I should. It would be interesting to know how this pub looked in the 1890s when the canal was still busy and the area was a hive of industry. 
With the light going we decided to call it a day and head back to Liverpool. Hopefully the next time I go reviewing pubs the sun will be shining. 

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