Saturday, January 29, 2011

Canal Pub Reviews: Lancashire

As part of towpathtreks on going mission to visit the pubs of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal  we headed off to Lancashire. The first pub was Crooke Hall Inn in Standish Lower Ground near Wigan. We parked in the large car park behind the pub. On the canal there were a couple of boats on the move. The canal was frozen and the ducks were walking along on the ice. 
The Crooke Hall Inn has its back to the canal. In the car park which lies between the pub and the canal is an evil fibre glass tree for the children to play on and to inspire nightmares later. 
Unfortunately the pub was having a much needed refurb when we got there so we couldn't comment too much on the decor. The Cooke Hall Inn is an Allgate pub, a local Wigan brewers. It also had Phoenix Hop Sack. The lady at the bar was certainly friendly but the pub hadn't warmed up yet in temperature or atmosphere. I think we will have to go back when it has been done up and maybe on a Thursday evening when they have live folk music. 
Next on the list was Waters Edge at Appley Bridge. This is a modern pub with a large carpark. Its on the bankside of the canal with excellent views across the canal and the River Douglas valley.  Sadly I think the view is the best thing about the pub. The outside patio area is very nice, and if I had to come back it would be to sit outside in the sunshine. The inside looks like it hasn't been done up for a decade or two. They are obviously proud of their word processor and laminator; there are signs and notices all over the place. The menu is an impressive A3. The highlight of the visit was seeing Carl Baker on the TV playing for Coventry. We left as a horde of children ran to sit at the table next to us. The beer is nothing to write home about. Greene King.  
On to the next pub. The Ring O'Bells was shut and for sale so we headed straight off to the Slipway in Burscough. On the way through Burscough the Waterfront looked closed. Also the old canal depot buildings have gone and been replaced with a new development. Hard to judge it by just driving by though. 
The Slipway is a one room pub with Thwaites Wainwright on draught amongst others. The match on TV was drawing to a close, so I checked the Southport result and found to my delight we were beating York 4-0. 
We ate here, a steak for about a tenner and gammon for about seven quid. The food was good, nothing special. Nice and hot though. 
Maybe the best thing about the pub is the PacMan game by the door. Old Skool fun. 
Out of today's pubs I think Crooke Hall Inn is the one I would return to.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Canal Pub Review: Botany Bay, Whittle-Le-Woods, Adlington

After the walk along the towpath and having over done it on the thermals I was a bit warm and ready for a drink. We had parked at the Lock & Quay so planned to have lunch there. The pub building has been here a long time but only shows up on the 1920s OS map as a public house. It was once the Railway, a name that has gone along with the railway itself. If you stand on the canal bridge and look towards the Botany Bay mill you can see the remains of the railway bridge by the boatyard. Much of the railway embankment was wiped out by the motorway construction. And yet the canal remains so the pub has taken a more navigational name. 
While the outside of the pub looks like an old cottage the inside is newly refurbished. We went in and were the only customers in there. Last nights karaoke was being packed up, it seems to be popular here on Wednesdays and Saturdays. This was 1:45pm on a Sunday, the pub should be full of diners. We got our drinks and I stripped off a few layers. The only ale available was Bombardier, the rest were off, Black Sheep being one. There were 4 lagers on tap and John Smiths. Some more customers came in only to be told there was no food today. They left and we followed soon after. 
On the way to the Lock&Quay I noticed the Malthouse Farm. More of a restaurant with a travel tavern next door than a traditional pub maybe but worth a visit. The Premier Inn and restaurant are on the site of an old farm house. The outside is very smart, with some very nice patio furniture for sunnier days. Inside it is obviously more of a restaurant than a pub, well at Sunday lunchtimes anyway. We were taken to a table and told it was all table service. The interior is very smart. Like many newly refurbished canal pubs it has the grey wooden panels, brown leather chairs and old canal photographs. It might be a bit artificial but it does look smart and the photos are still interesting. The gents toilets were very nice too! 
Its a chain pub, owned by the "chef and brewer" pub company. The menu is pretty good, most things were between £7.50 and £10. We cheated and just had the starters and desserts. There were some draught ales, the Lancaster Blonde was judged to be very nice. Although the place was packed and the staff were busy they were very nice and friendly. While we were waiting for the food (which arrived very quickly, faster than the drinks in fact) I noticed that my iphone was showing it had a wifi connection. The pub has the Cloud so anyone with access to that can surf for free. And so I did. The pub gets bonus points for playing Frightened Rabbit on their piped music. 
The pub has special weekly food nights, vegetarian on Wednesdays,  curry and quiz nights on Thursdays and fish on Fridays. As chain pubs go it was a lot nicer than other pubs that could only be said to be "fayre" or those in which you might want to "eat beef".  This would be a nice place to stay as part of a canal trip or a good place to have an affair if you were in middle management with a Lexus and a secretary. It would certainly be a lovely place for a summer drink outside.
Adlington is not a million miles from Whittle-le-Woods but the Bridge is as far removed from the corporate class of the Malthouse Farm. The Bridge is a locals pub. It has two doors and we went in the "wrong" one, ending up in the pool room. We had to politely push past all the locals who were watching the Blackburn match on TV and head down to the other end of the pub to the empty room without a TV. Adlington must look to Blackburn for its football rather than Wigan or indeed Chorley. Its a Robinson's pub so can't be too bad, the Unicorn bitter was nice although being the driver I was bought the pinkest soft drink they had. At the end of the room we were in was last nights karaoke machine still set up. Children and dogs were welcome and there were as many sweets on sale at the bar as crisps. Its outside seats weren't as posh as the Malthouse but would be just as welcome on a rare hot summers day by the canal.
The Bridge pub is named after the canal bridge. The canal bridge is named after the White Bear pub. I couldn't find any white bears to ask who they were named after. 
Its hard to judge a pub on one visit but I would have no problem going back to any of today's pubs. The Malthouse Farm is more of a place for a meal than drink maybe.
Review the pubs on the canal pub guide

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Canal Walk: Botany Bay to Bridge 74A

One of the nice things about having my website about the Leeds and Liverpool Canal (and other canals) is the emails I get from people with their own interests. I have had emails from people interested in tunnels, water towersmilestones and World War Two defences. Today I got an email from someone with probably the most specific interest: Skew arch bridges. His interest was in Bridge 74A, a railway bridge between Adlington and Chorley on the former Lancaster Canal Southern Section, now the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Along with a lot of interesting information about skew arch bridges there was a request for a photo of bridge 74A for the wikipedia page. Not a problem. 
Botany Bay
The lucky coincidence was that I was planning to visit some canal pubs today, one in Adlington and a couple by Chorley. While in the area I could walk the mile and a half to bridge 74A and take a few photos. 
milepost

We arrived at Botany Bay at lunchtime but after a big breakfast we weren't hungry so what better way to work up an appetite than a walk on the canal. We parked in the car park of the Lock & Quay pub, formerly the Railway. We crossed the bridge and walked down the steep cobbles to the towpath. The towpath mud was still frozen making walking a bit easier.

Not far along we came across a half mile post, 45.5 miles from Pall Mall in Liverpool. I couldn't remember seeing this one before so took a photo. 

There has been a lot of vegetation cleared and trees felled on this section so there was the chance to find lost mileposts. 

Tree

By Bridge 77, Workhouse Bridge, there were some brand new houses. They were not here last time we visited this section. Much nicer than the workhouse that gave the bridge its name.  We were passed by the worlds fastest Border Collie, zooming along the towpath at incredible speeds. 

Workhouse Bridge


We crossed the aqueduct near Bridge 76, and soon reached our destination at Bridge 74A. A skewed arch allows a railway to cross a canal at an oblique angle. And bridge 74A certainly does that. 
I took some photos, hoping to get whatever details a skew arch fan would appreciate.  
Bridge 74A

Under a Skew Arch
Next to the bridge was a little steam boat.

little boat

With the bridge well photographed we headed back. On the way back I took a slight detour to photo the aqueduct from below. Its hard to get a decent photo of an aqueduct when you are stood on top of it. 
Canal Aqueduct

There are still some impressive mills in Lancashire, but they are a dying breed heading for extinction. 
Crosse Hall Mill (Cotton)
On the subject of bridges, canal bridges are numbered eg 78. New bridges built between the numbered ones are given a letter eg 78A. If a bridge was built between 78 and 78A it would (I think) be 78AA. And if a bridge was built between 78 and 78AA it would be 78AAA. 
bridge 78aaa
We had almost got back to Botany Bay when I noticed a quarter mile post, almost completely buried. This one is 45.75 miles from Liverpool. So in helping one man's obsession I was rewarded with two examples of my own. We got back to the pub and started to review. 

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. 

Sunday, January 02, 2011

IWA Rally 1972



This is one of our family home movies of my Dad and Grandad and Rikki the dog taking Dunkirk veteran Albatross to the IWA Rally in Lymm on the Bridgewater Canal in 1972 (before I was born). It is nice to see the number of wooden and fibreglass boats on the canal in the days before the plague of narrowboats.
The video shows Dean Locks and Pagefield Lock in Wigan and Barton Swing Aqueduct.