Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

I have come to realise that I feel more at home on the road than anywhere else.  Consequently I am loving life in the Northern Premier League West and the travelling opportunities it presents to have adventures in my home county of (Oh Lanky Lanky/Lanky Lanky Lanky Lanky) Lancashire.  The Atherton Collieries match was brought forward to a previously blank Saturday where I already had plans in place – so I latched on the match and away I went.

On the Friday I had arranged a visit to the Fylde Coast for the Fleetwood Beer Festival.  Now one of the side-effects of my diet (I’ve lost a stone now, by the way – woohoo!) is that I have drastically cut down on the amount of alcohol I am consuming; however I didn’t want to let my friend down for this pre-arranged trip, so I went along anyway.  Basically I don’t need much of an excuse to spend time by the seaside and it’s hardly a chore.  Now the train from Birmingham to Blackpool is very expensive these days (upwards of £60) so I took the scenic route: the Megabus from Birmingham to Manchester for £2.48 (using my student discount), on foot across Manchester then the train to Blackpool for under £20.  Much easier on the pocket and the added bonus of extra travel time, which I always put to good use reading, writing, studying, relaxing and people-watching.  The Megabus service is much-improved from when I used it a few years ago, with the buses of a good quality with free wifi and a toilet and departing (almost) on time.  And quite how they can afford to run at those prices is beyond me – but I wasn’t going to complain.  I had a 45 minute connection time at Piccadilly and, after impulse-buying a hat (I was going to the Home of Rain tomorrow, after all), I spent half an hour in the lounge inventing stories about the people returning from their holidays on the train from Manchester Airport, which kept me amused.

My friend collected me from Poulton-le-Fylde station and we headed to the Marine Hall for the Fleetwood Beer Festival.  Only now did she think to tell me that she wasn’t presently drinking for medical reasons.  Hence we were meeting up to go to a beer festival and neither of us were really drinking.  Later on I did query why she hadn’t thought to mention this earlier, but she was adamant that she wanted to go to the festival anyway because it was a good occasion with a great atmosphere.  We got to thinking if it was possible to brew a non-alcoholic beer (like a mild or a bitter, not lager) and how such a drink would probably go down a storm at beer festivals for those who can’t drink alcohol, are designated drivers or who simply don’t wish to drink alcohol. Still, in the absence of any such thing, I got down to sampling the real ales (it would have been rude not to) – the highlight being the North Riding Milk Chocolate Stout.

The sea was wild today and we were drawn to the window looking out to sea and were mesmerised by the rampant waves.  We could have stood here all day, however one of the joys of a beer festival is the socialising and I had other friends to meet up with (some I already knew, some I was to meet today).  We were only there for a few hours but a very pleasant time was had by all.

Having had an early night in front of the box watching Coronation Street, I awoke at 6am bright and breezy – but not half as bloody breezy as Blackpool!  I affixed my new hat firmly to my head (and my hand firmly to my new hat) and battled my way to the tram stop.  How I love a bit of weather – and the exhilaration of the fresh sea gales doesn’t half blow away the cobwebs and feel mightily refreshing.  I was taking the coach to Wigan this morning and arrived at Blackpool Coach Station a good 40 minutes before the coach was due to depart.  Now any normal person would have found a caff to shelter in (or just arrived later), but I opted to sit in the bus shelter, where it was frankly still freezing and blustery.  After half an hour I found myself knocking plaintively on the door of the coach (which had been sat there all along) in the hope that the National Express driver would take pity on the bedraggled creature in front of him and let me board early.  He did.  Indeed the driver was most friendly and we ended up chatting awhile until we set off and I buried my head in my book.

Soon enough we were pulling up in Wigan.  Ah lovely Wigan.  I just can’t get enough of the place and visit at every opportunity.  I thanked the driver and disembarked, skipping off to The Station Cafe for breakfast.  Now this is where I always take breakfast in Wigan, as the cafe is handily located by the railway stations.  Whilst researching the cafe online to see if there were any diet-friendly options on the menu, I happened across an amusing TripAdvisor review of said cafe, detailing how a disgruntled customer had pretty much hurled his food round the cafe.  I confess I was hoping to witness a repeat performance on my visit today, but alas everyone was happy with their food.  I treated myself to a full English breakfast and a brew, which went down a treat. I was probably in and out in 15 minutes, so efficient was the service and so ravenous was I, which meant I had 40 minutes to kill before my bus to Atherton.  Hmm – time for a bit more exploring?  Oh yes!  I headed to the Museum of Wigan Life, which was every bit the treat I expected from this wonderfully quirky town.  Amongst the highlights were a dodo, Emu (of Rod Hull fame), a Dalek and some knitted pies.  I bloody love Wigan, I do!

The bus stop to Atherton was just across the road and within half an hour I was strolling up to the Skuna Stadium, home of the Colls.  I learned that the stadium sponsor was a local brewery and I liked it here already.  I had arrived early and the ground appeared deserted.  I conducted my now customary toilet review for Non League Toilets on Twitter (@nonleaguetoilet) and somehow managed to resist the urge to change the scoreboard to read Colls 0 Visitors 6 before heading into the clubhouse, where I found people and tea.  This was a lovely warm club and I enjoyed my visit very much (result notwithstanding).  Bonus points were awarded for the grub on offer at the refreshment kiosk – corned beef lobby with beetroot and red cabbage (I resisted the bread and butter accompaniment for diet reasons, although that would have mopped it up a treat).  I was also interested to hear they were offering Bovril with added black pepper – I must try that.

I headed home on the club coach to complete the circuit home – now tired and bedraggled with no points in my overnight bag but, as always, plenty of stories and friends collected along the way.  Thank you, The North – I look forward to visiting you again very soon.  Stay tuned for details of my forthcoming adventures in deepest Lancashire…