Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

Every Witch Way But Booze

When the fixtures came out last summer, I singled out Clitheroe for a weekend away.  Why?  Because it’s a corner of Lancashire that I had yet to explore – and it is the home of Bowland Brewery.  When we played Clitheroe at home and I was alerted to the fact that there was a hotel at the brewery, I immediately booked up for the weekend, praying that the fixture wouldn’t be postponed or rescheduled, but resolving to go anyway even if it was. Happily, it wasn’t.

I set off the day before the match and I was feeling a little grouchy, having failed to secure tickets for Blackpool’s ‘homecoming’ match on the telephone the day before.  I had forgotten how stressful it can be buying (or attempting to buy) tickets (for anything).  Mercifully an early morning call today secured my ticket and saved me having to make a diversion via the BFC ticket office.  By the time I boarded the train to Manchester Piccadilly my agitation had been superseded by excitement at the prospect of returning to Bloomfield Road for the first time in I don’t know how many years.  I was even civil to the woman insisting I was in her seat (I wasn’t).  I tucked into the bagful of healthy food I had acquired for the journey, determined to at least start the weekend on the right foot.

As always I was armed with a map, which revealed that Clitheroe was a compact town, with pretty much everything situated around the castle.  With little walking on the agenda, I decided to at least walk across Manchester to Victoria, where I was to board my connecting train to Clitheroe.  As I approached the station, I passed the imposing structure that is the National Football Museum and made a mental note to factor a visit there into one of my future Northern adventures.  Entering the season I was greeted by a massive pie stall and a bee statue from last summer’s ‘Bee In The City’ trail.  The Northern Rail service was (a) actually running and (b) on time, which made for a pleasant and relaxing journey.  

In order to get the best out of my weekends away, I like to research them in advance.  Whilst at Manchester Beer Festival in January, I spotted a man sporting a ‘Clitheroe Beer Festival’ t-shirt and promptly cornered him and whipped out my notebook and pen.  In terms of the top watering holes in Clitheroe, he recommended Bowland Beer Hall (with a copious number of handpulls), New Inn and Ale House (micropub).  He also recommended getting off the train a stop early and venturing into Whalley, a village with ‘at least three’ alehouses situated in close proximity.  The fact that I wrote this down as ‘Warley’ in my notebook was the first sign of the fading of my Lancashire roots that was to haunt me this weekend.  Anyway, I duly disembarked at Whalley in search of the first pubs of the day.

My first port of call was The Swan Hotel, where the food smelled amazing (although I was now full).  I managed to talk myself out of having a Bowland Hen Harrier (one of my favourites), as I suspected there would be much of this to follow over the course of the weekend.  Unfortunately, however, the Timothy Taylor Boltmaker that I ordered had just gone, so I ended up with the Hen Harrier anyway.  The other options were Bowland Boxer Blonde and Bowland Pheasant Plucker.  Despite the comfort of the sofa opposite the bar, this was only a flying visit, as I wanted to cram in as much as possible today.

Next stop was De Lacy Arms just across the road.  This pub had an impressive range of Roy Porter’s pies on sale: mince & onion, steak, lamb & mint, cheese & onion, chicken & mushroom and meat & potato.  I was pleased I had filled up on food before arriving here.  I sensed this weekend was not going to be good for my diet.  The beers available here were Thwaites Wainwright, Coach House Blueberry Bitter (mmm one of my favourites), Bowland Hen Harrier and Saltaire Blonde.  This was a good beer weekend already!

The Dog Inn warranted a special mention from my Clitheroe Beer Correspondent, so I deliberately saved this til last – and boy was I not disappointed.  Beers available here were Doghouse Citra, Big Clock Bitter & Twisted IPA, Bank Top Palomino Rising, Brewsmith Oatmeal Stout, Malinsons Ekuanot and Vocation American Red.  The food here also smelled amazing and just as I was salivating over the specials board wondering if I was actually hungry now, the menus were snatched away as the kitchen was closing.  Probably just as well.  I settled back with a selection of Lancashire tourist magazines under the watchful gaze of a stuffed fox baring his teeth (was he hungry too?).  This was a lovely, warm, welcoming, quirky pub that I could have happily stayed in all day; however Clitheroe was now calling and I made my way back to the station to jump on the hourly train to Clitheroe.

I took a different route back to the station, which took me past Whalley Abbey and Whalley Viaduct, both of which were impressive structures (the viaduct in particular is breathtaking and I almost missed my train as I slowed my walk to a halt to view and photograph it).  Happily I boarded the train safely and scoffed my salad on the 8-minute hop to Clitheroe.  I had considered walking from Whalley to Clitheroe but have now discovered that Google Maps does in fact indicate inclines – and it is uphill most of the way, which was the deciding factor in my getting the train.

Immediately on exiting the station I was greeted with the sight of a tall smoking chimney.  Transfixed, I headed towards it – and only noticed five minutes down the road that I was heading in the opposite direction to my home for the weekend: Holmes Mill.  I consulted Google Maps to get back on course and soon enough the impressive mill conversion was in my sights.  The hotel – The Spinning Block – is simply stunning.  I smiled at the flamingo wallpaper in reception as I checked in, before heading up to my room, which was spacious and clearly a lot of love had gone into fitting it out.  With its walk-in shower and comfiest of comfy beds, this truly was a lovely place to stay.  I chuckled as I noticed the view from my window was a ginnel.  How wonderfully Lancashire.

But now it was time to consult the map and explore Clitheroe.  My first port of call was The Horseshoe Inn – which set the bar high and was to prove my favourite pub of the day.  The beer choice was Big Clock Bitter & Twisted IPA, Bowland Pheasant Plucker, Bank Top Flat Cap and Small World Thunderbridge Stout.  I took a seat on a sofa at the rear of the bar and very much enjoyed observing the locals.

‘They batter everything in Scotland.  Even Mars bars!  They’re not reet.  I tried haggis once.  Not fer me, that.  Ugh!’

‘Were it out o’season though?’

‘Out o’season?  Do they…?  Oh…you’re pulling me leg.’

Dear reader I could have spent the entire evening here earwigging, but my map wasn’t going to complete itself, so I reluctantly tore myself away.

New Inn had a good range of beers – Elland White Prussian, Prospect Whatever Next! (a Wigan beer with an exclamation mark!), Moorhouses Blonde Witch, Coach House Farriers Best Bitter, Reedley Hallows Beer O’Clock, Moorhouses White Witch, Coach House Blonde Ale Moorhouses Premier and Moorhouses Pride of Pendle – but I could again not see further than the Coach House Blueberry Bitter. This was a cosy multi-roomed pub with a good local feel – and I can see why it was recommended as the ‘old favourite’. 

Inn At The Station was more of a foody pub, to the extent that I felt the need to seat myself at the bar, rather than at a table laid out for dinner.  I enjoyed a half of Thwaites Wainwright, but other beers on sale here were Sadlers Peaky Blinder and Thwaites Lancaster Bomber. 

I made The Ale House my final call of the evening, as I can often find micropubs somewhat difficult to leave.  This was a very friendly pub, with a good range of beers and some top tunes being played. The cask beers were Harviestoun Schiehallion, Small World Barncliffe Bitter (my choice), Goose Eye Chinook (never heard of them but this was a Champion Beer of Britain finalist in 2017), Beer Monkey Blonde and Small World Thunderbridge Stout; and on tap were Beavertown Neck Oil and Vocation Vienna IPA. 

Now it was time for a chippy tea, so I headed to Castle Chippy, which had been recommended by two different sources. I’d been eating sensibly all day but I was on holiday after all. Not being completely ravenous, I stuck with my chippy snack of choice: chips and gravy. In retrospect it was probably a good idea not to peruse the menu boards when I was in there, else I might well have been in there all night! Haggis, black pudding, spam fritter, black peas, John Bull filled dabs (what?), battered Mars bar, jalapeño and cheese balls, rag pudding, spam butties… Oh my! What a menu! I wonder if they do buffets…

Although it was still early in the evening, I headed back to Holmes Mill to settle in and enjoy my room for the night. With my food discipline seemingly left behind in a pub somewhere, I immediately tucked into the biscuits and hot chocolate before settling down into bed to watch Corrie. Dear reader, my day had been so exciting, I had been so out of practice at drinking – and the bed was oh so comfy…I fell asleep halfway through Corrie. Lightweight? Moi? Yes, I confess! But I’d had such a great day – with more exploring to follow tomorrow…

Despite having originally planned to stay over another night, I calculated that, if I was suitably organised on Saturday morning, I could ‘complete’ Clitheroe – and take the team coach home after the match, saving much travel time and therefore making the most of Sunday. I woke feeling refreshed after a cosy lengthy night’s sleep, enjoyed a walk-in shower (top marks for The Spinning Block) and headed out for breakfast. I had planned to take breakfast at the bistro at Holmes Mill, but I was unable to make a reservation online, assumed it was fully-booked and tapped Callooh! Callay into Google maps – for how could I resist a cafe with a name like that (exclamation mark notwithstanding)? Research reveals that the name comes from Lewis Carroll’s poem ‘Jabberwocky’, which featured in his novel ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’. I did spy an endearing Alice-themed teapot in said cafe. I ordered the small English breakfast and was confused when the waitress asked if I would like ‘white or brown sauce’.  I thought that was a very odd question and answered ‘brown’, because who has white sauce with their breakfast?  It wasn’t until my breakfast was delivered and I was again asked if I wanted sauce, that it dawned on me that she had asked if I had wanted ‘white or brown toast’.  Was I failing to understand the language of my home county now?  Have I been away too long?  Not only that, but I then failed to notice the fried bread (mmm fried bread…) on the menu until I’d finished eating. In retrospect, this was again probably a Very Good Thing for my diet. But what was the matter with me today?

As I continued on my busy morning of missions, my attention was grabbed by a delightful little art shop, Imagine Art, which I simply could not walk past. Dear reader, I could have bought the shop! And this before I discovered that the owner was from Blackpool. The paintings, prints and sculptures were largely animal-based (I like to fill my house with animals) – and there was a painting of Blackpool beach that was particularly alluring. There were birds carved out of wood and cats and dogs and bees and…oh! I eventually settled on a print of donkeys to remind me of home. This was carefully wrapped for me in brown paper and I skipped off down the hill (have I mentioned how hilly Clitheroe is?) very happy with my impulse buy – a souvenir of what was proving to be a most enjoyable weekend. 

Back at Holmes Mill, I housed the donkeys safely in my room before heading down to the Bowland Beer Hall. Now, dear reader, if the above has not been enough to convince you to book a trip to Clitheroe post haste, then this paragraph ought to do the trick! I had an inkling from recommendations received that this place was going to be good. But oh my! I was not prepared for what I saw! Immediately on entry, my attention was naturally drawn by the enormous island bar occupying the centre of the room. My jaw already on the floor, I prowled slowly round the bar…and by the time I had finished my circuit I had lost count of how many beers there were! However I was armed with my trusty camera, so I am able to report them all for you here (you don’t think I remember all these beers, do you?). (Sharp intake of breath): Bowland Dragon Glass, Wishbone Black Porter, Harbour Beavertown Puppy Porter, Severn Brewing Chocolate Stout (decision made, but carry on regardless), Neptune Tetramagia, Ilkley Stout Mary (hmm…), Neptune Hophurst Age of Aquarius, Wilde Child Disturbing the Distracted, Wilde Child Chasing Epiphany, Farm Yard Ales Blood Orange Pale Ale, Rosie’s Pig Raspberry Roller (real cider), Rosie’s Pig Flat Tyre (real cider), Bowland Bumble Honey Beer, Bowland Boxer Blonde, Bowland Buster, Bowland Pheasant Plucker, Bowland Gold, Bowland Hen Harrier, Fell Harbour Fog, Wishbone Blonde, Bowland Billy, Sharps Doom Bar, Lister’s Best Bitter, Beer Brothers True Brit, Saltaire Chinook, Nightjar Lost in Ikea, Wishbone Drover, Rooster Yankee, Beer Brothers Engine Room No. 2, Salopian Hop Twister, Navigation Splendor, Bingley North South Divide, Ilkley Lotus and Salopian Golden Thread.  I make that 34.  Frankly I was too exhausted after that circuit of the bar to pay too much attention to the beers in the fridges, but trust me, they were exciting too.  Chocolate stout soon in hand, I went to take a seat…but couldn’t stay still because this place was simply captivating.  I wandered around the various rooms taking photograph after photograph of the award-winning decor, the brewery itself, the mill equipment (Thornber Mill was formerly situated here) and the Beano Books (ah they took me back!).  This place truly is a spectacle not to be missed – and worth making a special visit to.  Of course I had to stay for one more in the comfort of a sofa once I had completed my tour, so I sat back and relaxed with an Ilkley Stout Mary, contemplating what a wonderful place Clitheroe is.

But no rest for the wicked!  There were more adventures to be had.  Now it was time to head up to Clitheroe Castle.  I navigated my way off the road and climbed up towards the castle, looking forward to the views.  It was not a steep climb – and boy was it worth it!  The views were spectacular, including a fine view of Pendle Hill, home of the Pendle Witch Trials.  I was wary of going too far in that direction, having been convicted of witchcraft myself on two occasions (at Blackpool Tower Dungeon and Warwick Castle Dungeon).  There is a museum at the castle, which I had intended to visit, but did not on this occasion.  I was running out of time!  Had I embarked on the dinosaur hunt and attempted the labyrinth, I feared I would not make the match this afternoon (beer + labyrinth = recipe for disaster).  I therefore headed back to Holmes Mill to reluctantly check out of an exquisite hotel in a delightful town.

And finally, on to the football at the home of Clitheroe Football Club, Shawbridge, where I was warmly greeted, as I am coming to expect on these visits to Lancashire.  I took a stroll around the ground to get my bearings, made my obligatory toilet review for @nonleaguetoilet (bit dark, but exciting Milk & Fig handwash), chuckled at the excellent slopes on the pitch, then settled down in the boardroom with a brew and some chocolate biscuits (oh hang the diet!).  This excellent weekend was of course not going to be spoiled by the football – and Chasetown came out 3-0 victors.  

Now with three points in my overnight bag, I felt it was the correct decision not to push my luck and stay another night, so I stowed them (and myself) away on the Chasetown FC coach, for a happy trip down the M6.  Within a few hours I arrived home content after yet another thoroughly enjoyable weekend in Lancashire.  Thank you, my red rose.  Why oh why did I ever leave you…?

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