Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

Imbibing Beside The Seaside

Blackpool has seen somewhat of a real ale revolution since I was last there on a regular basis for the football – so I decided a research mission was in order to find out exactly where the best place might be for the real ale supping Seasiders to enjoy a pre-match pint or two. 

I was on the train again today but, given that the nearest train stations to me are at Chasewater, a heritage railway closed to passengers and the national rail network, I first needed a bus to get to the train. On the bus I continued work on my latest OU assignment and was in Birmingham in a flash. I called in at M&S, which had been reorganised, so I found some new diet-friendly snackage, picking up some chilli & coriander prawns, falafels, ham and fruit. As always, the day began with good intentions. I took my seat on the Glasgow train, tucked into my breakfast and again immersed myself in my studies. The man seated in front of me was snoring away (I often find the sound of snoring quite relaxing when I’m not trying to sleep myself) – but he was shaken awake by a woman leaning across the aisle from the table opposite. I wondered if (a) she actually knew him; or (b) we were sitting in the Quiet Coach. Perhaps all would be revealed later in the journey (it was, as she chastised him for not wanting to sit next to her, for which I didn’t blame him – and deduced they were married). This was a Virgin Train and the WiFi proved inferior to CrossCountry Trains; I also couldn’t find a charging point, so my phone battery was draining quickly, as I was using my hotspot for WiFi.  I changed at Preston and I seemed to land at Blackpool North in no time at all (2h15 from Birmingham, which is pretty good). 

It was raining quite heavily on the Fylde Coast but I’m not one for resorting to an umbrella unless I’m practically drowning, so that stayed firmly rooted at the bottom of my handbag. I trotted down Talbot Road, picking up my friend Karen along the way, who was sheltering in a bus shelter, before calling in at the first pub of the day, The Washington. This pub has much improved its beer range in recent years – and there were a whopping nine on sale today: Bowland Pheasant Plucker, Morland Old Speckled Hen, Black Edge Kiwi, Greene King Abbot Ale, Hawkshead Sundown, Lancaster Tales from the Brewhouse Limited Edition No II American Red Ale, Moorhouses Pendle Witches Brew, Ruddles Best and Greene King IPA. The snooker was on the tv and I remembered that Blackpool’s James Cahill was playing his second round match at The Crucible today. We asked if they could switch over to that match but by the time the big screen had been pulled down, hitting me on the head in the process, it was regrettably time to move on. We had a lot of pubs to get through today. When the list was originally compiled there were nine pubs on it. Since then, another two had opened – and only this morning another was suggested to add to our itinerary. Now on 12 to visit, there was no time to hang around. We bade our farewells to our friendly host and headed back out into the rain in the direction of a revamped old favourite. 

Formerly the Pump & Truncheon, a new, refurbished pub recently opened under the guise of No. 13 Bonny Street. I’d seen photos of the swanky interior – and heard horror stories of the beer prices, which seemed especially steep for Blackpool. On arrival here, Chris and Kev awaited us – and I had a half of Tiny Rebel Pango (peach and mango beer) on the table ready for me to sup (they know my tastes too well). The other beer they had on here was Fyne Ales Jarl – a fine ale indeed. After initial greetings, we were asked to guess how much it cost for two halves of beer. Suspecting it would be high, I guessed at £3.50…but was shocked to hear it was £5! Did they want my Tiny Rebel shirt off my back as well?! There is a locals discount of 10% apparently, but even so that’s an expensive pint of beer! We were confused as to the target market of the pub. If they were seeking expensive beer drinkers, I was surprised they had taken out the craft beer pumps, where they could have got away with charging such prices for Cloudwater and the like. But £5 for a regular strength cask ale?  Nice though it was (indeed one of the better beers I would have today), I’m not sure I could stomach too many of those. We supped up and moved on, already rueing our decision to skip Velvet Coaster (by dint of the weather ruling out the roof terrace and it being a bit out of the way), where our money would have stretched a lot further!

Because of the weather and time constraints, we were making use of the £5.50 Blackpool Transport day tickets today, taking buses between pubs. I left the navigation to the locals (it’s nice to just follow along sometimes, instead of always being in charge of logistics) and before long we were on a bus heading south. En route, someone mentioned that some buses now had tables upstairs. I was disappointed that photographic evidence wasn’t provided, but was advised to climb the stairs and take a look for myself. And there it was! A table ideal for playing cards or having a picnic. There were charging points too. Yay for Blackpool Transport! 

Our next stop was Waterloo Music Bar, which you know is our current Pub of Choice for home matches, following the demise of our former home, the Pump & Truncheon. Now this pub was previously unfamiliar to me, so I’m discovering more about it on each visit. Since my last visit, it had been announced that my favourite rock band, Buckcherry, were playing here later in the year. This blew my mind and speaks volumes for the growing reputation of this pub as one of the fastest growing UK music venues. As I eyed up the stage and mulled over where I was going to stand at the gig (the stanchion by the bar looks favourite), Karen shouted: ‘Come on Jane, get on stage and give us a poem!’ (I’ve recently started reading out my poetry at open mics). I was urged by the barman to go into the gents toilets to have a look at them while there was no-one in there. Whilst not quite the Grade II listed marble urinals I was forcibly thrust through the door to view by a man at the Philharmonic in Liverpool, here the urinals were crafted from metal beer kegs. I must say the ladies facilities here won the day, with a drumkit underneath the sinks, pennies lining the floor and female rock icons lining the cubicle walls. I took a walk round the pub and found some football flags and shirts on the ceiling in the back room, including a couple from Blackpool FC. Also noticed for the first time today were the stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Battle of Waterloo.  A very interesting pub this. The regular beers on here are Camerons Road Crew Motörhead American IPA, Cross Bay Setantii and Sharps Doom Bar. 

Next stop was No. 10 Alehouse. Now this was a place I knew to be good, having visited last summer ahead of the Britney Spears concert on the Tower Headland. The beers on today were Saltaire South Island, Acorn Idaho 7 IPA, No 10 Blonde Ale (not sure who brews this, but I’ll find out), Bowness Swan Black and Beer Brothers Sinatra. Here we all completed forms for locals discount cards (ssh!), which offered a good discount to the not-obscene prices. I was disappointed that we were too early for food here as the Thai menu had come recommended and sounded delicious – although I’d have needed another drink while I decided between the massaman curry, panang curry, Thai fish cakes with sweet chilli dip, stir fried beef and ginger, Thai red curry, Thai green curry…oh my I wanted everything! Realising I was torturing myself by looking at the menu – and before I started actually salivating – I shifted my eyes to the pub decor, which included lots of BFC memorabilia (including match programmes) and some great old pictures of Blackpool, including The Winter Gardens in 1895. Top pub this. Do visit. 

Although The Saddle Inn was only a short walk away, the rain was coming down more forcibly now, so I strode down the road at pace. I couldn’t help but call in at the chippy en route for a snapshot of the menu. Hmm they had haggis – and I can’t get that at home. I was mulling this over when the others caught up with me in the pub. The beer offerings here were Jennings Cumberland, Sharps Doom Bar, Batemans St George’s Glory, Wells Bombardier and Bass. There’s a beer festival on here from 24-27 May so get yourselves down here! The food smelled delicious (can you tell I’m hungry now?) and the menu (offering two meals for £7.99 or £8.99) featured pub classics as well as cauliflower dhansak curry and Thai lentil pie. Here again were pictures on the wall featuring Blackpool from yesteryear, including the open air swimming pool on the front next to South Pier from 1932. This pub has a blue plaque at the front, dating the building to 1776 and stating that it was the ‘oldest continuously licensed premises in Blackpool.’ I used to frequent this multi-roomed ‘proper pub’ with my Seasider colleagues ahead of Tuesday night matches – and it was here that Birdy taught me how to solve cryptic crossword clues, as we mused over the Telegraph crossword (a pastime I later continued on awaydays with a fellow Midlands Seasider, Chris). 

But now of course it was time for a hearty lunch, a vital ingredient of any pub crawl. We headed back to Saddle Chippy. By now I was dead set on the haggis and ordered it with chips and gravy. Dear reader, the portion was enormous! Indeed there weren’t any mini portions on the menu here (my standard chippy order consisting of a mini fish or a small portion of chips). My open tray was piled high with chips, gravy, THREE battered haggis fritters…and more gravy (the latter at my request). Blimey – I was hungry but I’d never eat all that! I offloaded one of the haggis pieces onto Chris, who was struggling to find the bread underneath the mountain of chips on his chip butty. I did, however, manage to eat the rest because it was absolutely delicious! Top marks for chips and gravy – and the haggis was divinely spicy and flavoursome. This is now officially my new favourite chippy in Blackpool. I heartily recommend a pre-match visit to Whitegate Drive for beers at the No. 10 and/or Saddle before picking up a chippy lunch to accompany you on your walk down Bloomfield Road. 

Next up was a late addition to our itinerary, Blackpool Cricket Club. I’d been here before for a beer festival and also to watch Lancashire play cricket (I don’t understand cricket, despite it being explained to me on the day, but it was a lovely sunny day and we were primely positioned by the Thwaites beer tent, which kept our thirst quenched with Wainwright’s all afternoon). Today the clubhouse was brimming with people – and it soon transpired that we had gatecrashed a wake, so we didn’t linger here. The beers on sale here were Cumbrian Legendary Ales Esthwaite Bitter, York Yorkshire Terrier, Hurricane Wantsum, Thwaites Wainwright and Gloucester Docks Gloucester Gold. 

As we walked back to the bus stop, we spotted a white cat in the window of a house. I paused to photograph the cat, pending a review for @thecatreviewer. I must have been standing there a full minute trying to figure out if this very still cat was actually alive or a fine example of taxidermy. I’d have stayed longer to find out but we had a bus to catch, so I snapped the cat (it was a great pose at least) and scampered off to catch up with the others. Kev insisted he had seen the cat move fractionally and we debated why anyone would consider placing a stuffed cat in their front window.  

A little further down the road a man crossed to our side, walking at pace – and my ears pricked up at the conversation he was having on his mobile:

‘I’ve broke my toes – and my knuckles are a right mess. That’s why I don’t drink vodka.’

Of course I wanted to get ahead of him so I could listen into the rest of this conversation but alas he turned the corner and we had a bus to catch. The Blackpool Transport app (and our navigator, Chris) was doing us proud today, with no more than a couple of minutes waited at any bus stop in between pubs. 

We were heading back into town now, our next stop The Brew Room – the pub where BFC was formed. This is a firm favourite of mine – and is never as busy as it ought to be. As we entered we were welcomed with a waft of smoked sausage (not tempting as we were stuffed after our chippy). We headed straight for the pump clips. On cask were Cross Bay The Single Hop #1, Anarchy Sublime Chaos, Northern Monkey Supera Moras, Dark Star Partridge and Tiny Rebel Hank, as well as the West Coast Rock Brewery favourites Oyston Stout, Wonky Donkey, Golden Mile and Tangerine Dream. There’s also a good selection of draft beer here, including Tiny Rebel Fubar, Magic Rock Saucery, Tiny Rebel Pump Up The Jam (jam doughnut pale ale – yummy!), Sanwald Hefe Weizen and Lost and Grounded Running With Sceptres (sharp intake of breath) AND two craft ciders: Northside Daybreak and Northside Shakermaker. It’s a cracking pub, this. There’s much homage to its history, both as a music venue, but also with lots of BFC memorabilia, including the fixtures from the 1887/88 season – as well as the Progress crest previously on the wall in the Pump & Truncheon (RIP), which was previously owned by the owner of The Brew Room, Robert Wynne – a man who knows how to do a good pub!  This the pub where I was first introduced to Cards Against Humanity, when my favourite barman (who wasn’t there today) gathered together a group of customers who were previously unknown to each other and insisted we all play. It’s not for the faint-hearted or easily offended but it’s a great game to play in the pub. I’ve even bought my own set of cards to take to the pub, which made for a great New Year’s Eve spent with a stranger with a Norman Bates doll, who did impersonations of Spit the Dog (the woman, not the doll) and bought us shots. 

Speaking of puppets, the next pub was home to Punch & Judy, a crocodile and a string of sausages: the wonderfully quirky (and quite well-hidden) micropub Albert Ale House. I love this place – and could easily spend hours here (just to listen to the variations on the comedy doorbell). Today the beer offerings were Crankshaft Propshaft, Snowhill Porter, Black Edge Kiwi, Cloudwater Red Wine BA Chocolate Porter and Squawk Crex. There was also a Red Bank Crackin’ Elderflower & Pear Cider. Quite how such a tiny pub manages to incorporate a stage, a snug, a bar and a food station (pork pies) I’m not sure but it doesn’t feel at all cramped. It’s a lovely little boozer – but be prepared to navigate steps to reach it. A firm favourite. 

Our next pit-stop was the new kid on the block: Imbibe Tap Room. I’d been eagerly anticipating this place opening for a few months, as it promised beers aplenty on cask, tap and in the fridge. Despite this pub’s excellent town centre location, we arrived to find just one customer in there, quietly reading his newspaper – and three cask ales: Timothy Taylor’s Hopical Storm, Rossendale Glen Top Pale and Fernandes Goldings Special. Despite numerous delays to the promised opening dates (going back into 2018), the fit out was not near complete and we thought this place would have benefited from waiting a little longer and arriving on the scene with a bang. It certainly has promise, but it’s not quite there yet. One to keep an eye on. 

Next call was Little Black Pug, which I happened across quite by accident on a previous visit. This is a converted school and the interior is really impressive. Beerwise, it had Old Mill Blonde Bombshell and Timothy Taylor’s Landlord – the latter being the first real ale that I drank regularly before my palate started demanding beers with more of a kick. My eyes were drawn to the shelf behind the bar, where a bottle of Kendal Mint Cake Vodka was winking at me. Of course I had to try a small glass. It didn’t have the warmth of vodka – but very definitely had the sugar of Kendal Mint Cake! There was a Gingerbread Vodka next to it, which might have tempted me on another day, but we still had some exploring to do today, so we moved on. 

We knew old faithful Layton Rakes wouldn’t let us down on the beer front. Good old Spoons (or is it a Lloyd’s Bar?). There were a good few beers here: Westerham British Bulldog, Naylors Velvet, Sharps Doom Bar, Greene King Abbot Ale, Coach House ClIPAty Hop, Ruddles Best and Arundel Pickled Mouse. We took a seat in the window and gazed on enviously at the family in the ‘waltzer’ seat, which we’d never been able to occupy because it was so popular.  We toyed with the idea of food – we needed to eat again really and it was teatime now – but we weren’t really hungry after our massive chippy lunch, plus we didn’t really fancy anything on the reduced menu, so we did without. 

Our final pub stop of the day was The Mitre, which offered Thwaites Wainwright’s and Fullers London Pride. This is a nice little pub, but the beer was by no means the best we’d had today. It’s a nice little pub though, if a little loud for our weary ears. Of course we were tiring now. 

Chris and Kev headed home and Karen and I headed across to Viva, where we had tickets to see Cannon & Ball (this show being actual purpose of my visit) who were still very entertaining despite their advancing years. I don’t need much of an excuse to visit Blackpool, as you know, and I do like to slot in the odd show occasionally. 

That night I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow and, before I knew it, the sun was glaring at me through the bedroom window. Where was I? What day was it? Where did I need to be? Answers: Fleetwood, Matchday, Chasetown. Best get moving then!

I was despatched at Poulton-le-Fylde station a comfortable ten minutes before the train to Preston was due…but one pulled up within a minute. Was this train going to Preston? Well that’s what the departure board says. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Why was no-one getting on this train? Oh never mind them, get on it, woman – and hope for the best!  Turned out it was the Preston train, so all was well. I engrossed myself in my studies again – being so busy lately that I absolutely must make practical use of travel time – breaking only to change trains at Preston and try to find an unoccupied unreserved seat on the train to Birmingham (I had an open return for some reason, with no seat reservation). I was mildly distracted by a couple of lads seated opposite me (I had a table seat) who were on their way to a match and cracking open bottles of cider (it was 9.30am). There was an accident with the bottle – and one lad ended up with cider spraying into his lap.  They disembarked at Crewe (I hadn’t caught what match they were going to) – and my attention switched to a woman with a screaming toddler, who tried to climb into the cider-soaked seat.

‘That’s right, you sit there. No! Don’t sit there! That seat’s wet. Come and sit here.’

I resumed my studies. 

‘No, you can’t sit on my lap because you’ve got a wet bum. That’s what happens when you don’t go when I sit you on the toilet.’

Hang on, but it’s ok for the toddler to sit on a train seat with a wet bum? That was all kinds of wrong and I shifted in my seat. Now distracted, I got to wondering if I could shave some time off my journey home by disembarking at Wolverhampton instead of Birmingham – and realised I could indeed. Fortunate bus connections at Wolverhampton and Walsall Bus Stations had me home an hour earlier than planned. Excellent stuff! I unpacked my overnight bag, changed into my end of season party frock, straightened my hair (in defiance of the forecast hurricane) and packed my Match Secretary toolkit of teamsheet, pen, weatherproof clipboard folder, laptop, spare captain’s armband in case of an emergency and Non League Dogs stickers and badges in case I met new dogs to interview for the match programme (I’m determined to make this a feature).

Chase v Radcliffe ended 2-0 on the final day of the Evo Stik West league season, I caught a bit of the snooker in the boardroom (bad luck, James – maybe next year?)…and then it was time for the end of season presentation night.  A great day and night was had by all – but we’re grateful of the break now. I’d forgotten how exhausting all this travelling was! Roll on the new season and my new car!  Join me next week for the final blast of the season…