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Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

Carlisle United v Blackpool: Pubs in Penrith

Carlisle away in the leasing.com trophy. A small crowd for an unsexy cup competition at an old football ground on a Tuesday night. That’s exactly the kind of football match that I am particularly partial to. Usually. 

Now you know I always do my utmost to make the matchday experience as enjoyable as possible. This afternoon I started as I intended to continue by taking my first meal of the day at Saddle Chippy. I knew exactly what I was having without even looking at the menu. But I knew how large the portions were here – and frankly I wasn’t at all hungry, only eating because I knew my next course would be beer – so I tried in vain to manage my portion:

‘Can I have ONE battered haggis and a SMALL portion of chips please?’

‘Yes of course madam.’

‘Ooh and gravy please.’

‘Do you want the gravy in a pot on the side?’

‘No – all over please!’

He nodded his approval, I paid for my breakfast/brunch/lunch and remained standing at the counter, as a fellow customer was manspreading across the entire indoor seating area. I engaged in a spot of earwigging. 

‘I love the red phone box where the floor gives way and you fall into a hidden bar.’

‘What? Where is this please? I need to go!’

‘Beatherder. It’s in Yorkshire somewhere.’

Ah yes! I’d heard of that festival – the Lancashire Hotpots play there. Might just have to give that one a visit next summer!

As my chips were being generously scooped into a tray, I piped up:

‘That’s plenty, thanks!’

He continued scooping. I sighed. 

As he went to pile the second battered haggis on the mountain of chips, I found my voice a little louder:

‘Just the one haggis please!’

‘Oh. But it comes with three.’

‘No please – just the one. I’ll never eat all that as it is.’

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I didn’t, but I made a bloody good go of it. This meal is quite delightful and made for a fine start to my travels today. 

Next stop was the Saddle Inn practically next door (the pub where I learned to do cryptic crosswords). Here I was meeting my friend Mark for a beer. We both enjoyed more than a pint of the lush Coach House Gunpowder Premium Mild – an absolute steal at £1.95 a pint. 

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In here we were force-fed a buffet quite possibly left over from a recent funeral. I helped myself to a tuna sandwich (half white bread, half brown bread) and was encouraged to take more. I explained that I’d just been to the chippy. Not that that stopped the lady returning within minutes with a tray of pork pie and sausage roll. This time I helped myself to the tomato garnish. When she returned with yet another tray of sandwiches I had to say no.

‘Have the tomato. You like tomatoes.’

Oh all right – if you insist!

Before she had time to come round again with cake, we made a discreet exit to wait outside for the BSA / Leyland & Chorley Seasiders supporters coach. There were a few others already waiting, basking in the sunshine at the bus stop. It sure was looking like a beautiful day. What could possibly go wrong…?

The clouds began to close in the further north we headed up the M6. I was now very much in snacking mode, so soon polished off the packet of crisps and biscuits I’d grabbed from Snackage Corner on my way out of the house. 

We were stopping at Penrith on the way to Carlisle. I hadn’t been to Penrith before, so I was excited to explore the town. We were despatched just by The Dog Beck, the Wetherspoons. This pub looked delightfully quaint from the outside. When we stepped inside it was like entering the TARDIS – it was surprisingly spacious. I was also delighted to see that we had arrived during the Wetherspoons Real Ale Festival. Ooh what a treat! I placed my order for a third of each of the three different festival ales on offer here this afternoon: Carlisle Bell, Belhaven Barn Dancer and Alesmith Nut Brown. Now following my visit to Accy’s Spoons the other week, I gave the chain some feedback via their app, requesting that guest ales be added to their app in addition to the regular ales. I was delighted to see that the festival ales were indeed offered via the app, according to a sign on the pump clips. I decided to check. 

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Hmm. Not quite up to date, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Local resident and fellow Seasider Ian joined us here – together with his canine companion, Solomon. I joined them outside and we got chatting to some locals who volunteered at Penrith FC, who play at Step 5 of the National League System. We agreed it was incredibly hard for clubs to function at that level, but it is such fun and so rewarding to be involved with non league football. 

Having already tried all the beers I wanted to try here (none of which were tempting me back for more – indeed one was almost undrinkable, although I forced it down), we followed Ian and Solomon to the next pub: Board & Elbow. 

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As soon as we walked through the door I was hit in the face by a specials board screaming BEEF MADRAS. Now I only have to see or hear the word curry (or a hyponym thereof) and I NEED one. So of course I ordered one to accompany my Timothy Taylor Golden Best. 

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And very nice it was too! Solomon agreed, as he enjoyed the naan bread and chips (I stuck to the curry and rice). The highlight of this pub was the hand-drier in the toilets. It was like one of those Dysons that you dip your hands into, but it was a different brand and it had lots of little jets of air emanating from little holes in the dryer. I’d have taken a photo for you but I didn’t have my phone with me. You’ll just have to visit yourself when you’re next in Penrith. 

As we made our way to the next pub (who knew where – I was very much in ‘follow’ mode), Solomon was invited into a shop by a friendly lady who seemed to know him. It was his grooming parlour – and his mistress had invited him in for treats. Good boy Solomon raised his paw in thanks whenever he was offered food. 

The final pub for us in Penrith was Fell – and we’d definitely left the best for last here. Check out this beer board:

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I went for the Fell Crag. Funny enough, Mark had only commented on the way up how he rarely saw brown ale on cask – and up here we were practically swimming in the stuff! And very nice it was too (apart from the dubious one in Spoons). Here Solomon continued to play out his role of local celebrity, posing for photographs and encouraging questions. Solomon is a Leonberger, a German breed. Ian enlightened us that Leonbergers helped out in the trenches during the war and almost died out afterwards, as all things German waned in popularity. A breeding programme in the 1960s saved them from extinction – and we are thankful for that and for our friend Solomon. 

I enquired if Solomon was coming to the game and Ian remarked that he wouldn’t be allowed. I wasn’t so sure about this. I once knew of a dog who had a season ticket at Scarborough back in their Football League days. I also see dogs aplenty at non league grounds. Why shouldn’t dogs be allowed entry to league games? I urged Ian to make a phone call and enquire. What did he have to lose?  We went our separate ways now as Mark and I headed back to the supporters coach to take us the rest of the way to Brunton Park.  

The concourse and stand at Carlisle United’s ground were sparsely populated tonight as expected. I didn’t have to queue for my bottle of water. I didn’t need to buy any sweets either, as I had a pocketful which I’d stocked up from Snackage Corner the night before. I have asked Lee to stop buying sweets because I simply cannot stop eating them. To be fair to him, he has started putting them on a high shelf when he goes out so I can’t reach them (I’ve tried).

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I was delighted to see Solomon had made it into the ground (he’s not difficult to spot) and he was proudly sporting his Blackpool scarf. What a dog. Of course he did very well out of the wares from the refreshment kiosk and offered his thanks in his usual paw-aloft manner. 

Oh the football wasn’t great, dear reader. As is so often the case in these crappy cup competitions, it reached the stage whereby I frankly didn’t care who scored, as long as I didn’t have to endure a minute longer of football that I had to. Because draws aren’t allowed in the leasing.com trophy – penalties would ensue if the scores were level after 90 minutes. And let’s face it we all just want to go home ASAP if the match is terrible – never more so than midweek away from home when you have to get up for work the next morning. So when Carlisle got the winner, frankly I wasn’t bothered. I just wanted to go home.

The coach journey home was of course twice as long as the trip up through the stunning Lake District. I tried to catch up on Corrie to pass the time, only to find it hadn’t been on for a week (I’m guessing owing to the football). I wasn’t in the mood for reading. And I’d forgotten I had this blog to write. So I spent the entire journey watching the clock. Tick tock. Tick tock. 

Shortly before landing back in Blackpool, Lee had uploaded the video of tonight’s trip. I’d been sending him footage of all my adventures and he had been busy editing while I was at the match. This teamwork of course means that the video can be uploaded much quicker – even quicker than I can get home from the match in this case. Here’s the video, featuring Solomon as the star of the show:

Yay for a Saturday off! I might just relish a little break from the football because it’s not proving too much fun in itself at the moment. Perhaps clearing out the garage will prove more rewarding…  That said, I’ll probably end up taking in a game somewhere (Chase v Clee or an FA Cup Q4 tie somewhere…hmm…) because this is the life I was born to live. I tried living without football for a few years and I had a breakdown so I know I’m stuck with my lot. However rubbish the football is, the alternative (no football) is far worse.  But it is hard work being a football fan sometimes.  I’ll have forgotten all about it on Saturday, though, and be buzzing to take in another game, don’t you just know it?  More adventures to follow, folks – you can be sure of that! UTMP.     

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