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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.

Lincoln City v Blackpool: Why Did No-one Tell Me About Lincoln?

Coping mechanism #325: When the football is rubbish, build fun stuff around it. This weekend I resolved to explore Lincoln and see what it had to offer. Karen had found a bargain hotel (£15 each for the Premier Inn); I’d found a bargain train (£14); I had plotted 10 pubs and a chippy on a map of Lincoln and it was going to be a great weekend. I was going to make sure of it.

Coping mechanism #12: Beer. I started my journey in Manchester on Friday afternoon. With an hour to kill before my train, it would have been rude to not take in a couple of hostelries to get the weekend started. I’d been feeling down all day and needed to perk myself up. I shouldn’t be feeling down on a Friday afternoon, though, should I? I should be buzzing for the match. But I’m not. So beer.

My first stop was Duttons, a JW Lees bar. I’ve been frequenting a lot of Joseph Holt pubs in recent months, so I thought it was time I stepped over to the other side. This was a stunning building that was in great nick. It looked new. I made enquiries of the barman:

‘How long have you been here? I haven’t noticed you before.’

‘Who, me?’

He blushed. Oops! I quickly pointed out I meant the pub. It had been there around five years apparently. I ordered half of JW Lees Bitter and took a seat away from the bar. I perused the menu and was hit in the face by a new bugbear of mine: Vegan English. I can’t tell you how much ‘bacun’ and ‘not-zerella’ get up my nose. This menu provided a new irritation:

Those quotation marks. Grr. I needed more beer.

Next stop was of course a Joseph Holt pub. I had a strong craving for mild and I knew The Old Monkey would deliver. But oh, what’s this?

Christmas beer? In the second half of January? My excitement overpowered the sense of trepidation and I ordered a half of each of the Joseph Holt Mild and the Bootleg Christmas No. 1. The mistake I made here was tucking into a pack of Roast Beef Monster Munch before tasting my beers, so they both tasted the same (beefy). Whilst chocolate can enhance the flavour of beer (a pack of Maltesers can make a dull blonde quite tasty), these crisps fair ruined my beer. Grr.

Time ran away with me this afternoon and, before I knew it, it was time to dart off to Manchester Piccadilly for my train. En route, Lee called to discuss that evening’s sports show for Fylde Coast Radio. Given that I was breathless and three beers in, I decided against recording an audio clip and opted instead to provide him with my non league update in writing for him to read out.

I headed for Platform 10 at Piccadilly to board the Transpennine Express to Sheffield. Once seated, I collated updates on Squires Gate and AFC Blackpool and sent them across to Lee. And relax. Now I logged into Netflix and settled back to watch another episode of ‘You’.

I was thrilled that my train landed at Sheffield on time – and delighted to see my train pulling in on Platform 1b. This is, of course, home to The Sheffield Tap, one of the finest station pubs in the country. I scurried straight to the bar and found myself surrounded by beers that I wanted to try. But I only had time for one! I somehow resisted the Pig & Porter Lilac Time mild and asked for a taste of the Arbor Faked Alaska (a vanilla milkshake IPA) before diving in for a half of Buxton Gatekeeper Porter. Ah! That was better. I do love this pub so much. Every station should have one.

I skirted across to Platform 5b, where I discovered my train was slightly delayed. I was meeting Karen on the train and she put in an order for a bottle of water as she was guarding our seats on the busy train and couldn’t get up. I duly obliged – also picking up a couple of KitKats to keep us going ahead of our chippy tea.

Our train to Lincoln was with Northern Rail. This surprised me because I always thought Lincoln was in the south. Chatting with many people about this trip, it became apparent that few knew where Lincoln actually was. I still didn’t really know. I looked it up on the map and was very surprised to find it was indeed parallel with Chesterfield – so definitely in The North.

Now I had my map already prepared but what I hadn’t done was check the opening times of the places plotted on there. We did this now so we could tighten our itinerary for the weekend. Dear reader, it was a good job we did. We discovered to our utter devastation that the chippy was already closed for the evening. Noooooooo! We frantically researched the pubs on the list to find one that served food in the evenings. Only Wetherspoons fitted the bill – and we’d planned to go there en route to the ground tomorrow. Grr. We turned our attention to the best restaurants in Lincoln and began salivating at the menu at The Jews House. But oh it was expensive. But the menu looked exquisite!

https://www.jewshouserestaurant.co.uk/a-la-carte-menu-2019.pdf

But no, we couldn’t justify either the expense or the time this would eat into our tight itinerary. But we were so hungry! Mercifully, we were saved from ourselves with the discovery that the restaurant was closed until next week. Phew! Spoons it was, then. The Ritz was only a matter of minutes out of our way and we knew the food would be served quickly, allowing us to get on our merry way.

Wow! What a stunner! We were so glad we had the opportunity to see this pub by night. Inside it was an open plan Spoons like so many others. However it was Burns Week, which dished up haggis, neeps and tatties (which for amusement value just autocorrected to ‘beeps and tattoos’). Alas they were out of whisky sauce so the meal was a little dry, but it was tasty and served its purpose of lining my stomach. I washed it down with a Lincolnshire Cheeky Imp, ‘the official ale of Lincoln City Football Club’s Youth Academy’. Football does have some inappropriate sponsors!

I checked out the Ladies while I was here. I hadn’t thought them anything special. Indeed, they were quite underwhelming and poky for a Wetherspoons. So I was quite surprised to see this on the back of the cubicle door:

I was excited to learn that Loo of the Year Awards are a thing. I want to go!!!

http://www.loo.co.uk

En route to our hotel was The Treaty of Commerce, which looked so inviting, we couldn’t help but call in – despite this technically being on tomorrow’s itinerary. And what a great pub this was. It was a Batemans Brewery pub and I was delighted to see the XXXB on cask. This used to be one of my favourite beers. And yet my palate has changed much since I started drinking beer over a decade ago. As with the Lees bitter earlier, I found it a little, well, bitter for my tastebuds now. I’ll stick to the dark and fruity beers going forward. I complimented the barmaid on her nails.

‘Ooh thank you. I travel back to Blackpool every two weeks to get them done.’

Well fancy that! A Blackpool barmaid in Lincoln! We enjoyed a chat with her and a fellow customer from Liverpool, before being taunted on the way out by some Lincoln City fans, who we paused to chat with (NB that’s not code for beating them up, just to clarify). What a wonderful community public house this was. I was reluctant to leave but we had many more hostelries on our to do list tonight.

On our walk through the city, we passed the chippy that we now needed to factor in tomorrow. Dear reader, it had Christmas decorations adorning the signage. Oh yes. I was going to like it here. I love Christmas and am all for stretching it out for as long as possible (I start listening to Kylie Christmas in September).

We were stopped on the canalside by a couple of fellow Seasiders and we exchanged pub recommendations. The man seemed distracted and, despite initiating the conversation with us, had his eyes and frantic fingers attached to two mobile phones. What was going on here? Was he shivering with the cold? Undertaking a drug deal? He eventually explained that he was playing Pokemon Go. Gosh that’s something that I know I’d love but would get WAY too into, so I choose to avoid it.

After checking in at our hotel and throwing our rucksacks in the room, we immediately set about ticking off pubs on the map. The first stop was Jolly Brewer, which had been recommended as a quirky place to visit. Alas we found the beers uninspiring. What with so many pubs to get through tonight, I felt it foolish to waste capacity on more beers that didn’t excite me. We turned heel and moved straight on.

Now we headed up Steep Hill. I’d been told this was the only hill in an otherwise flat city – but had heard conflicting views on its severity. Now, dear reader, you may recall from my near-death experience in hilly Colne that I REALLY don’t like walking up hills.

https://janestuart.co.uk/2018/05/15/a-conga-in-colne/

As we began our ascent I surmised that it really wasn’t so bad – and began to wonder if it was ironically named. And then I reached basecamp.

There was a bloody basecamp, with a rest point opposite. Oh by the time I reached the summit I was really struggling. Bear in mind I was now six drinks in. Not only that, but I was dressed for a forecast cold weekend, in a thermal vest, jumper, bodywarmer and big coat. Boy did I need a drink now!

But first I needed a cashpoint. One of the pubs on the list was cash only, according to my research, so I paused outside the post office and waited patiently in the queue. When I stepped up to the cash machine, it asked me if I wanted any additional services. Hang on, I haven’t put my card in yet. I selected NO and it spat out a bank card. I looked around for the man who had been at the cash machine ahead of me and he was already out of sight. I sprinted off down the street (not an easy feat in my current condition), caught up with what I hoped was the right man and waved the card in his face. He thanked me somewhat less profusely that I would have liked (I remembered being similarly underwhelmed with the gratitude of the man whose keys I returned to him as he was getting off the bus). I staggered back to the cashpoint, withdrew some cash and headed off in search of Karen, who had disappeared off in search of the micropub, BeerHeadZ.

Now do you remember my trip to Colwyn Bay last season, when the temperature in the hotel was unbearably high?

https://janestuart.co.uk/2018/12/15/do-you-know-the-way-to-colwyn-bay/

Well it was like this in EVERY pub in Lincoln. Granted, our thermal clothing possibly overdramatised the temperature, but still. Of course we were very thirsty after climbing Everest Steep Hill so were delighted to see the wonderful array of beers on offer here.

I couldn’t resist Pollys Reverie, a raspberry and vanilla porter – although Karen’s choice of the Wilde Child Brownie Hunter (chocolate fudge brownie stout) was the winner in here tonight. Well, that and Matilda the dog, who was incredibly friendly. Karen pointed out that I ought to be flattered that Matilda wanted to lick my nose but I wasn’t having any of it.

By now I was exhausted and already ready to retire for the night. But it would have been rude not to tick off one more pub on the way back to the hotel, right? As we approached Strait and Narrow I heard music blaring out into the street and hoped it wasn’t coming from our pub. Dear reader, it was. I shrunk away from the door but the doorman opened the door for us (and you know I like a door being opened for me – not least because I’m a bit rubbish at opening doors) and I was persuaded to enter. Oh. My. God. I’m so glad I went in! Check THIS out for a beer menu:

I started – ahem – with a Lords Sunset Cocoa, which I enjoyed in a seat in the quieter area of the pub. The music wasn’t to our taste but it was soon drowned out altogether by our excitement at the drinks menus. I was honestly gobsmacked at the range here. Who would have thought Lincoln had a place like this? Why has nobody told me about Lincoln and how amazing it is? Oh we all know about Sheffield and Huddersfield – and even Stalybridge. So why has Lincoln so long been this mystery place that no-one talks about, let alone knows where it is?

I selected the Brewdog/Pilot collab Cocoa Morello but sadly this was unavailable. Oh well. Lervig Coconuts it is, then. At just your 12% ABV. But I knew this to be an outstanding beer, having been introduced to it in Bonehead in Birmingham a couple of years ago. It’s like a Bounty in a glass. An exquisite beer. And just what I needed to round off the night and send me straight off to sleep.

Desperately trying to avert our eyes from the middle-aged snogging couple at the next table, our eyes were drawn to the cocktails on another table. Karen picked up the cocktail menu and we began perusing. Oh this was dangerous! Cocktails are only for holidays, though, right? But oh the Bloody Mary, comprising Chase Smoked Vodka, Ancho Beyes Verde, Fortified Malbec, Tobacco, Lea & Perrins, Celery Bitters, Salt, Pepper, Fresh Tomato Juice with Chilli, Rosemary & Gherkin & an Olive…

But no. I was now so full and so tired that I resolved that I’d be sick if I had one of those. We reluctantly left in search of a more traditional vodka nightcap on the way back to the hotel. Sadly (nay probably for the best) our plan was foiled as we were turned away from The Cardinal’s Hat owing to it being considerably later than we had thought.

So bed it was. We tossed for the camp bed and I ended up in it, but it didn’t matter as I passed out pretty much as soon as my head hit the pillow. Zzz…

***

Despite having a lot to get through the following morning, a lie in is such a rare luxury for me that I resolved not to set an alarm. I figured I’d wake up early enough and, if I didn’t, then I obviously needed the sleep. I woke around 8am courtesy of Karen clattering around and was happy that we had time to have further adventures this morning. Of course it was a struggle to get out of bed (boy was I grateful now for being denied that vodka) but, as always, once I was in the shower listening to my tunes, I was positively bright and breezy. This morning I was listening to Thought Porridge, the new album from Biscuithead and the Biscuit Badgers:

This made me chuckle a lot and I was now in exceptionally good spirits. This weekend was just what the doctor ordered during a grim January.

Karen tried to convince me that Steep Hill would be easier to navigate this morning without six beers inside me and in the knowledge that I’d already successfully completed an ascent. I wasn’t sure but I headed up anyway, feeling a little groggy – and now with my rucksack, a handicap I hadn’t had on last night’s climb.

Karen wanted breakfast, although I was intent on saving myself for the chippy. We climbed and climbed, stopping frequently to look at the many exciting shops. Ooh there’s a chocolaterie. There’s a Russian Doll shop. Ooh let’s have a look in that art shop. Ooh cheese! THERE’S A DOG IN THAT SHOP WINDOW! We spied a cafe that was also a bookshop but alas they didn’t have hot breakfasts on the menu, so we didn’t call in.

We eventually stopped for a breather at Bells Tea Shop. I was quite hungry now, although still acutely aware that I needed to have a lot of room to enjoy the chippy. I perused the menu and enquired of the waitress what Lincolnshire Plumbread was. Dear reader, it looked and sounded alluring, but too heavy for my breakfast (I later picked some up from another alluring shop to take home to try with Lee, as we’d recently developed a taste for fruit bread).

I opted instead for poached egg on toast (which wasn’t technically on the menu) and a banana milkshake. Oh the milkshake menu here!

Karen polished off a full English, which included a delicious Lincolnshire Sausage. I wish I’d bought some of those too, to improve on the recipe for my beloved sausage and marmalade sandwich.

Ah! Now we were ready to tackle the rest of the hill – and the rest of the day. At the summit we found ourselves in the middle of Lincoln Farmer’s Market. Dear reader, what a market this was! There was a pie stall with VERY alluring looking pies, a butchers stall with pheasant leg and pigeon, a canine bakery stall (selling dog treats that looked tasty to me…can you tell I’m hungry at this point)…

https://www.visitlincoln.com/markets

But it was now time to head to Lincoln Cathedral, which was on Karen’s must visit list. My enthusiasm for the place had increased on finding out there was a stone imp living in there. What was the story of the imp? Why were Lincoln City called The Red Imps? Dear reader, I intended to find out so I could tell you the story. We need to know more about this wonderful city.

As Karen wandered off deeper into the cathedral, I was lured into the cathedral shop by a toy swan. As I perused the shelves, I happened across this book, which of course I had to buy:

This was the story of the imp in verse. I tucked it into my bag and resolved to read it to Karen once we were settled in a pub a little later.

Stepping out of the shop, Karen beckoned me through a no entry sign to have a look at a carving on the cathedral wall. We then made enquiries as to where exactly the imp was located and made our way right to the other end of the cathedral into the choir. We found a sign directing us the imp, atop the dark pillar ahead, above the bearded man. As had been explained to us, he was difficult to make out by dint of being very high up (Lincoln Cathedral was once the tallest building in the country). But there was a machine where you could insert 20p to light up the imp, making him easier to see. Alas the machine would not accept our money. However Karen took a photograph and we were able to zoom in and see him:

Just who was this curious little fellow?

We exited the cathedral and crossed back through the market towards Lincoln Castle.

On our way we were stopped in our tracks by a friendly local man. He proceeded to tell us about the history of the cathedral and the castle and you can see him in the video of my trip to Lincoln at the foot of this blog.

Whilst we didn’t have the required three hours to spare to do the castle justice, we ambled round the gardens for a while until I announced that I was thirsty. When asked what I fancied to drink, I wasn’t sure until Karen suggested the pub, when I immediately realised that of course it was Beer O’Clock! Fancy me forgetting THAT on a matchday. How my priorities have changed in recent months. When did castles become part of my pre-match ritual? Well I know the answer to that is last March on my away weekends in Clitheroe and Colne/Skipton. And what great trips THEY were:

https://janestuart.co.uk/2019/03/08/every-witch-way-but-booze/

https://janestuart.co.uk/2019/04/01/a-rural-retreat/

Neither of us being the greatest of mapreaders, we struggled to find our bearings on leaving the castle grounds. We knew The Victoria was close by…but in which direction? We couldn’t find the road that Google Maps insisted was there, so we took a somewhat circuitous route to the pub. This offered up the surprising sight of an abandoned TARDIS in someone’s garden. Was The Doctor close by? If so, which one? I haven’t warmed to the new one but I did rather like Chris Eccleston.

Now The Victoria is another Batemans pub. Like The Treaty of Commerce, we were met with warmth. But unlike its sister pub, there were guest ales. Still feeling somewhat fragile, I took my time considering each pump clip in turn.

‘What is it you’re looking for?’

‘Well I like darker or fruity beers…but I’m not a fan of citrus hops, which rules out those two…’

‘Oh that red one doesn’t really taste of citrus hops. It’s a bit like a Christmas Pudding in a glass… Do you want a taste?’

‘Ooh yes please!’

Dear reader, I can’t begin to explain the complexity of the flavours in this beer. But you know I’m a firm believer in listening to what my body tells me. And this beer had me gurning. Nope. No siree. I wasn’t having any of that.

‘A half of Blue Monkey Primate please.’

The bar staff sighed. The other beer (which shall remain nameless, unless you ask) was not selling at all well – and they were attempting to empty the pump by stealth, by offering unsuspecting tourists tasters of it. I was growing to love Lincoln more and more.

Karen asked where I wanted to sit.

Here OBVIOUSLY. But we didn’t, taking a seat next to the bar instead. I pulled out ‘The Legend of the Lincoln Imp’ and read it aloud to Karen. Oh dear reader. This is a tale with a moral. The moral is to cross the church at your peril. Indeed the closing lines directly referred to the dodging of the entrance fee at Lincoln Cathedral, which is exactly what we’d just done. Oh the religious guilt trip! But hey ho. I’m here now promoting Lincoln tourism, which I hope will atone for my sin.

Here is the story of the Lincoln Imp for your enjoyment:

Our next port of call was The Strugglers Inn, which was just next door. On the short walk, Lee called and we caught up on our respective weekends so far. He was going to the Pigeon Show at the Winter Gardens. This is something that he hadn’t expected to be doing but came into our path courtesy of our coverage of local sports for our Fylde Coast Radio sports show. Did you know that a pigeon sold for €1.25m last year? It’s a whole new world to us! During the call I had to tackle a metal barrier that was between me and the Strugglers. Karen had stepped over it with ease but I only had little legs so this really wasn’t an option for me. I ended up crawling underneath it amidst fits of laughter and had to explain to Lee what on earth was going on.

Now this was another great pub. And the one that didn’t take card payments. It was wonderfully quirky.

There were witches hanging from the ceiling, cushions with pictures of dogs on in the bar, two dalmatians in the bar…and a lush Iron Pier Milk Stout. Here we met up with some fellow Seasiders with whom we again compared pub notes. It was lovely exploring an unfamiliar city but constantly bumping into fellow Sandgrownuns. That is one of the many beauties of football. It’s a portable community. We find friends everywhere we go.

On our way back down Steep Hill we called into a shop to buy a loaf of Lincolnshire Plumbread. Here too they sold Christmas Gingerbread (complete with tasting notes), which of course I had to buy. I loved that it was still Christmas here on 18th January.

Next we popped into a little church that was inviting in passers-by. We stopped awhile to chat with the man on the door about the history of the church and were amused to see a nativity scene just behind him. Yep. Still Christmas.

But now, dear reader…now it was time for the chippy. Oh the chippy! Sign of the Fish had excellent reviews on Trip Advisor and I had high hopes for this place.

Lincolnshire is the home to my favourite chippy of all time, Steels in Cleethorpes. Would this place match that? Well let’s go in and find out…

The entrance to the restaurant was down an alley, through a courtyard, in through the back door, a squeeze past the counter and up quite the most terrifying spiral staircase I have ever encountered. We found a table and perused the menu. Not that I needed to see a menu. I knew EXACTLY what I was having: mini fish, chips and…woah WHAT WAS THIS?! NO GRAVY ON THE MENU?! Was this my punishment for not paying my entry fee at the cathedral? I called the waitress over urgently:

‘Do you not do gravy?’

‘Oh no. We used to, but it wasn’t very popular, so we took it off the menu. The curry sauce is very nice though…’

I was fuming. After all that build up! I’d been SO looking forward to this. I reluctantly ordered curry sauce with my children’s portion of fish and chips. Someone has recently recommended curry sauce on fish and I had resolved to try it. I sighed. Had they really just given up on gravy? What had their gravy been like? Had they taken time to perfect the recipe? Or did the people of Lincoln need educating on the joys of gravy on fish and chips?

My meal arrived. Karen insisted she wasn’t hungry but I offered her a chip and she loved it so much she promptly ordered and polished off a plateful of her own. I was nonplussed.

‘These chips are lovely. Why do you not like them?’

I paused for a moment to reflect.

‘Because they haven’t got gravy on them.’

The fish was tasty – and the curry sauce was the best I’ve ever had, with a slight kick. Maybe I need to manage my expectations when it comes to chippys. Now I’m back living Up North, I appear to have already forgotten that gravy isn’t a thing elsewhere in the country. Wasn’t I still in the North, though? Or do the Lincoln people consider themselves to be in the East, as they do in Clee? But there should be no boundaries when it comes to gravy. Good gravy should be available everywhere. Do we need to get Jamie Oliver on the case? Get gravy education into schools?

I needed more beer. Our final port of call before the thing we’d actually (ostentatiously?) come here for that would inevitably put a dampener on our weekend away was another micropub, The Imp and Angel. Well now we knew all about the history behind the name of this pub. And boy was it hot in here! We’d walked a fair way to get here, dressed prepared for a cold day (which it wasn’t really as it was very sunny) and the small pub was packed with football fans. I squeezed my way through to the fridge and opened the door. Ah! That was better! I pulled out a can of Alphabet Juice Springsteen and rolled it across my forehead and neck as I manoeuvred my way to the bar.

‘Ooh have you tried that one before?’

‘Yes – it’s lush, isn’t it?’

And it is. It’s like Lilt but more flavoursome and boozy. Mmm.

I’d have stayed for another but time was ticking on now and it really was EXTREMELY hot in here. We left and took the short walk to the ground, across the canal and soon found ourselves at the home end. I approached a steward for directions.

‘Excuse me. Where is the away end please?’

‘The away end? It’s down there, across the car park then turn right. You enjoy the game, now.’

Dear reader, they had lovely stewards! I should have expected nothing less, given the warmth offered by everyone else in this delightful city. Oh if only they had gravy here, this could be my new favourite place. Indeed it was already firmly in the top three, right up there with Wigan and Clee, courtesy of its friendliness, quirkiness and great beer (clearly my three main criteria for falling in love with a place).

I remembered to check in on the Sky Bet EFL Rewards app. Would I have any better luck with the prize wheel this week, on my third attempt?

Woohoo!

Do I need to write about the match? I don’t want to spoil my blog as well as my weekend! And I don’t particularly want to relive it because it made me cry. Coping mechanism #324: How about you watch the video instead?

The one thing I will mention is, of course, the toilets. Having initially been alarmed by the ridiculous number of portaloos around the ground (I think this was some kind of sponsorship deal but I’m really not sure) I was relieved (pun intended) to see a door to some actual Ladies toilets. As I stepped into the cubicle I saw this on the wall:

Dear reader, this was the cistern:

And may I remind you that I’m only five foot two. Quite how I was expected to manage this one, I wasn’t sure, but I eventually managed it by wiggling the chain.

Still taken aback by this Krypton Factor-esque flushing mechanism, I was waiting patiently for the hand dryer, flicking my wet hands into the sink, when the woman drying her hands said:

‘A hot and a cold tap. Only one hand dryer, though.’

Dear reader I hadn’t even registered the hot tap. But it makes me so happy that this sort of this is now being noticed and talked about in toilets up and down the country.

We took the coach back to Blackpool. I tried to write this blog on the way home but I find I get travel sick typing on the coach, so I watched back to back episodes of ‘You’ instead by way of escapism (coping mechanism #23). We were despatched at the Saddle around 8pm.

Coping mechanism #12: We needed more beer, so headed straight into No. 10 Alehouse, where we promptly ordered two pints of Rudgate York Chocolate Stout. Yes – that would help. They were still serving food too, which was an unexpected bonus. Coping mechanism #13: I tucked into prawn crackers and a red Thai curry and it was all quite delicious. This was a good end to a great weekend. Apart from the usual. #UTMP.

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