Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Blackpool v Blackburn Rovers: To The Pub!

Dear reader, I’ve been promising you a Blackpool pub review (actual, not virtual) for a while, so it’s time for me to deliver. Tonight’s match wasn’t up to much, so this seems as good a time as any.

The Highfield

This Sizzling Pub was the first pub I visited post-lockdown and I was made to feel immediately welcome. Any anxieties I may have had in terms of people the new rules were dissipated by the hostess who met us at the door. We’d booked online in advance, so we were expected. The rules here?

  • Remain seated, except to go to the bar, toilet or outside for a cigarette
  • Separate entrance and exit doors
  • Only three people allowed to stand at the bar at one time.
  • Food and drinks ordered at the bar and delivered to the table.

NB there may have been more rules in all of these pubs, just these are the most pertinent ones that I remember.

Now you know I have a peculiar interest in public conveniences, so I’m finding the toilet rules post-lockdown especially interesting. Here, every other cubicle and sink were taped off and thus out of action.

In terms of real ale, there was only Sharps Doom Bar available. Frankly, after four months without any cask ale, I was grateful for what I could get and drank it with gusto.

The waitress apologised that the menu was somewhat limited and items might not be as described. I was quite thankful for this, as I ordered the chicken tikka masala (I can rarely resist a curry on a menu) and was presented with something more resembling a chicken balti, which I much prefer.

What I couldn’t quite get my head round was how you can make a Lamb Doner Kebab VEGAN:

There are lots of TVs in The Highfield and there was football on when we visited. I think it was the night Liverpool won the league, although I failed to notice this, which shows how much attention I was paying! I must have still been puzzling over that vegan lamb doner…

The Shovels

Now this isn’t a pub crawl. I haven’t felt right about exposing myself to more than one hostelry on any one occasion just yet. Baby steps. So it was the following week we opted for The Shovels for a change of scenery. This is a Greene King Pub (there are a lot of them about) but I knew this one was once famed for its real ale range – and I demanded better this week. The rules here were:

  • Order from the app or table service (do not approach the bar)
  • One-in one-out at the toilets

Social distancing was not a problem in this spacious pub. We sat outside on arrival and later, when it cooled, moved indoors.

Now one of the problems I have with ordering from apps is the guest ales not being listed on the app. This has been a bugbear of mine with Wetherspoons for many years (in fact I think I gave them feedback about it after my visit to the one in Accy last year). The app showed only Greene King IPA and Abbot Ale as the ale choices. It must be better than that here, surely? Further investigation revealed that there were, indeed, two guest ales from Kirkby Lonsdale Brewery – Monumental and (I think) Tiffin Gold. I ordered a half of each – and both were delicious (a definite upgrade from the Doom Bar). I eventually settled on the Monumental and quaffed a few of those over the course of the evening.

The menu here was good and I opted for the Chick N Mix:

CHOOSE TWO CHICKEN ITEMS: 6 LOUISIANA-STYLE STRIPS, 6 WINGS, 1 SOUTHERN FRIED SKEWER, 3 MANGO CHILLI THIGHS, 1 ROASTED SKEWER, 2 FILLETS, 10 NUGGETS, 1 SCHNITZEL PICK YOUR SAUCE: TEXAN-STYLE BBQ, PIRI PIRI, SWEET CHILLI PICK TWO SIDES: SEASONED FRIES, MAC ‘n’ CHEESE, COLESLAW, CHIPS, GARLIC BREAD, ONION RINGS’, WAFFLE FRIES, CORN ON THE COB, BAKED BEANS IN BBQ SAUCE WITH JACK DANIEL’S®, OUR DRESSED SIDE SALAD

Strips, skewer, piri piri sauce, coleslaw and BBQ beans for me please.

The toilet situation in here was most odd. I strolled in and conducted my business – then, on my way out, I noticed a sign stating NO QUEUEING IN THE CORRIDOR. Why would I queue on my way out? Surely that sign should be OUTSIDE the toilets? There was then a sign on the inside of the door giving instructions on how to put the ENGAGED sign on the door. Apparently (I noticed on the way out) there is a dial that you control with your elbow to indicate that the toilet is occupied. Nice idea, but signage could be improved upon. I was asked to provide feedback in a post-visit survey, so this may have been changed now.

The football was on in here too (Wolves on the night of our visit) and we entered into conversation with the family seated at the next table. It transpired they were from Burntwood, very near to where I used to live, and the dad of the family used to play for Chasetown. He’s the second former Chase player I’ve met since I moved back here. I really must start asking their names…

Dunes

This is another Greene King pub, but sadly no ales on offer here apart from the standard Greene King IPA and Abbot Ale. To be honest, it was so hot on the night of my visit (remember nice weather?) that I almost ordered a Strongbow Dark Fruits with ice. I didn’t, though, as I knew I wouldn’t thank myself for it the following morning (cider is not kind to me the morning after). I plumped for the IPA in the end, as the weaker, if less flavoursome, ale. Let’s face it, I wasn’t going to massively enjoy either tonight, so I might as well not ruin tomorrow as well. To be fair, there was nothing wrong with it, other than it simply wasn’t as exciting as I like beer to be (you know I like the adventure of weird and wonderful flavoured ales).

The rules here were:

  • Order from the app or table service
  • One-way system to the toilets

We did use the app for ordering in here and it worked a treat, with speedy service. The waitress was wearing a mask and maintained a safe distance. I felt safe in here – as I had in all of the pubs I had visited to date.

Despite being a sister pub to The Shovels, the menu here was different and I opted for the curry, as usual…

Apologies for lack of food pics, but I’m still getting back into the swing of this visiting pubs malarkey. I overfaced myself with this banquet, the highlights of which were the onion bhaji, mango chutney and sag aloo.

No. 10 Alehouse

Oh dear No. 10 – how have I resisted you for so long? This indie micropub(?) is of course my favourite pub in Blackpool. I simply feel at home in here. There is always a dark beer on, which satisfies my palate. And the locals are friendly too. And they stock my fanzine on the bar. And I haven’t even GOT to the food yet…

The rules in here were:

  • Table service only (no standing at the bar)

The cask ales on tonight were Timothy Taylor Boltmaker, Bank Top Port O’Call and Kirkby Lonsdale Pennine Ambler. I opted for a half of each of the latter. And then another. And then another…

The Thai food in here is simply DELICIOUS. I decided to brave sharing a mixed starter with someone from outside my household for the first time (baby steps – and there was certainly no sharing each other’s beers) and followed that up with a red Thai curry, which was, I think, the best Thai curry I have ever tasted. The food here just gets better and better.

With this being a smaller pub, it was less comfortable in terms of social distancing, but I didn’t feel uncomfortable in here at all.

I soon realised I had overdone it on the 5% abv beer when I got home and had double-vision. I was DEFINITELY out of practice on drinking sessions. To be honest, I’m used to strict 3 hour drinking sessions, from years of being in pubs between 11am and 2pm on a Saturday. Even when I go for drinks after work, my body clock always tells me it’s time to go after three hours. But you see muscle memory isn’t working like that any more. I need to retrain myself and remember: if I’m on a session, drink session beer.

The Half Way House (sic)

For the life of me, I can never remember the name of this Joseph Holt pub. I simply know it as ‘that pub with the name that has two words where there should be one’. Half Way = Halfway, surely? Anyway, Lee and I frequented here before lockdown, but this was my first visit since. As with all the pubs visited so far, we had booked in advance. This was, however, the first one to ask for our details for Track and Trace (I had supposed the others had gathered that info at the time of booking). This was done by scanning a QR code with my camera phone (never done that before – exciting) and then entering my details.

The rules in here?

  • Order drinks and food at the bar
  • Food delivered to the empty table next door (and dirty plates to be collected from the same)

This pub does seem to be Marmite but we really like it. The menu is varied and different to the usual fayre – and they serve a good range of Joseph Holt real ales. Good food, good ale and I’m happy. They also gave me a glass I had my eye on in exchange for a donation to charity, so they get bonus points for that (NB this MIGHT have been Waters Edge, another Joseph Holt pub – both are equally good).

I was delighted to see it was curry night when we visited, so I opted for the beef madras, which was lovely, accompanied by a Joseph Holt IPA.

Farmers Arms

This was an impromptu visit after a curry at Baby Kingfisher (recommended if you like it HOT – the jalfrezi had naga chillies in it – NOTE TO SELF: naga = nada). We seated ourselves outside and used the app to order our drinks (pint of Tribute for me).

The staff in this Greene King pub were very warm and friendly and it is such a level of service that makes me want to return to a pub.

The rules in here were:

  • Order via app or (I think) at the bar

You will note that, as I relax more into the pub environment, I am paying less attention to the rules in my reviews. This is not to say that I am not careful: I regularly sanitise my hands, never touch toilet door handles directly with my hands on my way out, keep a safe distance from others, use contactless payment (or an app) and abide by all rules. It’s just that, as time goes on, these things become more automatic and I don’t stress about them so much. My body tells me if something feels unsafe. I find myself shrinking away from people and almost wanting to spray repellent in their face if they get too close.

Whilst we weren’t eating here tonight, the food smelled delicious, so we will be putting that right in the future.

Whilst seated outside, observing the good selection of pubdogs in the beer garden, we grew increasingly intrigued by the sounds coming from inside the pub. It was rocking! Too loud for us to continue our conversation, we surmised, so remained outside a little longer. Hmm but that music is really good and…is it quiz night?

Of course we were tempted inside. We couldn’t figure out how the quiz worked, so enquired of one of the friendly staff. She explained briefly before sending over the quizmaster to explain it to us in more detail. We had missed most of the quiz but he talked us through accessing the app, the quiz wifi and how to answer the questions via the app. He suggested we take part in the final round anyway to get a feel for how the quiz worked. I’ve never done a quick-fire quiz on an app before but it was really good! The people at the next table wanted to help us by chipping in with a couple of answers unprompted. We of course finished last but are already planning to return for a future quiz (and the delicious-smelling food and excellent friendly service). We left the pub feeling like locals and we’d only been there a couple of hours. How lovely is that?


And that, dear reader, concludes our Blackpool pub research to date. More to follow over the coming weeks, of course. I don’t actually think I have left Blackpool at all since lockdown, so I might as well use this time spent at home to good use in exploring my new patch. Recommendations welcomed.

Blackpool v Blackburn Rovers

But of course I’m here to tell you about the football. Well there isn’t much to report, really. We didn’t put a full-strength side out – with the big cup match coming up on Saturday – and as such it wasn’t as exciting a spectacle as the Everton match had been. But of course we made the best of it (largely ignoring what was going on on the pitch), nattering away with football fans from all over the world in our watchalong on YouTube:

Blackburn Rovers came out 3-1 winners, putting an end to our pre-season unbeaten run. This is where we wheel out the classic line about pre-season being about ‘fitness, not results’. I wasn’t too fussed, as I know many of our best players did not feature tonight. I am already missing them and looking forward to seeing them play again on Saturday. Can we give Stoke City a run for their money? What a scalp that would be!

One great advantage of watching matches on TV (as we have to do at the moment, if we are to see our team play), is that we are not exposed to the elements. The weather tonight was blustery as anything and I was quite pleased to not have to venture out in it to watch the match.

Am I in danger of becoming a fair weather fan? Well, yes, of course, that is a risk – but not one I’m prepared to take without a bloody good fight! Indeed I have resolved that it is time to get some proper football in. It’s proving a little tricky to find non league matches to fit in around all these Blackpool matches but I’ve found one! Stay tuned to find out where we end up and how we get on being back at an ACTUAL LIVE FOOTBALL MATCH. I can’t bloody wait!

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