Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Blackpool Fylde & Wyre CAMRA: Poulton Pubs

One of my coping mechanisms during lockdown was researching and writing virtual pub crawls around the country. The method in my madness was that, once we were allowed out again, I would follow these crawls in real life. As a consequence of Blackpool winning promotion to the Championship, I haven’t had chance to put this plan into action – until this week.

Blackpool Fylde & Wyre CAMRA held their first meeting in yonks on Thursday night – at The Old Town Hall in Poulton (NB Poulton-le-Fylde to non-locals who may know another Poulton). I typed ‘Poulton’ into the search box on this website and up popped my virtual crawl of Poulton. Tonight I was going to live it.

I confess I was a little nervous about exploring Poulton on my own, as I had never done this before. I had been on several occasions (and not for years) on work nights out in the 90s and on post-match crawls in the pre-boycott years – but usually in the dark and always following other people from pub to pub, not really paying attention to where I was. I remembered crossing a spooky churchyard but that was about it.

Poulton was posh, wasn’t it? I looked down at what I was wearing: my Lancashire Hotpots ‘Keep Britain Boozing’ t-shirt and jeans – quite apt for a pub crawl and CAMRA meeting, I’d thought when I was getting dressed this morning. But was it posh enough for Poulton? Would the locals look down on me (which, to be fair, at 5’2 I am used to)? I offset the look with a smart black cardigan. There. That would have to do.

The Bull

Lee dropped me off here around 1730. Past Me had concluded that this was the best pub in Poulton for food, so I planned to start my crawl by lining my stomach. I approached the bar to order straight away, grabbing a menu from a nearby table. I have been known to spend ten minutes poring over a menu and this is a tactic I use to force myself into a quick decision. After all, there was no time to waste tonight, with all these pubs to pack in – as well as a meeting to go to. I quickly surveyed and snapped the pump clips.

‘What can I get you?’

‘Er…half a Pheasant Plucker please.’

I speed-read the menu while my drink was poured.

‘Is that everything?’

‘Er…no…I want some food as well please…can I have…the…er…Katsu Chicken please?’

I’d had one of these in Penrith on my way home from the Carlisle match and it was quite frankly the best thing I have ever eaten in a pub.

‘Would you like chips or rice with that?’

‘Is it possible to have half and half?’

‘No.’

I surprised myself by thinking ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ but realised I couldn’t possibly let those words come out of my mouth. What actually emerged was a very loud and long boo. At this point, the man standing next to me at the bar waded in:

‘Yeah boo! Why can’t she have half and half if that’s what she wants?’

‘The rice comes in measured portions. You can have rice and a portion of chips on the side if you want?’

‘No thanks. I’ll just have rice, then, please.’

‘Where are you sitting?’

‘Well, I’ve not sat down yet but (I waved my hand) over there somewhere. Do you need a table number?’

I sensed he would.

‘Er…no…that’s fine. I’ll put Table 19 and I’m sure your food will find you.’

I paid and headed in the direction of Table 19, which I was very happy with, as it had those big regal comfy chairs that make me feel important when I sit in them.

I do like a good chair (I’m writing this from a sheepskin rocking chair) and this was a fine specimen. I sat back in it as I checked my beer into Untappd and felt like a queen. I felt eyes on me from around the pub and wondered if the natives were wondering who this Non Local Person was but soon realised I was sitting underneath the tv and the cricket was on.

Just as I was beginning to wonder if a half was enough to see me through my meal, my food arrived.

I don’t know where to start with this. I have so many questions. Why peas (I later discovered they are famed for overloading every dish with peas; it’s a thing, apparently)? Why spring onion? There was nowhere near enough curry sauce. And the katsu chicken resembled crispy pancakes. Now, don’t get me wrong, I quite like a crispy pancake. But this was so dry. I was glad there were no chips as there wasn’t nearly enough sauce for even the chicken and rice. I’d have had to smother the chips and peas in ketchup. Which would have at least taken the dish to another level. Compare and contrast:

Penrith deliciousness

All that being said, my recent Slimming World experience taught me that dry food is better for losing weight, as it does not go down so easily, so you don’t eat as much of it. Indeed, I couldn’t quite finish my meal. But was this really the best pub food in Poulton? I know there are restaurants galore round here, but is this to the detriment of pub dining?

I quickly moved on. There was no time to waste tonight. I had one (or two?) pubs to visit before the meeting began at 1930.

Rhythm & Brews

Google Maps (my companion for the night) indicated that this was very close by (this was to become a theme of the night), in the direction of The Old Town Hall. As I headed up Market Place, I spied the latter pub coming up on my left. So where was Rhythm & Brews, then? I referred back to the mappage. Hmm…it should be right…here. I glanced to my left and there it was. I was standing outside it all along. There was even a little seating area outside. How had I not noticed it when I had been looking for it?

I stepped inside to a banging tune and approached the bar.

Well the cask was Oakham, so that was out (they are not to my palate). Hmm. Kriek? Hmm. Bit strong for a non-virtual crawl. Ooh – Tiny Rebel! That’s the one.

I photographed the interior as my beer was poured. I didn’t feel quite at home in here but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. The loud music preventing conversation, perhaps? My feet carried me outside to sit on the pavement terrace.

This was a great people-watching spot. A man and woman staggered by, with the man belting out an Alanis Morrissette classic. Perhaps Poulton wasn’t as posh as I thought, after all?

As I gurned my way through my Apple Sourz beer, which tasted of liquidised cooking apples, I was briefly – and separately – joined by a couple of friends who were passing. Who knew I knew people in Poulton? It sure is great to be home on the Fylde Coast. Giles stopped by on his way to the CAMRA meeting; and Malcolm sat down to discuss burgers. I don’t know why Malcolm thinks I like burgers but he seemed quite passionate about them, so I let him carry on. He even went so far as to call his wife to ask the name of the great burger place on Cedar Square (Pastels, if you’re interested). I was beginning to relax into and enjoy and my night in Poulton.

From my excellent vantage point, I spied a new pub that wasn’t on the virtual crawl I was following (having not existed at the time of writing). Could I justify squeezing in another pub? Heck yeah!

Stocks & Shilling

This bank conversion is next door to The Bull. The signage was inviting and I couldn’t resist. After all, when would I be back in Poulton? It could be years!

Now THAT’s an imposing pub frontage

The interior is stunning. This is a modern pub converted with love – and thus it cannot fail to succeed. Think Cask in Layton or Cask & Tap in Blackpool (as fine examples of pubs built with love) but on a far grander scale. I approached the bar on the left and was immediately greeted with three cask pumps and a friendly barman:

‘That t-shirt is fantastic! I totally agree with that.’

‘Ooh thank you. Yes, I’m an advocate of getting out there and enjoying pubs. Beer is great.’

‘Is it cask you’re after?’

‘Oh yes.’

‘Can I recommend this one?’

He pointed to the middle pump.

‘Er…well I’m not really a fan of IPAs…and the one on the left seems a bit boring…so yes – the one in the middle please.’

How did he know? And, dear reader, this was the best beer of the night by a mile. I’m not a huge fan of blondes (if they’re particularly boring, I find eating a pack of Maltesers with them really livens up the palate). Or Lancashire beers, if I’m honest (I prefer Yorkshire/Northumberland/Scottish beers as a rule – something in the water?). But this was bloody delicious. Seek it out.

‘There’s a roof terrace?’

‘Yes – up the stairs and down the corridor.’

As I admired the stunning decor, I also noticed the toilets were on the right of the corridor that led out onto the roof terrace. I stepped inside to use the facilities and have a nose. And boy was I glad I did. Sorry not sorry for taking so many photos of the toilets but none of rest of the pub’s interior.

Magic contactless high cistern with a terrifyingly-loud flush
A non-Dyson hand dryer that actually dries your hands efficiently. Who knew there was such a thing?
Funky radiator action
Soap holders make fine beer holders. Bonus points for hand cream and contactless tappage.

So many conversation pieces! The only downside was the toilet being just that little bit too high such that my feet didn’t comfortably rest on the floor. Although I appreciate this will not be a problem for the majority of the population, as I do have particularly short legs.

The view from the roof terrace was mainly bins and barrels, so I didn’t photograph that. It’s a nice area though, with some open and some sheltered seating. And it was a nice night for it.

I toyed with the idea of remaining here for a second drink of the same (a compliment I rarely pay a pub) but heard Retired Martin‘s voice in my head, urging me to move on and explore more pubbage. So that’s what I did – albeit reluctantly. This pub is definitely in the ‘crawlwrecker’ category, owing to the warm welcome, fabulous decor and delicious beer. What more do I want from a pub? Well, maybe dogs, dinosaurs and good food, but this suited me just fine, thank you very much. It is a rare pub that has all of these things (do they let dogs in the Rutland in Sheffield?).

The Old Town Hall

I decided to arrive early for the meeting to get to know my new CAMRA branch buddies a little before the meeting. There are two reasons I decided to rejoin CAMRA, after rage-quitting (actually passively cancelling my direct debit and letting my membership lapse) after the Revitalisation vote in 2018 (which I thought was a missed opportunity to welcome a more diverse range of members and volunteers). I rejoined because (a) I was disappointed with the lack of availability and range of cask ale as we came out of lockdown – when it had been something many had craved and missed tremendously during the lockdown; and (b) joining CAMRA is a great way of discovering the best real ale pubs across the area – and meeting the people who drink in them. When I moved down to Walsall, I joined CAMRA (and The Friends of Highgate Brewery, the brewery I could smell from my flat) and found so many great pubs and people because of it. It’s a great social institution.

The beer board here wasn’t quite up to date, as I ordered a Lancaster Blonde before joining Giles at his table. After a brief grumble that the meeting clashed with the England match (I knew which I would enjoy more), the conversation turned to the Blackpool Cricket Club Beer Festival this weekend (where I had first met Giles over ten years ago).

I found myself looking up and was delighted with what I found on the ceiling.

Ooh hello Morty!

Apologies for the plank over Morty’s head there, but I had to practically sit on a complete stranger’s lap to capture this artwork for you. How great is this?

And look – there’s Stan and Jimmy too:

What a lovely surprise that was!

Now I was up, I continued upstairs to where the CAMRA meeting was taking place. A proper warren, this pub was. I like a pub with nooks and secret rooms. I also liked this by the door:

The meeting was relaxed and informative. I particularly enjoy new pub news and it was pleasing to hear that the ratio of new pubs in the branch area is far, far greater than the number of closures during the last 18 difficult months. I wonder how typical this is?

My mission for the evening was to not volunteer as Branch Secretary (this will inevitably happen, just as I will end up as Secretary at Squires Gate at some point). Happily, the subject never came up – and the AGM will come at a point several months down the line when I will have built up to volunteering. My plan is to spend the interim getting to know who the branch members are, making minute-taking much easier. I also plan to listen and learn about the branch and rediscover what the organisation is all about. I hadn’t planned on contributing to the meeting, but found myself doing so nonetheless.

I appear to have developed strong values and principles during the last 18 months, as I have had more time to think and get to know myself better. My Spoons boycott seems at odds with being involved with an organisation that provides all members with vouchers to spend in those pubs. Is offering members beer discounts the best membership recruitment policy? Would removing this lead to a higher percentage of active members? Should we not be supporting pubs with every penny we can, as opposed to using our CAMRA discounts? Who knew I had this politics in me?

At the end of the meeting I might have stayed to chat with the remaining members, but I had a pub crawl to be cracking on with.

Golden Ball

Ooh a suggestion box! More of this sort of thing! As I was now busily in crawl mode, I failed to post any suggestions but, if you’re reading, the Cross Bay Blonde would go down very nicely, thank you. And don’t scrimp on the gravy or curry sauce if you do food.

I went for a half of Hen Harrier and was delighted to find a nice chair at a table just in front of a big screen, so I could catch the end of the England match. Just as I settled back in my chair and took a swig of my beer, the final whistle blew. Oh. But England had beaten Hungary 4-0 away – and Blackpool’s Shayne Lavery had scored his first goal for Northern Ireland. So it was a good football night.

Thatched House

Now on to the final pub of the night (or was it?). On my virtual crawl, I had resolved that this place was warm and comfortable and very hard to leave. And it did, after all, have the largest beer range of the night:

  • Greene King IPA
  • Bowland Hen Harrier
  • Rudgate Battleaxe Best Bitter
  • Saltaire Blonde
  • Black Sheep Best Bitter
  • Sharps Doom Bar
  • Saltaire Pacifica (Fruity 7 Hop IPA)
  • Bradfield Farmers Blonde
  • Timothy Taylor Landlord
  • Bradfield Farmers 5K (5 Malts, 5 Hops)
  • Saltaire Amarillo
  • Saltaire New World (Hoppy Red Beer)
  • Bank Top Port O’Call

Phew! That was a lot of pump clips to peruse before I finally got to what I wanted – my first dark beer of the night.

Weird glass and apologies for the focus – this was six pubs in, so it does seem quite apt

As I sat alone in one of the side rooms (I do like the layout of this pub), I heard some familiar voices from around the corner and relocated to join my new CAMRA friends Rick (chairman), Alistair (young members) and Lee (of Fifteens St Annes fame). Almost as soon as I sat down, I was sent out the back door to photograph the on-site brewery ‘for that thing you write’.

Again, I can only apologise for the crappy photo. In my defence, it was dark and I was conscious that the only other person in the beer garden was having quite an animated private (but very interesting) conversation. What I ought to have done was spend a lot longer getting the photograph perfect, but my manners got the better of me, so I snapped quickly and scurried back inside.

As the others collectively disappeared to catch the bus home, I had a while to wait for Lee to collect me, as he was busy hosting a live watchalong of the England match and had a few guests in for a post-match chat. I therefore still had some time to kill. Ah-ha! A fine excuse (as if I needed one) to head back to my undisputed favourite pub of the night by a country mile: the Stocks & Shilling. And look how good the place looks by night:

I didn’t let the closed doors deter me. I tried them (closing time was 2300 and it was only 2230) and strode inside.

‘We’re closed, I’m afraid…’

‘Oh no! I thought you were open til 11?’

‘There was no-one in, so we closed early.’

‘Oh no! I’ve been to six pubs tonight and you’re my favourite so I thought I’d come back for another.’

‘Oh – I’m sorry.’

Dejected, I found myself back on the dark streets of Poulton. What now? Well, back to the Thatched, I suppose…

As I trudged back to the opposite side of the square (not across the spooky churchyard alone in the dark), my ears pulled me in the direction of a live band I could hear playing across the road…

Cube

Another thing I have learned during lockdown is to live life to the full – because you never know when it is all going to stop. So, here I was, on the seventh stop of what was supposed to be a five-pub crawl. Just because I could. And it was ace.

It was too loud to order a drink so I was pleased that the staff didn’t seem to notice me standing at the bar. I didn’t really want a drink anyway – I’d had enough and was only here to enjoy the music. Eventually I felt bad that I wasn’t contributing, so ordered a water, in the absence of any sugar-free-pop-that-isn’t-coke. I leaned on the non-serving area to the side of the bar and lost myself in the music.

Lee had called to let me know he was setting off to collect me so I let him know where I was. Fifteen minutes later, I felt a tap on my shoulder and there he was to take me home.

What a cracking night out in Poulton that had been. Seven pubs on a school night! But I only had seven halves (3.5 pints) of mainly weak beer over a five-hour period, so I knew I would be fine the next morning (and I was). Drink responsibly, folks!

I can tell you the exact cost of these visits because everything goes on the card these days. I’m not sure I want to know this information but, as a bonus item for the blog, I’ll tot it up here for you to evidence that pub adventures (with an arguably substantial meal) don’t have to break the bank to enjoy a varied night out:

  • Bull – £9.89 (half + food)
  • Rhythm & Brews – £4.80 (two-thirds)
  • Stocks & Shilling – £2.00 (half)
  • The Old Town Hall – £1.95 (half) + £5.20 (pint for random man at my table for convenience during the meeting + half of Yankee that I forgot to mention above)
  • Golden Ball – £1.80 (half)
  • Thatched House – £1.75 (half)
  • Cube – £1.60 (water)
  • TOTAL – £28.99

This was a useful exploratory mission and I wholeheartedly recommend Poulton for a day/night out. Now I’ve got the research virtually and actually completed, I imagine my next visit to Poulton will involve a meal at a restaurant and a good sesh in the Stocks & Shilling.

Next stop Lytham for the CAMRA social and tap takeover at Taps next Tuesday (and probably a crawl because Martin is a bad/fun influence). How wonderful to have football and pubs back. Life is good.

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