Wigan is my favourite place in the whole world. Why? Well this post (featuring Giraffe Woman and friendly homeless man) should explain all. Aside from having many magnificent pubs (too many to visit in one day – although I will give this a good go today), the Wigan people are simply the best. They are my tribe. I nearly moved to Wigan before I moved back to Blackpool and every time I visit I realise why. Today was only going to reinforce my love of this wonderful town.
The Lancashire Hotpots play Wigan on a Friday night in December every year and this has now become an annual pilgrimage for me. I love the Hotpots and I love Wigan so this is one of the highlights of my year. Today Karen was joining me for the drinks part of the day and we we rendezvoused at Blackpool North c1045.
En route to the station, when I was booking my ticket, I noted that the direct train to Wigan was cancelled. Grr. So I booked on the next train, which changed at Blackpool East (which I had been hoping to avoid). Karen spotted an earlier train so we jumped on that instead. We were soon advised that train had been cancelled and were directed onto the Hazel Grove train. I had no idea where Hazel Grove was but all trains stop at Blackpool East, so that knowledge was not required. I then checked my phone and saw there was a train that allowed us a longer connection, so we decamped again to this train. You see how this straightforward journey is already becoming complicated?
We were made aware that there were signalling problems in Wigan but the timetable assured us we would land at Wigan North Western at 1212. As our train made its way to Blackpool East, Karen was nattering away but I was anxious about the completion of the journey and could not relax.
At Blackpool East, we boarded the London Euston train that was due to call at Wigan. And it didn’t move for a long time. The train manager updated us every ten minutes but was not sure whether the train was going to be diverted via Manchester or would continue on the booked route – although they had managed to find a generator now, which sounded like encouraging news. After probably half an hour, the Manchester route was decided on and we found ourselves turfed off another train.
Now, despite my best efforts to bomb, redesign and rebuild it on my virtual travels during lockdown, Blackpool East is not a place you want to get stuck for any length of time. And we simply didn’t know what to do here. Wait for the next train, despite not knowing when this was going to be? Wait for the rail replacement bus, despite not knowing when this was going to be? Take the bus to Wigan, which was due but took an hour and a half(!). Recalibrate the entire day and take the opportunity for a crawl round Blackpool East? Uber to Wigan at £34? Taxi to Wigan?
I was beginning to get hangry and Karen was not for hanging around in Blackpool East, so I stood in line for a taxi while she trotted off back into the station to conduct further investigations. As I neared the front of the queue, Karen called to announce that she had found a London train that was stopping at Wigan (allegedly), so I sprinted in the direction of platform 4. How was this going to go?
Well, to Wigan, as it happened – where we finally landed at 1230, 45 minutes later than advertised (I must get that refund sorted). Boy were we in need of a beer now! My itinerary had started with a stop at Station Cafe for breakfast but now it was technically lunchtime and I needed a beer with my food, so the plan was tweaked and it was straight to the pub.
I had scheduled in The Raven for tea but it would do very nicely for lunch, thank you very much. But – first and foremost – beer!
Ever-conscious of my diet, I decided on the lower ABV Shropshire Gold as opposed to the 5% Port O’Call.
By now in need of nu-nu food – and rarely able to see past the word ‘curry’ on a menu at the best of times – I could not resist the Kickin Chicken Curry.
Now this curry transported me back to Rotherham (which can never be a good thing). On my last visit to the New York Stadium in January 2020, I had what was billed as a ‘Chicken Balti Pukka Pie’, which was clearly no such thing, as it was very tomatoey and not very spicy. Well this curry was just the same in terms of flavour and questionable naming convention. It was most certainly not ‘Kickin’. However – as a tomato-based curry – it was good for my diet, hence I scoffed it down quickly and without complaint.
Here I was also pleased with the Lancashire Hotpots-themed menu. Indeed Karen had the hotpot for lunch. There was also a full Chippy Tea menu, it being Friday.
I was also very excited by the Christmas menu here. I defy you to show me a more Northern Christmas menu than this.
There wasn’t much of a phone signal in here and I was keen to check in my beer on Untappd and to Tweet about the pub, so I headed out into the previously-undiscovered beer garden, where the signal was much better.
On our way out, we spotted a couple of dogs snoozing by the fire by the bar.
This is a great pub – and we would find ourselves back here for our tea later.
It had now started raining, which made it feel more like Wigan, so we scampered across the churchyard to the next pub on the itinerary, Karen bemoaning the fact she ‘hadn’t dressed for rain’. Schoolgirl error.
Now this was our Pub Of Choice ahead of Blackpool matches here for many years. The staff and locals here are particularly friendly. Today, I engaged in conversation with a man who was seated at the bar. He recommended the Wainwrights, but I explained that I wanted to try the local beer as I was from out of town and on an eight-pub ‘cultural’ crawl. Now I’d outed myself as a drinker, he did the same.
‘I keep a count of the beers I’ve had by marking them on my hand.’
He showed me his hand, which confirmed that he was on his second pint of the day.
‘It’s when they go all the way up my wrist I know I’m in trouble.’
Here were today’s offerings in The Anvil.
I went for the California as it was the local brew. Karen argued that California wasn’t local but I countered that there were Californias everywhere, so there was probably one around here. She promptly researched this and listed the Californias in England (the one in Birmingham I remember and there’s also a California Beach in Norfolk, as well as a Manchester in California).
The Christmas tree lured me into the back room, where a couple of fellow day-drinkers were watching the horse racing on the telly.
Behind me was a Wigan Athletic match programme from 1978, when they were first promoted to the Football League. I read aloud the Chairman’s Message.
Little could any Wigan fan have then imagined how they would go on to play in the Premier League and win the FA Cup.
As I checked in on the socials, I noted that a fellow Hotpotter was due to land in Wigan anon, so I invited Sam to join us on the next leg of our crawl. I had no idea who – or even what gender – Sam was, but any fellow Hotpotter would be welcomed into the fold. Sam was one of us.
Now this was a new pub on the block. Having visited here only on my virtual crawl of Wigan back in January, I was looking forward to seeing what this place had to offer. Certainly quite a lot in terms of beer…
I stood just inside the door for quite some time trying to digest this overwhelming beer menu. Meanwhile Sam arrived, introductions were made and we headed towards the bar. I’d spotted there were cask pumps on there and resolved that (a) that would whittle down my options considerably to something more manageable; and (b) I shouldn’t be considering craft beer on an eight-pub crawl anyway.
It was impossible to resist the Mobberley Dark Winter Toffee and Chocolate Stout – and this was the first contender for favourite beer of the day.
There was much to photograph in this pub, including the wall at the back.
I’ve seen something similar in a pub toilet somewhere (possibly in Birmingham?).
This additional beer list tickled me as it featured a line from a Hotpots tune.
We were also amused by the Christmas gonks made from socks.
By the time we had discussed the Wigan-St Helens rivalry, the difference between rugby league and rugby union (still no idea) and decided whether or not sound travelled diagonally, it was time to head to the next stop on the crawl.
Now this is a strange one. On previous visits, this pub was definitely called Docs Symposium, but it was now listed in the beer guide as Docs Alehouse. As it was under new ownership, it made sense that the name had been changed. But, when we arrived, the signage definitely still said Docs Symposium. So who knows what it’s called?
On entering the pub, we were greeted by a waft of hot air and an odd cabbagey aroma, which I put down to the man sitting alone in the bar having just let off a crafty fart.
Here I opted for the Scallywag as the locally-brewed beer. It was a lovely tasty malty bitter and I enjoyed it very much. Indeed, this was to be crowned the winner of my favourite beer of the day. Seek it out, dear reader.
There was a cute little husky(?) behind the bar who made me smile.
I was disappointed to see the pub had been redecorated, as it used to have the most amazing wallpaper (involving a lot of animals, I recall). But it was nicely festive.
There was a music theme, too – and indeed the music being played was notably pleasant (Sinatra).
And I do like good pub signage.
I remarked on the odd aroma – which had still not shifted – to the others. I now wondered if it was aftershave, as there is an aftershave that smells of cabbage – I used to work with someone who wore it.
‘It’s not called Eau de Cabbage or anything but it does smell cabbagey.’
By now I had confessed that I hadn’t washed my Hotpots hoodie since buying it four weeks earlier and wearing it pretty much every day since.
‘Maybe it’s your hoodie that smells?’ suggested Sam. Yes, he was fitting in perfectly well. But it was time we got rid of him now. Fortunately he was meeting his wife at the station shortly, so that was that problem solved.
We took a different route back into town, driven indoors by the rain, through shopping centres and a market that was just being taken down. We managed to resist the sweet shop.
As Sam headed off station-bound, we headed down an alley to our next pub, before finding ourselves distracted by an interesting work of art that was worth standing out in the rain for.
Our curiosity was also aroused by this nearby statue of ‘Billy B – People’s Legend’.
And then I laughed my head off at this car with a Santa windscreen wiper.
This is an oft-recommended pub that I did pop into briefly on my last visit. Upstairs is a craft beer bar called Hop House, where I stayed briefly on that occasion, finding it too hot and crowded for my liking. Today I had resolved to stay downstairs and check out the Chophouse.
We were greeted by loud music before we’d opened the door and it was bustling inside. The bar was to the left in a narrow section packed with people. I tried to squeeze my way through to the bar to survey the pump clips but it was uncomfortably packed – especially in these times of a new virulent COVID variant. Neither of us were at ease in here.
I headed upstairs in search of the Hop House but couldn’t find it on this occasion, despite following the directions on the wall. So we took the decision to leave. There were too many good pubs in Wigan to spend time in one we weren’t comfortable in. Although it is clearly very popular, so please don’t let me put you off visiting.
This quirky pub is in an arcade full of quirky shops, where we found the obligatory Dinosaur of the Day.
I’d love that but not at £460.
We walked in on the middle of an argument between a punter and the barman.
‘I’ll bet you a million pounds that some people pronounce it ‘GALLAGGER’ but some people pronounce it ‘GALLAHER’.’
I immediately waded in and confirmed that he was right.
‘There – you see? That’s a million pounds you owe me.’
And then an afterthought.
‘You can have a share of my winnings, of course.’
This pub was the Martland Mill Brewery Tap but there were none of their beers on today, so I’m guessing that’s no longer the case.
I had the Daily Bread.
The marquee at the rear of the pub was full of after-work drinkers, so we took a seat along the ledge opposite the bar. I’m not really a fan of high stools but we weren’t going to be here for long.
And, yeah, this was my happy place. They had pies on the bar and everything.
And then a woman arrived with a box full of mince pies.
I could have stayed here much longer, but we were getting hungry again now and didn’t want to be tempted by anything pie-related, so we made our way to the door.
‘Should I send you my bank details so you can transfer the money?’
‘Yes I’ll send it you when it comes through.’
Now this was the original Pub Of Choice in Wigan before Blackpool matches but dropped off the radar along the way. Since then it has had a revamp and is once again a magnificent pub.
Here are today’s beer offerings.
Of course I couldn’t resist the plum porter – another local beer from Wigan Brewhouse.
There’s a proper old-fashioned jukebox here.
The beer mats were belting here as well.
And the stained-glass window above the bar was a thing of beauty.
There was even a fake pie display on the bar.
I wondered if there was a story here, where someone had tried to eat them.
And look at the mosaic flooring at the entrance.
There was a lovely smell of food here so I hunted down and surveyed the menu. Check this out for a range of pies.
Karen was much amused that there was a pie called Kevin and I chuckled at the ‘Moolin Rouge.’
But of course pie was off the menu for me. Although I could have had a jacket potato here, I was more tempted by the menu at The Raven – where Karen was keen to return as it was her favourite pub of the day – so off we went.
The Raven (again)
They had turned over the beer in here since our visit at lunchtime and I was delighted to spot this little beauty.
Ohh yes – I would finally get my mild.
I chuckled at the ‘Mucky Chips’ on the menu.
But it was the healthy option for me of gammon, egg and a jacket potato.
At the next table was a Snapchat-filter girl, fully made-up, with filled lips, fake eyelashes and hair extensions…heartily tucking into pie, chips and gravy. Oh Wigan, how could I love you more? And by god that gravy looked amazing.
Karen had gravy with her cheese & onion pie and chips (ohh the chips looked so good too!) and, despite initially insisting it didn’t really go with cheese and onion pie, proceeded to clear her plate. I dared not even try a little bit for the sake of my diet. The willpower was still strong, even seven pubs down. Although I did insist on an action shot of the gravy being poured for your delectation, dear reader.
Right. Now it was safe to head to the obligatory last stop on any visit to Wigan.
This is always the last stop because it is so hard to leave. The beer selection is unsurpassed (cask, craft, bottles and cans), there’s a cracking range of snackage…
…and it’s reet handy for the station (there is even a departure board in the pub, so you can keep an eye on the trains).
Here are today’s cask offerings.
I went for the Batfink because my wings are like a shield of steel.
By now, time was beginning to run away with us. I bade farewell to Karen, who headed off to catch her train back to Blackpool from Wigan North Western. But I was heading in a different direction tonight, as I had some serious Hotpotting to do. I resisted the Beer Library and exited the pub.
I trotted up to Wigan Wallgate, passing without calling in at the Wallgate Chippy and its tempting festive offerings.
I realised I hadn’t got a train ticket, so I called up The Trainline app and managed to acquire one, despite struggling a little with the signal. I shortly found myself on platform 2 and subsequently the Southport train, which called at Hindley, where tonight’s gig was taking place.
Google Maps had previously informed me that it was a 20-minute walk from the station to The Monaco, so I called up the map to help me along my way. It was dark and I was on unfamiliar territory and I had been drinking and I was alone.
And there was no internet, so I couldn’t call up the map. Great. I had to recall the route from memory and mercifully I managed to get there in the end. Note to self: get printer fixed and take paper map next time.
Excited the venue was now in sight, I thought I recognised a familiar face in front of me.
‘You’re looking at me as if you know me.’
‘Er…no. Are you meant to be meeting someone?’
Well that was embarrassing. I was mortified to find this stranger was also joining the queue for the gig and I would have to stand behind her until we got in. But, hang on, was Rebecca the right name? I managed to muster up enough signal on my phone to establish that it wasn’t.
‘Stephanie! Are you Stephanie?’
Another blank look. It clearly wasn’t the Wiganese Hotpotter that I had been messaging this week. I tried to improve the situation and prove I wasn’t mental by explaining what a stressful day I’d had.
‘There were signalling problems at Wigan and it took me ages to get here. And now I’ve got no internet so I can’t access my ticket on my email.’
Random stranger’s partner kindly tried to offer me his hotspot without success, but I eventually got onto the venue’s wifi and successfully retrieved my ticket. Phew! Another note to self: photograph tickets in future if you still can’t get that printer working.
This now allowed me time to get further creeped out by the Santa in the window across the road.
And then finally – after what seemed like about an hour but was probably only 15 minutes – I was in the venue.
The Monaco: The Lancashire Hotpots Big Night Out Tour
Now this was a nice venue. It was a large room with the bar and the merch stall at the back. I undertook a top secret transaction at the merch stall before heading to the bar. I had planned on stopping drinking at this point but my strategy of two meals and eight halves of predominantly low-ABV beers had been almost too successful, in that I didn’t feel like I’d had quite enough to drink to let my hair down and have a good night’s Hotpotting. I acquired a can of Tetley’s Bitter.
‘Do you want a glass with that?’
Oh how I loved that necking it straight from the can was an option!
The Ladies was the next pitstop. For the Hotpots song hat-trick, there was ‘No Lock On The Door’ and I had to keep the door closed with one leg while I was on the loo.
There was also no toilet roll but I had some emergency tissues in my coat pocket so that wasn’t a problem.
I then wandered around to locate Natasha, who had intended on meeting me earlier, but had encountered traffic problems. We swapped tales of transport woes and had a general getting to know you chat, as we hadn’t really spoken much before, despite being friends on social media for some time now. Natasha is an Imp and a Hotpotter, so what’s not to like there?
I learned that Stu Penders was sadly absent tonight and the support was someone else (sorry, not sure who it was). We gradually edged our way towards the front so we were in prime position for when The Lancashire Hotpots came on.
I remembered to take pictures tonight, testament to how I was less lashed than normal.
It was a belting gig as always. I was terrified to find myself leading the conga at one point. The person behind me was ‘hands free’ so I had to keep checking the rest of the line was following and I wasn’t congaing on my own.
Can you see me at the front during Hey Jean?
The gig ended at 2230 and I had arranged collection from Lee at 2300, so I had time to kill. Natasha had disappeared at the end, muttering something unintelligible, so I wandered to the Ladies and then took a seat at a bench towards the back of the hall. The gig might have finished but dozens of Hotpotters remained, dancing away to the background music. Unlike at Manchester Academy last week, no-one was ushering us out. It was a different world over here. And I loved it.
I started a circuit of the room to see if I could see anyone I knew.
‘Jane! There you are! We’ve been looking everywhere for you! Where have you been?’
It was Sam and his wife Samantha, together with my new definitely-not-imaginary friend Stephanie and her husband Gary. They had been messaging and calling me to check if I was okay. Dear reader, these were strangers who I had not met before today. How lovely was that? My new Hotpotting family are a special bunch of people indeed.
My phone rang at 2300 – Lee was outside – so I said my goodbyes, assured my new friends I was assured of safe passage home – and that was the end of a sometimes-stressful but mainly fun day out Hotpotting in Wigan. And I can’t bloomin’ wait to do it all over again next year.
Next Up: You’re having a laugh if you think I’m getting up at 0600 to do a Football Tourist’s Guide to Derby after that but there will be a blog on the trip to the match.