Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

Chorley Pub Festival

I’d been promising myself a trip to Chorley for years, having heard anecdotally how good it was for pubs. Rightly or wrongly, I tend to need a specific event or occasion to go to the pub these days. When Chris and Kev told me about Chorley Pub Festival en route to Wigan earlier this year I immediately put the date in my diary.

Now I do love a good plan. The anticipation of a trip is almost as good as the trip itself. But I’d had such a busy week that I didn’t get round to planning my Chorley Pub Festival adventure until the evening before I went. How did I pick which pubs to visit out of the 14 taking part in the festival? Realistically my maximum is ten in a day (a half in each). I knew I needed help with my plan so consulted Chris. The bad news was that he and Kev had decided against Chorley in favour of Wigan Central Beer Festival this weekend. But the good news was that he instantly recommended nine pubs. I liked that number so went with those.

I made a note of opening hours and Good Beer Guide listings and checked each pub for a food menu. With nine pubs to visit, I really wanted to factor in two meals to soak up the beer. It was this element that proved the most tricky, so I sought assistance from Twitter. This provided a few options, but most roads tended to lead to the same place, which I added to my itinerary early on to sniff out. Back up plans were Chorley Town Cafe (you can’t go wrong with a caff) and Calico Lounge (as I knew where it was and I liked its sister Vintro Lounge in Blackpool). Sadly there appeared to be no pub grub on offer at all today (by which I mean hearty homecooked meals, as opposed to snackage that Paddington wouldn’t approve of).

Today was a Friday and I leapt out of bed as soon as I realised it was Picard finale day. I had to watch that before I went out!

Whilst doing so, I scoffed a pizza toastie so I wasn’t going out on an empty stomach.

I narrowly missed the train I’d been going for but they’re every half hour to Chorley so that was ok. I sat in Blackpool North station and used the time to edit a chapter of my book. I’m working on it every day now and it’s progressing nicely. You’re going to love it, dear reader.

The next train arrived in a flash, I continued writing on the train and was soon arriving in Chorley. A new town to explore – how exciting!

As usual, I struggled to get my bearings on exiting an unfamiliar station and I was soon approached by a man who was also lost and seeking my help. We got chatting as we searched out the town centre together. He was from London and didn’t drink so we didn’t have much else in common other than being lost and both heading to the exact same street (he was going to view some premises for work). Anyway we got there soon enough. I’m only now wondering how on Earth he manages to get around London. Maybe he just follows people there like I do.

I spied my first stop, which was Chorley Market. I gave the food stalls a lingering glance (yes, I’d be back here to eat later) but my first port of call was the market micropub.

The Bob Inn

I found myself in a bit of a kerfuffle as soon as I arrived here. There was so much to do! What first? Ah yes – pick up a festival programme so I can see what beers are on where.

Disclaimer: Photo taken at home. And yes that is a fluffy slipper.

This came with a card to get stamped in every pub for the chance to win a prize.

‘There’s ale trail maps over there, too – here I’ll get you one.’

Ooh the customers were friendly!

Blimey, there really was a lot going on here. What else did I need to do? Ah – that’s it! Beer.

I surveyed the pump clips, really wanting the dark one on the far left, which was half-turned round.

‘Is that one on?’

‘No – but there is a dark beer over there.’

The barmaid pointed to the pop up bar on the other side of the market, so off I trotted.

I had the mild and the mild was good.

I can’t remember which bar I paid at (I was still in a state of flux) or where I got my stamp, but I soon found myself back at the micropub itself, blowing on my stamp to dry it before putting my card away inside the festival programme.

‘Smudge it with your finger – don’t you know that trick?’

Were my fellow drinkers suggesting I cheat and award myself stamps at pubs I hadn’t visited? Got to love their ingenuity.

Disclaimer: Photo taken at the end of the trail – no cheating on my watch.

I’d literally been gone a minute and this was now on the bar.

Remember this one from Halifax?

My new friends were Wiganers and they had provided the pies (and, if I recall correctly, duck slice) currently sitting on the bar.

I explained how much I loved Wigan and that I was currently reading a book by a Wiganer about his quest for the best pie. I asked where they thought did the best pies. They said it was Burchalls in St Helens. Guess I’ll have to give them a try the next time I’m Hotpotting over that way to see what all the fuss is about. For a Wiganer to recommend a pie from St Helens, it must be good!

This was also perched on the bar and I didn’t ask – and the barmaid also made a point of not asking – because some things are best left to the imagination.

Conversation returned to beer and pubs (my new friends were something to do with Wigan CAMRA) and I found out that there would be morris dancers at the festival tomorrow. Phew! I was relieved they weren’t here today, as I have a phobia of morris dancers.

I could have stayed here all day. How friendly were these people? It was just like being in Wigan. But, of course, I had eight other pubs to visit, so I said my reluctant goodbyes – handing out my business cards so my new friends could read this blog – and trotted off to the next pub on my itinerary.

The Flat Iron

I headed straight up to the bar, on the left hand side of the pub, to survey the pump clips. This proved a little tricky, as there were a couple of punters sitting at the bar right in front of them.

‘Excuse me – do you mind if I just jump in here so I can photograph the pump clips?’

Ooh yes please! Love me a bit of Black Edge.

As I presented my card to be stamped, the barman told me only pints qualified for a stamp – although if I ordered another half he’d stamp it for me. This got my back up right away. Well that hadn’t been the case at the friendlier Bob Inn.

I took a cursory glance around the pub through slanted eyes. The decor was modern – black and silver – and there was racing on the TV. I flounced off to find a table to park myself at.

I had intended on sitting as far away from this unwelcoming bar as possible, but then I overheard a beery conversation at a table close to the bar, so reversed and took a seat at the table next to them so I could earwig on their conversation and see what snippets I could pick up. My neighbours included Matthew, one of the festival organisers, who said (to his companions) that people should really get a stamp even if they only had a half, as the point of the festival was to encourage people to visit as many pubs as possible on the trail.

After I’d finished festering I returned to the bar to return my empty glass and thank the barman on my way out (just something I do, like thanking the driver when I get off the bus). And, what do you know, he redeemed himself – and saved the pub – by saying he would stamp my card after all. Huzzah! I breathed out and thanked him and confessed to being a blogger that had been about to mark the pub down for their lack of stampage. I got chatting to Matthew, who explained a little more about the trail and how it was funded and handed him, too, a business card, now I could say something nice about his pub. Indeed I raved about their beer throughout the rest of the trail.

As I stepped outside, the wind was getting up and I sensed rain incoming (it didn’t come). I passed a row of local shops before crossing back over the main road back in the direction of the train station.

I could soon see the next pub on the horizon and picked up my pace just as I passed some Jehovah’s Witnesses who greeted me with a warm and friendly hello, like I was an old friend.

Malt n Hops

In here I spotted the Blackpool lot, including Gary from Cask & Tap (best pub in Blackpool – check it out), who were starting their crawl here today. This would have been a sensible place for me to start, too (as I’d already walked past it on my way out of the station) – especially considering I hadn’t even eaten yet (the whole point of visiting the market first).

Right – to the bar!

That’s my half of mild on the right.

I went to sit with Gary et al, first placing my beer on the table, followed by my handbag.

‘I’ll just hold that beer for you. I know what you’re like for knocking them over.’

Well remembered from Wigan Beer Festival, Gary! I gave my sunglasses case a thorough sniff and sadly the scent of Clay Brow Nano Brewery’s Papa P’s had worn off. Perhaps I’d give it a dab of porter later on.

We discussed our respective plans for the day – they were off to Bob Inn next – and I was advised to end up in The Ale Station, as they have a departure board in there (a la Wigan Central), which is handy when getting the train home. Gary also told me about a new bottleshop and micropub in Garstang called Gin & Brews, which sounds worth a visit. Gary also pointed out that there were more beers on the bar that I hadn’t spotted. I leapt up immediately to take more photos. What else had I missed?

What a fab pub this was! But again – alas – it was time to move on.

Shepherds Hall Ale House & Victoria Rooms

This is a corner pub with floor to ceiling windows that invite the passer-by to peer inside. I stepped in and headed (as usual) immediately towards the bar.

This was one of those ranges that just says ‘meh’ to me. I vehemently dislike citra – and all of these beers are the same colour (which isn’t black). I love the Vocation Naughty & Nice range but I wasn’t particularly excited by these. I’m not sure if my displeasure was expressed verbally or via the look on my face, but I was quickly pointed in the direction of the bar in the next room. Aha!

That’s better! I disregarded the Oakham beers (they’re just not to my taste), briefly contemplated the Cwtch (because who doesn’t enjoy a lovely cwtch?) but obviously plumped for the stout. As I waited for my beer to be poured, I heard the sound of an accordion and I froze. Morris dancers?! I grabbed my beer – fully prepared to down it in one if required – and turned to face the pub with trepidation…

…and was relived to see no Morris dancers! Phew! There was a group of musicians (mainly violinists) taking up an entire large seating area towards the front of the pub. How lovely.

I had a little wander around this pub, which had lots of little rooms within it. It was quirky and I liked it.

Mmm Chocolate Orange Espresso Martini…

I didn’t stay here too long because a headache began to form, which I think was a result of the violins and my hunger kicking in. So back to Chorley Market it was. And I knew exactly what I would be having…

Chorley Market

But first a loo review! I had spied toilet facilities in the market so went to check them out and make myself comfortable before I sat down to eat. In short, they had blue lighting, my feet didn’t touch the floor when sitting on the loo, there was an interesting flushing mechanism and a Dyson Air Blade.

That gadget at the rear of the bowl squirted out water in different directions.

Curry King

But now onwards and back into the market…

Here’s what I was after.

The man behind the counter was busy with something at the back of the stall with his back to me. I waited patiently and noticed a queue quickly beginning to form behind me. It seemed that having a customer attracted more customers. I was served soon enough and this is what I had.

Chicken & Vegetable Curry with Rice.

It was really tasty and filling and exactly what I needed. More of this sort of thing please! If there’s one of these in Abingdon Street Market in Blackpool when it opens after the revamp I’ll be delighted.

Cool lighting.
I read this as BEART WN, thinking it was some new craft beer place called Beart in Wigan. I’ve just googled it and face-palmed.

Suitably sustained, I was now ready to continue with my crawl.

Nelipots Bar

I’d already passed this place twice today without realising it was a bar – despite this little stretch reminding me very much of the Hop & Vine in Hull.

I stepped inside and was immediately greeted by a selection of pastries.

I do like a nice pasty but I had just eaten (precisely to avoid temptation by this sort of thing, which would certainly have prompted a hard stare from Paddington, who I’d forgotten to bring along today).

‘Ooh it smells nice in here!’ There was a delightful gingerbread aroma.

‘Ooh thank you. Yes I am a bit obsessed with candles.’

The landlady was a lovely woman and I felt at home here instantly.

‘I’m looking for the ales?’ I couldn’t see them.

‘Well there’s those two over there and there’s more in the garden.’

Obvs it’s a no to the citra and there wasn’t much to go on with the other one, so I headed outside.

Here’s where I have to consult Untappd (@Blackpooljane if you wanna give me a follow) to see what I had. It tells me I had the Lady of the Lake (a session bitter).

‘I’ll pay for that.’

Enter Paul, a reader of this blog and a Burnley fan. Well that was kind of him. I enquired if I might join him and Pete at their table next to the bar. It didn’t smell of gingerbread out here but apparently I smelled of curry. I’d never met these guys before but beer and football make for easy conversation with strangers.

Look how lovely this little beer garden is.

Umbrellas above our table.

We were all heading to the same pub next, so walked there together. Paul asked if I got scared walking round all these pubs on my own. I replied that it was usually daylight and I’d only ever really felt scared on my crawl round Lytham (‘Lytham?!’). I explained that had been immediately post-lockdown when I was no longer used to going out (a) unaccompanied and (b) in the dark. Also there was a general element of social anxiety at that time. Now I think nothing of crawling round an unfamiliar town on my own.

There was a group of people ahead, armed with marker pens and asking the question: ‘What is important to you?’. Can you guess what mine and Paul’s answers were?

I’m intrigued by the answer ELF. Is that the movie?

On handing back the marker pen, I was presented with this.

It turned out these were Mormons. Blimey – they were all out today! But there was no time to dwell on that, as we had another pub to visit.

Rileys Taproom & Wine Bar

I’ll confess I’d been expecting a snooker hall here but this was quite the opposite: a cool craft bar with the best (and most lethal) beer menu of the day.

It was now Pete’s round and he didn’t know me from Adam (Eve?) but Paul had insisted that my blog was excellent and he included me in his round which I felt a little guilty about (especially since I wanted EVERYTHING on the menu). I restrained myself and requested a third of the Vocation and Vault City collab(!) that everyone had been talking about all day. And it was absolutely the best beer of the day (if not my life). Pete was on pints and Paul had a paddle of thirds but they were faster drinkers than me (pacing myself and savouring my third) so Pete soon leapt up to buy another round.

‘No, no – it’s my round!’ I insisted.

‘No, no – I read your blogs for free. I’m getting these.’

Well who was I to argue? I had another third of the same. I also got to taste the Pineapple Habanero (I didn’t get much of a chilli burn) and the Mango Smoothie (which tasted just like fruit juice and not the 8% beer it actually was).

Oh those platters!

This pub really belongs at the end of a crawl of Chorley so the stronger beers can be enjoyed as a nightcap – and it’s a 100% Must Visit on any crawl of Chorley.

Quick loo review before I go:

These smelled nice.

It was here I parted company with my new friends as I was on a set itinerary and our paths now differed.

The Shed & Garden

I strode up to the bar at the far end of the room, where I was greeted by a friendly barman and these beers.

The festival programme had suggested no dark beers were on in here. That’s my half of Pennine Heartland on the bar.

This was a beautifully decked out pub and I was glad I’d chosen to visit.

This was my view from The Shed.

There was a group of people sitting in The Garden to my right. As they got up to leave, one of their party came over to chat with me over the fence. He was a Wiganer, now living in Adlington – and another reader of this blog. How funny that I’d never even been to Chorley before but I was recognised here.

Now it was time to rattle off the last two stops of the day.

Ben’s Tap & Bottleshop

I’d deliberately left this place until (almost) last in case I was tempted by any takeaway beers (so I wasn’t lugging them round all day).

I went for the Alright Treacle, which I remembered from Docs Symposium/Alehouse/Whatevs in Wigan a few months back.

This was a busy little micro but I managed to spot a gap on some bench seating at one of the tables.

‘Is this seat taken?’

‘No – sit yourself down.’

It turned out that my new table companions were the group from the last pub (minus the Wiganer I’d been chatting to). We got to talking and again some concern was expressed that I was doing a pub crawl on my own. And yet I hadn’t really been on my own today, had I? There’d only been the Shepherds where I hadn’t spoken with anyone – and only there because of the music and me seeking a quiet space where I could catch up on my pub admin (Untappd, Twitter, reading the festival programme). I must confess that Chorley surpassed even Wigan today for its friendliness and warmth of character (albeit with a good number of Wiganers thrown into the mix). I felt at home all day, despite never having visited before (ok, once, years ago, before a match at Horwich).

I learned from my new friends that the Shepherds was actually two pubs (hence the name Shepherds Hall Ale House AND Victoria Rooms. This seems to be a Chorley thing, it also having The Shed AND The Garden.

Right – onwards to the final stop of the day!

The Ale Station

Yay a mild! I’d expect nothing less in a good old traditional boozer such as this.

Looking good for that 1741. I make that nine pubs (and lunch) in five hours.

I grabbed a table opposite the bar and was soon joined by Paul and Pete again and we caught up on our respective crawls before I headed off to catch that train (which I promptly fell asleep on).

What a fab day out Chorley is. There were even more pubs on the trail that I didn’t get chance to visit today: Rose & Crown, Baaa 38, Clarkes Sibin, White Bull and Railway. There’s also a Chorley Real Ale Trail map, which features yet more pubs: Artisan Ale House, Bootleggers, Crown, Pearsons, Potters Arms, Prince of Wales, Sams Bar and Traders Taphouse. That’s not to mention Masons Arms, the town’s other Good Beer Guide entry. Phew! If all that’s not an excuse for a revisit, I don’t know what is!

Fellow beer blogger Chris Dyson went to Chorley Pub Festival on the Saturday so, if you can face the morris dancers, here’s the link to read all about it.

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Next Up: Bridlington.

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