In a previous blog, I toyed with the idea of going to watch the rugby for a giggle. I was growing disillusioned with football and wondered if it might be more fun. When I visited the Museum of Wigan Life I was amazed that there’s this whole parallel universe of rugby that I had no idea existed. They had fanzines and season tickets and many similar cultural items and memorabilia. After getting my thoughts down here, as often happens, I’d probably forget about it soon enough. But, on this occasion, I wasn’t allowed. You may recall Sarah from my Hull blog, who pinned me down to a Bastille Day trip to our fave town for an actual rugby match. Now you know I need little excuse to go to Wigan at the best of times, so today I found myself heading back to my happy place for a brand new experience.
In my excitement I arrived at Blackpool North way too early for my train so I headed to the refreshment kiosk for a brew.
But, never mind that, LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THESE BUTTIES!
Needless to say I didn’t have one (I could feel Paddington’s hard stare from back home) and instead tucked into a couple of Alpen Light bars I’d brought with me.
The train journey to Wigan was uneventful and I arrived on time at 1148. It was raining (do I even need to say that: it’s Wigan) so I reverted to my now traditional pastime of loitering on the station trying to look like I’m not actually waiting for the Swan & Railway to open at noon.
I admired the wall art before standing beside this machine, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t here on my last visit.
I’d only been standing there a minute when a woman who looked like she worked on the station came over and held her water bottle under the dispenser before muttering something about it not working.
‘I think it’s out of order. There’s a sign.’
‘Oh no it is working but no-one’s taken the sign off. Ah – there you go. It’s not my job to take it off – the boss needs to do it. There’s only me drinking it. I think they’re waiting to see if I die.’
And off she trotted with her bottle full of water. I hope she’s ok. And so – yet again – I’d not been in Wigan for five minutes before meeting a character who made me smile.
I looked up and saw the doors to the pub were now open, so I scuttled across the road, through the doors and into the bar on the right. Here’s what greeted me on the bar.
‘I don’t need to look any further than that one.’
I pointed to the first pump clip and ordered a half.
When I started thinking about moving back to Blackpool, one of the main deterrents was the beer. I had fallen in love with beer in Yorkshire and I simply hadn’t found any beers from the right side of the Pennines that I really liked; I found them all a bit meh. This all changed when I discovered Blackedge Brewery. I am in love with this brewery’s dark beers, which happily I see frequently across the region. And now they do a Dark Mild?! Well that’s my favourite beer type! Obvs there was no way I wasn’t having that. And, dear reader, it only bloody rivals my beloved Church End Gravediggers as The Best Beer Ever. Blackedge, I love you!
Of course my eyes did wander along the rest of the pump clips because, well, you can’t not look at all the pump clips, can you? Woah hang on – Tatton Black Honeycomb Cinder Toffee Porter?
‘Ooh can I have a half of that one as well, please?’
Having established that food was being served, I took a seat at a table, took my jacket off and began savouring the dark mild. Lush as!
Sarah soon arrived with Rupert the Bear (dammit, I’d forgotten to bring Paddington).
‘Ooh what have you got us to drink?’
I looked sheepish and she soon realised that both beers were actually for me. It hadn’t occurred to me to buy her one – I am so used to drinking on my own. She went to the bar and bought her own.
Now we could get down to ordering some lunch. I knew from my previous visit that there were healthy options on the menu but oh my word, what was this…?!
I knew that Paddington would have chosen a jacket potato for me but he wasn’t here to give me the strength to resist this exciting new delicacy. Sarah suggested we defer to Rupert. His advice?
We got to chatting with the landlord about Bent n Bongs beer festival down the road in Atherton, which I’d already heard good things about. He confirmed it was one of the best and said the food was particularly great. I demanded more detail on this point.
‘They do a home made hot dog with black pudding on top.’
That was me sold. I’ve signed up to the festival mailing list and you can do the same here.
Suddenly, the door burst open with a powerful gust of wind and glass shattered on the floor as a framed certificate fell from the wall. Phew – that was dramatic! Cue frantic sweeping up of glass, as it was right by the door.
Sarah was staying here tonight, so we headed through to the back so she could check in. I learned that it’s best to keep the windows closed in the rooms here, otherwise pigeons decide to check in. Sarah had experienced this first hand and our landlady confirmed this was an issue – and that she was terrified of birds.
‘I’ll throw out any six foot six man but if he was wearing a pigeon on his shoulder…’
We headed up to the room, where Rupert made himself comfortable and decided to stay in for the night.
There was a huge mirror by the bed in case you’re into that sort of thing.
Sarah ditched her bags and it was now time to head out and explore Wigan further. It was raining and the forecast was more rain because this was, after all, Wigan, so we decided to keep to quite a small area today, as opposed to hiking up to Standish.
Well here’s news, dear reader! Docs Alehouse (née Symposium) has had a change of name! We strode in to find out more, taking no heed of the unwelcoming sign on the door.
We made immediate enquiries as to the origin of the new name. Apparently it was the name of the new owner’s first bar in Hong Kong.
There were monkeys around the pub, with hopefully more monkey memorabilia to follow.
But what beer did they have on, I can hear you screaming from here.
I had a half of the Crafty Fox.
I was disappointed with the minisculity of this packet of Monster Munch.
I didn’t know they made them that small. Although I suppose Paddington would have approved.
We had quite the list of pubs to visit in a limited amount of time (ok seven hours) today so we supped up and made our way to the next one on the list.
This place is a Danger Zone for me. So many exciting strong beers.
But I was on a multi-pub crawl today and I knew that strong beer must be avoided on such a sesh. I must try to stick as close to 4% as possible. I announced this to both Sarah and the barmaid in Real Crafty, instructing them both to not allow me to choose anything of stupid strength. Ooh how can I resist that Porteresque? Ohh and that number 25…
Happily my eyes continued scrolling until they landed on number 13, which was lucky for me as it was absolutely bloody lush.
Here’s Sarah’s highly photogenic beer.
It was in here that Sarah told me about her friend Philippa’s mission to hunt down every pub from the 1975 Good Beer Guide. I understand the rules are that, if the pub still exists, members of Team 1975 should have a drink in there and have their photograph taken outside. If the pub no longer exists, a photo is still required, showing what the building is now. Philippa had sent through to Sarah the list of pubs in Wigan in the 1975 GBG in case she could get any ticks today. Sarah hadn’t promised anything, as we had a busy day as it was, but I expressed an interest because of my addictive personality and you know how I like a good mission.
‘Ooh look – that one says it’s by the bus station and we’re heading over that way next.’
I suspect you know what’s coming but meanwhile here’s the games corner that I only spotted on the way out.
Besides, there was no time for games today, as we had not-ticking to be getting on with.
This is an ace pub and I was pleased to have escaped it unscathed.
As we walked back down in the rain to the next pub, Sarah educated me on different types of rainfall. I shared her disappointment that she was more well-versed in this subject than me; as a Northerner, I felt I’d let myself and all my readers down in this regard. Apparently the rain comes in from the Atlantic, it rains a lot in Ireland, then it comes across the Irish Sea and rains in Lancashire, then the Pennines get in the way and it doesn’t rain so much on the other side.
As we arrived back at the ring road, I wondered – as I had done on the walk up – where that Mediterranean restaurant had gone. Thus I spent some time considering the pub that was standing where I thought it had been. And then I noticed the name of the pub: The Whitesmiths Arms. Was that on the 1975 list? Surely not? Dear reader, it only bloody was! It appeared very shut, though, with padlocked gates, so I took a photo of Sarah standing outside to submit for the archives.
Next, we headed for the 1975 pub we’d been heading for (Park), strongly suspecting it would no longer be there, as ‘opposite bus station’ (the shopping centre) was in the process of being dramatically demolished.
As we stood and watched in amazement as a ridiculous amount of dust was produced by said demolition, Sarah commandeered a friendly local to take a photo of us, with the instructions:
‘Try and get in as much of the demolition works as possible.’
Our new friend, Kyle from Stockport, seemed to think our request was perfectly normal and took a number of shots from different angles to give us a selection to choose from. He, himself, stood there every day watching the demolition works and we, in turn, thought that was perfectly normal.
As we were trying to find our bearings en route to the next actual (not 1975) pub, Sarah hollered over at me to look in a shop window.
In my excitement, I walked right into the path of an innocent pedestrian, who ended up apologising to me, as if it was perfectly normal for me to be racing across to a shop window to photograph Paddington.
I love this place because the first thing you see on entering the pub are PIES.
There’s beer, too, of course, thus:
I had a half of the Elland because Yorkshire.
We took a seat in the back room, where I switched into full on 1975 mode. It was suddenly very important that I found out what had happened to the Whitesmiths. Was it actually closed? Well there was nothing posted on their social media accounts since March, but I couldn’t see anything saying it had closed. But those padlocks? I messaged my Wigan fanzine counterpart, Jimmy. I needed to know! Had it been a Mediterranean restaurant in recent years? He was no use whatsoever but I remained determined to find out.
And what of the Park? I found some old photographs of the pub online. The hunt was on!
Ah! It was demolished in 1985 to make way for The Galleries shopping centre. Hmm. Was that the one they were knocking down now?
Yes it was! So, not only had the Park been demolished, but its replacement was now being demolished too. Double demolition action! This was heartbreaking news for the 1975 but at least we had a full record and the mystery of that pub had been fully unravelled. I made that a tick! Shit – am I ticking the 1975 Good Beer Guide pubs now?
Sarah was laughing her head off across the table at how much I was getting into this but it was important work and I was already asking for the lists for Blackpool and Exeter so I could get to work on those over the coming weeks.
Next stop was an actual current GBG entry and our former Pub of Choice in Wigan. Here’s today’s beer selection.
I had what I always have in here: the Wigan Brewhouse Old Boston plum porter, which was lush as ever.
There is a lot to look at in this pub and here’s today’s selected item for your enjoyment.
I bloody hope not! We’ve not done with you yet, Wigan…
This was Sarah’s choice of pub and I confessed I’d been a bit scared of it on my last visit.
However, I’m not averse to giving a pub a second chance (if not a third). And I’d only really been scared of it last time because we’d just been allowed out post-COVID, when everything and everyone was scary. And because the area in front of the bar was a packed tight space, which scared me more than ever at that time.
That didn’t faze me this afternoon and a friendly barman introduced us to the beers.
I went for the Amber.
Sarah raved about ‘the best jukebox in any pub’ but she didn’t partake (not that we’d have had time to enjoy her selections, with still more pubs to come on our hitlist).
I was more intrigued by this trapdoor. Who doesn’t love a trapdoor?
I felt quite at home today in this Thwaites pub busy (but not overly busy) with people our age and older (my preferred clientele).
We enquired behind the bar about the secret craft beer bar upstairs and received confirmation it opened at 5pm tonight. That suited our plans perfectly and, when we finished our respective halves, we headed upstairs and loitered outside the door for the bar to open.
We had the bar to ourselves, which was in stark contrast to my previous visit (ahead of a Hotpots gig), when it had been standing room only and very hot. We took seats at the bar and contemplated the beers. This was potentially dangerous territory.
Obvs there was no way on Earth I was resisting that Brew York Obi Wan Cannoli and my excitement was clearly infectious as Sarah ordered the same, despite not sharing my love of sweet beers.
I spied a fridge to our right and knew I Must Not Look because that way lies disaster. Nonetheless, I trotted over to take photos for you, dear reader, making sure I didn’t take any notice of what was in the fridge.
Zooming in now, not looking was clearly the right decision because OMG THAT BOTTOM SHELF!!!
And there’s more…
If we didn’t have places to go I’d have happily stayed in here for the rest of the night and got messy. But we needed some tea and (if you recall) we were actually here for the rugby. So we reluctantly got moving in search of Wigan’s top scrannage pub.
I had the Port O’Call.
I just love this pub. It’s my nu nu pub in Wigan. I wish Blackpool had a proper traditional boozer with good ale and hearty home cooked food like this.
This delightful pub has to be left til last because it’s actually impossible to leave unless you’ve got a train to catch (or a match to get to). And that’s unfair on the other pubs, hence why I always visit them first, so they don’t miss out.
Here are tonight’s beers.
I went for the Moonlight Flit.
So WHY is this pub impossible to leave? Well, if you’ve been, you’ll know full well. If you haven’t been, well what are you waiting for? This pub has ALL the beers and ALL the dispense methods. It has quirky snackage (the Scotch Eggs are epic and the crisps extra special). They give you ‘beer tapas’ to accompany canned beer (sweets and chocolates with my sweet beers). It’s handy for the station and even has departure boards (as does the Swan & Railway across the road).
There are often quirky events going on and tonight it was the Cheese Festival.
I’m not really supposed to have cheese (migraine trigger) but (a) beer, (b) dessert, (c) Rupert the ‘Fuck It’ Bear, and (d) just look at that menu!
I (think I) went for the White Stilton & Cranberry, Lemon Peel Stilton and Bowland (Lancashire Cheese with Apples, Cinnamon & Raisins) but I can’t be certain of this because (a) beer and (b) it was three weeks ago now.
Just as I was tucking into my cheese, I became aware of a man at the front of the back room.
‘Can I have your attention please everyone!’
The room became silent with anticipation.
‘Can I just ask who in this room has ever had corned beef on toast?’
Around half a dozen people sheepishly but obediently raised their hands. The man posing the question shook his head in disbelief and we all carried on as we were. This is Wigan. This is normal.
By now we had met up with Sarah’s friend Patrick, together with someone else I recognised: Sandy who had organised Wigan Beer Festival.
Also at our table was some guy I instantly started arguing with about the number of decent pubs in proximity to Bloomfield Road. I told him there were loads and in fact I’d read only recently that there were more pubs close to Bloomfield Road (within a mile radius, I think) than all but four other grounds in the league. I provided examples of excellent pubs to illustrate my point.
All too soon (although probably not, really, as we were already nine pubs in), it was time to head down the canal to the DW Stadium for the rugby. But first a loo review.
Wigan Warriors v Warrington Wolves
It wasn’t a short walk so we’re straight into another loo review.
I’d been to this stadium many times in the past for the football, which helped with the transition to this new sport. I’d been behind the opposite goal on my last visit, so this was already a slight change. It was to get very different very quickly.
There were pyros before kick off, which reminded me of Wembley and seemed a bit dramatic but I kind of liked it.
Sarah did a great job explaining the rules of the game to me but I was nine pubs in by this point so I’m not sure how much sunk in. Something to do with seven tackles before losing possession and four points for a try(?) and two if they kick it between the sticks (from parallel to where the ball was touched down). Anyway, I got the general gist – and the scores were level at 12-12 at half time. Sarah wasn’t worried, as Warrington tended to run out of puff as games progressed. She was proved right, as Wigan went on to win 26-12.
Glad All Over played as we made our way out of the stadium.
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On the walk back into town I checked to see if there was an earlier train, as my hangover was beginning to kick in and I was ready for bed. Not only was there no earlier train but my planned train was cancelled. Dammit. Pub, then?
We made the Swan our final stop because of that lush mild and also because Sarah was stopping here and I wanted to make sure she was back safe.
The pub was busy with rugby fans from both clubs. One such fan had travelled from Milton Keynes for the match and I was thinking he was crazy travelling all that way for a rugby match before realising I’d been travelling hundreds of miles watching mainly lower division football for 30 years. This man asked if Sarah had Notes on her phone and she agreed to his request to borrow it. He wanted to note down some bank details from a message and then input them into his banking app. Quite why a pen and paper wouldn’t suffice for this, I don’t know, but it somehow seemed logical to him to borrow a random stranger’s phone and use the Notes app instead. He was faffing about on Notes for ages and, when he handed Sarah’s phone back to her, her weekend to do list had been deleted and replaced with a random person’s bank details.
I remarked to Sarah that I’d have been livid if he’d deleted my Notes, which I’d been meticulously taking all day, collecting titbits for this blog.
Prior to leaving, I made sure to enquire of our landlady what had happened to the Whitesmiths Arms. Team 1975 needed answers! I harvested more clues as to its recent history, including how it fared during COVID, but no precise answer as to whether or not it was formally closed down. Dear reader, I’ve just done some further digging and can now confirm that the pub is now sadly closed.
Anyway eventually it was time to move on. I was moderately annoyed that my train back to Blackpool was not direct – and more so that it was slightly delayed. But there was nothing to be done but to wait and board it when it eventually came.
By the time we got to Blackpool East (see Brighton blog if confused), I had three minutes to race across from platform 6 to platform 1 for the train to Blackpool North. I wasn’t the only one racing to make this connection – and there was much cursing when the man on platform 1 signalled for the train to pull away within seconds of us arriving.
The next train was cancelled – meaning there was an hour to wait for the next train home. Fuck that. I wanted my bed two hours ago. I called Lee to arrange collection.
I resolved not to let the protracted ending spoil what was a truly excellent day out – as Wigan always is. I’ve already told Sarah I’m up for another match again soon. Meanwhile I suppose I’d better get back to the football now my PTSD has worn off…
Next Up: A Football Tourist’s Guide to Exeter.