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Hats Off to Stockport....

There was a strange silence and stillness as I left Stockport Railway Station. Nobody was about, there was no birdsong, and I could hear no traffic noise. A few minutes later, the heavens opened and an almighty shower ensued, complete with unseasonal hailstones. I managed to shelter under an overhang of the Garrick theatre, opened up the Good Beer Guide app on my phone, and planned out a route for when, or if, the storm ended.

Finally, the storm subsided and the rain became light enough to emerge from my shelter. I had planned to carry on walking down Wellington Road, past the Hat Museum - Stockport was once a major centre for hat-making - and then up to the Magnet, but unfortunately the route was blocked by building work. So I needed a Plan B. I walked on Petersgate and something that I had read in the local CAMRA magazine 'Opening Times' jumped into my head. There was a new bar called the Petersgate Tap! As if by magic it appeared on the right. The Petersgate Tap is a comfortable place, a bit too big for a micro, with 6 handpumps on. I opted for a 3.5% Windermere Pale from Hawkshead, and very nice it was too. Mentioning 'Opening Times' I have always enjoyed reading about the pubs and beers of their local area, Stockport and South Manchester, and their forays into neighbouring areas. Sadly, it is currently on a break, and when it returns next month it will be as a bi-monthly, rather than monthly, publication. I look forward to its return.

I headed towards the market, but when I spotted the Robinsons Unicorn Brewery on the right I turned off to get a closer look. This is a big place, dominating this part of town, and when you haven't seen a large brewery for a while, you forget how impressive they can look. Robbies is a busy place, producing beer for their own estate of 300 pubs as well as the free trade and contract brewing for other companies.

I headed down the hill past the brewery and then back up again - Stockport's hilly terrain means that there are plenty of streets like that - via a narrow street, coming out opposite one of the entrances to the town's impressive glass-covered market and close to Remedy, which by way of a contrast to the size of Robinsons houses its own micro brewery behind a glass screen to the left of the bar. I opted for a half of their Session IPA, which was quite pleasant. It is a nice bar, there were a couple of their own beers on, plus a few guests. I liked Remedy, it had a nice feel about the place.

I headed around the corner and at the far edge of the market was the Bakers Vaults, a tastefully-decorated pub with, unusually for Robinsons, a few guest ales. Despite that I opted for a half of Dizzy Blonde, which was OK. I did, though, like the place, it had a friendly atmosphere and was a pleasant spot to while away half an hour. A few yards away was the Boar's Head, a comfortable, multi-roomed, and very busy Sam Smiths pub. No doubt much of this is due to the cheapness of the beer. My half of pretty reasonable Old Brewery Bitter cost just a pound!

I moved on, past the Tourist Information office, with its display relating to Strawberry Studios, where the likes of 10cc, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, and Joy Division all recorded, and at the far end of the market hall, opposite the Parish Church, is the Cocked Hat, a free house run by Atwill Pubs. This was another busy pub, again with cheap beer, my half of Mutiny from Wigan's Wily Fox Brewery cost me just a £1.20, and was very good.

I wandered down the hill and came across another Robbie's pub, the Grade II-listed Arden Arms. This was the only pub of the trip so far that I had visited previously, but as that was probably 40 years ago it doesn't really count. The pub was busy and lively, although the music coming out of the juke box somehow jarred with the traditional setting. I had a half of Trooper, which was fine though.

From there, it was a short walk to the sprawling Mersey Way shopping centre, which I needed to cross to get back to Wellington Road and up to the serial award-winning Magnet. This had been strongly recommended by friends as a must-visit place - and it didn't disappoint. A few minutes walk away from the town centre towards Manchester, it stands proudly beside the A6. It has 14 hand pumps, and several more beers on tap. I tried an Oakham Citra, a Track Sonoma, and a half of Neck Oil from Beavertown, all of which were excellent. The pub spreads across several rooms, full of quirky corners and bits. I got talking to a couple of fellow beer aficionados who had come over from Old Trafford to sample the beers, and judging by some of the other customers, the Magnet is not just popular with locals, but is also a place of pilgrimage for beer lovers from all around. I liked the Magnet, and will be going back when I get chance.

From there, just up the road a short distance, on the other side is The Railway. Another beer guide regular, with half a dozen hand pumps, the Railway failed to hit the spot with me. It was OK, but on this visit it was nothing special, the beer and atmosphere OK. I set off back down the road for my final visit of the day, my destination being the Crown, situated beneath one of the 27 arches of the huge viaduct that dominates the town. In fact 11 million bricks were used in its construction and it is the biggest brick structure in the country. I had been to the Crown a few times in the past, first when it was a Boddingtons pub. Now it is an award-winning free house with around 10 hand pumps, and I took the opportunity to sample a beer from the Poynton Brewery, whose beers I had not tried before. And I enjoyed the beer, Aurora, a 3.9% pale session beer. The Crown has several rooms and is a delightful traditonal gem. Further on the road are a couple of pubs that have been there for years, the Pineapple, a Robbies pub, and the George, which at one time was an outpost for long-gone Liverpool brewers, Higsons.

From the Crown, I walked back up the hill towards the station, where I realised that just across from the road down to the northbound platform was the Olde Vic, which I wrote about here following a visit last year. My train was due, though, so I didn't have time to call this time. It had been a good afternoon, plenty of places visited, and despite a few disappointments, I visited some excellent pubs, and there were plenty of interesting buildings and places of interest. So if you are thinking of going somewhere for a day out, Stockport has plenty going for it....

Underneath the arches: The Crown at Stockport


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