Just over an hour across the Pennines from Halifax via the train is Preston, which I discovered is home to a thriving beer and pub scene, with venues ranging from the traditional old boozer to the modern craft bar....
I had been to Preston a few times over the years and visited a few of the city's pubs, but it was generally a case of calling in on the way to or back from some other destination. Based on the number of pubs listed in the 2021 Good Beer Guide it certainly merited a full-blown visit in its own right, so as I had a free Saturday I decided to take a trip over there which also gave me the opportunity to catch up with an old friend who lives in the city.
Preston is situated on the north bank of the Ribble, which is the only river which gives its name to one of the Yorkshire Dales which flows west rather than east. The old town grew rapidly in the 19th century, with engineering and textiles the major industries, and became the 50th city in the UK in 2002. Preston North End were founder members of the Football League, and were the first champions in 1888-89. And of course if you are interested in bus stations, the one at Preston is famous for its brutalist design, whilst I am reliably informed that the country's first KFC opened in the town on Fishergate, just along the road from the first pub I visited. And another fact for lovers of trivia is that the first stretch of motorway in the country was the Preston bypass, which was later incorporated into the M6 and M55, by which thousands of motorists still drive by the place every day without ever stopping to see what is there.
And so to that first pub, which is one I have visited several times due to its proximity to the station. This is the Old Vic, a large, solid town pub which manages to combine the attraction of multiple TV screens showing football and racing, its role as a local within the town centre, and an ideal meeting place with expertise. Friendly staff serve around half a dozen beers on handpump and my pint of Hen Harrier from Clitheroe's Bowland Brewery was one of the best I had all day (NBSS 3.5). I also enjoyed - at the risk of stirring up any local bread-naming traditions - an excellent corned beef and onion teacake....
|The Old Vic, Fishergate, Preston|
I had arranged to meet my mate Dennis at the Black Horse, but I had time to visit one place en route. This was the Plug & Taps on Lune Street, one of the streets running off Fishergate, a modern bar featuring a selection of both cask and keg beers. Painted walls, wooden floors, and a quality soundtrack were the backdrop to an excellent pint of Neptune Shifting Sands on handpump (NBSS 3.5), which I enjoyed sat on a stool by the large windows overlooking the world outside. The guy behind the bar kindly recommended a few places I should check out whilst in the town. I thought I might go back there later to try something from one of the taps, but in the end I ran out of time. A great bar which is a must-visit if you are in Preston.
|A top bar: Plug & Taps, Lune Street, Preston|
It was only a few minutes walk to the Black Horse (opening image) on Friargate. This is an absolute gem, a Grade ll listed Victorian stunner, which is on the CAMRA national inventory of important historic pub interiors. And with a tiled bar and walls, mosaic flooring, wood panelling, glazing, and mirrors spread across the multi-roomed interior it is up there with the likes of the Philharmonic in Liverpool, the Guildford in Edinburgh, and The Cardigan Arms in Leeds in representing the best of Victorian interior pub design. Once you have got your breath back from taking it all in, the bar has a range of several beers on handpump to choose from. It is a Robinsons house, and a number of their beers are on offer, but there are a few guests on, including Titanic Plum Porter which is quite off seen in Robinsons houses. I chose a Chinook from Walsall-based brewery, Backyard which, despite not being a massive fan of this hop, I thought was pretty good and well-kept (NBSS 3.5), if a little pricey at £4-plus a pint. Dennis joined me a few minutes later, and once the greetings were out of the way, he went for the higher gravity and priced Trooper, Robinsons best-selling beer. We moved out to the corridor, perched ourselves by a corner of a bar and spent the next couple of hours or so having a great catch up, before heading our separate ways.
|A classic: corridor at the Black Horse, Preston|
Dennis kindly pointed me in the right direction for my next port of call, which was based at the side of the market hall. This was the Orchard, one of the places recommended by the guy at Plug & Taps. It is a modern bar, with a number of beers on cask and tap, from which I chose a half of Mosaic from North Riding brewery (NBSS 3). The Orchard was busy, with plenty of additional seating outside under the market, but for whatever reason I didn't particularly warm to the place. Maybe the more homespun recycled wood panelling and large windows were too much of a contrast to the awesome Black Horse....
|The Orchard, Earl Street, Preston|
The next pub was the Guild Ale House, which is just around the corner, and is the older sister pub of the Orchard. This was the town's first micro pub, and one of the places I had visited before. It is a more traditional place, set in a row of shops near, as the name suggests, the town's guild hall. Step inside, and you enter a front bar, with a further sitting area beyond, and additional seating upstairs. It offers a good range of beers on cask, from which I chose an Ekuanot Pale from Bad Seed Brewery, which was another good beer (NBSS 3.5). The place was quite busy, and had a friendly atmosphere. Another place I can heartily recommend if you are in town.
It was a few minutes walk to the next spot, which was situated close to the modern campus of the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN). And it was another contrast to what had gone before. It is a traditional street corner pub which in a previous life answered to the Heart Of Oak, but since 2018 has been known as Vinyl Tap. As the name suggests, it has music front and centre, with vinyl records and a jukebox, and regular vinyl-themed events. A bank of hand pumps serves a number of real ales, with a house beer brewed by Kirby Lonsdale brewery. I went for a half of Avid IPA, whose beers I had seen on the bar at Plau. I had never heard of them before, but a search on the CAMRA app revealed that they are based near Lancaster. My half was pretty decent (NBSS 3), although to say I am an avid fan would be stretching it a little.... I liked Vinyl Tap, which seemed to be a proper pub, and with a rock band warming up as I drunk my beer, I am sure the many punters present were in for a good night.
|Vinyl Tap, Adelphi Street, Preston|
I retraced my route, passing dozens of takeways, a few restaurants, vape shops, beauty salons, and the odd pub as Saturday evening came to life. I had decided I would visit one more place before getting the train home. It was back across town, back to Fishergate, where down the side street by Barclays Bank was the Winckley Street Ale House, another recommendation from earlier in the day. There were tables outside, as there were at other spots on a pleasant side street, and as I walked in I joined a queue to the bar. It moved slowly, but finally it was my turn. There were a number of beers on cask and tap, with a large fridge at the side stocked with cans. I went for a 4.2% IPA from Rivington called The Light Grows Old, which just about shaded some stiff competition to be my cask beer of the day (NBSS 3.5-4). I sat down at one of the many tables inside (maybe one or two less may make it easier to get served), and enjoyed my beer as plates of foods were delivered to eager customers. I liked the place, there was a great vibe, and the staff were helpful and friendly. I bought a can of Parade IPA from Beak to take home, and walked the few minutes back to the station.
|Winckley Street Ale House, Preston|
I have to say this visit to Preston had been a revelation. I had been able to call at a variety of excellent pubs and bars, with several more I could have visited had time and capacity permitted, and I can heartily recommend a visit to the town, although I never made it to either the bus station or KFC....
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