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Chorley: Britain's Micropub Capital?

I paid a visit to the Lancashire market town of Chorley yesterday, as this was where FC Halifax Town were playing their final league game of the season.

We had got the train from Halifax to Preston, which inexplicably consisted of only 2 carriages. This on a Bank Holiday weekend, with many people catching the train to its ultimate destination, Blackpool. There were also several football games taking place, so as you can imagine the train was absolutely rammed. Just over an hour later, having finally managed to get a seat at Burnley, we spilled out at Preston. Not the best journey I have ever had.

There are plenty of trains between there and Chorley, so we opted to visit a couple of pubs in Preston. First up was the magnificent Grade 2-listed Black Horse, a multi-roomed pub with dark wood, glazing, and mirrors set around a classic horseshoe bar. 8 hand pumps dispense a good selection of ales, I went for the Everards Sunchaser, which was on fine form. The Black Horse is situated on a corner on Friargate, and has the unusual feature of 3 entrances. It is definite a must-visit if in Preston. We moved on, 5 minutes walk away is the Old Black Bull, which has a superb tiled exterior, although sadly, whilst it is comfortable, the interior is dull and functional with TV screens on every available wall. The beer, too, was a bit disappointing on this occasion, the Blackedge American Pale tasted end of barrel, whilst the Lancaster Blonde I had next was average. Still, I have been here before and the beer was fine, so hopefully it was just one of those days.

It is only 5 minutes back to the station, so convenient for a quick visit, and with the Old Vic on the way back, you don't have to venture far for a decent pint if time is limited. We got the 14.12 to Chorley via the Manchester Airport train. Our first train of the day had been packed, but this was even worse, another 2 carriage affair, which meant it was seriously overcrowded. I don't know how Northern Rail can get away with it, it totally flies in the face of normal safety practices, as well as displaying incompetent planning and a total disregard for their customers' comfort and well-being.

We managed to just about get to Chorley in one piece, and headed off to Victory Park for the football. Town had already clinched a place in the play-offs, but the home side needed a point to clinch their own spot. In the end, in a poor game, Town ran out 2-0 winners, whilst results elsewhere enabled Chorley to make the play-offs anyway. The highlight of the game was one of the lads dressing up as Brian Potter aka Peter Kay from the comedy series 'Phoenix Nights' which caused a lot of amusement. Peter Kay had previously referred to a mythical local radio station, Chorley FM, whose catchphrase was 'Coming in Your Ears'. As it turns out, there actually is a local community radio station in these parts called Chorley FM!

After the game, we wandered into town and tracked down The Bob Inn, which is situated in Chorley's covered market. It opened in a unit there in 2014, and has since acquired another unit opposite for seating and storage, so you can actually walk through the middle of the pub! Tables and chairs were located outside as well. There were 3 hand pumps, and I went for the Brightside Maverick IPA, which was very nice. An excellent, friendly micro-pub, well worth a visit, but being where it is, it is only open when the market is. Just around the corner was the Crown, a typical town pub, busy with a loud jukebox playing a mix of golden oldies. The beer was perfectly acceptable.

From there we visited the Shepherds House, a fantastic micro pub which I had previously visited in 2014 not long after it opened. It was very busy, but we got served quite quickly, and I enjoyed a pint of Singletrack from the Kirkby Lonsdale Brewery, which was pale, hoppy, and refreshing. Situated just opposite the parish church on Chapel Street, the Shepherds House is only a minute from the railway station and is one of my absolute favourite micropubs.

We sadly had to leave to catch our train, but on the way back to the station we spotted another micropub, Ale Station, which opened in 2016 in a former sandwich shop. Time prevented us calling in there, and also from checking out 2 other micropubs that have opened in the town, Bootleggers, and the D'Owd Inn, situated in a former nail bar. With a total of 5 micropubs in a population of around 35,000, can Chorley claim the title of Britain's micropub capital? With several other good pubs we didn't manage to visit this time, such as the Railway, the Potters, and the Malt'n'Hops, the town is well worth a visit.
The year is rushing by, and we are now in May. For years CAMRA have promoted Mild at this time of year, often using the slogan 'Make May a Mild Month'. It was originally started to draw attention to what was a declining style of beer. Milds tend to be weaker, less hoppy, often darker and sweeter than the traditional bitters that were often the only other choice on the bar. Nowadays there is a profusion of styles on offer, but there are still plenty of milds around and this month is an opportunity to celebrate them. Indeed, the CAMRA branches in Greater Manchester run a campaign through May called Mild Magic, to which over 80 pubs have signed up. Participants pick up a card and collect a sticker every time you visit one of the designated pubs with a variety of prizes depending on how many stickers are collected.
Sad news this week as the Barge and Barrel in Elland has finally shut. Apparently Punch Taverns want to turn it into a gastro pub. The historic bridge which links it to the rest of the town finally re-opened a few weeks ago after over a year being restored which suggested that the pub's future was safe. But now, as it stands, sadly boarded up, it appears the pubco had other ideas....

Shepherds Hall, Chorley


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