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At Large In Deepest Lancashire....

I had an unscheduled evening in Bury the other day, followed the next day by a visit to a town boasting two micro pubs and the last original temperance bar in the country....

I arrived at my hotel in Bury from work in Hyde after a very frustrating drive which took over 2 hours  and involved several detours following a serious accident which had closed the M60. The impact was dramatic; all the roads around Ashton-under-Lyne and beyond were snarled up, so that there was nothing you could do but grit your teeth and go with the flow. Or not, in this case.

I was staying in Bury as I was going to see Sunderland indie maestros Field Music at The Dancehouse Theatre, a couple of years after I'd seen them at Gorilla, and having been unable to see them in Leeds last weekend due to a trip to North Yorkshire. Due to the ridiculous price of Friday night hotel rooms in Manchester, I reasoned that a £30 night at the Premier Inn in the centre of Bury, and then catching the tram into town from the nearby terminus, was a pretty good idea. But by the time I got to the hotel, frazzled and head pounding, my enthusiasm to go to the gig was waning. I decided I would have a pint to calm down and decide what to do. There was a micro pub that had opened since I had last visited the town near to The World Famous Bury Market, as it bills itself, and close to the tram stop, so I decided to check it out.
Steamed Fish
I headed out from the hotel and 5 minutes later I spotted a glass-fronted building, windows all steamed up which I reckoned must be a sign of its popularity. And I wasn't wrong! This was the Thirsty Fish, a former retail unit in the Millgate Shopping Centre. I walked into a bustling room, all the tables were taken up with eager Friday evening celebrants of all ages and walks of life. There was a little space to stand at the bar, and when the queue had died down so I was able to get served, I ordered a pint of Breakfast IPA from Wigan brewers Hophurst, 3.5% but with plenty of flavour from the Citra, Cascade, and Chinook hops. My mood was better within minutes. The lass behind the bar apologised for the beer being a bit lively and taking longer to pull, but it was no problem. Customer service seems to be a massive part of the Thirsty Fish's repertoire; everyone was greeted with a smile or some cheerful banter, and frequently drinks would be delivered to tables. I got talking to a bloke from Bolton enjoying a pint with his wife on what seemed to be a regular circuit around Bury's pubs; "Bolton's sh*t, mate, full o' kids, only 20 minutes on the bus and you're here! What's not to like?!" And when I returned for a nightcap after a pint or two elsewhere - having decided to skip the gig - I ordered a half of 6% Brown Sugar, a stout from Don Valley Brewery, and got presented with the following!
Smashing micro pub, six hand pumps and a similar number of taps, decent beer and great service. The guy behind the bar said they had been open around 20 months, and they open every day -"Got to with cask, mate." And you can't argue with that.

Bury town centre is very compact. I wandered up to the Automatic, a bar-cum-restaurant attached to the Met Theatre, which was rammed. I finally got served, but my half refused to clear and smelt and tasted like vinegar. I tried in vain to attract the staffs' attention to get it changed, but they were that busy it wasn't forthcoming. So I left it almost untouched. Shame, Automatic has always served decent beer on previous visits, so it was something of a disappointment. I left to go to the nearby Clarence, formerly the home of Silver Street Brewery which has since re-located to bigger premises elsewhere in the town. Surprisingly though, none of their beers were on, but I certainly had no complaints about the Simplicity Pale Ale from Cross Bay, a 5% with tropical fruit flavours. The Clarence was much quieter than I remember it ever being, and more so than anywhere else this evening.

I moved on to the Trackside, passing the offices of two wonderfully-named taxi firms on the way. Does anywhere in the country have more interestingly-named taxi firms than Bury's Elton Bullitt and Magnum Whiteline, I wonder? The Trackside is based at the Bolton Road Station which is the hub of the East Lancashire Railway. It is an excellent station buffet bar which tonight was full with a real mix of people, enjoying a good range of beers and a great atmosphere. The bar was full, but there were plenty sat outside at tables on the platform. Like the Thirsty Fish, the staff at the Trackside were brilliant. The bar has around 10 cask ales and a few on tap, plus a large range of ciders and perries, and features much railways-related memorabilia on the walls.
The Trackside Bar, Bury
The following day I decided to wend my way home rather than heading to the M66 and going via the M62. This was after I had visited the excellent Lancashire Fusiliers Museum, which explains why they came to be based in Bury and details their history and their relationship not just with the town itself but with other areas within Lancashire from where recruits were drawn. It made for a fascinating hour or so and is well worth a visit.

It was a sunny but chilly morning as I headed up the Irwell Valley. I had the new album from The Orielles playing on the CD as I arrived in the hillside village of Summerseat, a few miles north of Bury. Here there are two pubs opposite each other, the Hamers Arms and the Footballers Inn, both solid, attractive stone buildings situated in the old part of the village, with the River Irwell down below, beyond the woods which cover the steep valley side. I was calling in at the Footballers, (opening photo) whitewashed walls and with a little beer garden at the front. The pub was in the process of opening up as I arrived, beer being pulled off, checks carried out. A few walkers and a couple of dogs were already there, stood at the bar of an opened out single room which looked as if it had been several in years gone by. Six hand pumps lined the bar, and I opted for a Hen Harrier from Bowland Brewery, which was in excellent condition. Brighton v Crystal Palace was on the TV's but not too loud, and even as a few more blokes and walkers arrived to add to the hum of conversation, it remained a pretty relaxing, unhurried sort of place, ideal to while away half an hour on a Saturday lunchtime.
And relax....The Footballers, Summerseat, near Bury
I left and dropped down into the valley, crossed the river and then headed under a railway bridge up a steep narrow road with passing places amidst some pretty attractive houses. I dropped back downhill and picked up the A56 a few minutes later, and took the busy turn off to Rawtenstall, a traditional Lancashire cotton town but with several boutiques, restaurants, quirky local shops and the odd micro pub, to cater for, I suspect, a growing number of incomers from Manchester and beyond. It is the northern terminus of the East Lancs Railway, and last time I had visited the town I had called at the station bar, the Buffer Stops - also currently in the Good Beer Guide.

I spotted the first micro pub as I landed in town. I parked up behind a builders' merchants and walked back to Casked. It was quarter past one in the afternoon, I walked in and the place was heaving. A piano was playing Maple Leaf Rag. People were chatting in little groups, laughing. All the tables in the fairly large room were taken,. There was a queue at the bar. It was twenty past one in the afternoon. A tall guy with glasses and a grey ponytail was changing one of the 5 hand pumps. I managed to get to the bar and ordered a half of very reasonably-priced Brewsmith Bitter from the nearby village of Stubbins, and found a spot round the other side of the bar to plonk myself. The atmosphere was friendly, warm and welcoming, and you should definitely look up Casked if you are in Rawtenstall. I left at around twenty to two. And people were still coming in!

I headed up in to the town centre, up Bank Street, which is cobbled for much of its length, and after a few minutes I came to the Hop Inn, amidst a mix of shops and restaurants. Completely different to Casked, a much smaller room as you go in. It was busy, but with a quieter, more polite vibe than its fellow micro across town. 6 hand pumps, a real community feel, and the lady behind the bar was very pleasant. I had a half of Citra IPA, a collaboration between Ossett and Thornbridge, which was most enjoyable, completely different to what you would expect from either party. Another place that is well worth seeking out.
The Hop Inn, Rawtenstall
And finally, no visit to Rawtenstall is complete without a visit to Mr Fitzpatrick's, 'The Last Original Temperance Bar', a throwback to bygone days. From the outside it looks like a pub, but it sells no alcohol. Inside it is like a cross between a pub and traditional sweet shop with a small bar and shelves filled with traditional sweet jars. Signs advertise traditional, nostalgic comfort food for sale like jam sandwiches and Marmite on toast. The small room was full of families and the inquisitive, with the polite staff efficiently attending to their needs. Me, I had a warm Lemon and Ginger Cordial, which was very welcome on a cold, blustery day.
Mr Fitzpatrick's: looks like a pub, isn't a pub, but a must-visit
And that was it. My trip to deepest Lancashire had thrown up some excellent new places after a disappointing start.

I will, though, get to see Field Music again....

Follow me on twitter: @realalemusic


  1. Chris I was looking for your stuff on Rochdale? Found 2 pubs you mention. No rush as not going till May but I am in planning mode!


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