A short hop across the Pennines to Rochdale, which as I discovered on a cold and blustery November day is now home to a thriving pub and bar scene....
Storm Arwen was doing its best to disrupt my plans. Overnight gales and snow had led to a flurry of train cancellations and delays. My intention was to visit Rochdale, based on strong recommendations from some friends who had visited recently, and indeed I had seen one of them the previous evening and he had again extolled the virtues of the town.
I set off from home, undecided as to whether to risk it in the light of the disruption to the trains or settle for a more local option. I headed to Halifax, which gave me the opportunity to visit the recently reopened Square Chapel Arts Centre whilst I decided where to go, it being only 5 minutes walk from the station. The bar is now being managed by Jack Griffiths, a familiar figure in the town having worked in a number of different places over the year. The bar features 4 handpumps which are free of tie, whilst the keg lines are tied to Salford-based Seven Brothers, a brewery whose beers are rarely seen in Halifax. I ordered a 4.5% Tidal Wave New Zealand Pale from Hop Studio, who are from York, and very good it was too. Square Chapel has been taken over by the group who run Wigan Pier and it is good to see it open again, there was a good friendly atmosphere and the soundtrack was better than at anytime when I had visited before. I wish Jack, Michael, and the rest of the team all the best.
I had decided to risk it, and booked a ticket for Rochdale whilst in Square Chapel, and just over half an hour later I was getting off the train there. It is about a mile down the hill into the town centre with several places where the buildings gave way to large windswept expanses that might as well have been the Russian Steppes going by how cold it felt. Why did I not think to bring a scarf? And with a growing requirement to use the loo as the journey progressed, it was with some relief that I spotted the first pub I had earmarked for a visit.
The D'Ale House is a new micropub to the town (well open for about 4 and a half months), but when I struggled to open the door I thought my hopes were dashed. There was a sign saying try the other door, the location of which wasn't immediately obvious, but it turned out it was round the back of the building. There was only the guy behind the bar there, so I placed my order (for a pint of Odin from Brightside Brewery), asked where the toilets were, and went as directed downstairs. Much relief ensued. Back upstairs, I looked around. The bar was situated in a raised area towards the back door I'd just used, with a seating area down on the main road side. I got chatting to the barman, who introduced himself as Shaun. It turns out it is very much a family business with them also owning The Old Post Office, a well-established micro in nearby Castleton. We had a good natter about all things beer and pubs, and I was enjoying the visit so much that I ordered another pint of Odin (National Beer Scoring System 3.5). A well-balanced slightly bitter refreshing pale which clocks in at 3.8% ABV, it is brewed in nearby Radcliffe, but apparently not often found in Rochdale. Also on the bar was their house beer, D'ale, brewed by the local Pictish Brewery and the pump clip reflecting Shaun's support for Rochdale AFC, and on this occasion on the other 3 hand pumps there was a mild from Brightside, a porter from Parkway, and a golden ale from Lancaster. There are also 6 keg lines, with beers from Blackledge and Brightside featured. The place started to get busy, with the steady trickle of customers suddenly being followed by a very large group. I decided I would move on, but I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. The welcome was a warm as the weather outside was cold, and I look forward to visiting again.
|Saturday's line up at the D'Ale House|
It was dark when I went outside, and still cold too, but fortunately the next pub was only a few minutes walk away. This was the Flying Horse Hotel, a large, imposing pub in an attractive building dating from 1691, situated just opposite the stunning town hall. I have been here several times in the past, and in fact the pub has featured in a previous blog when it was also in the opening photo. I ordered a pint of Pictish Brewer's Gold, but the guy serving me walked that pump and instead pulled a pint of Phoenix Pale Moonlight. I know I'd come from over t'hill but considering the distance was no more than 20 miles, I couldn't believe it was down to linguistic difficulties! Still, it's always been a favourite Phoenix beer of mine, and I couldn't fault the quality (NBSS 3.5). The pub was pretty busy, but such is it's size I had little difficulty in finding a table and planning my next move.
|Imposing: The Flying Horse Hotel, Rochdale|
And for that next move, it was a visit to another new micro pub. The Pint Pot is situated on Baillie Street amongst the town's shopping area. Compared to the D'Ale, this is a wizened veteran of about 7 months. I received a warm welcome from owner Dom, and whilst there weren't many customers in, the ones that were there were very friendly and after ordering a half of the pale Calypso Joe from Backyard Brewery (NBSS 3), we were all chatting away quite merrily, and as my beer ran dry, I decided I would stay for another. This time I went for a half of Globe Trotter from Elland, an American light ale which I had not come across before but very enjoyable it was (NBSS 3.5). There are another 2 hand pumps on the bar. on this occasion featuring a stout and Red Smiddy, a copper, bittersweet ale from Kelburn Brewery, whose beers I came across in Glasgow recently. The Pint Pot, which appears to have been a shop in a previous life, is a single room with an attractive decor, and whilst I am not a believer of putting up Christmas trees and decorations before December, such was the friendly, welcoming nature of the place, I will let them off! If you are in Rochdale, you will be doing yourself a disservice if you don't call in.
|A warm welcome awaits at the Pint Pot|
My next pub on the list was one I have visited several times before and is a former National CAMRA Pub of the Year. I was given some local directions by the friendly couple at the Pint Pot, and a few minutes later I arrived at The Baum. Situated on Toad Lane, in a conservation area, it is next door to the shop where the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society opened in 1844 selling "pure unadulterated food at fair prices in honest weights and measures", thus giving birth to the Co-operative movement. The shop has been faithfully re-created as a museum, and next door in the pub, there are many old posters and reminders reflecting the historic events. It is an attractive pub, with much wood panelling and plenty of nooks and crannies, with a more modern conservatory at the back along with an outside drinking area. On the bar, 6 handpumps dispense a range of cask beers from which I went with a pint of North South, a 4.2% 'petite IPA' from Marble, featuring Enigma, Azacca, Amarillo, and Lemondrop hops, giving plenty of stone fruit and zesty citrus flavours. Another good pint, another 3.5 NBSS rating. The pub was getting pretty busy, with most seats of occupied. A large group of lads - probably a rugby team - occupied a couple of bays to the right of the bar, and one of their number stood on a chair and announced the impressive sounding food menu to much cheering after each dish from those seated.
|The Baum, inside and out|
The Baum, like the Flying Horse, is owned by the Lancashire Hospitality Co-operation group, and the same applies to the final scheduled pub on the trip. Bombay Brew is situated at the bottom of Drake Street in what was previously the Duke of Wellington and offers a number of good value cask ales alongside Indian street food in pretty much a traditional pub setting. There are three cask ales available, with the house beer specially brewed by Vocation. I sampled both this (it was light, refreshing, and another 3.5 rating) and a delicious seekh kebab which was much bigger than a standard Indian restaurant offering. The place was pretty busy with most tables occupied by diners, with the staff providing a friendly and efficient service. Another excellent spot which is worth calling in. It was an interesting contrast to Bundobust, whose smart and shiny new brewery in Manchester I had visited the previous week and where the focus is much more on craft beers.
|Bombay Brew: your cask and Indian street food needs catered for|
I headed back up the hill to the station. Needless to say on this bitterly cold evening the train was delayed and a draughty wait ensued before the train back to Halifax appeared out of the gloom. Even so, I'd had a very enjoyable few hours in Rochdale and if you are looking for somewhere different to go, you could do far worse than paying the town a visit....
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