Friday, 13 January 2012

The Plough, Preston Road, Grimsargh

I had a vivid image of what The Plough would be like long before I arrived; character, tradition, uneven floors and centuries old wooden beams clinging to the ceiling.

What I found was something half way between my idyll and a regular old pub.

It would not be great insight to note the building is pretty old and the signs of its heritage are all around, from its haphazard layout, to big fire places and solid stone brickwork.

But like many nice old country pubs it looks like it has been modernised at some point, before whoever decided it needed a ‘fresh look’, realised they were tearing away its heart and quickly tried to repair the damage.

What is left is an old pub with lots of modern fittings and panelling which nods to its tradition while accepting it will never be quite the same.

Sitting in a high backed chair sipping my pint I concluded it was a nice pub but it probably was much more than that at one time.

Then up on a wall in a corner I spotted a short history of the place which put my snap judgement into perspective.

Since it was built in 1785 the pub has been, to roll out a horrible cliché, the cornerstone of the area.

Originally a coaching house, it also served as a ticket office, inquest court room, beer supply depot for the hotels in Preston and numerous other things which escape me (blame the beer).

In 20 or so lines, this document plastered on a wall in the corner, offered an abridged chronology of the pub’s fascinating contribution to village life.

But between the lines, it also explained perfectly why it looks the way it does.

Throughout the centuries The Plough has served its community whether it is with ale, tickets or causes of death, perpetually adapting and evolving as it went.

In its current form it still plays a vital role in as a hub for the whole community to come together.

Much of the pub is given over to dining and a steady stream of hearty portions were heaved out of the kitchen throughout the evening.

But there is also a less formal room with a pool table, darts and a large television.

Outside, there is a huge bowling green and a quirky reptile rescue centre, presumably aimed at filling youngsters with excitement and parents with dread.

It also holds games evenings, such as dominoes and darts, as well as sponsoring the cricket team and organising excursions to places such as Belle Vue greyhound racing in Manchester.

I drained the last of my pint as a group of regulars walked through the door to a warm greeting from the barman.

As pleasantries were exchanged I got up to leave, concluding this pub’s tradition was not to be found in crumbly old bits of wood, but by continuing to provide a place for people to say hello.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Yew Tree, Victoria Road, Walton-le-Dale

As a rule I am not a big fan of  'out-of town retail parks'.
 In fact I find the whole process of trawling around shops pretty traumatic.
I try to keep such excursions to an absolute minimum but when they are completely unavoidable (mum's birthday) I always head straight for the city centre.
You could argue all day about the merits of wandering through the city centre against trekking miles out of town to buy an over-priced shampoo pack and the cheapest perfume you can find.
Some argue city centres are places of cultural, social and historic importance which should be protected and nurtured, while others point to variety and character in a city.
But for me it comes down to beer.
I can only ever motivate myself to hit the shops if I promise myself a nice pint of ale on completion of the arduous task.
With this in mind, I had never had cause to stop in at The Yew Tree, which is perched in the shadow of the Capitol Centre, in Walton-le-Dale.
The traditional-looking frontage seems to hark back to an age when Victoria Road was a quiet little rural run, rather than the entrance to an enormous retail park.
In fact to get to the car park from certain directions, you have to take a detour through about 3,000 sets of traffic lights.
 Inside, the pub is surprisingly spacious with a restaurant area which seems significantly larger than the pub section at the front.
I am reliably informed the pub serves very good food and the restaurant area seems to be the most modern part of the place.
With a great tasting pint of Flying Scotsman in hand I settled down to watch Newcastle United dent Manchester United's title hopes.
While the restaurant seems to have had some attention in recent years, the bar area where we sat looks a little tired and could probably benefit from a bit of a spruce.
  But outside it has a good decking area which includes a large television so smokers do not miss any of the action.
Considering the nation's football and sunny weather obsession, I imagine this is a big hit in the summer.
The lease is advertised as being available and while its place as a quaint semi-rural pub may have been swallowed up by ring roads and retail parks, it has the potential to carve out a niche as the promised stop-off after a dismal day's shopping.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

My top 10 pubs of 2011

By the time you are reading this you will have probably wasted at least one of your festive evenings vegetating in front of the television watching some drawn-out drivel called something like ‘Top 100 moments/highlights/gaffes/adverts etc.
You flick on to Channel 23,000 by accident and, realising it is one of those pointless shows hosted by a ‘funnyman' on the wane, you resolve to change the channel immediately.
But something gets you and you decide to hang on to see what number 83 will be.
Before you know it 3am has come and gone.
Bleary-eyed, you sit nervously waiting through a 30minute advert break to find out what the Number 1 moment of the year has been.
‘Bloody hell, it was the Royal Wedding after all that'.
After investing all of that time and passive energy slumped on your settee you trudge up to bed feeling angry and cheated.
While I cannot guarantee this roundup of my favourite 10 pubs of the year will not leave you with a similar bubbling sense of dissatisfaction, at least it will not take up your whole evening.

Old Black Bull, Friargate, Preston
For real ale drinkers around central Lancashire, this pub is an absolute must.
And during the past year landlord Stan Eaton has been able to vastly expand the breadth of his offer, after breaking his ale tie with the brewery.
With something like 10 pumps it has allowed him to bring in lots of rare beers from micro-breweries across the country as well as hosting numerous beer festivals.
It is also a major draw for sports fans who can watch every live game on big screens.
The Saddle Inn, Sidgreaves Lane, Lea, Preston
A couple of years ago The Saddle was closed down, boarded up and overgrown.
With large grounds in a scenic rural location, it looked almost certain to be wiped off the landscape and replaced with a clutter of houses.
But instead, Graham and Angela Rowson took up the challenge of rebuilding the pub from scratch. After lots of hard work The Saddle Inn was named the nation's ‘Best Family Pub', in the Great British Pub Awards 2011.
One of the main key factors behind the pub's impressive gong has been its beer garden which includes a large seating area, children's play equipment, a toddler changing area and assorted pets.
If you are short of somewhere to take your children on a Sunday afternoon, the park facilities would give most play parks a run for their money and you might just be able to sneak in a pint of real ale. 
Black Horse, Friargate,  Preston
Despite being wedged next to a huge discount home store and opposite a huge shopping centre, the BlackHorse has long been one of the city centre's most thriving pubs.
People are drawn to the pub because its heritage and character have been so pleasingly preserved. After Graham and Angela Rowson, recently took over the pub I would also have it down as a pub to watch over the next 12 months.
The couple who also run The Saddle Inn, (see above) have lots of plans to improve the pub, including a better range of real ale, proper scrumpy, food being served upstairs and a ‘showcase' cellar.
The Continental, South Meadow Lane, Broadgate, Preston
This is another pub which had once been shut down and looked likely to become flats but today it is not only a thriving pub offering fresh food and real ale.
It is also one of the area's main hubs for culture and the arts. Since reopening, Ruth Heritage, who runs the ‘They Eat Culture' arm of the business, has branched out with a range of events and activities, from theatre productions, to cinema, writing classes and vintage fairs.
Such is the pub's contribution to Preston's social and cultural life, it is difficult to imagine what we did without it.
Mad Ferret, Fylde Road, Preston
Preston's best live music pub. If anyone has not been before, I would advise checking the website to find out what is on and you are sure to find something you will like.
During the week entry is usually free and the standard of the live acts is generally excellent but the real ale offer is limited.
Fox and Grapes, Fox Street, Preston
This is another pub which puts on a live event which is unrivalled across the city.
The pub's free monthly comedy night ‘For Fox Sake' gives any of its bigger rivals a real run for their money.
I was last in the pub for the ‘Christmas Special' where Archie Kelly who played Kenny Senior in Phoenix Nights was headlining – another great night.
The Wheatsheaf, Water Lane, Preston
Unlike some of the pubs on this list which stand out for events, tradition or location, the Wheatsheaf does not have any one feature which leaps out above the others.
It's strength is doing simple things very well. The pub is large, clean and airy with lots of screens for live sport and has an excellent range of  well-kept real ale at very reasonable prices.
It can get very busy in the pub but I have always found it to be very well run and the atmosphere is always jolly.
Running Pump Catforth Road, Catforth
This was one of the first pubs I visited during my tour of Lancashire's pubs and it remains a favourite. Cosy and warm with open fires and lots of authentic character, it is the perfect place to spend the evening with friends on a cold winter's night.
Th'Owd Tithe Barn, Church Street, Garstang
Set on the bank of the Lancaster Canal, this pub is all about location and on a sunny, summer's afternoon, it is the perfect spot for a pint of ale or a bite to eat.
The Wellington, Glover's Court, Preston
While most pubs at this end of the city centre have become over-run by chrome bars, disco balls and over-priced cocktails, this pub has managed to hold on to its character and charm.

Please feel free to leave a comment and let meknow what you think of my 10 and if there is a pub you think is worth a try in 2012, just point me in the right direction.