Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Top Lock, Copthurst Lane, Chorley

With the early spring sun coating me in a gentle warmth, fanned by the faintest breeze, I knew it was time to dig my bike out the shed.  
I carefully consulted several maps before tossing them back in my wardrobe, accepting I would, as usual, just follow my nose anyway.  
So after several hours looping up, down and around in circles, I ended up in Blackburn where I cursed myself for not having followed a map. 
This was not the rural idyll in the heart of the Forest of Bowland, I’d had in mind.  
I was angry. It was the first day which felt like spring and I wanted to celebrate it in the beautiful countryside which blankets much of Lancashire.  
Instead I’d found Blackburn. 
Logically I couldn’t have put the blame at our East Lancashire neighbour’s door, it has always just been there right where it is, minding its own business (usually) 
The blame lay much closer to home and that made it much worse but I found that an inconvenient truth which put me in a worse mood, so I went ahead and blamed Blackburn. 
But on the ride back along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal I came upon The Top Lock, which improved my mood instantly.  
I slammed on my rusting brakes which drew me to a gentle halt about half a mile further down the tow path.  
The day was rescued.  
When on cycle trips I ban myself from having a pint unless I am within pushing distance of home, in case the flood gates open and I am rendered incapable of safely operating my beaten up old rust roller.  
So I sat outside with a pint of Coke and watched the plump ducks lumbering around and reflected how everything was right in the world, before leaving with a vow to return soon. 
This was two years ago but I never forgot how the place had revived my day. 
With endorsements ringing, last weekend my neighbours agreed to drive over to have a closer look. 
I almost punched the air when I walked in, delighted as I was that my fond memory of the pub was not formed entirely upon my disappointment at what had preceded it.  
The pub was packed with traditional character, from top to bottom with an imposing array of real ales, from which I chose Timothy Taylor Landlord, a beer for all occasions. 
The pub is very small with just one main room but there is plenty of seating and I know from my fleeting visit a couple of years ago, being outside is every bit as enjoyable as being tucked up within. 
With the fair-weather bike riders’ season upon us, I am hoping my aimless outings will throw up a few more gems.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

The Old Dog Inn, Church Street, Preston

Tired, laboured and knocking out the odd funny smell, I have always found a certain kinship with old dogs.
They may not be able to keep up with their leaping, yappy friends and their days of chasing tennis balls are long gone, but they are solid and steady, without getting carried away.
And so it was for a time with Church Street’s old timer.
The pub opened well into the small hours on most nights, serving up real ale, live music and an appealing alternative to a nightclub.
But, even the most lucid old Labrador needs a bit of order and it became grumpy and aggressive.
The pub ended up being closed down briefly and when it reopened its licence conditions were toughened and the opening hours curtailed.
I feared my old Saturday night companion had become uncontrollable and would surely be put down.
But Paul Whittle, who runs a firm providing door staff across Preston, decided to step in and run the pub.
It was his first experience of running an entire pub, rather than merely looking after the security and what a challenge to start out with – an improbably angry Labrador, growling menacingly through its muzzle!
But by introducing and enforcing strict rules, including drugs checks, CCTV and careful vetting of the clientele, he quickly transformed its fortunes.
Under his management, it has also had a much-needed revamp, to make the pub much more appealing.
The transformation has been such that Preston Council has reinstated its 4am licence seven days a week, which blissfully means for old-before-my-time curmudgeons like me, I can forget forever trying in vain to make my hips wiggle in shiny, horrible nightclubs.
At least some old dogs can learn new tricks.