pub crawls

The Merseyrail Trail – Northern Line

With very frequent train services to the most densely populated areas of the region and with the two big draws of Chester and Southport I thought it was time to see if we could have our own “Rail Ale Trail”. I would like to make clear that when I had the inspiration for the trail I did a bit of research to see if a previous version had already been done and discovered that our local paper the Liverpool Echo had already printed a story involving rail trails written by Alistair Houghton; you can read about the original here. The trail I have decided upon is similar but also somewhat different, it will concentrate on one train line only for the moment; this line I feel offers the best in variety of places, ease of moving about and also change in scenery.

Please note that I will attempt to provide you with as much information on the pubs and bars as possible but do not wish to overload you with too much, as part of the fun will be experiencing these places for yourself.

The criteria used in selecting a destination pub were as follows:

1) Is there a pub within a reasonable walking distance of each/a train station?

2) Does the venue offer a good choice of beer and a unique environment?

With this in mind I initially settled on the idea of the Merseyrail Northern Line, between Southport and Liverpool.

Disclaimer

Before we start I would just like to make it clear that this blog post and this trail is not endorsed by Merseyrail or any of its associated companies, please respect the railway and its staff when travelling on the network. Due to unforseen circumstances i was not able to get good photo’s of all the locations i have temporaily used what is available on social media accounts until i can replace these with my own photographs. All information contained within is as up-to-date as possible, if you spot any errors please contact me directly and I will correct them if relevant. Thank you and enjoy reading!

Transport

Reaching the start of the Merseyrail Trail is very easy as long as you can get to a Merseyrail station then you can reach either end of the trail. And if you are travelling from further away outside of Merseyside again it’s not difficult as long as you can reach one of the main hubs such as Chester, Liverpool or Southport.

You can purchase a Merseyrail “daysaver” ticket which allows unlimited travel around the network, currently priced at £5. Up to date prices can be seen on Merseyrail’s website. Alternatively you can purchase a “saveaway” pass to cover both rail and bus services for £5.20 these are issued by Merseytravel the local transport authority. As of 2016 unless bought at a train station the Saveaway is now issued as a smart travel card called “Walrus” in a similar fashion to Oyster for travel around London.

Trains on the Northern line operate very regularly throughout the day Monday to Saturday, expect to see at least one train every 15 minutes operating in both directions, this will be reduced on Sunday’s and public holidays. As always check with the travel operator to see if there are any potential delays on your journey.

The Route

Accessibility wise most of this trail is quite flat. Please note some stations will have stairs; please check with each station to see if it meets your requirements if you have mobility restrictions. Most Merseyrail stations are staffed and they will be able to help you if required. For the most part the destination pubs at each stop are either outside the station or a few minutes walk. For full details on all Merseyrail stations Click on the Link here.

Southport – The Tap and Bottle

Located on Cambridge walk inside Wayfarer arcade, the Tap and Bottle is a recent welcome addition to Southport’s pub and bar scene. Just this year (2016) it has won Pub of the Year from the local Southport and West Lancs CAMRA. In the small but well stocked bar you will find four cask handpulls, six craft keg taps and bottles.

The bottle selection isn’t just limited to the bar, it’s also on display for you to peruse in 3 different shelved areas. The eclectic selection of bottle beers includes but is not limited to: British, European and North America bottles which can be both taken away as well as enjoyed in the bar. Seating is limited as is standing room during busy periods.

Cask beers on offer are a mix of local, regional and national brewers. Seating comprises tables, chairs, stools, plus one large table and bench close to the bar, handy in case you fancy plonking your bum down. A small upstairs area provides additional seating and displays the myriad of ales that have previously been available and also has an old school table arcade game cabinet!

The tap and bottle is very active on social media and within the local community, hosting bottle shares, meet the brewer events as well as a home brew club. There’s a real friendly chatty atmosphere to the tap and bottle and staff will always be on hand to provide helpful suggestions of beers to try regardless of you level of knowledge.

Tap and Bottles – 19 Cambridge Walks, Southport, PR8 1EN.


Birkdale – The Barrel House

Situated under a covered Victorian style shopping parade similar in style to the ones lining Lord Street in central Southport, the barrel house is a continental style café bar that has two cask ales on tap, as well as two other keg taps and a varied bottle selection is available to take out and drink in as well. On my visit the cask available was one local beer and one regional beer.

The range of bottles covers mostly Europe, the UK and North America. Seating inside is limited however in keeping with the continental feel there is additional seating outside on the pavement. There is a friendly, chatty atmosphere inside and despite its small size it feels light and airy. Don’t forget there is also the bottled ale section should you want to be more adventurous.

As the barrel house is a café style bar, food is available at certain times of the day, however snacks are always available. A large selection of newspapers is available to buy and read. Please note that the barrel house operates strict opening hours and last orders are 9.30pm

The Barrel House – 42 Liverpool Rd, Birkdale, Southport, PR8 4AY.


Hillside – The Grasshopper

Previously a branch of the bank of Liverpool, The grasshopper is named after part of that banks coat of arms and has literally just opened (as of 17th of March 2016). Based on the micropub model, the Grasshopper is decorated in a modern style with bare brick, white walls and beer related pictures on the wall. It is bright and welcoming inside with a small bar that stocks 4 cask ales and two keg beers. A big emphasis is currently placed on local ale, featuring as of my visit 5 breweries local to our corner of Merseyside!

Keg lagers were available as was wine. Again being a smaller establishment, seating and standing room are at a premium during busier periods. Despite only recently opening there were a few groups enjoying the atmosphere which was quiet yet chatty. It’s worth noting that children were welcome during the time I visited, so it’s a good place to pop in for a quick drink if you have children with you, but please note that all children must vacate the premises by 6pm.

The Grasshopper is also dog friendly. The possibility for the Grasshopper to extend into the neighbouring part of the building is also an option for the future, so hopefully it will prove popular enough to warrant this. Through the weekend opening hours will be 12-9.30pm. Weekdays will be 4-9.30pm Monday to Friday; these are of course subject to change. Bank holiday hours will be extended to weekend hours.

The Grasshopper – 70 Sandon Road, Hillside, Southport, PR8 4QD.

Side Step

Not too far from Hillside station is Royal Birkdale golf course which has hosted many prestigious International Golf competitions, why not tie in a visit to watching future tournaments with a beer in one of the local stops?


Freshfields – The Freshfield

AKA “The Freshie” is the largest pub on our trail and one of the only two chain pubs to feature on the trail. Located in the leafy suburbs near the Formby point National Trust site, the Freshie is very popular with locals, families and is a dog friendly pub. It has three distinct areas with the front of bar area being popular with drinkers, the restaurant area around the left and to the rear is for diners, and an additional seating area to the right is often popular with dog walkers and patrons watching live sport. A large garden to the rear and patio area provides an excellent place in summer to sit outside and enjoy the weather. Even in the cooler months it remains a pleasant place to sit if you don’t mind wrapping up!

Photo Credit: Kindly provided by Patrick at the Freshfield.

The Freshfield is owned by Greene King; however you’d be hard pressed to notice. Branding is very subtle. In fact i’d go so far as to say this is “The most un-Greene King like, Greene King pub” you could visit. Wisely the staff are afforded a large degree of freedom when it comes to choosing beer, up fourteen cask handpulls are available at most times with beers featuring from the immediate local area and also further afield. In fact the only clue that you’re in a GK pub comes from occasionally seeing their ales on the bar! Be warned though, being a popular destination not only for locals but those from further afield it can become very busy so plan accordingly. Quiz and live music nights are arranged by the pub but check with them for specific dates and times. Also keep an eye out for the Freshies own beer festivals which sees a stillage setup in part of the restaurant to augment the already impressive line up at the bar. Awarded many times by local CAMRA branches the Freshfield is a great halfway point in the journey

The Freshfield – 1 Massams Lane, Formby, L37 7BD.


Freshfields – Beer Station

What’s this two pubs within walking distance of the one railway station? When I initially set out to write this trail I knew that Formby would be getting a new micropub, though where it would be was initially unknown to me, since then Beer Station has opened up in the most perfect spot. Beating the Hightown hotel and Railway in formby for closest pub in proximity to the station, Beer Station is located a few steps from Freshfields station in a small suburban row of shops on the corner of Victoria Road and Freshfield Road sporting a classic British Railways style logo.

As is typical with the format of many micropubs Beer station is mainly one room. A small L-shaped bar hosts three cask pumps with a big focus on local beers from around the immediate region, also present on the bar are keg lines featuring Freedom Brewery ales including a lager, a selection of bottled beers, spirits and wines provide a good range of beverages for all tastes. Snacks are available including usual fayre as crisps and nuts alongside quality pies. The pub is neatly arrange with a few tables and a “comfy corner” which is of course in high demand! Walls are adorned with art and photographs from local artists and quite importantly there are also train times listed. Of course you could just wait to see the Level crossing coming down it really is that close. The Beer Station despite only being open a short time has become a bit hit with locals and can go from being quite to rapidly quite busy, it is popular with visitors to the beach and is a Dog friendly establishment.


Formby – The Railway

The second of only two chain pubs on our trail the Railway has been recently renovated by the Mitchell and Butler owned Ember inns. Five cask ales are available and are repeated twice on other sides of the central bar. The ground floor of the railway occupies what is primarily a dining space, tables are available but will be mostly occupied by people eating.

The large bar and area around it does provide accommodation for standing and the true front of the pub has a large terrace area overlooking the car park which is a pleasent suntrap during the warmer months. Inside it is very much in keeping with other Ember Inn format pubs. I counted at least 3 Fires so getting cosy in winter shouldn’t be a problem! On my visit 5 of the pumps were available however none were local ales and one was a cider. This will likely rotate and according to the local CAMRA branch local ales should be available often from Liverpool Organic Brewery.

Side Step

During your stops in Formby if you feel up to a walk you can visit Formby point coastline, at low tide you can sometimes find fossilised footprints of our ancient ancestors who walked there in ancient times, keep an eye out for the endangered native red squirrel in the pine forests or climb a sand dune to take in the big skies over Liverpool Bay.

The Railwail -Duke Street, Formby, L37 4AS.


Hightown – Hightown Hotel

A truly eclectic multi-purpose establishment, the unique multi-roomed and levelled Hightown Hotel is home to not only the village pub but a community centre, a chemist, computer classes, library and a talent agency! Numerous military artefacts dot the establishment thanks to being a neighbour of the army’s Altcar Rifle range and nearby RAF Woodvale. Despite its size the Hightown Hotel has a real warm and cosy character, mostly populated by groups of locals keeping to themselves.

Photo Source: The hightown hotel Facebook page

You should find six cask ale pumps from national, regional and local brewers, however availability depends on demand. A large beer garden is located right outside the main entrance and is very popular in summer. Food is available throughout the day and many live events take place as well, please check with staff or posters inside. According to CAMRA’s Whatpub website the Hightown Hotel was in the past owned by Bass and was a reform school for Liverpool Education Authority in the early 20th century. Rather than a house of unruly schoolchildren you will now find an establishment that is really at the heart of its community.

Hightown Hotel – Lower Alt Rd, Hightown, L38 0BA.


Blundellsands and Crosby – The Corner Post

Another recently opened micropub on the local scene. In a previous life the Corner Post was, believe it or not, a Post Office and a post box still sits proudly outside on the corner. The Corner Post hosts four cask ale pumps with regularly changing ales, often with more than one from a local brewer. The Corner Post provides not only cask and bottled beers but wines spirits and drinks to its customers so there is a good chance that everybody will find something to enjoy.

The micropub formula remains the same and there is no music, no TV and conversation is king. Tables dot the outskirts of the interior and provide a little extra standing room should no seating be available, the pub remains light and well lit with lots of old photos of the area and Post Office related prints dotting the walls. Basic bar snacks are available supplemented by fresh pies from local bakehouse Satterthwaites. The Corner post is another pub that does a good job of keeping people up to date via social media especially twitter and facebook. And Like several stops on the route, dogs are welcome. A warm friendly atmosphere and a well kept choice of cask ales make it a worthwhile penultimate stop on the trip.

The Cornerpost – 25 Bridge Road, Crosby, L23 6SA.


Waterloo – Stamps Too

Photo Source: Stamps Too Facebook Page

Located on South Road in Waterloo just yards from the train station, Stamps Too is a popular local bar and live music venue, most weekends and some week nights feature live music acts. The single long rectangular bar can quickly fill up during these live music periods so if you really want a seat you will have to be there early otherwise it’s down to luck.

Photo Source: Stamps Too Facebook Page

The L shaped bar displays its cask wares on the short end and up to four can be available. One of these ales will often be a local beer with several coming from elsewhere in the North-West or a national brewer.

If you’re looking for a bit of entertainment to end your night with, Stamps Too is a great place to do so. Please check with the establishment to find out what upcoming acts will be performing. Stamps Too does stay open beyond 11pm but please remember to check the departure of the last train! It’s quite easy to get caught up in the atmosphere of stamps too and find yourself running to the station! Should you find yourself unfortunately without a train buses do run towards Liverpool from here and Taxis will be reasonable alternative as well.

Stamps Too – 99 South Rd, Waterloo, L22 0LR.

Side Step

While you are at either Crosby or Waterloo maybe even consider a walk to the wide sandy beaches to get some fresh air take in a lovely sunset or see the Iron men that dot the beach as part of Anthony Gormleys “another place” installation


Moorfields Extension

Now at this point I would think eight destinations along the northern line is a suitable amount to provide a well paced day, however if you are looking to extend your trip or are looking for a central meeting point you can easily do so by riding the train all the way back to Moorfields station in the centre of Liverpool. Getting off at Moorfields provides you with a myriad of choices to either finish the Rail Ale Trail with, or a gateway to continue exploring Liverpool’s famous pubs. Below is a list of my recommended stops within easy walking distance of the station that fit in with the flow of the trail. There are many other great pubs and bars at this end of the city and of course beyond so feel free to explore.

The Lion Tavern

The Lion was recently shut for a short period over the summer of 2016 due to a disagreement with the previous managers and the pub co that owns the premises, since then the pub has re-opened under new management with a commitment to keep things as they were but improve things where possible. The information below reflects the Lion as it was before the temporary closure, and will be updated if need be asap.

Just a few short steps from Moorfields is the Lion tavern, named after one of the first locomotives to work the Liverpool to Manchester railway. A Grade 2 listed building and with an interior deemed of historic importance by CAMRA, the railway has a central bar serving one large room from a long bar, as well as two smaller rooms via serving hatches. Eight cask hand pulls are available and usually has at least one local beer on offer alongside other regional and national brews. You will also find the pubs own house beer “lion returns” brewed by George Wright brewery in St Helens.  Home made hand raised pork pies are also available should you fancy a treat.

Thomas Rigby’s / Lady of Mann

Rigby’s and the lady of Mann may appear to be separate bars but are both owned by Okells an Isle of Mann Brewery and are one of the few outlets in mainland UK that stock their cask beers. Rigby’s recently underwent a refurbishment to spruce up its interior. Cask ales are now easier to view and choose as they have taken centre stage at the bar and here local, regional and national beers often rub shoulders. The range of craft beers has also been improved in both bottle and keg form. Food is served regularly and the establishment is quite popular with city workers and when sporting events are on. Across the large courtyard is the Lady of Mann which offers a more relaxed open plan atmosphere and a more modern feel. Three cask ales are usually available with some more unusual offerings that you may not find in its sister establishment; craft beers are again available in keg and bottle form. As mentioned before the two premises share a courtyard this is very popular regardless of the time of year and in summer despite the urban environment can be quite the sun trap!

The Ship and Mitre

With an Art Deco style exterior and one of the largest beer ranges in the city centre, the Ship hosts a real bonanza of cask lines, keg lines and bottles. Supporting all sizes of brewers, from small local micros to big name nationals, the Ship has regular organised festivals such as Belgian, American and British real ale. The centre bar dominates the middle of the pub while two large front and rear rooms provide lots of seating. Don’t be surprised if you still find it busy despite its size as its very popular stop on local pub circuits. Food is served regularly.

Dead Crafty Beer Co

Just recently opened Dead Crafty is a modern dedicated craft beer bar. New and unusual craft beer offerings will be available from not only the UK but from around the globe. The bottle selection also adds more depth to the choice and also the option to allow take-away. The long bar is uniquely constructed of flight cases as is the tap selection behind which currently features 20 keg lines! The team running it are dedicated beer fans and will always be happy to hand out advice on what beer to try. Tasters are available and beers are served in 1/3rd and 2/3rd glasses. If at the end of your long trip you want to switch things up a bit dead crafty will help you do it!

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West Kirby Pub Crawl – 2017

The prom of West Kirby faces out to where the dee estuary meets the irish sea.

If you’re looking to travel as far west as possible for a pint in the Merseyside area you can’t get much further than West Kirby. Nestled in the top left corner of the Wirral peninsular West Kirby is a small town that enjoys a great clutch of places to drink, and is a great place for a day out to boot. You can walk out to Hilbre island, accessible only during low tide. (Please check tide times so you don’t get cut off! you already knew that though didn’t you?). Take in one of its famous sunsets, or the view from its hills just above the town by the memorials.

Getting there is a doddle either by Train, Bus or Car, when using public transport please note when the last outbound journey finishes, unless your local West Kirby is one of the areas most extreme geographical points! If you’re visiting from Liverpool I recommend using Merseyrail train services as the trip is quick and cheap. The only disadvantage is that as of this date trains to Liverpool do finish at 11pm

As with previous Pub crawls I have published please note that places are included and excluded at my own choice, you are as always encouraged to explore. I believe that this route provides a good representation of what is available in the area.

If you believe there are any mistakes or corrections please contact me directly.

The Route

The route is circular in nature and can easily be completed in an afternoon or a whole day depending on how long you wish to spread out your journey. The route is quite hilly so if there are any mobility issues you may wish to plan accordingly. The number 437 bus can take you some way around the hill to the back of the Viking pub cutting out some of the hill but not all of it. Sadly since my last visit two destinations have permanently closed, it now leaves West Kirby with no decent Pub or bar serving cask/craft beer along Bank Road. I have modified the route accordingly but have also included a route that takes in the sea front of West Kirby which on a good day provides splendid views over the Dee Estuary towards North Wales and Hilbre Island. The sunsets in this part of the world are noted to be quite good.

The West Kirby Tap

Photo Credit: @wirraledrinker

On arrival at West Kirby Station take a right and a short walk up grange road to your first pub on the trip. Painted a shade of red that wouldn’t look out-of-place in a Mediterranean village its difficult to miss! The brewery tap has only been open a few years and is  Spitting Feathers second outlet pub the first being located in Chester. It has already become very popular amongst Wirral’s beer lovers and has been awarded by the local CAMRA branch.

At any time there should be 8 hand pulls available one often with a real cider. Blackboards above the bar display what is currently available be it draught, bottles or spirits. Another neat addition is small kilner jars filled with the beers to show you what colour they are, if you’re the sort of person who leans towards a particular end of the beer spectrum. Staff are quick to turn around beers that have finished and helpful in giving advice on your choice. In my experience the beers have always been in very good condition and a varied range has usually been available. A good range of Craft bottled and canned beers are available as are several foreign beers from Europe. Gin is also available owing to the recent resurgence and popularity of Liverpool Gin.

small plates are available and the bread cheese and meat platters are quite popular. The pub itself is quite open but also has cosy areas to settle down in, it looks and feels warm in winter and in the summer you can enjoy the large open front windows or sun yourself outside on the pavement. Entertainment is regularly planned so if you enjoy a bit of music with your drink you wont be disappointed. The tap is also very active on social media and today its something that pubs and bars cannot afford to ignore. So follow them on twitter and Facebook to keep up to date

The Dee Hotel

Once you have left the Tap, continue to backtrack towards the station, follow the main road as it curves around the station, opposite the bus stop you will find the large front of the Dee hotel.

UPDATE: Since this article was originally conceived JD Wetherspoons have decided to sell off several of their pubs, the dee is one of them and will close in the future. What date has been chosen for the Dee’s closure remains unknown, until then it is open for business! What will become of it is unknown though it is speculated it will return to a hotel.

Next on your route is the Dee Hotel. follow the road to the left as it curves around past the train station and municipal buildings. cross the road and you will see the classic Tudor styled front of the Dee Hotel. During the 1930s the hotel was expanded so today the interior of the Hotel is quite large and spacious and is similar in style to many other JD Wetherspoons outlets. The area closest to the bar is invariably the busiest so if your after a quiet drink you may want to move to one of the outlying areas of the bar. Several hand pumps are available dispensing regular ales as well as guest ales, usually at least one local ale, in previous visits I have seen offerings from both Peerless brewery and Cheshire Brew Bros.

On my previous visits the majority of the ales have been available and have been in good to fair condition, if sometimes a bit too cold. Food is served until late, and is standard Wetherspoons menu. A small back yard terrace allows you to enjoy the weather. The Dee did until recently have a social media presence but this seems to have disappeared, possibly due to the impending closure.

The White Lion

 

Turning right out of the Dee you can now walk uphill and around the corner to your next stop, please take care crossing the road here. The 200-year-old sandstone white washed white lion stands out like a beacon on the corner so its difficult to miss! As just mentioned the white lion is fairly old and has a great warm, solidly built traditional free house feel to it. Exceptionally cosy in the warm winter months thanks to its hobbit hole like nature and real fires, the white lion is all bare stone and wooden beams. It’s a great example of  a classic British pub. The white lion is a pub for all seasons with a large beer garden at the back which is a great sun trap in the warmer months, its also full of all sorts of quirky garden decorations.

Black sheep bitter and Directors Courage best bitter are the regular ales on but there are also 2 guest beers on at a time as well, often one from a local brewer. I have seen beers from Frodsham brewery and Peerless in previous visits. While the White lion may not have a massive variety of Ale available it has been consistently good when I have visited, and has a look, feel and atmosphere unique on the circuit.

The Viking (Formerly The Hilltop)

After leaving the White Lion please head up hill until you reach a T-junction. you may then turn left onto Black Horse Hill road, a short walk down hill will then take you to the Viking.

Now re-opened after an extensive refurbishment the Viking is a large gastropub owned by Celebrity chef and local lad Simon Rimmer. If you have ever visited the Elephant in Woolton Liverpool the formula is somewhat similar here. Inside the Viking the pub has been opened out into one large room with a mixture of modern and retro fixtures, a single large island bar dominates the centre of the Viking with 5 Cask hand pulls displayed on the end facing the door and other keg taps on the longer sides.

Local beers often mix with beers from further afield. One of the unique selling points of the Viking is that Tank Budweiser Budvar is available, an unpasteurised keg beer shipped as fresh as possible direct from the Czech Republic. Outside a large beer garden is on offer to take in the views across the peninsular east towards Liverpool. Note this beer garden will get very busy during summer months.

I would categorise the Viking as a gastropub and despite just opening has been very busy on each visit so please be aware of this affect on seating, during weekends and evenings it is very popular with families during the day and into early evening, after 9pm it becomes an adult only venue. Should you wish to grab some food on your travels the food in the Viking is great value and has something for everyone.

After leaving the Viking you will need to walk back up the hill a short distance, you will then need to take a left onto the A540 Column Road and then a Right down Village road.

The Ring o Bells

Continue to follow the road as it winds it’s way down hill and you will reach your next stop. Nestling on the corner of Village Road and Rectory Road is the mock-tudor styled Ring o Bells. Regardless of which route you take both walks to the ring o bells is a enjoyable affair, as this is the older leafier part of West Kirby. Indeed the pub dates from 1801 and is one of the last two remaining original village pubs. Currently a Greene King pub this operates more of a family dining pub in keeping with other similar Greene King pubs.

There were 8 hand pulls on during the last visit the majority taken up by Greene King’s own ales there were others sourced from national brewers as well. A generous wooded beer garden sits just next to the pub and is very popular during good weather. recently there have been strides taken to try to improve the beer range and organise small beer and cider festivals. Beer quality is usually good if maybe occasional a bit too cold. Recently the cask hand pulls have been moved to the top most tier of the two tier bar. this is immediately visible on your right as you enter.

Owing to the nature of the pub expect it to be filled with mostly families during the evening and weekends. so seating may be at a premium if many people are eating.

Hickories Smokehouse

Just down the hill and around the corner from your previous stop is Hickories. This was previously known as the Moby Dick pub built in post-war style. Now owned by a small USA Smoke-house restaurant chain the hickories is often genuinely rammed at weekends, with tables usually booked weeks in advanced. It is a nice place to grab a bite to eat, but be warned if you don’t book ahead you could end up waiting a long time for a table owing to its popularity. Noise is also something you may want to be aware of because of its popularity, open kitchen, TV’s and family friendly atmosphere it can be quite loud at weekends. Don’t let this put you off though as it’s a nice place to visit for a drink on the route and the food is very good! outdoor seating is also available.

Beer wise owing to its north American styling you will find several USA beers available. On my latest visit I found Brimstage trappers hat and one house cask ale has been available “Hickories Old” which is brewed by Weetwood in Cheshire. USA craft beers are available bottled however and the other usual suspects are also available at the bar.

Full Circle

Once you have left Hickories your route is complete. From this point you can return to any of the other establishments in the crawl if you have a favourite and you would like to spend some more time there. The map included with the trail takes in a route returning to the station via the excellent promenade where you can get some fresh air and enjoy the fine views across the Dee Estuary and out to sea. Should you however wish to take a shorter route it is possible to make your way via Ashton Park back to the centre of town.

Despite the loss of two unique venues on the route (Curio and The Hilbre). West Kirby is still a fantastic beer destination for Merseyside and the Wirral. Easily reached from most parts of the region and has a great array of pubs and bars, and also individual eateries. It’s entirely possible to visit other nearby destinations too, Hoylake also has a few noted pubs. The crawl is suitable for any time of year, if however you fancy taking in some of the views of the Dee, the sea or views from the top of the hills you will of course benefit from it being a clearer day.

Chester Pub Crawl – 2015 edition

Chester is not just a great British city for history and swarms of tourists it’s also a great place for us beer lovers. There are lots of great pubs and bars in and around its ancient city walls. I tend to go a few times a year since its so easy to get there on public transport. You can either come home at the end of the night or stay in a cheap hotel it’s quite easy given the distance of Chester from the other Merseyside settlements.

Getting there as mentioned previously isn’t difficult. My preferred way is via train, you can reach Chester from any of the Merseyrail stations, you may have to change once or twice but trains are very regular and prices are quite reasonable, just over £5 for a saveaway ticket to get you there and back. Please note that currently the last train to Liverpool leaves Chester at 11pm (23:00) daily.

The Route

The route I have come up with is quite a simple one that involves the periphery of the Chester city walls, I suppose you could call it a walls pub crawl if you wanted, there are many variations on the route and this should serve as a rough guide, indeed it’s entirely possible to miss out whole sections of the crawl by going through Chester city centre. You can always plan to revisit missed pubs on subsequent visits and I’m confident you will return!

If we are to base our starting point at the train station you can either go left or right, if it’s a sunny day then you are in luck as there are ample places in the city you can enjoy the sun in the great outdoors. This article will proceed in a clockwise direction but of course you can go whichever way you want, I myself generally prefer a anti-clockwise route.

The Old Harkers Arms

This is a suitable first stop on a clockwise tour. Set in an old warehouse the Harkers has a handsome bare brickwork interior and exterior during daylight hours it can seem quite roomy when it’s not too busy, during later hours when it gets busy it really gets busy with people spilling out on to the canal side area. Over 8 hand pumps are present with a good variety of local and national ales, often from Weetwood or Spitting feathers brewery, food is also served and looks and smells quite tasty i also believe there are craft bottles beers available. The beer seems to be quite well cared for and since its popular it maintains a good turnover. Harkers though isn’t cheap, it’s probably one of the more pricey boozers in Chester but if you like a good range and a good pint you can’t grumble, so make your choice and kick back by the canalside in summer or warm yourself inside with the rest of the throng.

The Cellar Bar

With a licence til 2.30 its one of the later openings in the Chester pub crawl, it’s a small two tier bar with unsurprisingly a Cellar cum second bar downstairs, the main action remains at street level where 3 hand pulls provide good solid cask ale selections and a fine assortment of kegged draught craft beers and bottles too. The Cellar also plays host to regular live music and has a pretty friendly and lively atmosphere, it reminds me very much of Stamps Too in Waterloo. If you’re looking to really switch up your choice of beers on your trip its a worth adding this to your route.  The Cellar bar was  voted Chester & South Clwyd branch Pub of the Year 2014 (CAMRA). Seating is mostly of the stool and high table kind so be prepared to stand if its busy. To my mind its one of the most successful bars in our corner of the Northwest to blend together well cared for cask ales and a great range of kegged craft beer. The cellar is a real fave of mine on the Chester circuit, try not to miss is. If your taking the tour in an anticlockwise route I suggest visiting the cellar last its later opening will allow you time to head back and enjoying a drink before retiring to the night.

The Boathouse

watch the world float by at the boathouse

You’ve got a bit of a walk ahead of you now as you make your way down to the wonderful River Dee, you can take a direct route through Grosvenor Park if you wish or follow Dee Lane and Grosvenor park lane, either way eventually you will come to JW Lees Boathouse, nestled right up against the river (and sometimes in it during flood!). A large family style pub with multiple areas there is a long bar in the middle and impressive views of the river where you can watch people simply messing around in boats. Only JW Lees Beers are available on the hand pulls, I’m not a big fan of them myself but you can’t complain at having a pint down by the river on a sunny day. Expect this to be very busy during weekends and especially during good weather.

Update 2015: Recently a large disused canal boat has been moored outside and converted to extra seating, so you can enjoy being right on the river and not just next to it. Just don’t fall in.

The Ship Inn

a roaring fire and a giant pint (not actually giant)

A walk along the River Dee is in order now to reach the next port of call (nautical pun intended) you have two choices here you can either cross the magnificent Queens Park suspension bridge and hug the river bank on the other side or take the walk along the Chester city walls side, either way you get some cracking views like the photo at the top of this page. The ship Inn was disused for a number of years until it was recently brought back to life, a single large bar dominates downstairs while upstairs food is served in a restaurant section (you can still eat downstairs of course). One great dominating feature is the large fireplace which is a real welcome sight and feel on a cold winters eve. One regular ale is on offer with 2 guests usually available these are again from local and national brewers and kept very well. You can enjoy another view of the river from the back of the pub, alas there is no beer garden. Enjoy the mellow atmosphere and when your ready were off over the old dee bridge.

Update 2015: on numerous re-visits to the ship its clear that the pub has been taken over by Thwaites, and/or it appears to have changed managers several times as well. Since our first visit the pub had a somewhat uncertain outlook and seemed to stock just mostly Thwaites beers. However as of Winter 2015 it has had another makeover. The downstairs has been made more bright and welcoming and the beer list has seen some improvement with inclusions of local brewers and some nationals. sadly it seems the original fireplace shown in the above photo has been remodelled but a member of staff assured me the fire would still be in use during cold days. The ship inn is still very worthy of a visit and more support and suggestions from customers may improve the beer range in time.

The Bear and Billet

another roaring fire to enjoy in the winter

Walking back over the old Dee bridge towards the Bridge gate section of Chester walls mind the road as there is only one pavement, your next stop is one of the few Okells Outlets here on mainland Britain, and a fine stop it is too! A large imposing listed three-story white and black timber-framed building, if you have an image of the inside of a British pub this might fit its description with a fireplace and low exposed beams all around, drawing an eclectic mix of young and old, the bear and billet is warm and welcoming, especially in winter as you can no doubt see from the rather cosy gentleman in the above photo. The bear and billet have 5 pumps on offer 1 serving a regular Okells beer and others from local and national sources. Food is also available. Upstairs is a larger seating area if downstairs is a bit too busy for you. When your ready to move on head up bridge street and cross the road to your next destination.

The Cross Keys Inn

The most northerly of Joules Breweries pubs is a one room red brick pub opened in 2012 with an old-fashioned Victorian style interior with wooden panelling and etched mirrors. There’s even a retro Carling black label tap on the bar! upstairs is a function room christened as another pub “the slaughtered lamb” which hosts traditional pub games according to the website. Initially i have missed the cross keys off on previous visits but we popped in again during December 2015 to see how it was getting on. The beer on offer is Joules own beers mixed with local and further away beers. its only the second place outside of Yorkshire i have seen Fernandes brewery beers, the first being the dispensary in Liverpool which seems to have a monopoly on it in Liverpool. The beer has been well-kept the atmosphere during the festive period was busy but not ruinously so. Other times the cross keys can be a nice place for a quiet contemplative pint. I’ll definitely be back more often! Next stop requires you to cross over bridge street for another short walk.

Spitting Feathers Brewery Tap

the historic interior of Gamul House

A short bimble up lower bridge street will bring you to Gamul house, home to the Spitting Feathers Brewery tap, the first one for the brewery until 2014 when a second was opened in West Kirby. Careful of the steep steps up to the entrance, this Grade II listed Ex-Jacobean dining hall has quite some history behind it, one famous visitor included Charles the First (who may or may not have had a pint while there). The main hall in which the bar is located is a vast space with large ceiling and ornate sandstone fireplace. Beers are of course from the Spitting feathers brewery but also makes room for many national and local breweries some of them Micro’s. As with many of the other pubs in Chester quality food is available and the menu changes regularly, the ambience of this very old building is worth staying for to soak up for a good while. but when your ready mind those steps again on your way down! Note the tap can fill up very rapidly at the end of race days. Food is available during peak hours.

The Architect

a real sun trap is to be had at the architect

Taking a route across the roundabout towards the Roodee (aka Chester racecourse) you will find the Architect. Recently renovated by pub co Brunning & Price the former home of Thomas Harrison, fellow Yorkshireman and architect who worked on two bridges in Chester (amongst many other things) and then designed and built himself this fine home. Which today is the pub! A white building with added red-brick extension this pub has a HUGE garden (and it is HUGE). Looking out onto Chester racecourse (aka the roodee), expect the architect to be very busy when any kind of event is on at the racecourse. The garden is a real sun trap so if that’s your sort of thing you may enjoy a few hours at the architect. Styled as a “Classic pub restaurant” the building is split into two, with the red brick extension playing host to the bar and associated area. The rest of the house proper is given over to rooms for dining, it does feel a bit odd wandering through what used to be someone else house looking for the loo while people dine away in side rooms! two regular ales are served one from a local brewer, weetwood when i last visited and up to five other guest ales so choice is pretty good, however this is a very upmarket place and prices reflect this as such. The architect is definitely worth a visit for a good pint, an excellent view and also by all accounts good grub.

Route Deviation

Now at this point you can take a route direct along the historic city walls of Chester to the north from the bottom of the architects garden, straight up to the next pub, Telfords Warehouse

Alternatively you could divert off into the city centre and visit some of the other pubs, these will be covered later on.

Telfords Warehouse

Wander north along the walls and then zig zag your way across the assortment of bridge that cross canals and railway lines to find Telford’s Warehouse, situated right alongside the Shropshire Union Canal. The building is of course linked to famed industrial revolution engineer Thomas Telford, designed so canal boats could dock directly within its structure. Today the warehouse operates as a multifunction venue but is well-known within Chester for being a place for Live music and art. But of course it does sell fine beer too three regular ales are available alongside plus three guests making for a pretty good range, wide open glass windows give a good view out onto the canal and tow-path, seating is also available outside, though mind the canal itself unless you want to go for a dip in the water. A lot goes on at the Warehouse from Live gigs to salsa classes so it’s quite a busy place! food is also available and from having looked at the menu myself it looks quite tasty. Though Telfords warehouse is right on the furthest reaches of this crawl it is well worth visiting!

PLEASE NOTE: there is an admission charge after 9pm owing to the fact it is a live events venue

The circle is complete

now if at this point you are more or less ready for home you can make your way back to Chester railway station along the city walls, taking a route back along Brook street you can pop in the last pub before ending your circular route alternatively you can dive back into the city centre, this deviation will be covered a little later on. If you are heading onwards to Kash from Telfords you can either walk the wall or follow the canal, the canal is the easier more direct option.

Kash Taprooms

Sat somewhat unusually on its own wedged between brook street and a dual carriageway Kash charts its own independent course as a good establishment to enjoy both cask ale and craft beer, they even have their own brewing kit which you pass on your way in. selling its own Redball ales alongside sister Blueball and a plethora of local and national cask and craft there is a good choice available, on a few occasions I have noticed beers tend to lean towards the strong end of the spectrum so be forewarned! but that’s not to say lighter ales are not available also. A neat little sun terrace is available by Kash’s front entrance, the staff are friendly and knowledgeable about what they stock so don’t be afraid to ask if you’re not sure, home cooked food is available and the interior is quite eclectic with barrels for tables and colourful murals on the wall. this is a great place to end your crawl or start it depending on which way round you are doing things.

City Centre Diversion

if along your circular walk of Chester you want to cut it short or add more to the route you can’t go far wrong taking a diversion through the city centre, there are many pubs in the city centre selling a good range of beers, you can see a concise list of these on both the what pub website, and Chester CAMRA’s own printable guide for the city. On my Updated 2015 crawl I now just recommend the Pied bull listed below.

The Pied Bull

Personally I think no visit to Chester is complete without popping in the pied bull. Known for being the longest continually licensed premises in Chester and home to its own microbrewery it’s a great traditional pub, I have eaten and enjoyed the pubs own produce and i was pretty chuffed with it, staff were really friendly even suggesting other places to visit and i was even offered a sample of a beer yet to come on direct from the cellar! The Pied Bull is an old coaching Inn that dates from 1155 so its got quite a bit of history embedded in the walls, and also some ghosts apparently, the only spirits i have seen though are in optics behind the bar! The atmosphere is warm, cosy and friendly so i think it’s a great place to duck into during a cold winters eve, warm up with a Pied Bull pint, 4 hand pulls are on offer including at least one regular beer from the pied bull microbrewery itself. If you like history and beer that hasn’t travelled far the pied bull is a worthy addition to any crawl in Chester.

In Summary – The last train home

Right first things first, if you are going home by train make a note of when the last train leaves! because getting to Chester station can be a hike from certain places and unless your staying for the night you might not want to be caught out!

Chester really is a cracking place to visit for a pub crawl any time of year, in the summer you can enjoy the many outdoor venues and the riverside in the sun and in the winter many cosy welcoming fireplaces beckon you inside for a good pint and a warm place by the fire, getting to Chester is easy, getting around Chester is relatively easy as well so there is no excuse for not going, whether you live somewhere on the Wirral or within the Greater Liverpool area it’s easily in reach, you could always stop a night or two and enjoy many of the places at a steadier pace as well. You don’t have to follow my route exactly I encourage you to head off the beaten track and find new places, there are several places I’ve omitted either because I don’t think they fitted with the flow of the crawl or because i just didn’t like them. that doesn’t mean you wont, don’t be shy and go for a wonder!

Crosby and Waterloo Pub Crawl – updated 2015

hmm tides coming in, best go the pub and dry off… (photo G Hutsby)

Right on the northern fringes of the Merseyside metropolitan area sits Waterloo and Crosby, wedged up against the Irish sea its a great place to visit for a day out and even a few pints!

Depending on your direction of travel there are a few ways to get to Crosby, its very accessible by Train, Bus and car. My own personal recommendation is to take the train, the northern line services are excellent and there is a train every 15 minutes. Grab yourself a travel pass so you can hop on and off as you choose, especially if your not to keen on some of the longer walking stretches.

Waterloo train station and Blundellsands & Crosby station serve their respective areas. Waterloo’s station puts you right on the south road which is awash with great pubs in the area. Blundellsands and Crosby station is a short 10 minute walk from the centre of Crosby, pubs are a little more spread out in this area.

The Route

Route Length 2.5 miles approx. suggested time allowance 5 hours.

My own personal route is as follows, of course don’t be afraid to explore and check out other pubs in the area, you can use the fine Liverpool pubs passport available for free from the Liverpool CAMRA branch website or use the handy http://whatpub.com/ from CAMRA as well, which also has a mobile website, handy when you are out! Please remember this route is of my own opinion, places are included and excluded at my own choice, I believe that it offers a good spread of experience and beer quality. You are of course encouraged to have a wander around and explore places for yourself and discover something I might have missed. Directions on the map are a rough guide feel free to take another route if you wish.

1. Liverpool Pigeon

The pigeon has been open only a few short years and was initially the areas only micropub. In that time it has garnered a lot of fans and two pub of the year awards from the local CAMRA branch. Because it is a micropub opening hours are not the same as your standard boozer. Cask ales and real cider are on offer, as are bottled beers from the continent, but you will not find any mainstream lagers, keg products alcopops or spirits. There is no music, no TV and no live entertainment, nice surroundings and conversation rule the roost at the Pigeon. Beer changes very frequently the selection tends to come from other North West England and national brewers, furthermore its all served in over-sized pint glasses! It can tend to get quite warm in the pigeon when there are plenty of people in seating is limited to you may struggle to find some where to park your bum if it is busy.

The staff are big on quality here, on a previous visit the first choice drink had only just gone off, the gentleman behind the bar serving me let me know, asked me if I wanted to try it and if I was unhappy he’d swap it immediately, it didn’t seem right so a replacement was soon whipped up, a lot of other pubs could learn a lesson from this small establishment.

Full details and opening hours can be found here: http://liverpoolpigeon.co.uk/

2. Stamps

A short bimble up Liverpool road northwards will take you to the next nearest port of call Stamps.

The original stamps is a two tier building right at the junction of Crosby town centre’s main roads to Liverpool and Southport. Stamps is a great little venue for live music, every time i have been there is usually some entertainment on, whether that entertainment is to your liking is of course a matter of taste. Within recent years Stamps have started a brewery auxiliary located elsewhere in Merseyside, it supplies not only to the Stamps but to other pubs, eateries and bottle shops. Six handpulls are present with at least one stocking a Stamps brewery beer. There is also usually one national beer present. On my visits the beers have been in good to OK condition. While the choices on offer may not ever be mind blowing its a good reliable place for a nice drink. And one of the few live music venues in the area!

Seating during busy periods can be at a premium it’s often quite lively and noisy with the crowd and visiting bands competing for the airwaves so if you’re a quiet pub lover this may not be for you unless you get there before any entertainment starts.

3. Crows Nest

Coming out of stamps you will need to navigate your way over the road system nearby towards the direction of Victoria Road, once you round the corner you next goal will be in sight.

The Crows Nest gives off the aura of a typical community pub, its warm and welcoming and has been pretty busy the previous times we have dropped in. The pub is set out into three distinct areas a snug area which you might typically enter if coming down victoria road from Crosby town centre, a back lounge and then the main bar area. It is possible to be served from all three of these areas, however be careful of fellow drinkers hiding behind the door in the bar area, a polite sign will ask you to knock before entering so you don’t whack someone with the door.

You wont find any mind-blowing choices of real ale here, but what you will find are a decent variety of national brands and pretty well-kept to boot, I’ve usually gone for the Theakstons and its one of the nicest pints of it I have had outside my native home land. There are tv’s for showing sport etc and the crowd is quite friendly.

To reach your next destination follow Victoria Road until it forks left and becomes College road until you reach the roundabout, head across this along Mersey road, until you meet the next roundabout, take a left turn onto bridge road and keep an eye out for the post box.

4. The Corner Post

In a previous life the corner post was a post office at the end of a terrace row, hence the corner post! and the post box outside kinda gives it away too. The Corner Post only opened in 2015 and has rapidly become a popular place for local drinkers and those from a far. Being a micropub it does not have extended opening hours, typically it is open from late afternoon until 9pm at night. please check their social media accounts for accurate hours. Basic bar snacks and quality local pies from Satterthwaites of Crosby are available should you fancy a bit of snack.

5 handpulls dominate the tidy corner bar, which regularly host many local beers, a cider and a beer from elsewhere in the country, it has to be said the Corner post does a very good job of supporting Merseysides local breweries and especially those in close proximity to the pub. A smaller selection of bottled beers are also available. Wine and Gin are also available, Micropub purists may scoff at this but I can see the advantages of offering an alternative to those who maybe in a visiting party and really don’t feel like a beer. It doesn’t detract from this being an ale destination whatsoever.

Being a micropub emphasis is put on the care of the beers, and while I have only been a handful of times in 2015 they have always been in great condition during visits. The corner post does an excellent job of updating customers and followers via social media as to what is on the bar through the week. more so than some other local pubs! so follow them to see what’s on the bar. A excellent addition to the local pub scene and the growing collection of Micropubs in the area.

5. The Volunteer Canteen

A fairly long walk along bridge road in the direction of Waterloo is now required, please note this road despite being long and straight changes name several times along its length but the bearing remains the same until you come across Wellington street on your right. Follow Wellington street and take a left onto East Street, your next stop should now be in sight. Please note if you wish you can return to Blundellsands and Crosby station to get the train to Waterloo if you dont feel like the walk.

The Volunteer Canteen affectionately known as the “Volly” its a traditional style pub in a grade 2 listed building. The Volly is a quiet community pub so there is no music or TV. I have only visited the Volly a handfull of times myself. It’s a fantastic looking pub on the inside dating back to 1871 and was previously owned by Higsons Brewery of Liverpool, the inside. Typical bar snacks and food are available, there are 4 handpulls and usually one is from Liverpool Organic Brewery. The Volly has won several awards from the local CAMRA branch over the years. Beer was of a good standard on our two previous visits and table service is still available, a rarity in British pubs nowadays.

6. The Old Bank

“Its a bit of a mad house this place! I like it!” i immediately said to myself when i first walked in the old bank, music blaring from a band on stage, Local characters having a natter loudly with one another and the walls cluttered to the celing with various Music and Football (mostly red sorry blues!) paraphernalia. The old bank is certainly very lively! if you prefer quieter places then the old bank may not be for you. You may prefer to return when there are no bands on but even then it can be quite busy. Beer on offer is usually one or two pumps from Liverpool Organic Brewery and one or two national ales and is well-kept. of all the pubs on the crawl its probably the second most “spacious”, cosyness is the running theme here I think!

7. Stamps Too

Sister pub (or should that be sequel?) to the first stamps you visited, Stamps too really is one of my favourite pubs in the area, its got a great atmosphere, a terrific selection of Beers, a lot of them local and well-kept (by my standards at least) and has some cracking music on. Like a lot of the places on the route it has a fantastic character of its own, checkout the wall of barred famous (infamous) people for a good chuckle! The acts that are on vary massively but we have really enjoyed the music when we have visited, seating is at a premium so be prepared to stand! the beer is usually of a wide colour range there are often lighter coloured ales coupled with a stout so you can give your taste buds a workout. As with the other live music places on the crawl if it’s not your thing you can pop in when its quieter, ive visited stamps too when i’ve been cycling in the area it’s still a great place through the day but i think its heart and soul is best seen when its jam-packed with heads bobbing to good music and clutching a nice ale in your hand.

In Summary – Last Train Home

If your making Waterloo the last part of the crawl and you came by train make sure you check the time of the last train! I enjoy this particular route around Crosby & Waterloo, the walking distances and breaks in between, including the train journey help to add a break into your drinking. Of course if your feeling brave you could go on the train further onwards, although I remind you to drink responsibly of course!

Enjoy!