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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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!