Thursday, 31 May 2012

Burscough Bridge to Southport: 25th May 2012

I only managed one decent walk during my 'staycation' in Southport. This was a walk from Burscough Bridge along part of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal in some glorious sunshine visiting some great canal-side pubs and then back into Southport from the south-east.

View Burscough in a larger map

Outward Travel was as follows:-
  Train: Southport to Burscough Bridge (24, 54 on the hour)

It was a less than 15 minute journey by train to Burscough Bridge (although it does take a long time to get to Manchester Airport on this line). I crossed the bridge over the railway line and could see my first stop, The Hop Vine at the corner of a busy junction, already bedecked with banners proclaiming that they were on the path of the Olympic Torch Relay (due Friday 1st June).

It's just retained the local CAMRA Pub-of-the-Year Award and I can definitely see why. It's a fairly big place with a large central bar with 5 or 6 hand-pulls (Burscough beers and guests from Phoenix and Southport), a raised restaurant area at the back and a couple of lounge/snug areas behind the main bar area.

There's also a great cobbled courtyard area with some fully shaded tables & benches and other more exposed ones - really perfect for a sunny day.

In an outbuilding in the courtyard (left side in the photo) is the small in-house microbrewery, the Burscough Brewing Company. I managed to 'sneak' in the open brewery door whilst I was waiting for food to have a chat with the brewer Andy, who runs the brewery in conjunction with the owner of the Hop Vine. It's a 4BBL plant, interestingly enough previously used by Oban Ales before being sold in 2010. Andy told me that 50% of their output goes to the Hop Vine with the rest going to various pubs and beer festivals in Lancashire and then a small amount further afield (I remember seeing their Priory Gold on at The 3 Judges in Glasgow just before my holiday). Andy also mentioned that they're looking at expanding to somewhere nearby Burscough but would still want to keep the 4BBL plant in the Hop Vine specifically for the pub and for experimental brews.

I tried 3 of their beers whilst I was at the Hop Vine - the Flat Rib Mild (very roasty & nutty), the Hop Vine (a nice hoppy bitter) and the Mere Blonde (a pale ale with a real citrus aftertaste) - all were quite excellent; there's definitely somebody here who knows what they're doing.

Along with my liquid refreshment I also ordered the Hop Vine classic burger - a great thick burger with chunky fries. The recommendation with this was to try the Lancashire Sauce - pretty powerful, spicy stuff and not to be used in excess!

Service was great - the staff were friendly, knew what the state of the queue was at the bar, and the food was served promptly and with a smile - what a difference this makes! I also managed to cajole a couple of bottles of Burscough Priory Gold and Lions of England Lager from the owner even though they weren't on display - I left a great pub a very happy man.

Only just down the main street from the Hop Vine was the entrance to the Leeds to Liverpool Canal at the re-developed Burscough Wharf. Around the courtyard are couple of arts & crafts shops, cafes, a deli & some chandlery shops - it's all been quite sympathetically built-up.

I then started along the canal in the direction of Liverpool. It's a well used canal (certainly in comparison to those I've walked along in Scotland) with moored house-boats (in various states of repair), cruisers and the odd for-hire canal-boat. I walked past a Thwaites pub called The Slipway (which was just a bit too close to the start of my walk) and then after a further mile or came to The Farmer's Arms

It's a large building with conservatory facing the canal and tables outside at the canal bank. As far as I could tell only 3 beers were on hand-pull, and so I went for the one I hadn't tried before, the Tetley Mild.

I was somewhat confused about why there was so much Tetley Mild and Bitter about in the Lancashire pubs that I'd visited - I'd always though of Tetley as being a Yorkshire-based regional brewer (now Carlsberg, of course). From information I'd picked up from Paul at Southport Brewery and from the barman I chatted to in the Farmer's Arms, I found out that there had been a Warrington-based Brewery called Walkers which had merged with Tetley back in 1960 (and eventually formed Allied Breweries), before being subsumed into the Carlsberg empire in 1992. Now the Tetley cask beers are brewed by Marston's in Wolverhampton but their Warrington (and thus Lancashire) based legacy still carries on. And the Mild itself - not at all bad with some roasted coffee and chocolate tones, but still with that Tetleys almost artificial smoothness. Give me a Burscough Flat Rib Mild any day. As a slight aside it seems that some of the Walkers recipes will be followed by the new Tipsy Angel microbrewery in Warrington - they'd certainly be interesting to try.

Next it was a further walk along the canal until I saw some signs for Martin's Lane and 'The Farm' Shop. A hundred yards or so up Martin's Lane I found The Martin Inn

This is another large place with a central bar, some pool and darts rooms and a large outside seating area in the car park. I hadn't had tried any of the beers on hand-pull before - these were Martin Inn Barney's Brew (not sure who brews this for them), Ludlow Gold & Mayfield High Jinx - the latter being a nice citrusy best bitter, served a bit cold, but, to be honest, quite welcome for that (also only £1.05 for a half).

I headed back down to the canal and walked along the path for another 20 minutes or so until the Heaton Bridge, situated again on the canalside.

Upon entering I knew that this would be a really decent pub. 4 interesting beers were on hand-pull on the central bar including Brewsters Hop-A-Doodle-Doo (very hoppy!) of which I partook a pint (honest - it's not a John Smith's!).

Inside there were at at least four separate drinking areas, including 2 small snugs which were full of empty whisky bottles - the place really looked like a great country pub.

I took my Hop-A-Doodle-Doo outside and got chatting to one of the locals on a nearby table who managed to place my accent, not bad at all, and also gave me the best way back to the M6 Motorway when leaving Southport. I must say I was really impressed about the friendliness of people in Lancashire.

Pint finished it was a walk along the last stretch of canal for today, which included a great overhead green canopy for part of its length, to finish at the main A570 road.

Just at the intersection of the road and the canal is a new large canal marina, Scarisbrick Marina, complete with over 200 moorings and a coffee/tea shop.

I managed to time my connection for the bus pretty well and stayed on it until just outside the main part of Southport town centre at the Ash Street junction. It was then a short walk over the bridge across the railway line to the London Hotel - another Oakwell Brewery premises as per The Magpie in Carlisle.

This is a great community local with friendly staff, pool table, multiple dart boards and lots of events happening in the evenings. This time instead of their Barnsley Bitter I managed to get a pint of Oakwell Mild, perhaps not as good as the Barnsley Bitter (or the Burscough Mild) but still a more than decent pint for all of £1.80! They were also selling their SIBA Award Winning Acorn and Oakwell Lagers on draught - I don't know if the names are a a dig at the Acorn Brewery also in Barnsley - see here. Incredibly enough there is yet another bowling green at the back of the pub! It was in immaculate condition and would be a great place to while away a few hours in the sun (really starting to show my age now!).

Return Travel:-
  Bus: Scarisbrick Marina to Southport Ash Road (Arriva 385, 34 on the hour)

* UPDATE MAY 2013 *
It now seems that the London Hotel closed on May 1st 2013. The parent company have ceased production at Oakwell Brewery and all their pubs are to be sold off. The London Hotel is likely to be demolished for a housing development - a very sad state of affairs.


  1. I'm from Lancashire - we put the friendliness in the sauce :)

  2. I was certainly most impressed - up there with Glasgow folk ;-)