I went a bit further afield for this one, by rail, tram and bus.
In Stalybridge, the Station Buffet Bar was a one-pointer, but I couldn’t reasonably pass it by. Moorhouse’s Black Cat was excellent – so too was the selection, but I wasn’t stopping. The bar doesn’t seem to do food any more, which is a shame (at least, it didn’t that day); as on the previous trip, I spent rather a long time on this trip in search of pub food. The decline of lunchtime drinking has a lot to answer for.
Passing by the Q Inn – famous (or so it claims) for having the shortest name of any pub in the country – I headed to the White House, where a blackboard assured me that ‘ale trails’ were catered for. Hyde’s, so Owd Oak – fine, if a bit undistinguished.
At the Society Rooms (JDW) I waited while an unsuspecting punter attempted to order a gin and tonic. “Which gin would you like?” said the woman serving – several times; the idea of a choice of gin clearly did not compute. Once over that hurdle (“Have you got Gordon’s?”) the poor guy had to decide whether to have slimline tonic or not, and then whether to have a single or a double. The joys of customer choice! Me, I had a half of Peerless Dark Arts and averted my eyes from the food menu. Around the corner from the Society Rooms, in the marketplace, I bumped into the local leg of the Tameside Food Festival; I was on the point of ordering something in a nan bread when I had a vision of meat juices and yogurt dripping down my arm and onto my shirt. The other main alternatives – burgers and hot dogs – also lost their appeal at this point, for the same reasons. A sit-down meal, I thought to myself slightly grumpily, that shouldn’t be too much to ask at lunchtime. Only not Spoons’, obviously. Something else I didn’t spend money on at this stage was beer: there was a stall from the Tweed brewery, dispensing an IPA and a stout. I talked to the stallholder, who told me Tweed was the only brewery in Hyde (it sounded more impressive at the time). The beer looked great, but I had places to go and ticks to tick, so I moved on.
Some time later I discovered the key disadvantage of trying to map-read on a phone-sized screen: the phone doesn’t tell you whether you’ve got the map the right way up or not. (This should be just as much of an issue with a printed map, but in practice it isn’t; I think if you’ve got a decent-sized map you register more of the surrounding area without thinking about it. Also, if you’re map-reading on a phone you can’t actually turn the map upside down, which is often handy with a printed map.) Finding the next venue took me as much time as visiting the first three. In the end I tracked down the Stalybridge Labour Club, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn’t have to show anything to get in. It wasn’t the most exciting tick in the world; if you’ve drunk in anywhere with ‘club’ in the name, or in a purpose-built estate pub, you’ll know the kind of place. Sadly the milds – plural; they had had two on, the landlady told me – had gone; I had a half of Stockport Brewing Company Crown Best Bitter, which was fine.
This was turning out to be another day when non-Wetherspoon outlets had collectively decided that serving food at lunchtime wasn’t worth the effort – and my next stop was a bus ride away. So I worked my way back to the marketplace, to find the food festival winding down and nothing much still being cooked. The paella man had a huge pan of unsold paella, so I went for that – a choice I immediately had misgivings about when I realised that the gas had gone out under the pan some time ago, and the guy was now proposing to bring cold cooked rice back up to heat, in the open air. What, health and safety-wise, could possibly go wrong? To be fair, the paella was very nice & didn’t disagree with me at all, but it did give me a nervous couple of hours. (If I could have the day over again I think I’d just get the thing in the nan & be careful how I ate it – that, and try one of the Tweed beers; I’ve seen them all over the place since.)
The bus took me to Hyde and the Cotton Bale (JDW), which was entirely mildless; I had Bank Top Bad To The Bone, which was pale and invigoratingly sproingy. Then on to the Queens (sic; plural, no apostrophe), which is a Holt’s house serving that 3.2% dark mild to which I’ve referred earlier.
A rather more substantial walk from there took me to the Sportsman. The last time I was in there – for 2013’s MM – the place was deserted. Not only was there only one other drinker in there, there was nobody behind the bar (one of those double-sided bars serving two separate rooms); in fact there was nobody in the place at all, apart from some people in the back kitchen preparing food and chatting in Spanish. (I got someone to serve me eventually, but it was a struggle.) It’s an oddity, the Sportsman, as it doubles as the Rossendale brewery tap and a Latin American restaurant. This year, the balance between the two was a bit more even; the place was buzzing, in fact. Sadly there wasn’t a Rossendale mild on, so I had Thwaites Nutty Black. Since I was in a brewery tap, I followed it with Rossendale Hameldon bitter, a dark brown bitter with an uncompromisingly bitter flavour – a bit like Holt’s bitter used to be, as I remember it.
At this point it seemed like a good idea to get clever with my route planning. From the Sportsman it was a short… well, short-ish… it was a manageable walk to Newton for Hyde railway station, from where I could get a train to Broadbottom; coming back from Broadbottom I could stay on the train as far as Guide Bridge, and from there I could get a bus to Ashton-under-Lyne. Ashton had a two-point Spoons (the Ash Tree) and a tram stop from which I could get home; if I had a bit of time in hand I could even get off the tram halfway and tick off the Strawberry Duck in Clayton. That was the plan.
The train to Broadbottom went fine, although it was a bit of a slog to get to the station at Newton. In Broadbottom I found my way to the Harewood Arms – although not before getting the map the wrong way up and striking off in the wrong direction – and found it a comfortable, pubby pub which I had altogether too little time to enjoy. Although the pub is the Green Mill tap, there wasn’t a Green Mill mild on; I had Wentworth Black Diamond, which would probably draw with the Black Cat for the title of ‘best mild of the day’.
The rest of the journey I should probably draw a veil over. I just missed a bus in Guide Bridge and had to wait far too long for the next one; when I got to Ashton I decided I couldn’t afford the detour to the Ash Tree and would get the tram and go to the Strawberry Duck en route for home; I then just missed a tram and, facing a 12-minute wait for the next one, decided to go straight home. All of which meant that the detour to Ashton was a complete waste of time – I could have stayed on the train from Broadbottom and got home about an hour sooner. Oh well.
PS The following day, feeling that a score needed to be settled, I got the bus out of town to the Strawberry Duck – basically an estate pub with an unusual canalside location – and had another Moorhouse’s Black Cat, which was very nice. They didn’t have any food on, though (when will I learn?).
The doors, the scores:
Light mild: 7 (4 different beers)
Dark mild: 27 (16 different beers)
No qualifying beers: 7
Breweries: 25 (18 producing mild)
Pubs I go to anyway: 5
Pubs worth going back to: 14
Once-a-year pubs: 22