If a week is a long time in politics, then ten years is even longer in the pub game. Almost a decade, in fact. Back in 2000, I made the pilgrimage from Bury to Rochdale, via Bell Lane/Rochdale Old Road, to check out the roadside pubs for the now defunct What’s Doing. The tenth anniversary seemed an ideal opportunity to fire up the Zimmer frame and see how things have changed in the intervening years.
First stop now, as then, was the Cotton Tree. This ex-Whitbread pub didn’t sell any cask beer back then and nothing has changed, apart from a lick of paint. It still caters for a select clientele, none of whom is me.
Standing on the corner of Wash Lane and Bell Lane, the Old Blue Bell, on the other hand, has been a well known fixture on Bury’s cask ale scene for many years. Holts Mild & Bitter are sold in this large, solid boozer and the pub still retains its multi-room layout from its long-distant Wilsons days.
Ten years ago, the Golden Fleece was an ex-Bass pub that Hydes were struggling to make a go of. It had somewhat of an eccentric beer range. Hydes 3.2% Billy Westwood Bitter (remember that?) was subsequently replaced by the 3.5% Hydes Light. All sold at a very cheap price. Problem was (1) finding the pub actually open and (2) finding the cask offering on. It closed shortly afterwards and became a brothel. Recently raided by the guardians of law and order, it’s currently closed once more.
Sadly, there hasn’t been much improvement in the next couple of pubs. The Church Inn was a cask-free Thwaites dive back in 2000 and still is. At least it’s still open, unlike the ex-Burtonwood Grapes across the road, which has gone from cask-free to simply customer free, as it’s currently closed.
The Old Crow styled itself as a “fun pub” back in the day. I couldn’t imagine having any fun in it then and still can’t, but at least it makes the Church Inn look good. Next up is The Spotted Cow, which is a bustling boozer that sells Holts Bitter. Although, sadly, none was available on my visit. No chance of a drink at the New Inn, either. This ex-Wilsons pub is closed and boarded.
Luckily it wasn’t far to walk to the next stop. The Fairfield is a small Thwaites house. Unluckily, it’s another conversion to the Smooth only brigade. The Brown Cow was no better and so, with my thirst growing, it was another half mile hike up to the George & Dragon. Ten years ago this had just had a facelift, which resulted in the pub losing its charm and its handpumps. Neither has returned in the ensuing years.
Practically next door is the Gamecock Inn. I had high hopes here. It’s a former Good Beer Guide entry and a long time supporter of cask ale. Surely this well known pub would provide a haven for the real ale drinker? Sadly not. Previously it sold Boddingtons and Tetley Bitter. Today it’s a shadow of its former self and now sells only the fizzy stuff.
Once upon a time, the Waggon & Horses sold a well kept pint of Bass. However, by the turn of the millennium, it had turned to Smoothflow and was losing custom. Nowadays it’s a restaurant that trades as the Waggon at Birtle,
The Bird I’Th Hand is also well known for its food, but is a far more traditional affair. A long time Bass outlet, it has the ambience of a cosy country pub and, music to my liver, is still selling real ale. And yes, Bass still sits on the bar, alongside Old Speckled Hen.
Interestingly, some of the most marked differences between 2010 and 2000 came on the last portion of the walk. Reaching Bamford, I was pleased to see that the Hare &Hounds is still selling cask. This is an interesting Thwaites pub with little drinking areas on different levels. Both of the Thwaites beers I had here were in good condition.
Now you can tell Bamford is a posh place as all the bus shelters have glass in them. However, the Sir Winston Churchill lets the side down. In 2000 it was offering Boddingtons, Flowers and Pedigree. Now it’s only appeal is for those people who enjoy sitting in an empty barn.
The Grapes was, and still is, a Robinsons pub, so no problem getting the real stuff there. The Elephant & Castle is a large ex-Whitbread pub that used to sell Boddingtons, Pedigree and 6X. Obviously not doing very well, it was closed on my visit.
Another disappointment came with the Dog & Partridge. Yet another ex-Whitbread boozer, it has a large front patio and once offered Boddingtons, Tetley and Spitfire. The inside now resembles the Starship Enterprise with an array of bright fonts and all the character of a motorway services cafe. Oh how the mighty have fallen.
Last stop was the Cemetery Inn on the corner of Sandy Lane. A frequent entry in the Good Beer Guide over the years, it stills sells real ale today, albeit with the reduced choice of Landlord and Black Sheep on my visit.
Last time I turned back and did the crawl in reverse. This time I was glad to get the bus back to Bury and some variety. Judging by the poor showing of many of the pubs, it will probably be another ten years before I attempt this crawl again!