Another compact pub crawl that was recommended to me is the little market town of Poulton-le-Fylde. Easily accessible by train from Manchester, it makes for a pleasant change and all the pubs are more or less based round the market square. Be warned though, this is a traditional area with lots of cask on offer but barely a wisp of hipster hair to be seen.
Barely five minutes from the station was the first stop: the Poulton Elk. Formerly the Edge nightclub, this was converted by JD Wetherspoon in 2013 and it made for a good initial impression. Being in Poulton it was much more civilised-no screaming ankle-biters and cleaner than your standard Spoons. As one of our party remarked, you felt you should be wearing Harris Tweed rather than the de rigueur Spoons outfit of piss-stained tracky bottoms. Most importantly the beer was very palatable with the double offerings of Phoenix fitting the bill nicely.
The Grapevine on Market Place is the nearest to modernity you’ll find in Poulton. Spread over several floors, it’s obviously aimed at a slightly different crowd than its potential rivals. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, it has eschewed the possible lure of the daytime drinker and opens at teatime until late. That’s not to say it doesn’t offer a reasonable selection of real ale and if that doesn’t tickle your laughing stick; you can always try the Prosecco at £12 a bottle before 8pm.
Things improved in the quiet but comfortable Golden Ball, situated, appropriately enough, on Ball St. This is a former coaching house that is decorated in the house style of its former owner: Spirit Group. So lots of cushions, light wood and neutral pastel colours. I don’t know what their new owners Green King have planned for them but their beer range, whilst not brilliant, is still better than the insipid offerings usually on display in a GK house.
Easily the best two pubs in Poulton are the Old Town Hall and the Thatched House and I would recommend leaving them until last. Or first and last to be fully sated. The OTH on Church St has the bar with five pumps on the left as you enter with seating areas split up throughout the pub. Horse racing seems to be a bit of a theme here: check out the prints and copies of the Racing Post. Roosters Wild Mule was the pick of the crop here, I thought, although some went for the Bowland.
The Thatched House meanwhile is the Local CAMRA branch Pub of the Year 2016 and certainly offers the largest range of beers in the town. The bar stretches along the left hand corner as you enter and the first thing you notice is the high number of Chapel Street beers. This is because the microbrewery is housed in the old coaching shed at the rear of the pub. Some people giddy with the occasion may go straight for these but the seasoned professional will tread more carefully. All the ones I sampled seemed to have the same fault: lack of crispness and a chewy Crystal malt undertone. However, the guest beers were excellent.