Saturday 10 October
Arriving into Stoke station, I used the towpath of the Macclesfield canal as a handy and quiet exit route from the city. The region was, and still is to an extent, known for its Potteries. During the industry’s heyday materials and finished goods would have been transported in and out by canal barge, and there was still plenty of evidence of this heritage along this now sleepy backwater: abandoned and derelict potteries, potteries converted into flats or business units, and occasionally a pottery that was still in operation.
A short way outside of Stoke, the canal entered a tunnel, a remarkable feat of engineering, but no good for bikes, and I was forced to take the high road.
A couple of hours later I was pedalling into the railway town of Crewe, where I located Beer Dock, my first micropub of the day on the Nantwich Road.
It was only 10.30 but, fortunately, Beer Dock had opened at 10, being a bottle shop (with a massiive 600 beer selectionn!) as well as a micropub. As a result I was able to imbibe possibly the earliest beer of my journey! I was joined at my table by a small group of CAMRA members who were recce’ing a bus and rail ale trail in preparation for escorting a larger group around the route at some future date. That’s my kind of research!
I left Crewe and pressed on further North, and the busy roads gave way to country lanes. Eventually I found myself at a tollgate where a line of cars queued patiently to pay the 25p fee to cross a bridge that lay ahead. I freewheeled past, assuming that two-wheeled travellers could cross for free, and I never heard anything to the contrary, so that is probably the case.
The bridge in question crossed the Manchester Ship Canal at quite an altitude. It seemed in need of a few repairs, and I felt it would require a large number of 25p tolls to fund them.
Soon I was in Cadishead, locking my bike up outside The Grocers, a fairly recent addition to the micropub world, run by Martin. “Lock your bike up round the back”, said Martin. So I did.
Bridges across the Manchester ship canal are few and far between, so I had anticipated a lengthy detour to get to the next and final pub of the day in Urmston even though it was not that far away from Cadishead as the crow flies. Fortunately I had the benefit of Martin’s local knowledge and he was able to point me towards Irlam Lock where it is possible to cross on foot This saved me a few miles and freed up sufficient time for a second cheeky pint in the Grocers!
The Prairie-Schooner tap house in Urmston derives its name from the covered wagons that once crossed the plains in Kansas, which is where the landlord, Robert was born and bred.
After making my introductions, I backtracked down the road to the find the house of Mike, my host for the night. When I had contracted Mike a couple of weeks back, via a touring cyclists’ hospitality website he could easily have said no to my accommodation request, as he was having friends round for dinner that evening, but instead he had invited me to join them. And so it was that I shared an amazing curry that Mike had cooked, and then the five of us went back to the Prairie Schooner for the remainder of the evening – well, where else?
Sunday 11 October
Blergh. After going to bed at 2am, waking up for an 8am start was never going to be easy. First I backtracked across the ship canal at Irlam locks and then criss crossed my way north along quiet tracks, past farmhouses and homesteads so remote they seemed to have no business being this close to Manchester.
Shortly after a railway level crossing with manually operated gates, I reached the A580 and reluctantly followed the cycle path alongside it almost the whole way to Liverpool. It was a fast and easy means of covering the distance, but not one of my greatest cycle touring moments.
Approaching Liverpool though I diverted off this highway to seek out one particular cul-de-sac. When Channel 4 first launched in 1982, they commissioned a new soap opera. It was to be based in Liverpool and produced by Phil Redmond. Having grown up on Phil’s other creation, Grange Hill, Brookside became a bit of a cult classic amongst me and my uni mates. The show was finally axed in 2003, although by then I hadn’t watched it for years (honest!). The soap had been filmed in real houses, purpose built in a Liverpool suburb. When the curtain had gone down on the final episode, Brookside Close was sold off as private housing. It was quite nostalgic to ride onto “the close” and I found it eerily similar to how it had appeared on TV all those years ago.
And, very recently, a second micropub has opened in Crosby in a former post office: the Corner Post was not on my to-do list for the weekend, but it was too close to pass by! I arrived to find the assembled masses of Merseyside CAMRA as it was the first pub on their day’s ale trail. Among them was former brewster Suzie and I enjoyed listening to her plans of opening her own micropub.
One final attraction in Crosby was “Another Place” – an art installation by Antony Gormley set on the beach. A hundred cast iron figures spaced out across the sands, each looking out to sea.
As I was booked onto a late evening (i.e. cheap) train, there was still plenty of time remaining to discover what else Merseyside had to offer in the way of micropubs.
I couldn’t recall ever having “ferried cross the Mersey” so I cycled along the banks of the river, or as close as I could get, with warehouses on one side of me and container terminals and scrapyards on the other, down to the ferry terminal and caught the ferry across to the other side, known as the Wirrall.
Landlord Lenny has opened the first micropub on the Wirrall, known as the Lazy Landlord. Time was of the essence as the last return ferry was almost due to leave, so I was restrained enough to only order a half of their own house bitter (actually brewed by Wentwell brewery) before sprinting back towards the jetty.
Back on the north bank of the Mersey, there was just enough time for one last bonus pub before my train departed, so I sought out Cask, the only micropub that’s actually within the city of Liverpool itself.
Later, as I sank into my train seat for a well needed semi-snooze I mulled over the bittersweet thought that my epic journey was reaching its concluding chapter. This had been my last full weekend away.
After a month’s hiatus for family commitments, I will set off on a final one-day ride to visit the last three micropubs on my list, all within the sprawling capital city where I was born and bred but about which I still have so much to learn.