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Mac of Cygnet

2018 Pub Cruise

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Part 1 (Only 2 parts this year, having visited nowhere near the 128 pubs of last year's marathon)


An unusual and rather difficult year, as you will know. This year's cruise didn't start where it usually starts, from my home mooring at Sowerby Bridge, but from a winter mooring on the Macclesfield, and was to consist of a leisurely journey back 'home' by the Leeds & Liverpool.


And it was leisurely at first, but as soon as I reached the L&L the problems began. A visit to Liverpool was booked, because I'd never been there on the boat. Well, you know what happened to that! And thereafter I was pursued and harried by closures and restrictions caused by the Big Drought, until I was grateful to pop out onto the Aire & Calder. I finally made it back to Sowerby Bridge after leaving in April 2017, and got a great welcome from Shire Cruisers and the manager at the Shepherd's Rest (qv!).


Where I visited a pub on my 2014, 20152016 or 2017 cruises, I've added my comments there for comparison, but only a few repeats this year, at the beginning and end.


Some pubs I was looking forward to had closed, or had sadly declined, but the upside is that micropubs are springing up all over the place, and although I've been disparaging about them in the past, they've generally upped their standards, and for the first time a new micropub has achieved this year's top score - see Part 2!


Once again I must warn pub diners that my scoring DOES NOT INCLUDE FOOD. I eat out very, very rarely when boating, and not at all this year. My needs are simple - a good pint or two of cask beer, and a packet of plain crisps, and my price criterion consists of these items together. It varied this year from £2.70 (Sam Smith's, always good value) to £5.70 (!!!) - a real city centre rip-off.


To remind of my scoring system:

There are 20 points: 10 for beer and 10 for everything else. Up to 5 for beer choice to include one non-national brand or unusual beer type (certain mediocre 'cooking beers' such as Doom Bar and Bombardier are not counted!), and 0 to 5 for quality: 0 and 1 would be sent back - (didn't happen this year) - 2 means wouldn't have another - 3 is acceptable - 4 very good - up to 5 absolutely superb. To make it clear, I'm talking about real ales (cask beers) here. I'm a beer fanatic.

So a score is in three parts: Beer choice+beer quality+everything else. e.g 1+5+7=13 has the same total score as 4+2+7=13, but the first pub has 1 superb beer, but the second 4 rubbish ones. So you can tell quite a bit from the scores as opposed to the comments, some of which may seem a bit downbeat, but often explain why the score isn't higher.

Everything else includes service, staff, clientele, general atmosphere, situation, decor, interesting pictures, special features (eg library!), quirkiness, cleanliness, price, and the presence of live or other music, juke box or fruit machine (all minus) and whether there is a place for drinkers as opposed to diners. And beermats.

You may already know some of these pubs, but remember my conclusions are just a snapshot, as I visited most only once. Some are canalside, but others involved a trek - working up a thirst in this summer's heat. Occasionally I took buses where evening services were available, and once a train to Leeds, as I didn't want to moor in the centre. The CAMRA website whatpub.com was very useful for finding good pubs I wouldn't otherwise have known about (you don't have to be a member to use it). I also consulted the 2018 Good Beer Guide, but the pubs in it were sometimes a disappointment. GBG in my comments means the pub is in the latest (2019) edition.


So here we go.


Macclesfield Canal


VALE, Bollington (several visits) 5+5+7=17 Rather dim and echoey barn but with real fire & own superb beers from across the road. Newspapers provided. GBG

(2015 - 5+5+7=17 Own brewery. Rather dark. Easily the oldest customer. GBG)

(2017 - 5+5+7=17 A bit echoey and rather dark. Beer from across the road, and travels well. Can be very busy. GBG)

WINDMILL, Whitely Green (several visits) 3+4+6=13 Beer much improved, and all local, but still rather soulless with trendy dim lighting.

(2017 - 5+3+6=14 Self-consciously trendy, uncosy open-plan pub with pretentious beer-tasting notes but mediocre beer)

BOAR'S HEAD, Higher Poynton (March 20) 3+4+8=15 Pleasant, light and comfortable with a welcoming log fire but unimaginative beer choice.

MINER'S Arms, Four Lane Ends (March 21) 1+3+6=10 A dining pub except for a small alcove with armchairs and stove (not lit). Not much of interest.

(2014 - 4+2+7=13 Beer poor. Family oriented)

(2017 - 2+3+6=11 Characterless dining pub with comfortable (but cold - stove not lit) lounge with armchairs)

RING'O'BELLS, Marple (April 6, 7 &19) 4+3+8=15 Pleasant canal-oriented pub with interesting decor and odd corners. Proper stove, lit, with ECOFAN! Robinson's, but also guest beers. Not busy on a Friday night.

(2014 - 4+4+8=16 Not a Robinson's fan, but quality good in an interesting pub.)

(2017 - 3+3+7=13 A welcoming Robinson's pub. Good service, with little rooms to hide in and a handy gun hanging from the ceiling. Quiet on a Friday night - not what it was?)

CHURCH HOUSE, Buglawton (April 22) 2+3+6=11 OK Robinson's pub with good service but awful music, escapable in the spartan games room.

QUEEN'S HEAD, Congleton (April 23) 5+4+7=16 Direct access (steep steps) from the canal. Good atmosphere and service. 5 telly screens. For sale :(

(2016 - 4+4+7=15 Good atmosphere but slow service. GBG)


Trent & Mersey Canal


RED BULL, Red Bull (May 2) 3+3+6=12 Now an uninteresting Robinson's roadhouse, but with free-range eggs for sale!

(2014 - 4+4+7=15 A home from home, but the parrot has gone!)

BROUGHTON ARMS, Rode Heath (May 3) 4+3+6=13 Marstons. Too busy with meals - had to sit outside on cold evening.

ROYAL OAK, Rode Heath (May 3) 1+3+7=11 More of a locals' pub, further from the canal, so quieter.

HORSESHOE, Lawton Heath (May 4) 3+3+6=12 Large, food-oriented 'village pub', with pretensions, and prices to match.

CHESHIRE CHEESE, Wheelock (May 5) 3+3+5=11 Now the only pub in the village. Good service, but awful thumping music.

OLD HALL, Sandbach (May 6) 5+4+7=16 Magnificent half-timbered mansion rescued by Brunning & Price, with their usual picture collection and impressive interior.

BEER EMPORIUM, Sandbach (May 7) 5+5+8=17 Busy micropub with tiny quiet back room. Good service and extensive range of interesting bottled beers. GBG

LOWER CHEQUER, Sandbach (May 15) 5+3+6=14 Comfortable wood-panelled Joules pub, where the beer quality and general score suffers from being CLOSED MONDAYS.

WHITE BEAR, Middlewich (May 16) 4+5+8=17 Rambling rough-hewn interior with pleasingly random collection of furniture. GBG

OLD BROKEN CROSS, Rudheath (May 17) 2+4+7=13 Unassuming canalside pub with moorings. Bigger than it looks.

SALT BARGE, Marston (May 18 & 20) 3+4+8=15 Another Tardis, with lots of rooms and shabby comfort. Books! Making an effort to promote local beers.

STANLEY ARMS, Anderton (May 21) No score, because no beer! Late delivery the excuse, but no apology.

LEIGH ARMS, Acton Bridge (May 29) 3+3+6=12 Robinson's family-oriented pub overlooking the Weaver. Comfortable, light and airy, but not much of interest and rather expensive.


Bridgewater Canal


COSTELLO'S BAR, Stockton Heath (May 30) 5+5+8=18 Dunham Massey brewery tap. Superb beers in a light & open not-so-micro pub. Inexpensive and deservedly popular with all ages. GBG

BREWERY TAP, Lymm (May 31) 5+4+6=15 Lymm Brewery outlet. GBG Over-trendy seating and decor. Inexpensive, but loud (live) music drove me to:

BULL'S HEAD, Lymm (May 31) 4+4+7=15 Unpretentious busy locals' pub (Hydes) with a changing selection of mainly Manchester beers. GBG

VINE, Dunham Woodhouses (June 1) 1+4+9=14 The secret pub - no sign, nothing to indicate a pub. A gem of a traditional basic village local. Sam Smiths, so good value, in fact the cheapest this year (Pint of Old Brewery Bitter plus packet of own brand crisps £2.70)

BOAT HOUSE, Astley Green (June 2) 2+3+5=10 Very disappointing Good Beer Guide (2018) pub with poor beer choice and no proper bar for non-diners. And rather expensive. Still GBG, though.

WHITE LION, Leigh (June 3) 4+5+6=15 Busy, friendly inexpensive town-centre pub with several cosy rooms and traditional decor but a VERY LOUD jukebox. Only just on the Bridgewater!


I didn't stop overnight between Leigh and Wigan (a long day!), so Part 2 will start with the problems and obstacles of the Leeds & Liverpool in this Summer of the Drought.












  • Greenie 3

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Part 2

(See Part 1 for intro and scoring system. The scores reveal at least as much as the comments.)


Here's where things started to go awry. I'd been across the L&L before (twice), but never to to Liverpool, and not this time either, for obvious reasons. A previous trip (before the opening of the Liverpool Link) had taken us to almost exactly to where the hole appeared this year, but when the timescale of repairs was announced, I decided I'd had enough of waiting for things to re-open, having already waited over 6 months for Marple locks, so turned round at Burscough Bridge, but with a diversion to Rufford to leave the boat for a week.


Leeds & Liverpool Canal

WIGAN CENTRAL, Wigan (June 4) 5+4+5=14 Excellent beer choice, but limited seating. Rather bare, with intrusive music and noisy traffic. CAMRA discount (but noticed too late :( ) GBG

CROOKE HALL, Crooke (June 5 & 15) 4+4+6=14 Down-to-earth dog-lovers' local pub with proper snug bar but plastic glasses for outdoor drinking. GBG

TAP & BARREL, Wigan (June 6) 5+5+7=17 Relaxing (sometimes!) micropub, outlet for Martland Mill brewery. Pleasant artificially grassed covered court with HUGE sound system, so probably best avoided on music nights. GBG

BOAT HOUSE, Appley Bridge (June 16) 2+3+5=10 Not much here for a pub-lover, and didn't merit the Cask Marque sign. Music inescapable even on Canalside patio, where you can keep an eye on your boat. NOW CLOSED (apparently)

RAILWAY, Parbold (June 17) 4+3+7=14. Full of interesting things - books, piano, harmonium! But 2 large tellys, always on, jukebox and fruit machine. GBG

HOP VINE, Burscough Bridge (June 18) 5+3+6=14 GBG Very busy with diners on a Monday night, totally occupying a good mixture of old solid furniture, so went to:

OLD PACKET HOUSE, Burscough Bridge (June 18) 3+3+6=12 Comfortable, cavernous, echoing and empty. An old coaching inn which has outlived its purpose.

SHIP, Lathom (June 19) 5+3+7=15 Pleasant bar area separate from the dining room. Efficient but unsmiling service. GBG

HESKETH ARMS, Rufford (June 20) 5+4+8=17 Enormous, well-designed area with lots of rooms and plenty of space for non-diners. Crisps grown and produced in Rufford! GBG

RING'O'BELLS, Lathom (June 25) 3+3+6=12 Large empty pub with lots of differing spaces, but all rather bare and soulless.

WHEATSHEAF, Appley Bridge (June 26) 3+3+6=12 Pleasant if unremarkable roadside local up the hill from the canal. Not worth the walk, but see BOAT HOUSE (above)

RAVEN, Wigan (June 27) 4+4+7=15 Traditional town centre pub with old fashioned back room with ornate mirrors and classical bas-reliefs covered by England flags. Good value. GBG

COLLIER'S ARMS, New Springs (June 28) 3+3+8=14 Unpretentious local pub with good atmosphere, friendly service and no music.

TWO LEFT FEET, Haigh Hall (June 29) 2+4+6=12 Small, stark modern bar. Good service, but horrible music drove me out into the rather grand courtyard. Quite a haul up from the canal. Limited evening opening - check.

SPINNER'S ARMS ('Bottom Spinners'), Adlington (June 30 & July 1) 5+5+8=18 Comfortable, civilised, well-tended, beer oriented pub.A few books for decoration. Inexpensive. GBG

TOP SPINNERS, Adlington (July 1) 2+3+6=11 Basic, empty and more expensive, so went back down the hill to the Bottom Spinners.

MALT'N'HOPS, Chorley (July 2) 5+5+8=18 Behind the station. Excellent pub dedicated to good beer, with free snacks on Mondays (it was Monday!). Good atmosphere and value. GBG

SHEPHERD'S HALL, Chorley (July 10) 5+3+8=16 Basic, quiet micropub, but beer quality inconsistent GBG

ROYAL OAK, Riley Green (July 11) 5+3+7=15 Pleasant and peaceful but otherwise unremakable main road pub.

FORTS ARMS, Clayton-le-Moors (July 12) 4+4+6=14 Rather spartan back street local in a town where everything seems to be in the back streets. Justifiably inexpensive. GBG

HARE & HOUNDS, Foulridge (July 13) 5+4+8=17 Well-done modern refurbishment with quirky touches (piano, sewing machine, witch). Blessedly quiet.

CROSS KEYS, East Marton (July 14) 3+4+7=14 Less pretentious than it was, a straightforward large comfortable pub in a beautiful area. But not busy on a Saturday night.

MASON'S ARMS, Gargrave (July 15) 4+4+6=14 Pleasant enough local, with displayed trophies galore. Expensive for what it is.

BEER ENGINE, Skipton (July 16) 5+4+8=17 Tiny micropub with limited seating, but good atmosphere and service, and bookshelf. A good mixture of beers. GBG

WOOLLY SHEEP, Skipton (July 17) 5+4+7=16 Old-fashioned Timothy Taylor's town centre inn with an odd, elongated layout.

NARROW BOAT, Skipton (July 24) 5+4+7=16 Interesting layout, with gallery (in both senses - lots of pictures) above the bar. No telly!! GBG

KING'S ARMS, Silsden (July 25) 5+3+7=15 Pleasant, comfortable interior with several light, airy rooms and bookshelf. GBG

FANNY'S ALE & CIDER HOUSE, Saltaire (July 26) 5+5+8=18 Fascinating maze of (faux?) old rooms, decor and furniture on 3 levels. Music escapable. Good value. GBG

ALBION, Greengates (July 27) 5+3+7=15 Friendly, down-to-earth inexpensive local with a very sexy barmaid. (Am I allowed to say that?)

RODLEY BARGE, Rodley (July 28) 5+3+6=14 Unremarkable two-bar canalside pub with dour service and noisy clientele. Beers all local(ish).

RAILWAY,Rodley (July 29) 4+3+6=13 Old-fashioned inexpensive back lane pub with friendly service but spoiled by awful music. CLOSED MONDAYS.

WHITELOCK'S, Leeds (Aug 8) 5+4+7=16 Dark wood, leather benches, stained glass. John Betjeman described it as 'the heart of Leeds', which is perhaps why it is VERY EXPENSIVE! (Pint + crisps = £5.70!!!).


Aire & Calder Navigation

TWO POINTERS, Woodlesford (July 30) 3+3+6=12 Once smart, now rather shabby but still expensive. An ordinary pub with very ordinary beer.

MIDLAND HOTEL, Woodlesford (July 31) 1+4+5=10 Sprawling roadside hotel with unexpected separate bar, but huge telly and fruit machines.

GLASSBLOWER, Castleford (Aug 7) 5+4+7=16 One of the better Wetherspoons (in contrast to Pontefract which is awful). A pleasant atmosphere when I was there, althoough other parts of Cas are a bit desperate. GBG

ROBIN HOOD, Altofts (Aug 9) 5+3+7=15 Pub with microbrewery attached, but their beer of variable quality. A fair trek from the canal. Regular book events involving a local book dealer. GBG

KING'S ARMS, Heath (Aug 10) 5+4+8=17 Terrific location in a unique village near the navigation, but nowhere to moor on the river, so best accessed from Fall Ings (10 mins by bus, including evenings). Several rather dark little rooms and a pleasant light consevatory.


Calder & Hebble Navigation

LITTLE BULL, Middlestown (from Horbury Bridge) (Aug 11) 3+5+8=16 Good solid local with a friendly welcome from staff and customers. Several little rooms. Retreated at the prospect of Saturday karaoke (no takers)

CRICKETER's ARMS, Horbury (Aug 12) 5+4+6=15 GBG Unable to make a proper assessment, as I was driven out by VERY LOUD song-murdering 'open mic' night, having to shout to be served, so went to:

BOON'S, Horbury (Aug 12) 5+4+8=17 Apparently old-fashioned bar crammed with rugby memorabilia (League, of course!) Inexpensive, with efficient pleasant service.

FLOWERPOT, Mirfield (Aug 13) 5+5+7=17 Well-refurbished Ossett pub with several separate areas. Admire the allotments as you walk from the moorings. GBG

(2016 - 4+5+8=17 Typical good Ossett Brewery pub)

AIREDALE HEIFER, Battyeford (Aug 14) 2+3+6=11 Very ordinary neighbourhood pub. Unskilled (ie unhygienic) use of 'beer economiser' trays, so went down to:

PEAR TREE, Battyeford (Aug 14) 3+3+5=11 More like a hotel lounge than a pub.

(2016 - 3+3+6=12 Armchairs in front of large telly screens.)

NAVIGATION, Mirfield (Aug 21) 5+4+7=16 An old favourite, much bigger than it appears.Now very handy for the new Lidl, but marked down because of large notice: SCOTTISH AND IRISH MONEY NOT ACCEPTED. GBG

(2016 - 5+4+8=17 Comfortable and friendly. 25 beers! (Beer festival) GBG )

WHITE CROSS, Bradley (Cooper Bridge) (Aug 22) 4+4+8=16 Large, comfortable traditional pub, catering for and popular with locals despite being on a very busy crossroads. GBG

MARKET TAVERN, Brighouse (Aug 23) 5+5+8=18 I had wondered how this had got into the Good Beer Guide so quickly, but now I know. Brilliant addition to Brighouse's already quality pub scene. Easily the best micropub I've encountered, and equal top score this year. Great atmosphere, simple decor, friendly staff and customers. No music, telly, or food (all plus). BUT: closed Monday and Tuesday (hopefully this will change). GBG

DROP INN, Elland (Aug 24) 5+3+7=15 Typical Ossett pub, but beer quality not up to the best.. I walked up the hill to here after finding the BARGE & BARREL closed with police peering out of the windows - it was open when I came back, but sadly a shadow of its former self.

COBBLESTONES, Sowerby Bridge (April 8) 3+4+5=13 An outlier, this. Although only a few yards from my home mooring, I'd never been in. Really a restaurant. Attending the final AGM of the Brighouse & Sowerby Bridge Boat club, and surprised to find decent beer. Actually looks onto the very bottom of the Rochdale.

SHEPHERD'S REST, Sowerby Bridge (several visits) 5+5+8=18 No-nonsense Ossett Brewery pub doing what they do best - selling excellent beer. Manager recognised and gave me a warm welcome even though I've been away for 17 months. GBG.

(2015 - 5+4+8=17 Surprisingly cosmopolitan decor. GBG)

(2016 - 5+5+8=18 Now my pub of choice at my home moorings, since the sad demise of the Puzzle Hall. GBG)

(2017 - 5+5+8=18 My 'home' pub. Great beer, a good welcome (not effusive - this is Yorkshire!) No music! GBG)

WAINHOUSE TAVERN, Halifax. (Sept 25) 5+4+7=16 Close by the prominent Wainhouse Tower. Imposing building with bars on two levels (everything's on several levels round here because of the hills). GBG


So finally back 'home', and only 76 pubs this year! The Rochdale is now open again, but I don't think I'll be rushing up there. There are several pubs in Halifax I've not investigated yet.........

  • Greenie 3
  • Happy 1

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Just a couple to add to the list this year, although not properly part of the Pub Cruise, as Cygnet has been out of the water since October, so both in Sowerby Bridge, but included as both have seen changes:

HOLLINS MILL (formerly THE WORKS), Sowerby Bridge 5+4+6=15 Different name, but still a large, dim echoing barn but with 9 beers and good service.


NAVIGATION, Sowerby Bridge 4+3+6=13 A real disappointment. The manager from the Shepherd's rest took over, so high hopes of improvement, but very ordinary.  So it's back to the Shepherd's rest, I think!

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