Challengers clockwise from back : Mark, James, Eileen, Valerie, Kirsty, John, Darren, Carl.
There are a number of schools of thought on pub crawls – some like them to be regimented and therefore achievable, some just want to attempt them and have a few laughs on the way, and some seem to have a genuine hankering for an early death from an alcohol-related illness. Let me begin by saying that we did not complete the X30 Challenge. It involves taking a bus from Chester to Runcorn and disembarking at every pub on route. When it was conceived it was challenging but completely possible, as the X30 bus ran twice an hour. So it was with glee that myself and my fellow crawlers began planning in July to complete this challenge on the first Saturday in December. We planned everything, what we were going to do in Chester (glugwein in the Christmas market), who was coming along (everyone we knew), right down to what we were wearing (either Christmas jumpers or not Christmas jumpers, to accommodate those who hate Christmas jumpers). What we forgot to do was check if this was still possible now that the buses only ran once an hour.
But we decided to go anyway.
After convening at Darren’s for a mince pie and some honey rum (a clear mistake) we headed for the bus – this is the most tedious part of the crawl as first you have to get to Chester and the bus takes 50 minutes which are spent looking wistfully at the pubs you will be stopping at as they whizz by.
Once in Chester we visited the famous Christmas markets which were full of people who have never walked in a straight line before. At this point there was a beer / mulled wine split and three went off in search of some kind of German ale while the rest of us stayed at the unamusingly named Bar Humbug.
We were reunited when it turned out that there was only one bar serving beer, that it wasn’t anything special, and that nine 20-something women were all buying a single glass of wine each on their debit cards. We convened in the bustling Coach House Inn where there was even room to sit down in their grotto-like windows. I love a pub which goes all out at Christmas and rejects any notion of taste or order in their pursuit of making merry. As you can see from the photo below one of the walls was wrapped up like a giant present.
Having accepted after only two drinks that the crawl was a bust we went to the Pied Bull which is apparently the oldest coaching house in Chester (though they have kept up with inflation). They have their own microbrewery so I went with a pint of their Black Bull stout, and very nice it was too. However there was no time to linger as the bus was departing, so we left and completely missed it so went to the local Spoons instead.
The Bull and Stirrup is like an aircraft hangar but was still busy so we sought out the patio which was being shunned by the crowds because of the inclement weather. It was at this point, after three pints, a mulled wine and a honey rum that I thought some food might be in order – the look of surprise on people’s faces when a bowl of chips appeared seemingly from nowhere shows the awesome power of the Wetherspoons app. I had a pint of Noire from Salopian and after a few false starts we went on our way to the bus station to hit our first actual planned pub – the Shrewsbury Arms.
Realising that we were on a pub crawl, and possibly to ensure we all got off the bus, the driver dropped us right outside the pub where we accosted some giant silver reindeer and Mark slipped arse over tit on a treacherous paving slab. Having announced our arrival thus we went inside to find it strangely quiet for a Saturday. However this meant that we could sit at a long dining table as if we were at some kind of drunks board meeting. Darren assessed the injury that Mark had sustained when hitting the deck outside and decided that his finger was not broken or indeed seriously hurt and that being confirmed we hit the London Pride. There was no time to linger however as was to be the only instance in the whole day that we actually got the bus directly between pubs.
Our next stop was arbitrarily decided to be in Helsby where they were having some kind of Christmas festival and all the roads were closed to make way for Father Christmas and his sleigh. We made our way to Beer Heroes where there was to be pizza and Chapter Brewing, and had a few Tired Eyes under a marquee and hassled the DJ to play us some Christmas songs. I bought a gift pack of beers from Chapter and I am proud to say it made it home unscathed which is a Christmas miracle. (As an important and celebrated influencer I also scavved a half of porter from Noah and I am pleased to declare it here for tax purposes).
Back on the actual pub crawl circuit we hit the Railway which had football on and so was packed. This led us to take over the pool room which didn’t go down well with the locals but we invoked Pub By-law 26.b – once a Christmas tree has been installed on the property all zoning shall be suspended until said tree is removed. Thankfully the Christmas festival yielded a burger van outside the pub, and by this time we had accepted that we were not getting back on any bus due to a) road closures and b) the buses having stopped running an hour ago. So it was all into the back of a giant taxi and down into Frodsham where a blistering argument about where our final stop was located took place. (I maintain that the word ‘opposite’ includes a 15 metre radius).
The Chum (or the Cholmondeley Arms) is well known for its party night/ karaoke vibe but we abstained because many of us are actually good singers and we didn’t want to incur the wrath of the locals. The beer was nothing to speak of but good lord, they go hard at Christmas. They must store their Christmas decorations in a quarry or on one of Jupiter’s moons. After an in-depth discussion of what song you want to sing at Wembley (Still Ill by The Smiths) we rang another giant taxi and headed off for our fourth town and final stop of the day – The Beechwood in Runcorn.
Hitting the Beechwood was a blessed relief and a great shout by Darren who, during the discussions of whether we could do the crawl backwards to give ourselves a cat in hell’s chance of finishing it, posited that you don’t want to be hammered and having to navigate the trains on a Saturday night. As it was we were able to bask in the comforting knowledge that our next leap would be the leap home. The X30 challenge may well be impossible, but isn’t the real X30 challenge the friends you meet along the way?