Goodness, has it been a year already? Last time round many people were dismayed to have missed out on Runcorn’s premier pub crawl, so as you can imagine the 2nd annual jaunt was a hot ticket. We not only doubled our numbers, we doubled them and added one! This time next year we’re going to have to sell tickets and operate a waiting list, unless they extend the snug in the Weaver.
Participants : Kirsty, James, Mark, Biggers, Paul (plus Scowcroft brothers for 4 pubs), Martina for 5 pubs, Warren for 3 pubs and Glenn and Alan for 7)
Same pubs as last time, but unfortunately there was a casualty. The Wellington, always a busy pub, has closed down, though rumours abound that it will re-open in October. The Clarendon was almost on the critical list too with the departure of longtime landlord and thoroughly top bloke Jerry. However, there is a new couple in charge and in perfect time for the crawl, the pub re-opened. Word must have gotten around.
Pub 1/11 The Dockside Inn
When our delegation arrived, myself, James and Mark (the one who fell over), we found an unexpected item in the bar area – our other cousin Paul. (Yes, everyone in Runcorn are cousins). Mike was only ten minutes late this time having finished Chairman duties at Runcorn Linnets, and set about our half pints. No real ale at the Dockside, same as last year. However there was a slight difference to 2017, namely there were four other people in the bar. Progress! Unfortunately one of them was a decidedly ‘tasty’ gentleman who threw an immediate spanner in the works by making Mark drink two shots of sambucca. Great start.
Annual progress : Slightly more people than this time last year 1/5
Bonus points : A Paul! And someone thinking James was Mark’s son and making him drink shots against his will 3/5
Pub 2/11- the Weaver Hotel
Regular readers might recall the atrocity which took place last time, when I was charged £7.15 for four halves in a SAM SMITH’S PUB! Mark had taken the liberty of printing out the review of the Weaver in order to confront the landlord. (This was before the sambucca…). Anyhow, I demanded to get the cheapest round as recompense and this time it was £4.50. Grudge lifted. There was a new landlord and landlady who were unconnected to the unfortunate incident and the former, Gary, came to chat with us about the crawl, Runcorn drinkers, and how to increase business at the Weaver, which suffers from its location. Paul actually used to live there in the 90s and we made a pact to visit some of the pubs on our list more often than once a year, so that in three years time when we do the Crawl in Victorian costume, there will be 12 pubs to get round.
Annual progress : New management and an accurate pricing system 2/5
Bonus points : Personal one on one time with the landlord and a sincere thanks for stopping in in the first place rather than the usual sideways glance of suspicion. 3/5
Pub 3/11 The Prospect Inn
Onwards to pub three, and all change as we took a different route up the hill. Last time Mark had gone on reconnaissance and hacked away some of the bigger vines from a hillside which we trekked up, but Mike took over navigation duty and we walked on actual pavement and road all the way. The Prospect had recently been refurbished and I was perturbed about how it might have ended up. The pub had always been one of those old fashioned, cozy places with fireplaces and a whole bunch of crazy crap adorning the walls. I couldn’t stand the thought of it being sterile and modern like a Travelodge. I’m happy to report that the refurb is sympathetic and smart. The old photos of Runcorn are still there, along with some of the china and old breweriana. The small back dining room is gone, but it has been replaced with a more useful bar area which was busy whereas before it could get cramped, and the lounge side which doubles as a restaurant is mostly unchanged. I still have to work out if the Sunday dinners remain the best in Runcorn. We were on halves of Cambridge and Thornbridge bitter, two of the four pumps on, and we were making such good times that the thorny issue of the Tap Room arose for the second time that day.
With the closure of the Wellington, Mark insisted that we could add in a visit to our beloved Society Tap Rooms, which I expressly forbade because A) it’s not a Victorian Pub, and B), we always slow down towards the end anyway and a detour could put the whole crawl in jeopardy. It’s tough being the holder of the Laws, but the sanctity of the crawl must be protected at all costs and I shut down the argument with the old mum classic of ‘we’ll see’. (Which means no). As we were running early, it was suggested we have another half, and I argued that the next pub on the list was CAMRA pub of the year, and would be a much better place to double up, and also catch some of the United match. How wrong I was.
Annual Progress : A brand new look and an extra pump! 4/5
Bonus points : Once again the landlady thanked us for coming in and buying four halves during their busiest period. This made me wonder if in fact one of us was dying. 2/5
Total : 6/10
Pub 4/11 The Royal Oak
The Royal Oak was like the Cbeebies annual convention when we got there, I half expected Mr Tumble to be behind the bar. There was no sport on the TV after all, just a muted music channel, and even worse, the only beer on the pumps was….Doom Bar. So not in the guide this year then. The transformation from quality ale pub to family dining experience was a shock, and we had a whole pint to muse on it. We were so blindsided that we forgot to take a photo. However the mood was lifted when an additional cousin entered the mix! Paul’s brother Warren. Thoroughly cousined up, we left for the Roundhouse, and two more people showed up, the quite excellent Glenn and Alan.
Annual Progress : Real ale generally off the menu and average age of the punters 8 years old. -3/5
Bonus Points : Picked up a Warren. 1/5
Total : -2/5
5/11 The Roundhouse
The Roundhouse got short shrift from me last time due to its lack of Victoriana, poor beer selection, and ambiance which could have been plucked from a Shane Meadows film. But the redemptive nature of the annual crawl means that every pub has the opportunity to raise its game. There was a surprise 18th birthday party on, and what’s that on the bar but two new pumps! Two! What a glow up from last time! I enjoyed a half of Sea Fury and we had some fun with an uneven floor and a very slippy table top. It was like Pat Sharp’s Fun House!
With the addition of Warren, Alan, AND Glenn, this was the most people we have had in a pub during a crawl, and that record was about to be shattered as we headed out for the biggest walk of the night. Mark had made sandwiches, which we had to share because of our increased numbers, and this made the journey go a little easier. We lost Mike at one point when he somehow managed to get a stone through his shoe and into his sock, and the ‘leave no man behind’ creed was almost abandoned because of the slog down the hill. Last year we got a lift from Mike’s brother but this time I had made it clear that I would treat any unexpected lifts with suspicion and besides, with our additional numbers we would need some kind of clown car to fit us all in.
Annual Progress : They’ve gone Real Ale! 4/5
Bonus Points : Crashed an 18th. 1/5
Total Points : 5/10
6/11 The Union Tavern
Myself and Mark hit the Union Tavern every Tuesday on our mini pub crawl to the Grapes quiz, so we had to shake it up by sitting in the Circus Room and not hanging around the bar telling all the football managers what they should have done like we usually do. At this point Martina arrived and we had a massive three women in the party! The Daily Mail would have a field day. “Has feminism gone too far?” they would say.
The Union is a bit of an odd patchwork of a pub with outside toilets, and the original Victorian room separation which means you can have a card school in one room while the cage bird society tweets on the other side of the pub. It has a poster which says ‘Free Beer Tomorrow’. Someone printed it on an ink jet printer and framed it. That’s how much they believe in the joke.
It would have been tempting to double up in the Union because of the massive trek, but we had the whole Town Centre to do, and we still had to branch off to the Grapes.
Annual Progress : They really haven’t changed at all, unless you count the addition of Worthington’s on tap. Which I do. 1/5
Bonus Points : Plus one for Martina 1/5
Total : 2/10
7/11 The Grapes
Another frequent stop for myself, Martina, Mark, and James, who attend the Grapes quiz with our quiz team The Queens (average age 51) every Tuesday. As such we always cause consternation when we show up out of context. This being Saturday, the bar was full so we ended up in the Lounge, where our weekly nemeses the Lounge Lizards sit and which is definitely disputed territory. It was unsettling to say the least.
We were invited to stay for karaoke but that would have made a complete mockery of the schedule. After the swift half, and sadly no spotting of the resident ghost, we had to move on, and into the madness of town. At this point we lost Warren, but we were about to pick up two more crawlers…
Annual Progress : Exactly the same in every way and I think that deserves a point 1/5
Bonus Points : Tracey had her hair done and it looked fabulous, plus encroaching on Lounge Lizard territory behind their backs. 2/5
Total Points : 3/10
8/11 The Barley Mow
Last year we were quite underwhelmed by the Barley. It was loud and not particularly welcoming and we darted off without even taking a picture. This year was definitely an improvement, karaoke was on, there was added pleasure of two bonus Scowcrofts, and we stayed for a lot longer.
Loud obnoxious music can be so off putting to punters that I have no idea why people persist with it. Karaoke at least has the added bonus of making you feel like Simon Cowell, or Robbie Williams’s missus who was on Days Of Our Lives. Once upon a time our beloved Lion also decided to put deafening dance music on from 8pm every Saturday, at which point the pub would empty. Thank God those days are gone and now it’s just Pat Sharp’s Wackiest 80s Tunes on that weird music channel that you get for free.
As much as we enjoyed the improvement in atmosphere at the Barley (which by the way has a massive beer garden and so is treat in the summer), it was time to go into the Danger Zone, where our proximity to the Tap Room would threaten to de-rail the Crawl at a crucial time.
Annual Progress : 45% more jollity. 2/5
Bonus Points : Two Scowcrofts! 2/5
Total Points : 4/10
9/11 The Clarendon
As previously mentioned the Clarendon was closed for week or so which we were very worried about. One pub missing from the Crawl was an inconvenience but two would have been the biggest peace time challenge this country has ever faced. Luckily, a new couple stepped in and the Clarry was re-opened, with absolutely zero refurbishment. I mean, who likes change? Real talk : the Clarry could definitely do with a refurb. It’s dated and clings to the Plastic Flowers and Weird Over Modern Vases model with gusto.
Being five pints in at this stage it was time for one of my mini lectures about pub history. It was a test run for my forthcoming appearance at the Calderdale Beer and Cider Festival on September 29th. (Reserve seats now!)
Annual Progress : Change of personnel (thank you for your service Jerry!) 2/5
Bonus Points : Making friends with the new licensees 2/5
Total Points : 4/10
On the way to the New Dev we walked past a house which caught our attention, because it was full of parrots. We stood there for a good ten minutes watching the parrots, before we reluctantly got back to the pub crawl. Welcome to Runcorn.
10/11 The New Devonshire
Another slight improvement, this year the Devonshire had no punters covered in blood. It was definitely busier and had some karaoke on, with some astounding local talent. I’ll tell you, Runcorn has some of the most talented amateur singers in the country, which makes a Saturday karaoke night a nice experience for all involved for the most part.
There was no bitter on at all, so most of us had to had Guinness. How a busy pub just runs out of bitter on a Saturday night I don’t know, it’s not like they’re stocking obscure craft ales brewed by Moldovan nuns, it’s just John Smiths.
Annual Progress : Bit more lively, bit more Bon Jovi. 2/5
Bonus Points : No bitter, -1/5
Total Points : 1/10
11/11 The Lion
Time for the Lion, where everybody knows your name! Last year’s winner was where we we would end the night once more. I didn’t double up last time but as we’d already had time bonuses, sambucca, and sandwiches I threw caution to the wind. Alan bought a round of pies like a freaking billionaire and we had a group de-brief with plans to repeat the operation next year on the same weekend.
The Lion has lost much of its original room layout since it was refurbished and part of it converted into houses, but it’s still the type of traditional corner pub which is a hub for the community, and in my opinion it as better to try and save the pub than keep the entire sprawling space. The Lion is full on a regular basis, and has more of a chance of going the distance in its smaller, more manageable form. Fingers crossed that this time next year we will be back to the full complement of pubs, and who knows, maybe some more improvements.
Annual Progress : If it ain’t broke…3/5
Bonus Points : Round of pies and a warm welcome 2/5
Total Points : 5/10
And so the winner is the newly refurbished Prospect Inn, by one point! It was an evening of ups, downs, parrots, and steadily increasing numbers. If you’re interested in joining us next year I am operating a reserve list, tickets are £50, and you have to volunteer for four hours beforehand. You can choose from cutting back vines, making sandwiches and cleaning the glass on the parrot display.