Sunday, 25 April 2010

Liverpool 2010

It's probably the best part of 30 years since I last visited Liverpool, but my recent trip to the Isle of Man afforded me sufficient time in this vibrant port city to see a few of the sights and, more importantly, sample some of its pubs. I say sights; apart from the Albert Dock complex, down on the Mersey, I didn't do a lot of sight-seeing. Walking back from Albert Docks, I could see both the Anglican and the Roman Catholic (Paddy's Wigwam) cathedrals dominating the skyline, but I had visited both on previous trips, and this time I was more concerned with some serious beer drinking!

I had a lot more time to spare on the outward journey than on the return leg, and quite a bit more cash available as well, so after making my way down to the Mersey, and viewing the aforementioned Albert Dock, I carried on along the waterfront to visit Liverpool's only brew-pub, the Baltic Fleet. With its red and black-painted chimneys, this wedge-shaped pub looks like a ship, and is very in keeping with its location. It didn't seem that busy when I called in on a bright and sunny Wednesday lunchtime, but once the language barrier was overcome (broad scouse!), I was soon enjoying a pint of the well-hopped, 3.5% Hurst Street Bitter, one of four house-brewed beers on sale that day. All the beers are brewed on the premises, and when I arrived at the pub I noticed the cellar hatch was open with the pleasant aroma of mashing wafting up from below.

There wasn't a shortage of tables, so I made myself comfortable and ordered myself a plate of the day's special. For the princely sum of just £4.95 I was tucking in to two tasty Lincolnshire sausages, served with petit pois on a bed of mashed potato with the whole thing drenched in onion gravy. I thought another beer would be a good idea, and what better than a pint of 5% Smoked Porter to help wash the meal down. The porter wasn't as highly smoked as its name might have suggested, but was still very pleasant all the same. The other thing that needs mentioning were the very keen prices charged at the Baltic Fleet; £2.25 and £2.65 respectively!

After leaving the Baltic Fleet I headed back into the city centre, heading for a pub called the Richmond Hotel. In the previous pub I had picked up a copy of the local CAMRA news magazine, Mersey Ale which informed me that the Richmond normally had Southport or George Wright ales on tap, but after looking through the pub window I could see no sign of these, and whilst Bass, Cains and Timothy Taylor's were on sale, I decided to put plan B into action and visit the unspoilt White Star instead.

I was glad I did, as this excellent traditional Victorian pub certainly ticked all the right boxes. I sat in the comfortable back room admiring the early Beatles memorabilia on the walls. I also enjoyed a couple of pints of White Star Pale Ale, brewed specially for the pub by the Bowland Brewery. After leaving the White Star I popped in to Boots to take advantage of their "Meal Deal" offer, thereby securing myself a sandwich, packet of crisps plus bottle of water to sustain me on the sea-crossing to Douglas. That done I thought it best to slowly make my way towards the ferry terminal.

En route I called in at Thomas Rigby's, one of two adjacent pubs in the city belonging to Okells. As would be drinking a lot of Okells later on the Isle of Man I gave their beers a miss and instead opted for a pint of Molly's Chocolate Porter, brewed by the College Green Brewery in Belfast. As I sat in the outside courtyard, enjoying my pint, I was please to see a good number of people drinking Weiss Bier. I had noticed that the Thomas Rigby offers a range of these beers, as several Belgian ones, so it was good to see the good citizens of Liverpool enjoying these.

It was a fifteen minute gentle stroll from Thomas Rigby's, down to the ferry terminal, but I arrived in good time for the 19:30 sailing to Douglas. I arrived in the Manx capital at around 10pm, and made my way straight to my pre-booked guest house.

After spending four, very enjoyable days on the island, I did the trip in reverse, catching the 07:30 fast cat, Mannannan from Douglas to Liverpool. Unfortunately the vessel developed engine trouble an hour or so into the voyage and we were 45 minutes late in docking. Even without the delay I had less time to spare as I was booked on the 13:48 train to Euston. Fortunately Wetherspoons came to my rescue, in the guise of the Richard John Blackler, a huge, cavernous JDW outlet right in the city centre and just a stone's throw from Lime Street station.

After a coffee, I got stuck into a couple of the festival beers, before leaving in good time to catch my train. These two brief visits had been a good re-introduction to Liverpool and its pubs, and whilst I would have liked to visit a few more (the Dispensary, Philharmonic and Peter Kavanagh spring to mind), I was quite content with those that I did manage to take in. I'm not quite sure when I'll next be passing through Liverpool, but whenever that may be I will certainly give these other outlets a try.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Isle of Man Travel Arrangements

I made the right decision 10 days ago, when I journeyed to the Isle of Man in readiness for the CAMRA members weekend. My pre-booked Apex Super Advanced Saver ticket on Virgin Trains allowed me to travel from my home town of Tonbridge to Liverpool and back, for just £14 each way. On top of this I had booked a return crossing from Liverpool to Douglas for £37. courtesy of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.

I say the right decision, because on waking on Thursday morning I received a text from my wife alerting me to the chaos that was unfolding in the wake of the Icelandic volcanic eruption, and which would soon ground all flights within UK airspace, and indeed beyond. As I had return ferry and train tickets this did not, of course, bother me, but I knew that several friends had flown over the day before and some others were supposed to be flying over the following day. Their travel plans would obviously be affected, and lots of other people were in the same boat. Whilst some were unable to make it across to the Island, many did by switching to the ferries..

Those of us who had made it to the Isle of Man had a brilliant time. The weather was fair, the island scenery was a delight to behold and the pubs, the cheap beer and the friendly locals only added to a most enjoyable stay. As for my return journey, that passed as smoothly as the outward one.

I have posted, in more detail, about the member's Weekend on my main blog but I will be writing in more detail about some of the places I visited on my recent trip. Watch this space!