Visited on 11/8/11. It’s not that we’re bored with Chester or anything – we’d always planned to do a few trips outside the conurbation, particularly on balmy evenings when the pleasant exertion of a bike ride combined with the quaffing of a few pints of refreshing real ale provides the perfect summertime drinking experience.
And so it was that we got off the train at Hooton station in full wet weather gear, mounted our velocipedes and headed out into the drizzle.
Raby: The Wheatsheaf (The Thatch)
Concealed within a maze of country lanes, this place in many ways is the quintessential English country pub. It’s a 16th century building with a thatched roof (hence the nickname) and inside it’s barely been altered since it was built. In recent years a restaurant has been added, but this is in a separate building – a converted cowshed cleverly linked to the original pub via a sort of anteroom. It means the character of the pub is preserved and drinkers are insulated from the smell of food and the noise of diners. Flippin’ ace. An impressive range of nine real ales is on offer including beers from the Brimstage brewery which is just down the road. We went for the Trappers Hat and the Tetley bitter, both of which were excellent. Everything about this place is outwardly perfect – but it’s not quite right. It was busy, but the clientele are exclusively ancient. Everyone is middle class. Everyone is civilised. This pub has been gentrified. I remember some riotous nights here in days of yore, but now it’s about as animated as the House of Lords. And that’s a bit of a shame.
Willaston: The Pollard Inn
The drizzle had become mizzle, but we had the wind behind us. In no time at all we were in Willaston, standing at the bar in Pollards, dripping with rainwater and steaming with sweat – an unseemly sight and enough to put the average gastronaut off their haunch of venison with red currant jus. Nobody complained mind. Despite appearances and in contrast to the Thatch, this place has only been in business for about 25 years. It’s a sort of mid to low-end identikit gastro pub, with the emphasis very much on the gastro. To be honest, it’s more of a restaurant with a bar in it than a pub. The ales from Theakston & Caledonian were ok – quaffable but run of the mill. Uniformed bar staff an’ all. As soon as we dried out we left.
Childer Thornton: The White Lion
This famous real ale sanctuary on the edge of Ellesmere Port was packed when we arrived. In fact we only just managed to find a table over which to drape our wet gear. Once again, we found ourselves in the middle of a pub quiz. Once again, we were the youngest people in the pub. It’s a very nice place though, it has to be said – very traditional and very well run. A range of mainly Thwaites real ales are available and ‘hop beasts’ that we are, we homed in on the Triple C – a sort of light IPA – citrus and aromatic, with a flat underside. Quafftastic. The quiz team at the next table seemed quite proud of the fact that they finish bottom every week – so we helped them out with a few wrong answers, which they very much appreciated. We’d have stayed to share their booby prize of a packet of pork scratchings, but further hostelries awaited…
Childer Thornton: The Halfway House
This place was originally an 18th century coaching inn and is so named because it lies exactly half way between Birkenhead and Chester. It’s another one of those places that offers a ‘time warp’ experience when you walk in. This is mainly because there’s been no modern makeover to obscure it’s past and it’s history still hangs heavy in the air. I love places like this. It was my favourite pub of the night. We were drinking with ghosts. We were drinking fairly rubbish ale with ghosts though, to be perfectly fair – Wychwood something or other – all their ales taste like variants of Hobgoblin to me, as if they use Hobgoblin as a sort of base ale and just add other stuff. Great pub though - they had other ales on - we just didn't try 'em. As we left, I’m sure I heard the clatter of horse’s hooves on the cobblestones. I looked round and there was nothing. Nothing apart from the gurning faces of the rest of the CBP that is.
Hooton: The Chimneys
This is a big old building on Hooton crossroads – with chimneys. Despite the distinctive external architecture, the interior is classic ‘art pubco’ circa 1990s – dark stained pine architraves, brass handrails and dull carpets. Apparently it’s got a decent reputation for both ale and food, but at 10:30 on a Thursday night, we probably didn’t catch it at it’s best. It was practically empty and the uniformed bar staff seemed bored and looked as if they wanted to knock off. The ale quality was a bit mixed an’ all – something horrible that nobody can remember (this is top notch ale reviewing folks !) and Timothy Taylor’s Golden Best, which was actually really good. We necked it and left anyhow. There then followed another highlight of the evening – the rain had stopped.
Back to Chester next week folks. Stay tuned.