HASSRALE TRIPS :- CHESTER
19-22nd September 1991
Relatively few HASSRALE members come on the long weekend trips which have become a major feature of the club over the last few years. These trips represent a chance to see a different part of the country and take a reasonably leisurely approach to drinking which is difficult on the evening or all day trips.
To give members an appreciation of what these trips entail this account has been written in as open and honest a manner as is consistent with our desire to keep the membership figures up.
The trip started, as so many do, at a railway station, London Euston. We usually schedule these trips to start on a Thursday in order to take advantage of the blue saver return tickets. Of the nine people booked on the trip we had already lost one, my brother, who could not take the time off due to pressure of work. The return fare to Chester was £30 as saving of £9 on the white saver return. We were catching the 9:45 to Holyhead which is one of the few direct trains to Chester, normally you would have to change at Crewe.
While reasonably crowded we all managed to get seats on the train and the journey proved to be uneventful and we arrived at Chester station about 12:20. When I say we I don't mean to imply the whole party, there were in fact just 4 of us, the rest of the party being due to trickle in up to 14:00 when we had arranged to meet in The Old Custom House on Watergate St. In fact Paul Tiffany was coming by coach which was about £8 cheaper than the train but much slower.
I need hardly say the first thought on our mind so we crossed the road outside the station and went into the Town Crier where we indulged in a pint of Bass. This was a large and fairly empty pub which did lunchtime food and was plagued by a juke box.
Leaving here we made our way onto the Hoole Rd looking for the Bed & Breakfast which we were booked into. On our way we stopped off at the Faulkner Arms in Faulkner St which did a good pint of Greenall Whiteleys, at least my pint of mild was pleasant. The food here looked good so we had lunch, I would recommend the egg and bacon batch at £1 for good value.
Back on the Hoole Rd we found our guest house, there appeared to be a whole block of these in this part of town. We were greeted by the owners and were then subjected to a tongue lashing over the fact that one of our number had dropped out, various threats were issued about making us pay for the missing person. In the end the landlady calmed down and said that she was no businesswoman just a overwrought housewife. After shuffling round several rooms we dumped our bags and returned to our main business in Chester. Reg and myself headed off to the Olde Custom House in Watergate St where we had arranged to meet the stragglers.
To get there we had to walk through the centre of historic Chester which was filled with shoppers and tourists, much evidence of a US presence could be deduced from the accents. The thing that chiefly struck me was the large number of pubs, I cannot think where they all get there trade from. There were also large numbers of second hand shops claiming to be selling antiques.
The Olde Custom House was a fairly old looking pub which was reached from the street by a small flight of steps. There were two bars but we went into the public as the ambience was more HASSRALE. This was a Marstons pub but there were also pumps for Border mild and exhibition. Eventually Dave Safferey and Chris Smart turned up and then Paul Tiffany but no sign of John and Debbie. We decided to find the next pub on our list, Clavertons which was on Lower Bridge St.
Due to building works I nearly missed this pub luckily Reg spotted it and called me back. Surprise, Surprise here were John and Debbie, only Mike King to go now. This pub appeared to sell Lees which is I think a Manchester brew. They also sold some of the vilest crisps I have eaten recently, they were supposed to be new potato and mint flavoured, I would avoid this if you see any. The atmosphere of the pub was livened by a strange tapping noise coming from above. John worked out that it must be the local prosthetic societys old time dancing class. Still no Mike King so we asked the barmaid to keep an eye out for someone who looked like us ?
Continuing on down Lower Bridge street we passed under the wall and arrived at the river Dee. We then had a pleasant stroll along the riverside as the day moved into evening really quite poetic if one was sober. Passing a rowing club gearing up for some aquatic activity we arrived at the Ale Taster on The Groves. This pub had been called the Boathouse but was now subject to a bout of name changing. Unfortunately the bar overlooking the river was closed for renovation but there was plenty of room in the main bar. I can't really remember the beer here I think that it was Scottish & Newcastle hence the Theakstons etc. There were a couple of jokes told here which probably reflect the amount of alcohol drunk. What is the difference between a used tyre and 350 condoms, answer - One is a Goodyear and the other is a f**king good year. What is the difference between a light and hard, answer - you can sleep with the light on. Well they seemed funny at the time.
Retracing our steps to Lower Bridge St we passed by Clavertons where the barmaid popped her head out and said that she had seen nobody like us since we left, so still no Mike King. Back on Watergate St we went up into the Rows which run along the main Chester streets. Here we found the Old Deva, another Greenalls pub full of a somewhat young set. This pub had been on two levels but the lower one had been turned into a shop and only the upstairs bar remained. Apparently the only pub left in Chester which still has a bar on both levels is the Old Vaults. I cannot help thinking that this addition of old to everything is overdoing it a bit.
Exiting from the back of the Old Deva we found ourselves on St Peters Churchyard where we find the Commercial. In fact we didn't work this one out so we went back onto Watergate turned up Northgate and nearly missed the side lane which took you to the Commercial. This looked more like a hotel than a pub but was reasonably free of young folk. At night Chester is a young persons town, not really suitable for your average Hassraler.
Going back onto Northgate we headed for the Coach & Horses next to the Town Hall. However I was unable to drink any more so myself and Reg continued on up the street till we came to the Bombay Palace. On the whole I think it was probably inadvisable for me to attempt to eat a curry. Still I could be amused by the manager who looked more like a mafioso hood than a restaraunter greeting valuable customers. As Dave, Chris, John and Debbie turned up 20 minutes later I can deduce that there were no more curry houses up this street.
Heading back to the guest house the only further entertainment that the night offered was the sight of Paul and Mike arguing over who had a bed. Eventually the problem was resolved and I managed to get a good nights sleep.
Breakfast the next morning was quite reasonable, one nice touch was if you asked for coffee they ground the beans there and then and served it in a cafetiere (if that is how it is spelled). We all seemed to have survived the night. Mike King was questioned on where he had been the previous day. He had arrived at 17:00 and booked into the guest house but had not been able to find us on his rambles through town so he had spent the evening in a bar called Quenches where they had been having a Karaoke night, I suppose that this is why he is often referred to as Karaoke King?
Heading to Chester railway station we caught the 9:45 to Liverpool Lime St. We had to change trains at Hooton for the Liverpool service. In fact we dropped off the train at Hamilton Square in Birkenhead as we intended to cross the Mersey by ferry. Walking to the Woodside ferry terminal we found that the ferry was an hourly service most of the day and we had just missed the 10:30 crossing. This gave us a chance to look round the terminal which has obviously been upgraded to a full tourist facility. There are various heritage items scattered about including an old Tram car. There was also a coffee shop so we indulged ourselves. The fare was £1.25 which is the tourist rate, during the rush hour the cost is 75p and the journey time is 10 minutes, the rest of the day you pay tourist rate and get a 20 minute crossing.
The weather was perfect, blue skies, warm with a light breeze. However no real ale in the bar on the ferry. We were subjected to a commentary on our journey but it was fairly interesting. As we were docking we were given a quick blast of an old tune called 'Ferry across the Mersey' on the loudspeakers. We then had a browse through the tourist shop then a stroll along the riverside through the Albert Docks development. We are given to understand that the Albert Docks is quite a big tourist draw these days.
Leaving the Albert Docks we hit our first pub of the day, The Baltic Fleet. This served Bass and seemed to specialise in food. The astronauts breakfast was tempting but we had pubs to do. The pub was decorated with various maritime artifacts, a ships bell on the bar was used to summon the barmaid, but this was not overdone and the pub retained a friendly working class atmosphere.
Leaving the Baltic Fleet we climbed up Duke St to the White House which was a large two bar pub serving Walkers (Peter) Ales. I had a pleasant pint of their dark mild here. We went into the public but couldn't find enough seats so we went into the lounge bar which was completely deserted. Reg then ensured that the bar would remain empty of any locals by putting on the juke box a whole series of his peculiar musical taste. In fact we all fled before this sequence was played out.
Turning onto Derby St we came upon a pub that was not on our lists, The Black Horse and Rainbow is a home brew pub in a similar style to the Firkin pubs. The brewing apparatus was visible through a glassed in enclosure at the front of the pub. The pub was large with a bare decor but seemed friendly enough and the home brew beer was reasonable. A number of us took the opportunity to eat here, though I have my doubts about the scouse that was served up to Mike King, still I am not a Liverpudlian so it may well have been authentic.
Heading up Leece St then Hardman St brought us to Hope St where we found the Philharmonic Hotel which is one of those pubs that one has to visit. The main attraction is the decor with its stained glass windows and mosaic floor but the Jennings and Tetleys was said to be in reasonable condition. There was some question as to whether this bar closed at 15:00 but on the evidence of the day I would suggest that it does not. The gents was well worth a visit for the magnificence of the marbled urinals and wash basins. I have no report on the condition of the ladies!
We were now entering the area of the University which is rich in good pubs. This area also boasts two cathedrals which are well worth a visit if only to have a coffee in attempt to recover from an excess of C2H5OH. Passing the Students Union we entered the Augustus John pub which was still fairly busy. As there was a strong smell of paint inside and Reg had been at the Juke box we sat outside in the pleasant September sunshine. I think that this was again a Tetleys pub but I can't swear to it. My notes here contain details of how to make Kedgeree, I can make out comments about smoked fish, onions fried, rice boiled in the fish stock, mushrooms, boiled eggs and baking in an oven, sounds alright to me.
About 20:00 a group of us headed back to the Chinese quarter of Liverpool to attempt to have a meal. We found a fair concentration of restaurants and not being particularly fussy went into one of the first that we found. The food was OK but I am told that Manchester is the place for Chinese cuisine. I understand that though it is quite small the Chinese community in Liverpool has a long history stretching back to the seafaring days of Liverpools ascendancy in maritime matters.
After the meal we had arranged to meet the rest of the party back at Central Station to catch the 21:45 train back to Chester. I managed to misread the map and took Reg to Central Bus station from where we had to frantically cast around looking for the railway station. John and Debbie knowing better than to rely on me navigated their way via random drunks, we all ended up on the platform with about 30 seconds to spare. No sign of Dave, Chris or Paul but we assumed, rightly, that they had been detained by a pub. Back in Chester we had time for a nightcap in the Faulkner Arms.
The next day dawned bright and sunny but our landlord seemed somewhat weary. It transpired that he had taken his daughter to Manchester Airport at 4:00 to take a plane to Italy. Apparently she was to spend a year in Milan. This did occasion some wonder that parents will take to save their children from the baneful influence of Hassrale, unless it had been the lascivious glances bestowed by Mike King that had tilted the balance.
It was our intention to take the bus from Chester to Warrington but as the bus was at 10:45 we had plenty of time to kill. Reg and myself decided to have another look at the historic centre of Chester but this was crowded with shoppers and tourists so after a few essential purchases in Boots (to gain our rail vouchers) we decided to walk round the walls. These are suprisingly complete, there being only one small break near the Crown Court. The walls were not that busy at that time of day and we avoided any large parties though there were a few people waving video cameras around. In order not to miss our bus we moved at a fair pace round the wall and it took us 43 minutes to complete the circuit. In fact we had time for a cup of tea at the bus station where we met the rest of the party
The bus fare was £3.25 for a return, the driver assured us that the return was valid for a month. I suggested that a month might be too long even for that great distillery town but he declined to comment. Judging from the paucity of travellers I would not say that Warrington was a popular destination. The journey was for the most part enjoyable passing as it did though the Cheshire countryside. The town of Frodsham seemed from the number of pubs passed to be worth a visit in its own right. The only boring bit was our traversal of the Runcorn Shopping City a somwhat grim concrete hulk where we picked up practically our only passengers. Reg was much taken by a tee shirt worn by one woman which was marked AC on one prominence and DC on the other.
Warrington on the whole was a pleasant suprise for some in our party, Debbie had severe doubts on the merits of visiting a dismal crematorium of our industrial past. However the town centre and shopping areas were busy and fairly cheerful. The bus terminated in a hi-tech bus station which was ringed by monitors displaying the bus times, a feature I have not seen in a bus station before. After finally working out how to exit from the bus station (via the escalators into the shopping centre) we headed for our first pub The Lower Angel which had a range of beers and a knowledgeable landlord. This was a small busy pub so we had to stand but the Walkers mild was good. I think that they also had on Double Dragon and Burton. Dave was disappointed to find no Cains but it had apparently been on but we had missed it.
Leaving the Lower Angel we went back through the main shopping area to the Hop Pole. This was another Greenall Whiteleys pub however the mild was off so we had to make do with the bitter. This pub appeared to be in two halves with a large front area backed by a more narrow back bar. A number of us decided to eat in this pub as the food smelled quite good, but I suspect that any food would have smelled (is there a word smelt ?) OK by this time. As with all Hassrale trips long bouts of drinking are interrupted at regular intervals by eating. The food was fairly uninteresting I suspect that we could have done better in another pub but I suppose that it filled a gap.
Crossing the road brought us to the Theatre Tavern which served Tetleys and Jennings. Reg entertained the locals with his inimitable selection of music on the juke box, I think that most of them were leaving anyway. The walls were illustrated with old advertising posters for the music hall and theatre. Judging by the selection of acts I can only conclude that our forebears tastes were somewhat more robust than ours. Dave and Chris shot off in search of another pub which after some effort the rest of us managed to track down.
The Lord Rodney was a large modern looking pub decorated in a fairly common fashion with bookcases and wood. The was also a good selection of fruit machines and quiz machines. I understand that somebody managed to cock up a large win on the quiz machine on a fairly simple question however no need for recriminations in this document. The beers on offer were Jennings, Camerons Strongarm ? and an excellent pint of Teltleys dark mild. To avoid the racing on the television we migrated to a back bar which was empty and here we stayed for some time. I may even have fallen asleep here but I cannot remember.
Leaving this pub we had moved into the post three o'clock world where pubs become more infrequent. The party appeared to split up at this point. I have memories of sitting in a ultra modern type of bar sipping some sort of beer but I have no more coherent memories till the question of the return to Chester arose. With the length of the bus journey and the state of our bladders there were doubts as to our ability to last of the return to Chester. We decided to return by rail from Warrington Bank Quay station. After a detour via the central shopping area where Debbie purchased some mexican earrings we found our way via the back streets to the station. This was situated in a fairly godforsaken part of town with no sign of an public houses so we were forced to wait on the station platform devoid of further alcoholic refreshment. The train when it came was small and very crowded luckily the journey back to Chester was not prolonged.
Back in Chester we had agreed before we split up to rendevous in The Old Custom House about 19:00. As we had time to kill we had a drink in a hotel bar in City Rd. This was not a pretty sight being full of obviously drunken people. With the odd exception Hassrale drunks are not obnoxious it is a pity there are not more drunks like us !
Shaking the dust of this establishment off our feet we headed for Watergate St and the Old Custom House. Where the rest of our party eventually gathered. On our way there we again took the opportunity to explore the Rows which do seem to retain an authentic air of antiquity especially after dark. Dave and Chris arrived having returned by bus, they had had no problems with the journey having managed to sleep for most of the way.
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