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Football and Pubs Part 2 - Ashton-Under-Lyne (Vs Brackley Town)

The more that I visit local towns for a few pints, the more I realise just how much reputations of these places have influenced other people over the years. There isn’t an area I can visit without a worried voice warning me of being attacked, bottled or assaulted in some way. I imagine this would be applicable to any area within 20 miles of Manchester that isn’t Alderley Edge. We are quite a prissy nation really, or certainly the country of Manchester is.

One area that was never going to be immune to such criticism was Ashton-Under-Lyne. Another town in Tameside, following on from a visit to Mossley to begin with, Ashton could be considered the borough’s capital. It houses the only real shopping centre, the only real shopping precinct, the multi-screened cinema complex that dominates the area’s film-going public, the main hospital for miles and, of course, it has IKEA.

On a personal level though, Ashton formed much of my underage drinking experiences, in the early noughties when it had quite the nightlife. Trashton (as it was affectionately known) buzzed with drinkers from every age range. On Thursdays it was “student night” and with no university in sight this was really for the sixth-formers, working school leavers and live-at-home students. Like most of the country at that time, there was a rather lackadaisical approach to bar entry. Regular blind eyes from bouncers included congratulating my friend on his careful use of tippex on his student ID or asking me, as they looked at my brother’s “borrowed” passport, when it was that I had my ears successfully pinned (sorry bro.)

Ashton’s nightlife started to die away when the clamp down on underage drinking really came into force a few years later. As this happened at around the same time as the smoking ban, it would be wrong to assume that it was the sole reason for the demise. However, it would be an interesting case study to observe the correlation. When I speak to younger people now and ask why they aren’t out like we were at age 16 or 17, they often say that it is pointless as they wouldn’t be served anywhere. By the time they reach 18, they have grown accustomed to socialising via friend’s houses, watching Netflix or playing computer games. Perhaps those formative years are key and this is why the youth don’t use pubs as the older folk do. I could be well off the mark of course but the lack of nightlife in any of the smaller towns these days says otherwise.

Anyway, there are a couple of Ashton teams that I could have watched but I opted (on the 14th September 2019) for the more commercially friendly Curzon Ashton who were at home to Brackley Town. A fairly modern team (56 years young) in a much more modern stadium (14 years young,) it had been a tough start for the The Nash in a league that features ex-football league teams such as York, Chester and Kidderminster Harriers.

The Ash Tree (Wetherspoons)

The day started like many footballing away days - in a Wetherspoons. I know many are anti-Timbo now to the extreme that I could be heavily criticised for my presence here, but it was pre-midday and I was desperate for the toilet. And the humility and respect in me means I won’t use any pub toilet without purchasing a beer.

Like many ‘Spoons in the area it seems, The Ash Tree has had a little refurbishment recently, adding a large conservatory area to its rather by-the-numbers interior. This is a drab, uninspiring ‘Spoons if ever there was one. There was an Adnams collab with an American brewery that was passable but I didn’t want to linger here. Even fans of the Hard Brexit empire would struggle to find anything to enjoy in the Ash Tree. A McSpoons with added mustiness.

Ashton Taphouse

Across the road from The Ash Tree is the (locally famous) indoor market, re-imagined in 2008 after a huge internal fire closed it four years previously. Last year, Ashton Taphouse opened inside, a quirky little concept for a bar that exists within one of the market stalls. Crafties may be sceptical but visitors to Manchester’s Hatch will be reminded of the two market stalls there or even the Micro Bar in Manchester’s Arndale.

This is a much more traditional affair though with three cask beers alongside 3 or 4 kegs. It is compact but nicely kitted out and it clearly has a couple of regulars already that prop up the bar as though it is a street corner local that has been around for years.

My Green Mill Ella is served fine, if not a touch warm, which reflects the conservatory style feel to the entire market place that must make keeping anything from pork pies to fish a nightmare to keep at the right temperature, never mind cask beer.

Talk at the bar turned to one gentlemen speaking of pride of a son that had just gone to university but dismay that he had announced that he was, whisper it, becoming a vegan. I couldn’t help but smile and spent the rest of my smile pondering how perverse the concept of blogging is. People are just trying to have a conversation in a pub, never knowing whether they are in earshot of a nosey beer blogger ready to turn their whines into prose. I supped up, bid them thanks and paused outside the opposite mobile phone repair stand to take a picture, feeling further more intrusive.


Picture not taken on day of visit

I was going to skip my next stop – Browton’s – on the basis that I do stop by fairly regularly, though not as much as I would like. Still, this bottle shop come bar is easily the best place for a beer in the town of Ashton and I did not regret having a quick browse of the shelves and bottle of Kernel Pale Ale.

I started popping down here every now and then in 2014-2015 when it was simply a take-out shop. Occasionally I’d be in there for an extended period of time chatting with the owner, Simon, and he’d pop a bottle open whilst we chatted. It has changed a fair bit since then with a bar that is continuously extending and a focus on the shelves to beers to be drunk in. The choice of quality ciders and natural wine is the current exciting extension.

A couple of people in Browton’s advised caution as I set off to my next destination.

The Station Inn

I took a detour on the way to the next pub to look at the area east of the market that is home to the two streets we debauched on in those early years. Some bars seemed to be still going or at least retained their fronts. There are also some stunning pubs in Ashton that I have never visited with superb tiling out front.  Unfortunately I was not stopping here at The Angel (pictured) as it was shut and I didn’t have time.

On I went to the Station Inn, a pub I’d long wanted to visit. It wasn’t so long ago that this pub had a decent reputation amongst the real ale drinking circuit, also known for being “biker and rocker” friendly. Now, however, the consensus seemed to be that I would do well to steer clear of the cask and perhaps even anything from tap. I’m always willing to make my own mind up.

On entry, you are presented with what appears to be the contents of an industrial bin belonging to a block of flats. What is possibly a handsome games rooms is packed out with overflowing bin bags. However, the smell is very much beer stained tables and more than a hint of pre-smoking ban tobacco smoke. It reminds me of my Great Uncle’s front room. There are three beers on the bar and my choice (that I now can’t recall) is met with an enthusiastic “Excellent choice!”

The pub is gorgeous; just so wholesome, handsome, with busy walls and an eclectic array  of bric-a-brac. The beer... is not. It is the beer that prompted this tweet.

The system whenever one tweets anything about a poor pint is to receive great swathes of replies encouraging one to return it immediately and give the custodian the chance to change it. These people, to me, are either argumentative or inexperienced in pubs and cask beer.

There are many factors that can cause a pint of cask beer to be a little ropey, many of which we are familiar with: beers being on too soon, beers being on too long, beers being at the bottom of the barrel, barrels being kicked, beers not being pulled through, temperature control being poor, dirty lines etc etc etc. Some of these will lead to an off flavour that people describe as "vinegary." Not a single one of these faults accounts for this chip shop condiment beer that makes Duchesse de Bourgogne taste like a New England IPA. The only* reason for a beer to ever be served like it was here is pure neglect and derision for the product. In my experience, there would be no point to try and return such a beer; not because they would be unwilling to change it but because every other product on the bar would be similar. When you factor in that I was pre-warned about the beer here prior to entry I was comfortable enough to sit and enjoy the pub surroundings without confrontation. 

It is a shame because I really do love the pub. It transpires that people involved also do a lot of work for homeless charities and that the bin bags were full of clothes being readied for that. Entirely forgivable. It is a large pub so there was no such intrusion on the area that I was sat in. I’d probably return, maybe in the foolish hope that the beer actually was a one off. Or maybe I’d stick to bottles...

The Caledonia Hotel

Back towards the shopping centre of Ashton-Under-Lyne is a rather smart, unassuming, tiled pub owned by Robinson’s that I remember visiting with my parents a long time ago. The Caledonia is a small, one-roomed, multi-levelled affair that is instantly an understandable hit with retirees, due to a varied menu of "well priced" pub grub. There are indeed a few older couples dotted about mopping up gravy stained bowls with enthusiasm.

I perched at the bar as a small, unobtrusive television was showing the lunch time football, with the sound off. It often surprises me that such attributes aren’t more common place, as in this small corner of the pub I could watch the match silently with a pint, without disrupting those eating food in the opposite corner.

Lost in the screened football, my overriding opinion on The Caledonia was in the quality of the Unicorn. Robinson’s flagship best bitter is seen almost everywhere in this part of the world and my opinion of it has long been the same. If it is 98%+ right then it is a good pint. If it is anything less than that then it is awful. Here in The Caledonia it was the best I had tasted for a long time.  

Prince of Orange

On the recommendation of others, I made a stop at another Robinson’s pub on the way to the football ground. The Prince of Orange has stood by the bus station for years whilst redevelop of every bus stop, council building and by-pass was stripped down and rebuilt around it.  

Like many of the Stockport brewery’s pubs, it has had a large makeover in the last couple of years and I had been told it is now “really nice with loads of beers on.” Interior wise they seem to have gone for "The Ministry of Magic from the Harry Potter films" which is the sort of pub makeover I can get on board with. The part about there being loads of beers... no. Just Unicorn. No guest beers as had been suggested or even a range from Robinson’s. Just Unicorn. Not badly kept Unicorn but not quite a good as the pint I had just enjoyed in The Caledonia. A quick half whilst listening to one regular get numerous facts about cricket and The Ashes (and I’m not even a cricket fan) completely wrong and I was off. It was certainly friendly though.  

Curzon Ashton Football Club

I walked to Curzon Ashton’s home ground via a hot dog at Ashton’s largest landmark that can be seen from space – or at least clearly on every flight that comes in to land at Manchester Airport – IKEA. Wet, tasteless, sustenance ingested, I walked for ten minutes to Tameside Stadium. Opened in 2005 by Sir Alex Ferguson, the ground sits at the end of a long residential road highlighted by the statue of three of the area’s most famous footballing sons – Geoff Hurst, Jimmy Armfield and Simone Perotta.

After standing in the turnstile to observe the minute’s silence, I visited the shipping container style club bar for a pint of Staropramen. No such attempt to appeal to the locality of the football club with the beer selection here, though I’m not sure Gartside’s Ales are on the menu anymore. The stadium has the feel of a modern day build without crumbling toilets or uneven terraces. There’s also a more social atmosphere to the day out, with a group of older people in the main stand passing around gin to top their cups up with in the first half - and a group of student types sat down on the terraces as if it were a picnic in the park during the second. Brackley Town win the game 4-0 but the joviality from the stands asserts that this was an expected result.

There seems to be fewer flap-capped older folk here. If you want a more modern day at non-league football then Curzon could be the club for you.  

Beau Geste

As I walked from the stadium amongst surprisingly upbeat Curzon fans, I weighed up one more stop before the bus home. Near the bus station and close to the main shopping centre lies a flat roofed pub building that has long held a mythological air. The Beau Geste sits unmoved amongst Ashton’s vain regeneration hopes and has built a reputation based on assumption and snobbery, like many large estate pubs close to council houses. Ten years ago I would have never stepped foot in the place; in my thirties I am beyond intrigued by this popular, flat-roofed relic that possibly references a book and film I'm unfamiliar with.

The pub is almost exactly as expected – a large square room more akin to a social club but with table arrangements and pillars that give the effect of separate areas. It is busy with all manner of people; Saturday workers in Hi-Vis jackets that have just finished for the day, older couples in smart wear saying nothing to each other over a bitter and G&T, families with carrier bags enjoying a post-shopping drink and a few scattered football fans watching the tea time kick off. The phrase salt of the earth is often used for such places, which is just another way of saying regular people. There was a single cask beer on, though I can’t remember what it was (possibly Doom Bar) that was fine and I leaned against a pillar and took in the friendly atmosphere.

The Beau is a popular hub clearly for many in the community. It is a pub and a necessary one at that.   In the following days I received many comments along the lines of “Did you get stabbed?” when telling people I visited. Maybe there have been past incidents or maybe the assumption – judging a book by its cover, if you will – has created an undeserved reputation. Not every pub has to be for you, that doesn’t mean it has no worth.

With that, I opted for home after another interesting day out. It is unlikely I have done much for the Ashton-Under-Lyne Craft Beer Tourist Board, though that was never the intention. It is a town that isn't quite sure what it wants to be at the moment but also a reminder of how increasingly detached these towns must feel from the large city nearby. 


Unknown said…
I suspect your last few lines sum it up. Manchester is so easy to get to and from using the tram that I would never consider exploring beyond Browtons or the Market Bar for a drink & Lilly's for food. Next best is getting on the train & travelling one stop in the opposite Direction. Can't wait for you to review a visit to The Butchers Arms & Sunny Droylsden!!

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