Excursion Notes From The UK's Finest Pubs

It's Sunday, which for many means a full day in the juicer quaffing ale and talking nonsense. Forget Wetherspoons and get down to one of these cracking boozers...
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It's Sunday, which for many means a full day in the juicer quaffing ale and talking nonsense. Forget Wetherspoons and get down to one of these cracking boozers...

Pubs, ace aren't they?

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One of the first things I do now, when I know I'll be visiting a new town or city, is check before hand which pubs are worth a visit. By pubs, I mean real ale pubs, and when I say visiting, most of this is done whilst following Bradford City around the country. Following a team that's gone up and down all four divisions in the English League, does have its advantages.

Whilst for the last decade the likes of Everton and Rochdale have been stuck going to pretty much the same 20 away destinations, us hardy Bradford fans have visited more or less every ground in the country. This lends itself well to visiting a lot of pubs. I used to go armed with photocopied pages from my football ground guide books, then moved on to the excellent Football and Real Ale Guides by Stedders Guides. Now, with the advent of the iPhone, I go GPS equipped, Andy McNabb style with the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.

Obviously not all of these trips are football related, some are just days out or whilst out and about on whatever business I happen to be on, but all the pubs will have some kind of selection of real ale amongst other things.

So, that said, and it no particular order other than I remember them, here's the first batch.

The Unicorn, Church St, Manchester

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A great pub near the Arndale centre. Edwardian with lots of wood panelling, a couple of rooms off the main room which has a horseshoe bar.

I've been in here a few times now and it can get really busy and a bit cramped round one side of the bar, but that's always likely to happen in a decent pub.

Beers include Copper Dragon and Bass. In fact the pub was the original meeting place of The Honourable Order of Bass Drinkers, an organisation that apparently pre-dates CAMRA.

It's a very handy pub to visit pre-gig at the The Ruby Lounge which is just round the corner, and why I've found myself here on the last few occasions.

The Globe, Cases Street, Liverpool

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I really like Liverpool. Maybe it's because it's a port city or maybe it's because I like the music but there's something about the place that appeals to me. There's little nooks and crannies that give you a sense of the history of the place, little side streets that you can slip down and some great pubs to visit. Whilst my favourite pub in Liverpool - if not favourite pub anywhere - is The Ship and Mitre on Dale Street, The Globe on Cases street is worth a visit.

Bang in the city centre, it's right next to the entrance to a shopping centre and is another pub that gets busy, not least because it's tiny with two small rooms, one of which contains the bar.

The strange thing about the place is the floor, which slopes up to the back room and toilets. Quite why it's like this I've no idea, should have probably asked the woman behind the bar, but it can leave you a bit confused when you've had a few too many Cains or Black Sheep which is what's served here.

The Leinster Arms, Lancaster Gate, London

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A five minute walk from Paddington through an area that may or may not be posh - I can never tell in London - brings you here.  It looks nice from the outside with some well presented hanging baskets and window boxes, and even nicer on the inside with lots of flowers and old photos on the wall. I'm not normally an advocate of lots of flowers in pubs, but I have to say, it made it quite homely. I assumed from looking at the menus and signage about the place that it's part of the Nicholson's stable of pubs, but just having done a quick Google I'm now not so sure. Either way, they have the same range of pies and beer - Taylor's Landlord, London Pride and a guest - that Nicholson's pubs I've stumbled across in London do, and they've always been ok.

What surprised me about the Leinster is that their beer is served through sparklers, or my Landlord was anway, which is a real rarity in London, and a pleasant treat for us visiting Northerns (the stunningly period refurbished Princess Louise near Holborn tube station also has sparklers whilst we're on the subject, but that is a Sam Smiths pub).

The pub gets extra marks from me for the huge friendly dog that was in there and ran over to see when when I sat down and the fella in the corner with a similar taste in country gent knitwear to myself.

The Tap & Spile, Tower St, Harrogate

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Pretty big pub this, plenty of real ales - loads of which are local, cosy feeling and yet another pub with a friendly waggy pub dog (a spaniel I think) which always goes down well with me.

The pub also hosts music nights, though I've not been to one, but I'd imagine they'd be worth the trip.

What did surprise me is the prices. £3.45 for a pint of Old Peculiar! Other beers being anything from £2.80 to £3.20. That's more than I've paid in that there London. Despite that, I'd still recommend the place.

The Hole in the Wall, Park Lane, Torquay

The English Riviera, as they're so fond of reminding you down there. An image that should conjure up soaring white masts and rigging on gracefully bobbing yachts, gorgeous tanned women parading down a promenade in bikinis and sarongs past tables full of gentlemen in panamas sipping espresso or fine continental lagers. Instead you just think of John Cleese shouting and a bloke who's now more famous for having a granddaughter rutted by  Russell Brand.

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Anyway, there's a few decent pubs down here, and this one is the pick and also the oldest. Just a short walk from the harbour or seafront or whatever it is, it's got a real seafaring theme , lots of stuff stuck on the walls and ceilings but without being tacky. There's also a nice little area outside in the alley leading to it (I like a pub down a back alley) with hanging baskets and assorted planters. It's an all-round very cosy cobbled floored, beamed ceilinged pub. It comes as a bit of a surprise then that there's a large restaurant bolted on, which serves food that apparently is pretty good. we weren't there for the food though, just the beer and a weekend away for the football - which co-incidentally we won, in injury time 2-1 after being 1-0 down. Butcombe and Otter Brewery beers are the order of the day at The Hole in the Wall, both very pleasing

Fox & Goose, Heptenstall Road, Hebden Bridge

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A cracking pub to stop off at on the way back from an away match in the wrong side of the Pennines, despite the fact it's an uphill stagger from the train station. A small, local, three room pub with a real fire and a small corner bar which only has handpull pumps. Want lager? They've got loads and it's all the proper European imported stuff, none of this Carling rubbish. They even have their own brew available, though as it was either vegan or vegetarian - Hebden Bridge is full of hippies - I didn't buy it on principle. I prefer ingesting something which necessitates the death of an animal during it's preparation.

They also do food, have a couple of beer festivals every year and have a great beer garden, which due to it's lofty position, has a great view of the fine Yorkshire countryside, and possibly a bit of Lancashire as well if you're into that sort of thing.

Peel Park, Turkey St, Accrington

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You won't get many city fans asking 'who are they?' when Accrington Stanley are mentioned, as they have a habit of beating us, most notably in a 3-0 romp at our own ground during our - and their - first season back in the basement division. A notorious low point in the sea of lowpoints that has been Bradford City over the last decade.

So, after yet another inept performance by the bantams, me and a mate set out to find The Peel Park, which turned out to be a good 20 odd minute walk from Stanley's ground, and overlooks the site of the old Stanley ground, which just seems to have been left as a big rectangle of grass.

Once inside, it was a welcome oasis from the match, as virtually none of the clientèle appeared to be Accy fans - a few Buurnleh and Blackburn shirts but that was it. It's  a proper free house, serving around 8 real ales, from the smaller breweries, including a few from Bradford, and is another pub that has a lot of flowers in it - maybe I'm drawn to the more floral hostelries?

There's a large pool room and the main room is divided into two,with one half being raised up were there may or may not have been a telly - I can't remember. But I can remember that the place has a good solid feel, cosy but roomy, and lots of rich wood panelling.

Sadly, I'll be back next season.

Kelham Island Tavern, Russell Street, Sheffield

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Now this place has just been crowned the CAMRA pub of the year for the second year in a row. Which on paper means it's not only the best pub in Sheffield or even Yorkshire, but it's the best pub in the country. So we headed there before a match with Rotherham at the Don Valley - a place with all the warmth and charm of an Eastern European stadium from the 1950s, or those ones in the Middle East where they shoot women on the penalty spot for showing an ankle - full of anticipation.

What would await us here, for this top be named the best pub in the country? A vast array of beers? Buxom wenches behind the bar?Perhaps still lit by gaslight or  some kind of period features?

To be honest, it was none of these. Whilst they did have a good array of beers - around 10 hand pumps - it didn't have the wow factor I was expecting, it wasn't much different from any of the other pubs I've mentioned above or below. Albeit very busy, presumably with visitors drawn for the same reasons as us.

The pub itself has a relatively small area round the bar, and a larger room in the back - where, and this really pissed me off, a woman decided to claim two tables for herself when we went to sit there, for her friends who turned up some 15 minutes later carrying an assortment of kids in car seat chairs. Kids or babies in pubs? A real no no for me.

There was a good supply of food coming from the kitchen for the assorted groups of football fans in there - Leicester City who were at Sheffield Wednesday - though it appeared to be the pub staple of burger and chips.

It's still a very good pub, but I just think there's better pubs out there, probably even the pub round the corner but I didn't want to go in there out of principle when it advertised itself as an award winning vegetarian pub.

Oh, as for the football, we won with the last kick of the game 5 minutes into injury time. It doesn't get more satisfying than that.

The Uxbridge Arms, Noting Hill Gate, London

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Stumbled on this place when I had an hour or so to kill one evening in that there London, by virtue of it being the nearest place that served real ale.

Very much a locals pub and was just going to have a pint then move on, but then it got interesting.

A lad with a woman I assumed to be both regulars turned out to be the landlady and a lad she'd invited back after meeting him at another pub. He proceeded to come round to where I was sat and antagonise and insult the regulars I was sat with one of who was Irish, with tales of his Irish roots - as some drunk people often do when they meet someone who's actually Irish. He ended up trying to spark up a cig before being turfed out.

I had quick chat with the Irish bloke before he left and he turned out to be a very affable chap. It was then I noticed the Burnley rosette behind the bar, and the Lancastrian accent of one of the other regulars in the group next to me. He was in fact the landlady's other half. Much Yorkshire v Lancashire banter ensued to the puzzlement of others before I made my way to the nearby Italian restaurant the lass behind the bar recommended - De Amicis, which was a belter, so thanks for that recommendation which I heartily endorse.

Back to the pub, not a great selection of beers, just St Austell Tribute - which I really like, and the ubiquitous London Pride - which I'm not so fond of. It's a nice cosy wood panelled affair, with plenty of photos on the wall and what appears to be an antique soldiers tunic - the kind worn by Sean Bean in Sharp.

A pub I'll certainly visit again if I'm in that neck of the woods, not least to thank the barmaid for the restaurant tip.

The Crown Inn, Heaton Lane, Stockport

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Now this should be the pub of the year. It's probably my favourite pub in the country and the reason I'm chuffed that Stockport County look like they'll be relegated to our division again.

Several cosy rooms, amazing location right underneath a red brick (like everything else in this part of Lancashire or Greater Manchester or Cheshire or whatever it is round there) viaduct (I love a good viaduct) and 16 - yes count em - sixteen hand pumps which includes two real ciders.

It is apparently built from three cottages that have been knocked together, which explains the cosy nature of the numerous rooms  and has won several CAMRA awards aswell as hosting folk music nights.

So if you're in the area, or even if you're not, this place is a must visit.

Have you been to any of these or know any more great pubs?

Let us know below.