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Friday, 30 November 2012

#092 Shady Oak, Tarporley, Cheshire : 1996 to 2012

Our first visit to the Shady Oak was on our way to Chester after our first ever trip to Llangollen. It is situated in the middle of nowhere and is the only pub for several miles along this stretch of the Shropshire Union canal. Because of this isolation we stopped there twice.
Friday 30th August 1996.
Sunday 1st September 1996.

Both of these visits were lunchtime stops and as I recall they were both perfectly satisfactory.

We didn't cruise along this stretch of the Shropshire Union for quite a few years and we again visited twice on the way to and on the way back from Chester.
Friday 26th August 2005
Sunday 28th August 2005

The first stop was on the Friday evening and we only had one pint there as they weren't doing food that evening, so we took a stroll into Tarporley which is over a mile away. We had a pleasant evening in Tarporley and got a lift back courtesy of the good people in the Chinese Restaurant in the village.

On our way back from Chester we hadn't intended to revisit the Shady Oak. We stopped at Crow's Nest Bridge (No. 113) only to find that the pub listed in our (20 year old!!) canal guide was shut. So, reluctantly, we headed back to the Shady Oak. As I recall it wasn't such a pleasant experience as the pub seemed to be populated, mainly, by the owner's family who seemed to treat it like their home rather than as a pub. Needless to say the service wasn't great either.

Our most recent visit was on Easter Monday 9th April 2012. The pub is under different ownership and so it was a more pleasant experience than 7 years earlier.
However, I still feel that something is missing, but it's difficult to put my finger on what it is. I suppose, to sum it up, there's a general air of indifference about the place - the food was OK, the service was OK and the d├ęcor was OK. In this day and age, to survive as a pub, I think they need to try harder to make the Shady Oak a place that people want to go back to again and again. The reviews on TripAdvisor make interesting reading, particularly the owner's responses which never take on board the criticisms, but always give some excuse (or just criticise the reviewer!)

Thursday, 22 November 2012

#091 The Fighting Cocks, Moseley, Birmingham : 1996 to 2012

Back in the days when I was a student, The Fighting Cocks was a vibrant pub that was always full and it was often difficult to get a seat. As I recall (and this is going back 30 ish years!) the front bar was split into two, one being self contained and the other half leading to the 'Lounge'. In those days it was an Ansells pub.

Fast forward now, to 1996.
If you're thinking, "I didn't realise Moseley was on the canal", you'd be correct. This picture was taken on the evening of Saturday 25th May 1996 at the start of a week long canal trip around the Midlands. Our aim had been to get into the centre of Birmingham and moor at Gas Street Basin, but the Drawbridge at Shirley had been inoperative when we arrived and the delay, when British Waterways finally fixed it, meant that we could only get as far as The Horsehoe on the outskirts of Kings Heath. So, after a pint there, we headed off to Moseley to revisit the 'dens of iniquity' of our youth!

I don't recall what it was like inside, but it was now called the Fieldmouse & Firkin at The Fighting Cocks.

We returned again in 1998, but I'm not sure of the exact date, however I do know that it was the Easter weekend. We had planned to take our 'traditional' canal trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, but things conspired to prevent us setting off. Firstly, the battery on Emma Jane was flat when we got there (almost certainly because I'd forgotten to charge it!), but this shouldn't have been a problem. We set it to charge and went to the pub for a long lunch. When we got back to the boat it appeared as though it was still charging, so we had a little nap to make sure it became fully charged. A couple of hours later, it was still charging (or so I thought), it was still pouring down outside and we were cold.

We took the decision to 'abandon boat' and went back to my place with a view to setting off the next day. However, when we saw the News at Six, it became obvious that we'd had a lucky escape as there was extensive flooding throughout the Midlands including the places we'd planned on going. So, Plan B came into operation. Spend the weekend at my house and visit some of our old haunts around Birmingham.
 Two years on and the Fighting Cocks was still a Firkin pub and, I think, unchanged inside.

We didn't return again for another four years. This time we'd taken a week to do some painting of the outside of Emma Jane and also visit some parts of the Midlands we'd not been to before. At that time I was presenting quiz nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so we couldn't go too far. This picture was taken on Wednesday 14th August 2002.
It was no longer a Firkin pub; it had become the Goose at the Fighting Cocks. Inside it had become one large room and there was no atmosphere. The 'Goose' chain of pubs was M&B's attempt to match what Wetherspoons were doing - basic pubs selling cheap booze, the only discernible difference being that Goose pubs did play music. The Fighting Cocks in 2002 was a perfect example of how to ruin a pub!

I haven't been back inside since then, but I took this photo on Sunday 11th November 2012 as I walked around Moseley to take up-to-date snaps of the pubs.
I was pleased to see that it is now back to being just The Fighting Cocks again and still unchanged outside, apart from the signage. Having looked at their website, it appears as though they've tried to recreate the look of the old front bar, but the whole 'feel' seems to be somewhat upmarket compared to my days as a student. It is still part of M&B, and is one of their Metro Professionals pubs. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

#090 The Old Trooper, Christleton, Cheshire : 1996 to 2012

Our first ever canal trip to Chester was back in 1996 following our first ever visit to Llangollen a few days earlier. We stopped at Christleton on our way out of Chester and moored up right outside The Old Trooper.
This was on the evening of Saturday 31st August 1996. In those days it was a Beefeater which suited us perfectly as we're quite partial to a steak with our evening's lager! As I recall it was a classic Beefeater of that period - inside it was a maze of different levels meaning that, although the place was quite busy, you felt as though you were the only customers there, not being able to see the 'big picture' of the restaurant layout.

On that visit we didn't venture forth into Christleton, an omission we've remedied in subsequent years. We didn't revisit The Old Trooper until 2012. This trip was the first canal venture since we'd sold Emma Jane and was our first experience of hiring a narrowboat. Our starting point was the Anglo Welsh hire base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal and we visited Christleton, again on the way out of Chester.
This was at lunchtime on Wednesday 11th April 2012. We'd had lunch at the Ring o' Bells in the village, but decided to revisit The Old Trooper for a last pint of the session for old time's sake. And what a transformation! I still find it amazing that some pubs hardly change over the years whilst some have a complete makeover (sometimes more than once)! Outside the building itself is largely unchanged in shape, but the decoration is somewhat different. Inside, it is nothing like it was 16 years ago. Now it is completely open and all on one level (apart from a couple of steps up at the back).

As I recall, Beefeater were owned by Whitbread (still are, Ed) and Harvester are owned by Mitchells & Butlers, so there has obviously been a bit of property dealing in the intervening 16 years since our last visit! It was very difficult to see if it was still called The Old Trooper, but the name is just visible beneath the green Harvester pole sign (on the left of the picture), but on their website the name is much more prominent. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

#089 Prince of Wales, Birmingham : 1996 to 2012

For those of you who know the city, this is the Prince of Wales pub in Birmingham city centre on Cambridge Street, behind the Rep and Convention Centre. (I will be reporting on the Prince of Wales in Moseley at a later date.)

My first ever visit to the Prince of Wales was in 1976 when I was a student and went along to a meeting of the Birmingham University Real Ale Society which was in an upstairs room. In those days it was an Ansells pub and was one of the very few places that sold hand pulled beer. However, as I recall I didn't take to the beer on offer and ended the evening drinking Rum & Blacks!

My first canal related visit was at lunchtime on Sunday 29th May 1996.
I don't really recall what it was like, but I also don't think it has changed much inside in the subsequent years. In recent years it has been a good place to visit for lunch as they do good pub food in a proper pub bar environment. Back in 1996 it was still an Ansells pub.

Our next visit was on Saturday 28th August 1999 at the start of a trip to Leek on the Caldon Canal.
In the intervening years it had become a Festival Alehouse and the external signage had changed. Inside it was largely unchanged.

It wasn't until lunchtime on Sunday 30th May 2004 that we revisited the Prince of Wales again.
The outside had been completely redecorated and stayed this way for our subsequent visits.

Thursday 1st September 2005 (Evening).

   Saturday 3rd June 2006 (Evening).

Saturday 26th May 2007 (Lunchtime).

Saturday 24th May 2008 (Evening).

Then we had a few years when we didn't pop into the Prince of Wales.
Tuesday 6th September 2011 (Evening).
This was actually my last visit as a drinker. It is interesting to note that the exterior has not changed even down to the red Biffa skip outside, usually to the right hand side of the pub.

This final photo was taken on Tuesday 28th August 2012.
As I live in Brum and because we didn't visit any repeat pubs on the canal this autumn I thought I'd better get some pictures of local pubs I had visited to keep this blog going! I would guess that the inside hasn't changed much despite the complete external makeover. (...but where's the Biffa skip??)

I can't seem to find a website, but if ever you're in Birmingham city centre, near the convention centre, I'd suggest that a visit to the Prince of Wales is well worth it if you want a proper pub.