Friday, 18 September 2015

Delivering in West Lancs

A view of the canal from the beer garden
of the Ship in Haskane
I distribute the local CAMRA mag, Ale & Hearty, to certain pubs. As I have a car, I've agreed to cover some of the West Lancs pubs, most of which are either hard or impossible to get to by public transport from Southport where I live.

My friend Alan agreed to come along on yesterday's trip. I say 'agreed' but why would he say no to someone offering to drive him around half a dozen pubs? As well as being company, he was my surrogate drinker: I don't like diving into pubs with a pile of magazines, and then shooting out again without buying a drink, but I have to do that, or end up over the limit. In the event, I had three halves over five hours, but Alan had something in every pub. Neither of us had a bad beer all afternoon.

I had also decided to make notes about each pub and take pictures for the articles I've been writing in the Southport Visiter, which I also post on this blog (previous articles here). Someone once asked my when I'd agreed to start writing advertorial. The answer is I haven't, but I won't be writing negative comments about pubs for the paper for two reasons:
  • The articles appear in the What's On section of the paper, and I believe the paper wants positive recommendations of nice pubs to go to. If I visit a pub and don't like what I find, I simply won't write about it. So far, I've made that decision once.
  • Real ale for us is part of our social life - for licensees, it is part of their livelihood. For that reason, even if I can't stand a pub, I won't criticise it in the paper, assuming the editor would accept such an article. I reserve the right to write what I like here on this blog, but even then I'm not keen on being too damning.
The pubs we visited were:
  1. The Ship, Haskayne.
  2. The Kings Arms, Haskayne.
  3. The Martin Inn, Ormskirk.
  4. The Farmers, Burscough.
  5. The Slipway, Burscough.
  6. The Heatons Bridge, Scarisbrick.
Pubs 1, 4, 5, and 6 are canalside pubs, and 2 is very close. 

We were given a friendly and hospitable reception in all of them. Next week, I have a few more places to deliver to. I'd like to say, "Tough job, but someone's got to do it", but I'll be driving! Still, it is nice to visit them and bring myself up to date on what they're like.

My articles will appear here, as well in the Visiter, over the next couple of months.


  1. This is a common whinge, but I'd entirely agree with you that if you're writing an article for public consumption that aims to promote cask beer and good pubs, then you sing the praises of the good and ignore the bad.

    However, I do think there is a tendency for CAMRA publications to hold back on legitimate criticism due to a fear of offending licensees with whom individual representatives may be on good terms. I'm not familiar with yours, so I'm not suggesting it applies to you.

    It's a difficult tightrope to walk.

  2. You have some great canal-side pubs up there Nev; Ring o Bells in Lathom also very good. They would probably be very food-led in most other Counties.

    On the criticism point, clearly a local paper like the Visitor is there to promote the good. Whether CAMRA newsletters could be clearer in distinguishing good and less good beer quality on surveying trips in quite another thing. Making NBSS available at some level would be a start, though possibly open to abuse.

  3. Martin: I agree about the Ring O' Bells. There's also the Ship in Lathon, known locally as the Blood Tub.

    When I edited the local CAMRA magazine, I adopted a policy that if you can't say something good, say nothing. I did not mean gloss over serious failings: just don't write about the place at all.

    I do recall a critical article written under a previous editor, which didn't just upset the licensee concerned, but several others too who made the point to me that, even if what we'd said was right, we were talking about someone's livelihood. That's a point I take seriously.

    Pubs pay for the magazine, and if criticising one pub annoys several licensees, we may begin to lose advertisers, or pubs may be unwilling to take copies. The honourable way out is not to gloss over the failings we may see in a pub, but simply not to write about it at all. That isn't dishonest, but saying somewhere's great when it isn't to avoid offence is, and will only discredit you if people go there and find it's not as wonderful as you claimed.

  4. As you probably know, our local CAMRA magazine Opening Times has a regular monthly "Stagger" feature, in which a group of pubs in a particular locality are visited and reviewed.

    This is essentially a warts'n'all review but, since the dramatic contraction of cask availability in the early 90s,we have learned not to be *too* critical of cask-serving pubs.

    But friendly relationships with licensees is always a problem.


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