Wirral pubs, an occasional series…

Occasionally we have a wander around some of the pubs in Wirral – a pastime that yields very mixed results. I covered a visit to The Harp, at Little Neston, in Harping on…, and more recently we’ve visited the Dee View in Heswall, The Shippons in Irby, The Irby Mill, Greasby, and the Travellers’ Rest, Higher Bebington.

The Dee View is a pub regularly lauded by the local CAMRA branch. As I said in Harping on…, my idea of a good pub is one you drop into at any time and be sure of a good pint (a good pub must be reliable in other words), and on that count many CAMRA-recommended venues fail miserably. But I digress, the Dee View is, potentially, a very nice pub, but it seems to be stuck in a time-warp, and not in a good way. When smoking was allowed, first thing in the morning, pubs stank, and often they’d be sprayed with furniture polish both to kill the smell (never worked!), and give the impression the place had just been cleaned (ditto). It was a bad idea then, and I wasn’t thrilled to discover that it still happens at the Dee view, as we walked into a fog of Pledge.

It’s a nice, bright and airy, one-roomed pub – as far as I could see, I didn’t explore as I was more intent on buggering off – but the pint of Black Sheep bitter was absolute shite, warm, insipid and, of course, tasting strongly of bloody Pledge! I’d have given it back if the guy who served us had lingered, but he cleared off smartly and was never seen again – we had the place to ourselves. So, we drank up and cleared off as well, and just as we reached the door, a young woman popped up as if through a trap-door, and asked if we wanted any more beer. Resisting the urge to barf on the carpet, we declined. It’s worth pointing out that, due to its location, on a hairpin bend on a steepish hill, parking sucks (we were the only customers, yet the tiny car-park was almost full), and it wasn’t helped by some wazzock taking up three bays with a 4×4, and another bay occupied by an A-board advertising the pub’s attractions. Presumably this was intensely ironic.

The Shippons, though, is a whole different ball game, but it’s a pub operating so far below its potential it’s unbelievable. The beer, Thwaites, is generally in very good condition, but the place is let down by abysmal management and by staff who, on the whole, couldn’t give a shit. On our last visit the staff were all clustered in a corner of the bar (the customers’ side, that is), talking, smoking, having lunch, or maybe breakfast, and generally pissing about. It has to be said that we were the only customers for the first hour (and this is often the case), so why do the management bring all the staff in so early? Bring in two, one to run the bar, and one to get the kitchen operating, and bring in all the others at, say, 12.30 (and if it gets unexpectedly busy, well, the manager and his wife can get stuck in – it won’t kill them). I see no point in paying staff to sit around idly; in fact, in a pub or restaurant, if you have the time to sit, or stand, around, there’s always something that needs cleaning – there’s no excuse for doing nothing. No excuse for bloody smoking, either. If there is just one customer in a pub, the place for the bar staff is behind the bar, not off skulking somewhere they have to be winkled out of to serve; you’re in a service industry, people, so let’s have some bloody service! The Shippons, by the way, never features in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide, and it should, because the beer is almost always spot on and, if it’s not, there’s no hesitation in changing it, despite what you may read to the contrary at Beer in the Evening. I’ve never eaten there, the smells emanating from the kitchen being less than attractive (and why do the smells of food and burning pervade the bar – have they never heard of extractor fans?), and at Christmas the veg served with the Christmas lunches smelled more like a compost heap than food, yet people were shovelling it down as if they were starving!

The Irby Mill is about a mile from The Shippons. It does feature in the GBG – shame the entry is a couple of years out of date in the 2008 edition! This is a pub with a long-standing reputation for good beer, but I’m not convinced it’s still deserved, having changed hands several times in the last few years, to the overall detriment of the pub. On our last visit, a week ago, it had just been decorated and the whole place stank of paint. This did not improve the quality of the beer, which was so underwhelming I can’t even remember what we had. It’s changed hands yet again, and the new manager is intent on converting the back room (which represents at least 50% of the available space – it’s a small pub), into a restaurant. The excuse is that trade is slack. Trade everywhere is slack at this time of year, but at the Mill, in the summer, it is always full to overflowing with people mostly drinking, though, of course, the food trade also goes outdoors, during the day and through the long summer evenings. This summer, though, that’s not going to happen, as drinking capacity will be drastically reduced indoors, forcing everyone indoors into the tiny bar, so that anyone sitting outside and wanting a refill is going to be very hard pressed to even get to the bar. And as far as I can tell, based on what little information was available, no food will be available anywhere except the restaurant – very short-sighted. I have a horrible suspicion, given that there are already some excellent restaurants nearby, and they’ll lose the outdoor and bar food trade, that the Mill will be seeing yet another new manager fairly soon. I hope – this is a really crap plan. I’m also intrigued by the plans to rebuild and extend the pub to accommodate the grandiose plans – as far as I know, it’s a listed building. I’ve checked the council’s planning database, and no applications are shown from The Irby Mill – very odd.

And so we come to the Travellers’ Rest. This used to be a regular Saturday afternoon venue 7 or 8 years ago ( the constant hassle with taxis, and the smokiness of the place eventually proved too much), and we were very happy to see it hadn’t changed a great deal, except that it now focuses more on food than it did previously. The food looks pretty damn good, too, and it gets very busy (we left a virtually empty Shippons to come here – the trade is obviously there, the Shippons, through mismanagement, is missing out on it). We tried the Rhode Island Red bitter from the local Brimstage Brewery, and like other beers we’ve had from there, in other pubs, it was decidedly mediocre. The rest of the beers we tried were all in excellent condition, the only downside being that it’s now one of the most expensive pubs in the area, at £2.60 a pint for most of the range on offer. Oh yes, and they have absurdly high bar stools – we both have a touch of Duck’s Disease and we could have done with a box to stand on to get on the stools! Other than that minor hiccup, and a couple of twattish customers (there’s always at least one in any pub, it’s a universal law, like the one that says if there’s a drunken Scot on a train, he’ll sit next to you!), it was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and, next time we go, we must try the food. The Traveller’s is covered in slightly more detail here.

Note for southerners and foreigners – especially Americans, who are easily confused ;-)  Here in the North of England, Duck’s Disease means one’s arse is too close to the ground.

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