A guy I work with called Mark is a Manchester tour guide in his spare time. A couple of years back he and a friend decided to set up a new tour just north of the city, taking you on the mostly volunteer run steam trains between Bury, Ramsbottom and Rawtenstall.
It’s called the East Lancashire Rail Ale Trail and on Saturday we went on our own private tour, guided and led by Mark.
Essentially, you amble through the above towns via steam train, stopping at various pubs and breweries, with Mark chipping in occasionally to tell you about the history of rail, ale and the North. I had so much fun on this tour, I felt a bit like Miss Marple or Poirot at times, and it was really interesting to learn about the history of the trail.
My favourite info nugget of the day was the 1830 Beer Act. Mark told us the reason this act was introduced was to enable people to brew their own beer at home. Why did the government want people to drink more beer? To stop them from drinking so much gin, apparently it was a huge problem at the time. An interesting approach to tackling large scale alcoholism.
Now prepare yourself for lots of photos…
We had a pretty early start at Bury station, where Mark gave us a brief introduction and gave us an ale each for the first steam train trip.
Mark in his element above there, and below two men who appear to be from the past and are carrying adorable enamel tea flasks! Mark told us that there are around 600 volunteers who all contribute to the running of this steam train service. 600! I was very impressed.
Toby the pug joined us for the day and stayed on a steady cycle of boundless supplies of energy followed by complete exhaustion.
We had lunch at a place called Owens. It was at this point that I really felt like I was on some sort of staycation, a festive one too (sorry guys but I’m probably going to start from now with festive chatter, I love Christmas too much not to!).
We slowly ate our food and spent a lot of time talking about travel – one of the rail ale trail-ers had recently spent two weeks travelling the West coast of America.
After lunch it was onto Irwell Works Brewery. This was a great little place! I even had a nice chat with an old man at the bar about good places to eat in Manchester. He recommended I try This & That Cafe stating that their curry is ‘magnificent’.
Next up, my favourite photo of the day:
Just look at his weather pinched face! It’s a good job that the train was moving so slowly otherwise these photos wouldn’t have come out as well.
The next place we went to served a wide array of non-alcoholic drinks and sweet snacks. It is Britain’s last original temperance bar (and also goes by the same name). Frustratingly, they don’t have a website (I’ll be telling Mark to nudge them about this on Monday…), but you can find them at number 5 Bank Street in Rawtenstall – a short walk from the station.
They did the best milkshake I’ve ever seen – it comes with a donut sitting on top! I opted for ice cream, with cordial and a cookie, also a great choice.
Eventually we made our way back to Bury and spent a good hour in the warmth of a pub called The Clarence, followed by a trip to Spoons just next to the tram station.
I was, quite frankly, sozzled by the time we got back to Manchester. Thankfully my colleagues saw sense and went home, meaning that I did too!
You can find out more about East Lancs Rail Ale Trails on Twitter. I highly recommend it for folk who live in Manchester or who are just visiting!