The Rail Holiday Maker
Transpennine Excess #1
I'm writing this chapter during lockdown due to the Covid-19 outbreak, missing travel and also the gentle pleasures of a traditional pub. Whilst many of us are discovering attractions and simple pastimes close to home, I thought I’d treat you to a virtual journey across the Pennines, with a couple of choice diversions, and some special resting places, should you have an hour or so between trains when things get up and running again.
Starting in Liverpool, if you were to have a little time on your hands, a walk down to the docks might bring you to the Baltic Fleet, a brewpub in a Grade II listed traditional building, clinging dearly to its heritage and shining with beauty amidst high-rise johnny-come-lately developments. Or, of course, there is the famous Phil, or the Philharmonic Dining Rooms, a Victorian gem named after the concert hall across the road, which lays claim to being Britain’s most ornate pub. But if you haven’t got much time between trains, the Grade II listed Crown Hotel just outside Lime Street Station ticks the boxes too for ornate interior, traditional exterior (with its Walkers Ales of Warrington sign) and a selection of good ales.
There are several options to connect Liverpool to Manchester, none of which are particularly fast, so I’m stepping onto the stopping train at Lime Street. The Liverpool & Manchester Railway opened in 1830, the world’s first inter-city service and the first to solely use steam locomotives. The opening of the railway was famously overshadowed by the death of Liverpool MP William Huskisson, who was run over by The Rocket in a bizarre accident.
There isn’t the greatest selection of watering holes around Piccadilly these days since it was regenerated. My tip would be to spend a bit longer in Manchester, hop out at Deansgate or Oxford Road and take in the traditional delights of the Peveril of the Peak or Briton’s Protection instead. I first went to the latter back in the 1990s when my friend’s band played upstairs. As memorable as they were, my abiding memory is of local media star and founder of Factory Records, Anthony H Wilson, swanning around the room with a much younger and more glamorous woman. They watched the absolutely godawful arty-farty support act, then left before my mate’s brilliant band, Hood, who were about to sign to a very famous independent label. Whilst Tony Wilson was responsible for bringing the world Joy Division, New Order and the Happy Mondays, this just about sums up some of the inconsistent signings he made for Factory, missing out on local bands like The Smiths!
The Briton’s Protection takes its name from a past as an army recruitment venue and is a Grade II listed building. What makes the pub most interesting, aside from its little snug rooms, choice of real ales and 200 whiskies, are the murals on the walls depicting the Peterloo Massacre, which took place on the adjacent St Peter’s Fields in 1819, a momentous and tragic day for Manchester that is barely commemorated anywhere else in the city. Whilst the Briton’s Protection isn’t per se a station pub, it is close to the Manchester Central Exhibition Centre, which uses the original building of the former station of the same name. The old station hotel, the fabulous Midland, still exists and is well worth a visit. And if you have a little more time you can even take a wander to the former Liverpool Road Station, former terminus since 1830 of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, the oldest surviving station building in the world, which now forms part of the Manchester Science Museum.
From Manchester Piccadilly let’s jump back on the Transpennine Express to the next stop, leaving the metropolitan sprawl for the Tameside satellite town of Stalybridge, where you don’t need to leave the station. The station’s original refreshment rooms, now called the Stalybridge Buffet Bar, dates from 1885 and is one of the few remaining Victorian station buffets left unscathed by time. Here you can settle by a roaring fire between trains, slurp a pint of their good selection of real ales and enjoy a hearty bite to eat, surrounded by railwayana and Victoriana befitting a museum, not to mention the original ceiling of the 1st Class Ladies’ Waiting Room.
Next stop Yorkshire!