At the beginning of this year, we decided to book a trip for our anniversary. Our criteria was that the place we picked had to have a train station and a brewery. We’d originally gone for Buxton but not one B&B would take single night stays during the weekend (ridiculous!), and instead decided to go to Ulverston in the south of Cumbria.
It’s a fairly small town and probably less on the tourist trail than other destinations within Cumbria, but it was a nice little place by the sea and for its size, there’s definitely decent amount of pubs in Ulverston.
It was a easy enough journey from Manchester (it’s on the Preston – Barrow train line so has a fairly frequent service) and after a stroll around the town, our first port of call was The Mill.
This is owned by Lancaster Brewery (we went on their tour earlier this year) and has a very distinctive feature – a moving waterwheel in the middle of the pub! Set within the very heart of the site, it really helps to keep the history of the building alive. We also heard a family come in and ask the manager some questions about the wheel and the building’s past so it seems it’s not just on show for the drinkers.
It also had a cute terrace, although it was a bit chilly to sit out there.
Beer-wise, there were a few handpumps – unsurprisingly, mainly serving Lancaster’s beers – so although it was a good pub to see, we decided to just stay for one as there wasn’t a plethora of options.
Our second stop off was Old Friends. We mainly popped in as it was on the way up to our accommodation (Candlewyck B&B, very cute place. excellent breakfast!) and we were their first customers of the day as it was just opening its doors as we wandered up.
It has everything a pub should have – good selection of beers including local options, plenty of seating across two rooms, board games, a beer garden and a cat – Max. The beers on while we were there included Hawkhead’s Lakeland Lager as well as options from Stringers in Ulverston and Barngates Brewery in Ambleside.
It looks to be a family-run establishment and we were warmly welcomed. It was very much a community pub with various events taking place – including a gig in the beer garden that afternoon – and on Sundays it also serves a roast, the only food it does.
After checking in to our accommodation, we had a stroll down the canal. As it’s next to the GlaxoSmithKline factory, it’s not the most picturesque waterway but it’s pleasant enough for a wander around and leads right down to the sea.
As we reached the coast, Ross said this would be a good place for a pub – and lo and behold, there was one! The Bay Horse faces across the bay, and is a freehouse so we were hoping for some local beer.
Unfortunately, the beer selection was just dull and uninspired – three handpumps with only two of them on, serving Jennings’ Cumberland Ale and a Help for Heroes special from Marston. As the inn had a significantly-sized restaurant and accommodation on site, I can’t help but thinking they should have put more effort into their beer choices to encourage people to stay.
Despite the disappointing beers, the pub itself was quite an appealing place with a traditional main bar with a large conservatory for dining offering views across the bay. The main bar area wasn’t particularly well laid out as if you stood at one section of the bar you were blocking the way to the toilets and the other section, where the handpumps were, had a table right in front of it which was occupied by a family.
Not somewhere worth making a special effort to go to (unless the food is good, we can’t vouch for that), but if you’re there anyway it’s OK.
We dined that evening at the Farmers Arms, which was recommended to us by our accommodation. A salmon-coloured building at the main square of the town, it served excellent food in huuuge portions. It did have some local ales on, but the bar was too busy to really check them out so I just went for the waitress’ recommendation – The Welly by Healeys which appears to be a local microbrewery within a pub but there’s not much info about them online.
Walking off our dinner, we headed on over to The Swan. This is slightly outside the town centre, but only a ten minute stroll away – but according to some of the locals we overheard it’s a considered quite a walk back to the main part of town.
It’s a very traditional style of pub and if you’re into cask ales, this is the place for you! With about ten handpumps on as well as a few beers on keg, it had plenty of choice although disappointingly the majority of the cask beers seemed to be by Moorhouses (nothing wrong with them, but we can get them easy enough in Manchester so I was looking for something more local).
But despite its decent range it was fairly quiet, even though it was Saturday evening. This is a shame because the sheer amount of beers on offer outnumbered anywhere else in the town. I notice it has no internet presence at all and does seem to be aimed squarely at locals so maybe some more promotion would encourage visitors to come and check it out.
View of Ulverston from The Swan
On the way back into the main town centre, our next stop was the Stan Laurel Inn. Named after Ulverston’s most famous son, it’s quite popular as a food establishment and was very family friendly with children welcomed even of an evening. There’s the main bar with a few cosy tables, a larger room out the back with a pool table and darts, and a restaurant area. There’s also a couple of seats outside but it’s not particularly inspiring (and it’s the staff car park) so it’s more for the smokers than for use as a beer garden.
It had six ales on offer, including My Home Town by Ulverston so it was good to try something by them.
Our penultimate port of call for the evening was The Devonshire Arms. It was about a five minute walk through a mainly residential area (and under a large railway bridge) to reach this little pub.
From the outside, it looks quite unassuming and gives no hint of the secret you find within…
And then when you enter, you’re hit by the decor – the whole inside of the pub is painted a rather distinctive/eye-catching/blinding/quirky/hideous/memorable/striking/obtrustive (choose your own adjective) shade of bright green!
But don’t hold that against it, it’s a very good pub and was one of the busiest non-food establishments we visited.
As for its beer offer, I was pleasantly surprised. Five cask ales, including three from Cumbrian Legendary Ales, were available as were some keg choices.
Despite the questionable decor (which to be honest, I stopped noticing pretty quickly), I enjoyed this quirky little place – how often do you spend any amount of time in a place completely painted lime green!
As it was getting on at this point we popped back to Old Friends for a few more and a game of Scrabble before calling it a night.
Ulverston may not be a huge town, but there are plenty of places where you can get a good pint which is probably as a result of its brewing heritage. During our stay, one place we couldn’t help but notice was the former Hartley’s Brewery.
Set just off one of the main roads into town, these historic buildings have just been left to decay.
There’s a plaque commemorating the site’s past (brewing started at the site in 1755, it became Hartley’s in 1919, then bought by Robinsons in 1982 and brewing was stopped just nine years later) and the old buildings still stand, along with a large Hartley’s ‘ghost’ sign. Apparently some parts of it are still in use, possibly as a distribution site for Robinsons. There’s some interesting images on urban exploration site 28 Days Later taken inside the site from a few years ago.
I did wonder how such a large site could be left as it is for so many years and what (if any) plans there are for it’s future, and it looks like sadly like it’s going to be wasted and turned into a bloody supermarket! I know I’m not a local and maybe there is support in the area for a Tesco or the like, but I find the whole ‘turn anything into a superstore’ mentality of most developers tiresome. Surely Robinsons could turn it into a visitor attraction like they’ve done at their site in Stockport, make it an arts centre like the former Tetley site in Leeds or just sell it to another brewery? To me a bland supermarket seems such a pointless use of a historic site and I do hope a better purpose is found for it.
Living in Manchester means we are spoiled for choice when it comes to beer and although Ulverston couldn’t compete on the same level, I was pleasantly surprised by the choice available and the number of good little pubs so the town is definitely worth a visit for beer lovers.