Friday, September 22, 2017

Taking Stock of Stockport

I'd first read about the ale scene in Stockport in an article many years ago and made a point to visit as I wanted to see if a place I never would have associated with a diverse real ale scene really lived up to the hype. In the years since this article piqued my interest, I've learned a lot more about the place including it's history as the home of Robinson's renowned Unicorn Brewery. The time had finally come to me to pay the place a proper a visit and see what else I could uncover. I picked a surprisingly nice September Wednesday to make my way to Greater Manchester and what followed had been well worth the wait.

Stockport  is a large town in Greater Manchester, 7 miles (11 km) south-east of Manchester city centre, where the River Goyt and Tame merge to create the River Mersey. The town is the largest settlement in the metropolitan borough of the same name.
Historically, most of the town was in Cheshire, but the area to the north of the Mersey was in Lancashire. Stockport in the 16th century was a small town entirely on the south bank of the Mersey, and known for the cultivation of hemp and manufacture of rope. In the 18th century the town had one of the first mechanised silk factories in the British Isles. However, Stockport's predominant industries of the 19th century were the cotton and allied industries. Stockport was also at the centre of the country's hatting industry, which by 1884 was exporting more than six million hats a year; the last hat works in Stockport closed in 1997.
Dominating the western approaches to the town is the Stockport Viaduct. Built in 1840, the viaduct's 27 brick arches carry the mainline railways from Manchester to Birmingham and London over the River Mersey. This structure featured as the background in many paintings by L. S. Lowry.

Stockport was recorded as "Stokeport" in 1170. The currently accepted etymology is Old English port, a market place, with stoc, a hamlet (but more accurately a minor settlement within an estate); hence, a market place at a hamlet. Older derivations include stock, a stockaded place or castle, with port, a wood, hence a castle in a wood. The castle probably refers to Stockport Castle, a 12th-century motte-and-bailey first mentioned in 1173.
Other derivations are based on early variants such as Stopford and Stockford. There is evidence that a ford across the Mersey existed at the foot of Bridge Street Brow. Stopford retains a use in the adjectival form, Stopfordian, for Stockport-related items, and pupils of Stockport Grammar School style themselves Stopfordians. By contrast, former pupils of Stockport School are known as Old Stoconians. Stopfordian is used as the general term, or demonym used for people from Stockport, much as someone from London would be a Londoner.
Stockport has never been a sea or river port as the Mersey is not navigable here; in the centre of Stockport it has been culverted and the main shopping street, Merseyway, built above it.

The earliest evidence of human occupation in the wider area are microliths from the hunter-gatherers of the Mesolithic period (the Middle Stone Age, about 8000–3500 BC) and weapons and stone tools from the Neolithic period (the New Stone Age, 3500–2000 BC). Early Bronze Age (2000–1200 BC) remains include stone hammers, flint knives, palstaves (bronze axe heads), and funerary urns; all finds were chance discoveries, not the results of systematic searches of a known site. There is a gap in the age of finds between about 1200 BC and the start of the Roman period in about 70 AD, which may indicate depopulation, possibly due to a poorer climate.
Despite a strong local tradition, there is little evidence of a Roman military station at Stockport. It is assumed that roads from Cheadle to Ardotalia (Melandra) and Manchester to Buxton crossed close to the town centre. The preferred site is at a ford over the Mersey, known to be paved in the 18th century, but it has never been proved that this or any roads in the area are Roman. Hegginbotham reported (in 1892) the discovery of Roman mosaics at Castle Hill (around Stockport market) in the late 18th century, during the construction of a mill, but noted it was "founded on tradition only"; substantial stonework has never been dated by modern methods. However, Roman coins and pottery were probably found there during the 18th century. A cache of coins dating from 375–378 AD may have come from the banks of the Mersey at Daw Bank; these were possibly buried for safekeeping at the side of a road.
Six coins from the reigns of the Anglo-Saxon English Kings Edmund (reigned 939–946) and Eadred (reigned 946–955) were found during ploughing at Reddish Green in 1789. There are contrasting views about the significance of this; Arrowsmith takes this as evidence for the existence of a settlement at that time, but Morris states the find could be "an isolated incident". The small cache is the only Anglo-Saxon find in the area. However, the etymology Stoc-port suggests inhabitation during this period.

No part of Stockport appears in the Domesday Book of 1086. The area north of the Mersey was part of the hundred of Salford, which was poorly surveyed. The area south of the Mersey was part of the Hamestan hundred. Cheadle, Bramhall, Bredbury, and Romiley are mentioned, but these all lay just outside the town limits. The survey includes valuations of the Salford hundred as a whole and Cheadle for the times of Edward the Confessor, just before the Norman invasion of 1066, and the time of the survey. The reduction in value is taken as evidence of destruction by William the Conqueror's men in the campaigns generally known as the Harrying of the North. The omission of Stockport was once taken as evidence that destruction was so complete that a survey was not needed.
Arrowsmith argues from the etymology that Stockport may have still been a market place associated with a larger estate, and so would not be surveyed separately. The Anglo-Saxon landholders in the area were dispossessed and the land divided amongst the new Norman rulers. The first borough charter was granted in about 1220 and was the only basis for local government for six hundred years.
A castle held by Geoffrey de Costentin is recorded as a rebel stronghold against Henry II in 1173–1174 when his sons revolted. There is an incorrect local tradition that Geoffrey was the king's son, Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany, who was one of the rebels. Dent gives the size of the castle as about 31 by 60 m (102 by 197 ft), and suggests it was similar in pattern to those at Pontefract and Launceston. The castle was probably ruinous by the middle of the 16th century, and in 1642 it was agreed to demolish it. Castle Hill, possibly the motte, was levelled in 1775 to make space for Warren's mill, see below. Nearby walls, once thought to be either part of the castle or of the town walls, are now thought to be revetments to protect the cliff face from erosion.
The regicide John Bradshaw (1602–1659) was born at Wibersley, in the parish of Stockport, baptised in the parish church and attended Stockport Free School. A lawyer, he was appointed lord president of the high court of justice for the trial of King Charles I in 1649. Although he was dead by the time of the Restoration in 1660, his body was brought up from Westminster Abbey and hanged in its coffin at Tyburn.

Stockport bridge is documented as existing since at least 1282. During the English Civil War the town was supportive of Parliament and was garrisoned by local militias of around 3000 men commanded by Majors Mainwaring and Duckenfield. Prince Rupert advanced on the town on 25 May 1644, with 8-10,000 men and 50 guns, with a brief skirmish at the site of the bridge, in which Colonel Washington's Dragoons led the Royalist attack. Rupert continued his march via Manchester and Bolton to meet defeat at Marston Moor near York. Stockport bridge was pulled down in 1745 and trenches were additionally dug in the fords to try to stop the Jacobite army of Charles Edward Stuart as they marched through the town on the way to Derby. The vanguard was shot at by the town guard and a horse was killed. The army also passed through Stockport on their retreat back from Derby to Scotland.
One of the legends of the town is that of Cheshire farmer, Jonathan Thatcher, who, in a 1784 demonstration against taxation, avoided Pitt the Younger's saddle tax on horses by riding to market at Stockport on an ox. The incident is also celebrated in 'The Glass Umbrella' in St Petersgate Gardens, one of the works on Stockport's Arts Trail.

Hatmaking was established in north Cheshire and south-east Lancashire by the 16th century. From the 17th century Stockport became a centre for the hatting industry and later the silk industry. Stockport expanded rapidly during the Industrial Revolution, helped particularly by the growth of the cotton manufacturing industries. However, economic growth took its toll, and 19th century philosopher Friedrich Engels wrote in 1844 that Stockport was "renowned as one of the duskiest, smokiest holes in the whole of the industrial area".
Stockport was one of the prototype textile towns. In the early 18th century, England was not capable of producing silk of sufficient quality to be used as the warp in woven fabrics. Suitable thread had to be imported from Italy, where it was spun on water-powered machinery. In about 1717 John Lombe travelled to Italy and copied the design of the machinery. On his return he obtained a patent on the design, and went into production in Derby. When Lombe tried to renew his patent in 1732, silk spinners from towns including Manchester, Macclesfield, Leek, and Stockport successfully petitioned parliament to not renew the patent. Lombe was paid off, and in 1732 Stockport's first silk mill (indeed, the first water-powered textile mill in the north-west of England) was opened on a bend in the Mersey. Further mills were opened on local brooks.
Silk weaving expanded until in 1769 two thousand people were employed in the industry. By 1772 the boom had turned to bust, possibly due to cheaper foreign imports; by the late 1770s trade had recovered. The cycle of boom and bust would continue throughout the textile era.
The combination of a good water power site (described by Rodgers as "by far the finest of any site within the lowland" [of the Manchester region]]) and a workforce used to textile factory work meant Stockport was well placed to take advantage of the phenomenal expansion in cotton processing in the late 18th century. Warren's mill in the market place was the first. Power came from an undershot water wheel in a deep pit, fed by a tunnel from the River Goyt. The positioning on high ground, unusual for a water powered mill, contributed to an early demise, but the concept of moving water around in tunnels proved successful, and several tunnels were driven under the town from the Goyt to power mills. In 1796, James Harrisson drove a wide cut from the Tame which fed several mills in the Park, Portwood. Other water-powered mills were built on the Mersey.
The town was connected to the national canal network by the 5 miles (8.0 km) of the Stockport branch of the Ashton Canal opened in 1797 which continued in use until the 1930s. Much of it is now filled in, but there is an active campaign to re-open it for leisure uses.
In the early 19th century, the number of hatters in the area began to increase, and a reputation for quality work was created. The London firm of Miller Christy bought out a local firm in 1826, a move described by Arrowsmith as a "watershed". By the latter part of the century hatting had changed from a manual to a mechanised process, and was one of Stockport's primary employers; the area, with nearby Denton, was the leading national centre. Support industries, such as blockmaking, trimmings, and leatherware, became established. Stockport Armoury was completed in 1862.
The First World War cut off overseas markets, which established local industries and eroded Stockport's eminence. Even so, in 1932 more than 3000 people worked in the hatting industry, making it the third biggest employer after textiles and engineering. The depression of the 1930s and changes in fashion greatly reduced the demand for hats, and the demand that existed was met by cheaper wool products made elsewhere, for example the Luton area.
In 1966, the largest of the region's remaining felt hat manufacturers, Battersby & Co, T & W Lees, J. Moores & Sons, and Joseph Wilson & Sons, merged with Christy & Co to form Associated British Hat Manufacturers, leaving Christy's and Wilson's (at Denton) as the last two factories in production. The Wilson's factory closed in 1980, followed by the Christy's factory in 1997, bringing to an end over 400 years of hatting in the area. The industry is commemorated by the UK's only dedicated hatting museum, Hat Works.

Since the start of the 20th century Stockport has moved away from being a town dependent on cotton and its allied industries to one with a varied base. It makes the most of its varied heritage attractions, including a national museum of hatting, a unique system of underground Second World War air raid tunnel shelters in the town centre, and a late medieval merchants' house on the 700-year-old Market Place. In 1967, the Stockport air disaster occurred, when a British Midland Airways C-4 Argonaut aeroplane crashed in the Hopes Carr area of the town, resulting in 72 deaths among the passengers and crew.
Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council has embarked on an ambitious regeneration scheme, known as Future Stockport. The plan is to bring more than 3000 residents into the centre of the town, and revitalise its residential property and retail markets in a similar fashion to the nearby city of Manchester. Many ex-industrial areas around the town's core will be brought back into productive use as mixed-use residential and commercial developments. Property development company FreshStart Living has been involved in redeveloping a former mill building in the town centre, St Thomas Place. The company plan to transform the mill into 51 residential apartments as part of the regeneration of Stockport.

I arrived in the town in early afternoon after a very scenic journey through some picturesque countryside. Getting my bearings from the station I began to make my way to my first destination which was a few minutes walk away from the railway station area. Making my way up Wellington Road South, I made my way through some back streets before I arrived onto Middle Hillgate where my first stop was located. My journey through Stockport would begin at the Sun & Castle.

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This is a good example of the traditional style of décor favoured by Holt's, the current owners. A long vault, a large lounge and snug, an attractive bar and an excellent use of mirrors and dark wood both on the walls and around the bar, contribute to this being a very clean and well-upholstered premises. There are two entrances, although the pool room cum vault is only accessible via the corridor that leads to the gents toilet. The pub was previously a Tetley's owned property for many years, several of which meant an absence of cask ale. Holts are responsible for replacing most of the inter-war fittings with a mock Victorian interior, including a spectacular 1890s bar back. The current arrangement certainly fits this building well. The traditional pub feel is carried off with lots of dark wood and red, brown and cream fixtures and fittings. The right hand side, where I enter, has a cosy lounge and behind that, a bigger rambling room complete with a small stage. The left hand side boasts the spacious and well used vault. The pub has been run on and off by the same married couple since 2000 with Ronnie having 30 years experience at several nearby pubs and husband Harry looking after the cellar to such good effect that he's been entered into Holts' Best Kept Cellar competition this year. This is an impressive looking and comfortable feeling pub and a good place to start the day. There are 2 handpumps on the bar, one of which is in use offering Holt's Bitter. I opted for this as my opening beverage. At 4%, this is a copper-coloured beer with malt and hops in the aroma, malt, hops and fruit in the taste and a bitter and hoppy finish. I took a stool at the impressive bar where the beer went down a treat and the barman engaged me in conversation about the upcoming ale trail and their quantity of bottled beers, all from the Holts range and all very cheap (as was the draught it has to be said). Stockport had started off well after one pub and the second was just down the hill.

My attention now turned to the Red Bull.

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This is an imposing pub with a white exterior and well-worn front steps providing access to the building. It has long been popular with locals as well as being a favourite on the so-called 'Hillgate Stagger'. This is a Good Beer Guide listed Robinson's pub which underwent a substantial refurbishment in 2008 meaning that the formerly outside toilets became a thing of the past. The few concessions that have been paid to twenty-first century trends have done nothing to detract from the building's feel of a proper pub. There has been an extension into the adjacent building on the left that has allowed for a more significant eating area. The entrance leads to a long corridor that comes out in the central area in front of the bar. This is one of 6 different areas, some of which have signs such as 'The Old Cottage', 'The Snug' and 'The Courtyard'. Various kinds of seating is available throughout with pictures of old Stockport and rural scenes adorning the walls and a TV screen to the right of the bar. The bar itself features 5 handpulls, 4 of which are in use, all offering, unsurprisingly, beers from the Robinson's range. My choice is between Unicorn, Trooper, Dizzy Blonde and Wizard. I opted for the Unicorn (4.2%), an amber beer with a fruity aroma. The taste is of malt and hops with a dash of fruit leading into a bitter, malty finish. I took a seat at a high round table underneath the aforementioned TV and took in my surroundings. There is a very higgledy-piggledy layout here with lots of rooms off of the central area which is raised slightly above the adjacent dining area and a separate snug area to the right. The beer is excellent and as well-kept as you'd expect it to be in a flagship Robinson's house.

I had a bit more of a walk to reach my next stop. Heading down the hill and past the famous Robinson's brewery, I took a right and climbed a suspiciously steep alleyway that leads up to St. Mary's Church and, exactly opposite, The Cocked Hat.

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Previously known as the Pack Horse, this Good Beer Guide listed pub reopened in September 2013 following a redecoration and a name change along with a change of management. Now owned by Chester-based AtWill Pubs, the Cocked Hat is located just behind Stockport's famous indoor market with its front door facing the main entrance of St. Mary's church, the churchyard of which was used as a filming location in A Taste of Honey. The entire AtWill estate is up for sale as of September of this year so the future here may change but fingers crossed that a buyer can be found who plans to keep the pub's values the same. To the left of the entrance is the bar and a standing drinking area and to the right is a large room, previously two, where plenty of seating is available. Many old photos of Stockport and its market adorn the walls throughout. The bar features 6 handpulls, offering an interesting choice of beers usually from breweries within 30 miles of Chester. Available during my visit are Moorhouse's Black Cat, Salopian Oracle, Moorhouse's Pride of Pendle, Cross Bay Little Nipper IPA, Dunscar Sessh! and Dunscar Gold. I had a few minutes to decide here as the barmaid was elsewhere. I eventually decided on the Pride of Pendle (4.1%), a beer I've previously had in a bottle but never on draught. It proved to be a good choice, a well-balanced best bitter with fresh, initial hoppiness and a mellow, malt-driven body. I sat in the large seating area to the right hand side as I enjoyed this beer which definitely benefits from not being bottled. I hope to see this on draught more often elsewhere.

From here, I headed down the road towards the indoor market before turning right where my next location is next door to a supermarket car park. This is the renowned and Good Beer Guide listed Arden Arms.
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Former Stockport CAMRA branch pub of the year in 2009, this Grade II listed building is featured on CAMRA's National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors. Amongst its distinctive features are a curved, glazed bar, a hidden snug that is accessed by going through the bar itself (believed to be one of only 4 such snugs in the UK), chandeliers and a grandfather clock, giving the pub a Victorian ambience. The pub is conveniently close to the market and Peel Street shops. The cellar retains body niches in the walls, testament to the building's former use as a mortuary. A recently added smoking lounge and a courtyard which hosts live music also provides view of the old stables and outbuildings. It's a wonderful reminder of a bygone era, emphasised by the ghost of a young boy that has been sighted on the premises, believed to have died falling from a tree when an orchard stood nearby. In February 2017, a blue plaque was attached to the outside of the building to honour Elizabeth Raffald: her nephew built the Arden Arms and she is buried in the nearby churchyard. She was known as a tremendous innovator and produced the first town directory for Manchester and Salford in 1772, amongst other things. I was already overwhelmed by this place before I'd even got to the beer. 6 handpumps feature here, unusually positioned on the back bar with the taps facing the customer, offering beers from the Robinson's range, on this occasion Double Hop, Wizard, Unicorn, Trooper, Dizzy Blonde and Yippee IPA. I decided on the Yippee IPA (4.2%), an American style IPA brewed with a heady mix of Nelson Sauvin and Galena hops. It has an intense hop character and a hint of citrus zestiness and it's very very nice indeed!

It was a real shame to have to leave the Arden Arms. It had been the standout pub so far but I had many more to visit and the day was still relatively young. My next stop wasn't far away. Just around the corner is the Boars Head.

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Yet another Good Beer Guide listed premises in the vicinity, this is a multi-roomed pub with a cosy, town-centre feel. Owned by Samuel Smith, a fair amount of money and time was spent some years ago to restore the pub to how it may once have looked. The front room is divided into a sparsely furnished public lounge on the right and a more substantial, comfortably furnished room to the left. Cushioned pews, high-back chairs and stools fit out the latter. A second lounge, previously a music room, is to the rear with a decked, outside area leading off. The Boars Head tends to attract a mature clientele as evidenced by the fact that I'm roughly 20 years younger than the next youngest person in the building, which seems surprisingly busy in comparison to the other pubs I've visited so far. One beer was available on hand pump, Samuel Smith Old Brewery Bitter, spread over all 4 of the bars handpulls. This is a full-bodied, malty, toffee-ish tasting beer with a creamy character and lots of flavour for an ABV of 4%. This was a nice reminder of a brewery that often gets overlooked and also a reminder that not all beer is priced over the odds!

My next stop was just opposite. Another entry in the Good Beer Guide, next up was the Bakers Vaults.
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This Grade II listed building, originally known as the George & Dragon, was built around 1775 on the foundations of the old Stockport Castle. Demolished in the late 19th century, it was renamed the Bakers Vaults and rebuilt in the style of a 'gin palace'. The current style is the result of a reinvigoration in 2014 by a trio who are renowned for their work in the pub trade across Greater Manchester. The layout is that of a large, single room with a bohemian feel and impressive architecture, including high ceilings, feature arch windows, and the grey and dark blue colour scheme. The central, island bar is towards the back of the building, adding to the sense of space. Behind this bar is a small, lounge-type area with low leather sofas. This is a Robinson's house but one of the few that offers guest beers, supplied through Titanic Brewery in Burslem. 9 of the 10 handpulls are in use during my visit with one bank strictly Robinson's (Double Hop, Dizzy Blonde, Trooper, Wizard and Unicorn) and the others given over to guests, namely Titanic Plum Porter, Hop Back Hallertau Blanc, Titanic Stout Stout and Old Rosie cider. I'd never tried the Hallertau Blanc so this seemed like a good option. This is an August seasonal from Salisbury-based Hop Back brewery. It's brewed with a new German hop variety which has a bouquet of tropical fruit and flinty grapefruit on the palate which gives a complex structure with an underpinning of English bittering hops. It's only 4.2% as well which makes it very drinkable and refreshing. This is certainly a spacious and impressive building but also a very comfortable one. It also has a dark side. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the age of the building, ghostly activity has been reported in both the cellar area and the adjacent corridors. The origins of this activity are unknown but it continues to this day.

The next stop is a newcomer on Stockport's real ale scene, having opened just less than a year ago. Soon celebrating it's first anniversary, I was now at The Petersgate Tap.

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Run by an enthusiastic father and son, the pub opened in September 2016 in a former betting shop premises. The pub is based over two floors with downstairs having a fairly modern style and continental feel. Recycled, solid oak-topped tables and a mix of seating sit under posters and breweriana that adorn the walls. In addition to 6 handpumps, the bar also boasts four keg fonts, a cider fridge and a variety of specialist gins, as well as a good choice of red and white wines. The upstairs function room has a capacity of 60 and is ideal for meetings and parties and even has a small stage at one end. A monthly poetry and prose night takes place on the first Wednesday of the month. Of the aforementioned 6 handpumps, 5 of them are in use during my visit offering Hawkshead Windermere Pale, Lancaster Admiral Archer, Deva Oatimus Prime, Shiny Huell Melon and North Riding Tiramisu Porter. The name alone was enough to draw me to the Oatimus Prime (4.2%), an oatmeal pale ale from Deva Brewery, based near Chester. This is a very sessionable pale ale with a plethora of juicy tropical hop notes, balanced with a rich, full malt profile and a very creamy head due to the use of flaked oats instead of torrefied wheat in the brew. It's an uppercut of juicy hops and an absolute belter of a beer to go very well with the pub as a whole, which started playing Fear of the Dark by Iron Maiden, as if the day couldn't get any better. This pub deserves to do very well indeed and I'm confident that will become a staunch member of the local ale scene for many years to come.

More walking was to come now as I made my way towards the Merseyway shopping precinct where the next pub is located amongst the shops. Another entrant in the Good Beer Guide, it was time to visit the Swan With Two Necks.
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This is a narrow-fronted property with a mock Tudor façade that was thankfully saved from a failed shopping scheme and then rejuvenated in 2008. It is impressively panelled throughout in light oak to a familiar Robinsons style with labelled doors to match. From the door, there is a vault, then a bustling bar corridor, a cosy, button-back seating snug with a feature skylight and the rear a further small lounge-cum-diner. The bar is small and serves both the corridor and the vault, boasting 5 handpulls, 4 of which are in use, featuring Robinson's Unicorn and Old Tom as well as Old Rosie and Rosie's Pig for the cider drinkers. It was about time for something stronger so Old Tom was to be my drink of choice. At a whopping 8.5%, this is a full-bodied, dark beer with malt, fruit and chocolate on the aroma. There is a complex range of flavours that includes dark chocolate, full maltiness, port and fruits, leading to a long, bittersweet aftertaste. This is a monster of a dark beer that ticks all of the boxes and I thoroughly enjoyed it sat in a comfortable snug with a view out into the corridor. I'd decided by this point that I've become a big fan of Robinson's pubs and there are still a couple more to come on what was becoming a highly successful trip.

I left the shopping precinct now and made my to Wellington Road North, the northern extension of where I'd initially begun my journey. The next trio of pubs are all in close proximity and the first of these was The Railway.

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Confusingly, there are two pubs in Stockport called The Railway and both make an appearance in the Good Beer Guide. This particular one features two front rooms, both of which are tidily decorated with a central bar between them that serves both sides. The left hand room, where I enter, has a feature fireplace and photos of old Stockport whilst the right hand room is more contemporary in feel with a raised stage area and a TV projector. There is a games room to rear with a pool table and a leather sofa. There is also an upstairs function room available to hire. A successful CAMRA campaign is responsible for the pub's conversion to real ale and it was branch pub of the year in 2010. 4 of the 5 handpulls are available on the day, featuring Holt's Bitter, Dancing Duck Nice Weather, Nottingham Legend and Nottingham EPA. I went for the Nice Weather which was in excellent condition. I enjoyed this in the more modern of the rooms where a small handful of regulars were enjoying Sky Sports News with sound on the large projector screen.

The next location on the day's itinerary stood almost opposite The Railway. In the shadow of the famous viaduct which is impressive at any time of day, is The Magnet.

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Named for the shape of the giant arches on the nearby viaduct, the Magnet was rescued from failure a few years and within 22 months had been completely rejuvenated, to the extent that it won CAMRA Regional and Branch Pub of the Year in both 2011 and 2015. Unsurprisingly, the pub is GBG listed. This is a family-run establishment that focuses on quality and choice. To the left is a bustling vault which leads down to a lower pool room where the in-house micro-brewery (opened in 2014) can be viewed. To the right are a series of rooms separated by arched doorways. An extensive outdoor area, part-covered and part-open allows drinkers views of the magnificent viaduct. The upstairs beer terrace and function room are well used and popular as are Monday cheese nights. Live music sessions take place on the first Friday evening of the month. 14 handpulls are on the bar, arranged in banks of 2, with 11 of these in use whilst I'm there. The choice is extensive featuring, Neptune Tamesis, Track Sonoma, Dent T'owd Tup, Tickety Brew NZ Gold, Dent Baas & Stripes, Tiny Rebel Cwtch, Saltaire Decennium, Furnace Milk Stout, Durham White Gold and Salopian Oracle. After a moment of indecision, I eventually plumped for the Decennium from Shipley-based Saltaire. Brewed to celebrate 10 years of brewing success at Saltaire, this is a pale ale brewed with 10 hops to provide a massive amount of zest. At 4.6%, this is a cracking mid-strength pale!

I had 2 pubs left to go, both of them Robinson's houses and the first of these was just down the hill from The Magnet, once again in the significant shadow of the viaduct. The penultimate stop of this fantastic trip was The Pineapple.
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This is an unusual little place. Despite sitting a stone's throw from the busy A6, it feels as if it should be tucked away into a quiet area of town. The two rooms to the front of the pub have been opened out but are clearly separate and the walls are decorated with plates brought back from foreign lands by regulars as gifts for the licensee who has been here for a long time. Down a short flight of steps to the rear is a more basic games room with an array of trophies with the entrance to the smoking area leading off. The building itself was originally a coaching house prior to conversion to a pub in the early 20th century, at which time it was the headquarters of the local botanical society. I was confused by this pub. I entered to silence and only ambient lighting and wasn't sure initially if the pub was open. The landlord quickly appeared though and I wandered to the small bar tucked into one corner. 2 of the 4 handpulls were in use, offering Unicorn and this was in excellent condition as you'd expect from yet another GBG listed property. No sooner had I paid for my drink, then the landlord disappeared into the back and I was left to enjoy the atmosphere of this warm and cosy little place with only the sound of the ticking clock on the wall for company. I can imagine that this place does very well of an evening, as a distraction from the busy world outside.

It was almost time for me to depart. Before that though, I had time for one more stop. Heading back in the general direction of the station, I located my final destination, at a busy road junction on the edge of the Edgeley district. Last up for this week: The Armoury.

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This Victorian pub is named for the adjacent Army Reserves Centre and the Mortar Battalion of the Mercian Regiment. It remains largely intact since a 1920s refit and still boasts original fittings and evidence of the original Bell's Brewery ownership in the interior glasswork. There is a bright lounge, a drinking lobby with its own bar counter, a darts room at the back and an excellent traditional vault that is up there with the rest in town. A cask of the formidable Old Tom is often visible on the bar counter. Memorabilia of the Cheshire Regiment adorns the walls. A secluded beer garden is located at the rear. The pub has a strong link to the local community and a mature clientele is in very close to Edgeley Park, home of Stockport County FC. Occasional live music nights are held in the upstairs room. The pub is Good Beer Guide listed and was Branch Pub of the Year runner up in 2007. This is a welcome smack in the face to those who say that pubs like this do not survive. The 4 handpulls inside feature beers from Robinson's, specifically Dizzy Blonde, Yippee IPA and doubled up Unicorn. I went for the Dizzy Blonde to end the day and this was a good choice. This is a straw-coloured summer ale with a distinctive hop aroma. It is a light and refreshing beer with a clean and zesty palate, dominated by hops and complemented by a crisp, dry finish. It's an excellent way to end what has been a fantastic day.

Prior to my arrival, I was apprehensive that what I'd read about Stockport wouldn't reflect reality or that things had declined since that article was written. I was very pleased to learn that, not only was this not the case, but the real ale is amongst one of the best I've seen for a while. As well as the considerable presence of Robinson's and their excellent range of beers, there are plenty more pubs and breweries doing a great job to promote and maintain real ale in this particular area of Greater Manchester. Whilst it may not be a place that automatically triggers thoughts of real ale and cracking pubs, it has both, in absolute shedloads.