Country pubs have always been a part of British culture. There are some fantastic examples in and around Manchester. But the village local is steadily on the decline as more and more close thanks to increasing competition from larger chains and people spending more time entertaining themselves at home.
We need to support these pubs and secure their place in our communities. And we need to get out more and enjoy the glorious green spaces right on our doorstep.
We’ve searched high and low, far and wide, to find these locals that are really pushing the boat out and serving up the best in traditional British fodder. These beauties have menus featuring all of your favourite classics, seasonal local produce, some with quirkier twists, others to suit the whole family, and even fine dining for those special occasions.
Our Good Grub Pub Guide’s got the lot. And they’re all within an hour of Manchester city centre. So what are you waiting for?
Best all-rounder: The Old Hall Inn, Chinley
With its breathtaking scenery, Chinley and the surrounding area in the High Peak is a popular destination for walkers. The Old Hall Inn dates back to the 1300’s but has managed to retain its charm whilst still feeling modern and fresh. The Inn incorporates the old Elizabethan manor house, Whitehough Hall. Together with jointly-owned The Paper Mill Inn next door, there are eleven rooms and cottages, plus a massive garden for all the locals and guests who frequently visit. The Beer and Cider Festival every September sees over 7,000 visitors descending on the village over the weekend.
Menus change daily and are compiled by a team of chefs with locally sourced produce and meat from the head chef’s farm in King Sterndale. We especially enjoyed the hogget from said farm, homemade pork and beef sausages, plus a cheeky chicken kiev. As well as eight rotating cask ales, there are unusual and plenty of wines by the glass, as well as friendly and knowledgeable staff.
Best local: Hare & Hounds, Mill Brow
Set in picturesque Mill Brow, the Hare & Hounds is a great pit-stop whilst out walking. It’s a beautiful old little pub, both quirky and comfy with mismatched furniture positioned haphazardly throughout. Walkers, families with kids, four-legged friends – you’ll find them all, relaxed, chatting away to owner Guy and his friendly team. The kitchen has been run by head chef Ryan Oliver for the last ten years now – no easy feat keeping decent staff for this length of time in this industry. Hence the offer is consistent but constantly evolving. The complimentary amuse bouche soup in a teacup is a welcome touch, with some fantastic starters on our visit including panko cod cheeks and potted crab & smoked trout. Decent wine list too.
Best food: The White Hart Inn, Lydgate
The small village of Lydgate stands on the edge of the Pennines with magnificent views towards Manchester. You will find The White Hart Inn at the very top of the hill, directly opposite St. Anne’s Church and only a short walk from Greenfield station. The original inn was built in 1788 and is steeped in history, having been a police station, a schoolhouse, a weaver’s cottage, and a look-out point in the Second World War. Current owner Charles Brierley brought in the talents of locally-born head chef Mike Shaw ten years ago. The rest is history. Well-travelled and well-trained (under the likes of Raymond Blanc, Richard Neat, and Gordon Ramsay), Mike’s menu offers the very best of seasonal British cooking and the produce really shines. Every dish we tried was faultless, including lamb belly with wild garlic and broad beans, and champagne jelly with berries and clotted cream. You will struggle to find this level of food in most restaurants, and at this price it’s beyond good value.
Best for a natter: The Church Green, Lymm
Meaning ‘place of running water’, Lymm certainly has its share of water features with both the Bridgewater and Manchester Ship Canals passing through this conservation area plus Lymm Dam lake and its surrounding woodland offering fine days out for walkers, cyclists and anglers. Owned and run by chef Aiden Byrne and wife Sarah, The Church Green stands next to St Mary’s Church overlooking the Dam. It’s as far removed from this famous chef’s more notorious celebrity hang-outs as you can imagine. The space is light, airy, and relaxed – with staff to match. In fact plain down-to-earth and exactly as a local should be. You’ll find yourself chattering away and whiling away the entire afternoon. But the food can’t disguise this owner’s calibre. Possibly the best pie on earth – on our visit in the form of ox cheek, Guinness and mushroom – and a brilliant kedgeree scotch egg. All classics, but at their best – and fantastically priced.
Best fine-dining: The Freemasons at Wisell
OK so this one is slightly further afield – in the heart of the Ribble Valley – but it’s well worth the trip. Green and flowery Wiswell is what we imagine the rest of the world thinks the whole of England looks like. The Freemasons is the only public building in the entire village and there’s not even a corner shop. It’s notched up a host of awards under the ownership of chef/proprietor Steven Smith, including Best Food Pub at The Great British Pub Awards 2016 and AA Restaurant of the Year for England 2017-2018. And deservedly so, because the food is phenomenal. Risotto of pearl barley with roast lamb sweetbreads, and a thoroughly theatrical Amalfi lemon meringue pie inspired by Wiswell Moor. But this comes at a price, so maybe save this one for special occasions.
Best seafood: The Bull’s Head, Mobberley
In this affluent and much sought after part of Cheshire think Real Housewives, WAGs, golf courses and four by fours – you’ll find The Bull’s Head. It’s the birthplace of UMBRO – or rather Harold Charles Humphrey and brother Wallace, who began their little sportswear brand Humphrey Brothers Ltd (shortened to UMBRO on all merchandise) from a cupboard in what was then their parents’ hotel. The pub’s current owners, Cheshire Cat Pubs and Bars, own a number of establishments in the area, including The Roebuck Inn opposite, but there’s no whiff of a chain. The pub has one of the biggest beer gardens we’ve seen, and the interior is eclectic and quirky – as is the menu. We enjoyed Frank’s famous little sticky onion porkies, but even more so the seafood, especially the fantastically fresh scampi. Friendly staff and dog-friendly too.
Best community pub: Eagle & Child Inn, Ramsbottom
Ramsbottom. Home of egg rolling, black pudding throwing, steam trains, and Chocolate Festivals. Also home to the Eagle & Child Inn. This part modern/ part traditional pub with owl-themed rooms has been impressively renovated over the last seven years by owner Glen Duckett. Its Incredible Edible Beer Garden spearheads a social enterprise scheme inspiring young adults from the local community to get involved with growing, cooking, and eating fresh produce. The garden also supplies the kitchen where staff are trained alongside these horticultural students on their own youth training project for unemployed 16-24 year olds. They produce dishes like Goosnargh sesame duck breast with Albert Matthews smoked bacon, quinoa and caramelised chicory. The chocolate truffle torte would go down well at that festival of theirs.
Best looking: Oddfellows Arms, Mellor
Every first Sunday in May, the Mellor March attracts over 500 ramblers who congregate in the village to walk 12 miles to raise money for some good causes whilst taking in the glorious scenery and some much needed refreshment. We ended up here, at the Oddfellows Arms or the Oddies as it is known to the locals, for our final stop of the day.
And it’s a real beauty. Set amongst a row of old cottages, with a walled and very sociable front garden, it feels like a proper traditional local. Yet it’s not dark or dingy at all. In fact, the whole place is light, airy, but still somehow cosy, with flagstone floors and log burners. A mostly classic menu of whitebait, steak & kidney and sticky toffee puddings and the like.
Best for all the family: The Bird at Birtle
In the Cheesden Valley, somewhere between Rochdale and Bury, is the hamlet of Birtle. Or Bircle as it was once previously known to locals, including one of the most famous landladies in the land – Bet Lynch from Corrie. Yes, Julie Goodyear was born in these very parts where lies The Bird at Birtle. And by ‘eck chuck, it’s a good-looking beast.
A magnificent piece of architectural genius comprising yellow West Pennine stone at the front in stark contrast to the modern top-to-bottom glass façade at the back. Owned by renowned chef Andrew Nutter and family, it actually caters brilliantly for just that: families. Seasonality and great produce are in abundance on a menu that caters for all ages, with an especially memorable roast sirloin of beef and well-considered wine list featuring some lesser known grapes.
Best for everyday: The Ship Inn, Styal
Styal is a leafy village on the River Bollin near Wilmslow, best known for Her Majesty’s Styal Prison and Quarry Bank Mill. Hopefully you’ll be visiting the latter of the two before stopping off at The Ship Inn. The Ship Inn dates back over 350 years when the building was known as the ‘shippon’ and used to store manure for the local farm. The building today retains much of its original structure and is a maze of different rooms, nooks and crannies to lose yourself in. With not a whiff of the stuff it used to store. The place bursts with customers eating pub classics with some quirky twists like pickled cockles and clams, Fat Dick’s asparagus, Cheshire cheese pie, and rarebit fondue with Marmite soldiers. You’ll either love it or hate it. The Marmite, that is. As for this place, it’s accessible, affordable, relaxed and fun. It has something for everyone.