A Storm in a Gravy Boat

As soon as the fixtures came out last summer I booked my weekend away in Cleethorpes.  Being a sandgrownun myself – having been brought up half a mile from the sea in Blackpool – I enjoy opportunities to visit seaside resorts to see how they compare to my hometown.  Clee was not to disappoint…

Despite there being a puddle of ducks adjacent to the ‘Welcome to Lincolnshire’ sign, I arrived in Clee to glorious sunshine.  Having been less excited than usual on my recent trip to a gloomy Sheffield in the week, I began to wonder how much of an impact the weather has on impressions people have of places (although having to sit in a Thornbridge pub and drink soft drinks might have gone some way to dampening my spirits in Sheffield).  Whatever the reason, I was certainly viewing Clee in a more than favourable light through my sunglasses.

On the way in we had passed signs for the ‘Town of Great Grimsby’ (hmm) and the ‘Town and Resort of Cleethorpes – Twinned with Königswinter’.  Now I’ve just looked up this twin town and it has a Haribo factory and a Dragon Cave:

“A semi-dark corridor leads visitors to a greenish shimmering pond, where a mossy, 13m long dragon is. Siegfried has him here, according to legend, defeated and immortalized by the bathroom in the dragon’s blood.” (http://nibelungenhalle.de). 

I checked into my hotel and immediately changed to accommodate the weather – sensible shoes for lots of walking, hair up to save me from melting and coat thrust aside!  I had noticed on my way into Clee that everybody appeared to be wearing too many clothes for the prevailing weather conditions – not for me that! 

A quick scan of my room revealed that the promised hairdryer was missing, so I headed down to the bar (I was staying above a pub) to remedy the situation.  Whilst waiting a little impatiently and singing along to Bros, I overheard the barman remark that he was wearing two t-shirts and two pairs of trousers.  Whilst I am sometimes guilty of exercising Northern caution when it comes to ‘ne’er casting a clout til May be out’, I felt this was somewhat extreme.  I finally got someone’s attention.

“There’s no hairdryer in my room.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’ve looked in all the drawers and cupboards.  I’ve found two heaters, two fans, a shower head and some bridal flowers, but no hairdryer.”

“Bridal flowers?”

“Yes bridal flowers – but no hairdryer.”

“Do you mind if I just check…”

After some faffing (resulting in a hairdryer turning up later, I’m sure you’re relieved to hear), armed with a map of all the resort’s important landmarks (pubs and chippy), I headed out on an exploratory mission.  To say I was excited about this would be an understatement.  

I soon happened across a delightful little boating lake.  I paused here a moment on a very comfy bench to enjoy the serenity.  There was a little shop selling buckets and spades – and also duck food for 50p (because it’s not ok to feed your stale crusts to the ducks these days – not that I had any on me anyway).

My first port of call was to be the Signal Box Inn, advertised as ‘The Smallest Pub on the Planet’, situated at the Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway station.  This was indeed a very small hostelry at 8’ x 8’ (including the bar) – and on my arrival there was a queue outside the door for service, as well as a busy beer garden, with drinkers basking in the seaside sunshine.  I joined them with a quick half of Wadworth 6X before continuing my mission.

Whilst Cleethorpes is a small town, it was a good mile and a half trek to my next planned port of call.  I headed towards the sea and enjoyed the exhilarating breeze that is unique to the coast.  It really does blow off the cobwebs and clear the head.  I was loving it here already.

The promenade was quite delightful, with beautiful floral displays, a Lollipop Train (“The Train Ride Where All Children Get A Lollipop”), a big Snakes & Ladders board, Ross Castle (“a mock ruin…built by Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway during the redevelopment of Pier Gardens in 1885” – http://explorelincolnshire.co.uk/), a chippy called ‘Harry Ramsbottoms’ and Cleethorpes Pier (they’ve only got one).

I couldn’t bring myself to walk past the town’s brewery pub, Willy’s, so I popped in here for a quick half of (very) locally brewed bitter, which I enjoyed seated outside as I gazed back out to sea.

Next I headed to a restaurant that had been recommended by a couple of my Clee Town counterparts – Steels Cornerhouse Restaurant – whose fish and chips were apparently not to be missed.  Now you may or may not know that I have very high standards when it comes to the three key elements of a chippy tea – fish, chips and gravy.  It is incredibly rare that these standards are ever met – only Yorkshire Fisheries in Blackpool really makes the grade for me – so I was not harbouring high hopes of this place.  But boy did it blow my socks off!  Not only were the fish, chips and gravy all outstanding – but they also served local beer, which was quite delicious – and my favourite beer of the weekend!  This was Axholme Brewing Co Best Bitter.  I would be looking them up again!

Thrilled with my find of this food which was beyond delicious, I decided to share my excitement on Twitter.  It very soon became apparent that the locals aren’t au fait with the delights of gravy on chips.  “Filth!” “Savage!” “People have been executed for less” “You’ll be strung up round here” “When will these people learn???”  Bit harsh, I thought…

Suitably sustained, I continued my pub mission by heading to Cleethorpes railway station, home to two real ale establishments.  My first stop was No 2 Refreshment Rooms (Under The Clock), which was a quaint little alehouse made to look roomier with the clever use of mirrors.  Here I enjoyed a half of Rudgate Ruby Mild.  I do find a mild hard to resist – although, in retrospect, it wasn’t quite the weather for it today.  Here I was joined by some of the travelling Chasetown contingent, one of whom had a pint tipped into his hat by a local (although I suspect it was meant for me for having the gall to have gravy on my chips).

Next stop was across at the No 1 Pub, which was bigger and busier.  Whilst I wasn’t enamoured with the beer range (the Batemans XXXB having just gone off), the pub was home to an impressive selection of photographs of Cleethorpes Pier over the years.

Next stop was the The Coliseum Picture Theatre, the local Wetherspoons.  This building has some history, having previously been the (actual) Coliseum Picture Theatre, Woolworths, Arthur’s Snooker Hall, the Baton Rouge bar/live music venue and the Amishi nightclub.  Here I enjoyed a pint of Tom Woods Lincoln Gold – however had to wait far too long at the bar to be served (one companion did point out that this might have been because I was so short they couldn’t see me over the bar).  I would not be returning here (if I was) in a hurry. 

The final port of call for the evening was the Nottingham House Hotel – according to its website “a small, intimate, family-run haven of tranquillity in what is arguably not only the last real ale pub in Cleethorpes but also the best.”  Here I enjoyed a Hop Studio Vanilla Porter.  I really do need to find a more summer appropriate tipple.  This was a good ‘proper’ pub but not, for me, the best in Clee (that was yet to come).

Tired from a combination of sea air, walking, a hearty feed and a few beers, I retired for an early night so I would be fresh for the main event the following day : Clee Town v Chasetown.

**********

Ah the joy of a lie-in!  I don’t get many of those these days, so I was taking full advantage of this today.  I lounged in my room for a while, sauntered downstairs with my magazine for a leisurely breakfast and caught up on last night’s Corrie before being collected for the match around 12.30pm.  

The location of Clee Town’s ground gave much cause for confusion, with a number of the locals and Google Maps directing us to the stadium that Clee will be playing in next season – not this season.  Presently they play on the outskirts of Grimsby in a community stadium.  Erring on the side of caution, we set out in plenty of time, failed to get lost and arrived at the ground very early.  I like to arrive at grounds early – especially those that I have not visited previously, so I can acclimatise, find out where the facilities are, chat with the locals and relax for a little while.  I am quite happy to amuse myself and I instinctively feel quite at home at any football ground (football just IS home, isn’t it?).

Today we were made very welcome by our new friends at Clee Town.  Almost immediately on arrival I was asked: “Are you the one who had gravy on your chips?” but they still let me in.  I was beginning to learn just what a small town Cleethorpes was.

After tucking into a few biscuits and a mug of tea, I began my pre-match ritual, which appears to be getting more hectic by the week!  For a good 90 minutes before the match, I am darting about to and fro, with things to do, people to see, places to go – and before I know it, it’s time for kick-off and I still haven’t spoken to half the people I wanted to.

These matches are getting tense, aren’t they?  But we aren’t half playing well and these boys really are a joy to watch.  In a nail-biting kind of way.  A point away at Cleethorpes was a very good result – and emphasises how far we have come since we played Clee at home only a few weeks ago.

Tonight I was to be visiting the place in Clee that excited me the most – a bottle shop and weekend pop-up bar called Message In A Bottle.  Now this was only open until 8pm – and I was not to arrive until 7pm – so my visit here was to be fleeting…yet quite memorable.

I ordered a pint of Axholme Brewing Co (remember them?) Bounty Hunter Coconut Milk Stout.  The barman/shopkeeper was very friendly and we got to talking about beer as you do in these situations (beer, like football, is a universal topic about which I – like many others – can speak at length with anyone in the world).  I mentioned that I had very much enjoyed Axholme’s Best Bitter at Steels the previous night – and was disappointed that their Cleethorpes Pale Ale hadn’t been on at the ground today as expected.  At this point, a fellow patron piped up: “Ah – did you post on Twitter from Steels?”.  Another customer interrupted: “Are you the one who had gravy on your chips?”  Cue further ribbing on this subject from complete strangers.  My eating habits appeared to have really offended the locals.  All I had done was compliment the restaurant on a great meal!

Meanwhile the host with the most had picked up that I had been to the football and asked who I was with.  I confessed I was Match Secretary with Chasetown.  Well, dear reader, if he had been drinking he would have spat out his beer.  He was a Grimsby Town fan and, unbeknownst to me until that very morning, Chasetown had once beaten Grimsby Town in a cup match – apparently the “darkest period in the Mariners’ history”.  He was still clearly very upset by this (he couldn’t even bring himself to utter the word ‘Chasetown’) and, on the back of Gravygate, I tried desperately to dig myself out of this hole I had found myself in, surrounded by livid locals.  

“But I wasn’t even at Chasetown at the time!”

“It doesn’t matter – it’s still your fault!”

“I’m actually a Blackpool fan!”

“That’s no better – they’ve beaten us as well!”

Well wasn’t this just like being at Chasetown?  Do I have a face that invites taunting?  I’m viewing it as a form of affection, which should hold off the counselling for a little while longer at least…

Anyway, I’ve since researched Chase’s win over Grimsby Town in the FA Trophy in January 2011.  This was preceded by a piece in the Mariners’ fanzine Cod Almighty, saying that they “hope that we manage to beat this mid-table Evo-Stik part time side who got dumped out of the Evo-Stik league cup by Newcastle Town on Tuesday”.  Ouch.

I could have happily stayed in Message In A Bottle all night – the company was amusing and oh the beers! – but alas it closed at 8pm.  This is definitely a (nay THE) must visit for the ale drinking tourist in Clee.  I would definitely be back here. 

In summary: I have fallen in love with Cleethorpes.  I have never felt more at home anywhere outside of Blackpool.  Indeed, the resort shares many of Blackpool’s endearing qualities – but with a better pub scene and (I never thought I’d say this) better fish, chips and gravy…even if the natives don’t appreciate what they have.  I’m only sorry we won’t be returning here in the league next season.

3 thoughts on “A Storm in a Gravy Boat

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