Macclesfield is one of my favoured overnighters when I visit Manchester, competing well with Glossop, Stockport and Chadderton on my balanced scorecard, which rates the following:-
- Travelodge for under £30
- Short train/metro into Manchester
- Access to new bit of UK to explore
- At least 1 new Beer Guide pub in walking distance
- Holts, Robinsons or Sam Smiths pub nearby
- Live music – any quality
- Hills of any size
- Good Chinese takeaway
- Likelihood southerners couldn’t place it on the map
To be fair to Southerners, I hadn’t been to Macc at all before the Silkmen’s overdue promotion to the Football League in 1997 saw them take on Cambridge (and City !) at one of my favourite grounds, often in fantastically poor weather. Around this time my wife also did a lengthy project at Cheshire Building Society in the town (NB no slumming it for her, always stayed at Sutton Hall). Up to that point the town was probably defined for me by some enormous tower blocks to the east, and as birthplace of Ian Curtis.
A few nights in Macc in the 90s showed a very characterful town full of old pubs, cobbles, and a good Italian restaurant. Beer Guide entries into the 2000’s included some wonderfully characterful Robinsons houses such as the British Flag, Dolphin and Boarhound, and even a karaoke-led Holts pub by the station. Railway View apart, free houses seemed a bit thin on the ground; even the best known pub, the Water’s Green, begrudgingly proclaimed it’s lack of free status. Beer quality was always high though, at least on match days. The walk up the steep steps to St Michaels Church seemed to be much steeper back then.
Around the time Macc acquired it’s splendid Travelodge (lovely staff), it also saw the start of one of the most impressive pub scene revitalisations of any town, driven by the excellent Bollington Brewery, free houses like the Wharf, and a host of small pubs and bars along Sunderland Street and Church Street. It did however, mean that the Robbies pubs were edged out of the Beer Guide, more due to competition than lack of quality. The curse of the GBG branch allocations. There are now plenty of smart independent eateries, though these are not necessarily a replacement for the traditional Italian and Mexican places.
Sunderland Street continues to evolve, and probably offers a greater range of folk a night out than almost anywhere. I saw plenty of smartly-dressed drinkers in their 30s and 40s in the smaller bars, contrasting sharply with the more mature atmosphere of the George and Dragon and Queens. There was plenty of live music on offer, though the biggest draw was the Friday heavy rock covers band in the Nag’s Head (good Trooper and Unicorn). Just round the corner the Red Willow Tap comes closest, along with the Macc, to a “Craft” Bar, and the Heartless stout superb. Not much Peroni being drunk here.
Still not managed to find a good Chinese Takeaway though, the one opposite the Treacle Tap is a shocker.
NB Sorry to see the Castle still closed; an wonderful pub interior and, oddly, served me a great pint of Ruddles a few years back.