Hoppy Hour with Andrew Nowell: The battle for Britain’s best pub is on

The Cricketers Arms in St Helens
The Cricketers Arms in St Helens

The battle is on among the creme de la creme of Britain’s pubs to be crowned Britain’s most brilliant boozer.


The last 16 have been named in Camra’s annual National Pub of the Year competition, one of the most prestigious prizes any watering hole serving real ale can win.

This has been a happy hunting ground for the borough in the past, with micropub Wigan Central winning plenty of regional honours and getting through to the last national stages.

While 2019 does not have a Wigan finalist, sadly, there is a pub which has gone all the way to the top before and which is a short and enjoyable day trip for any beer buff in the borough.

The Cricketers Arms in neighbouring St Helens, which won the overall title in 2018, is hoping to make it a double after being named Merseyside’s winner.

Andy and Denise Evans’ place, which has been given a complete transformation since they took it over in a boarded-up state, has a mind-boggling array of beers on the bar with more than a dozen cask ales, up to 10 ciders, lagers and keg beers.

There is also the boast that there will always be at least one mild, stout, porter and real lager on alongside two malty bitters, two IPAs and five hoppy session ales.

The place has just been given another refurbishment and is also the heart of the local community, with private events, darts and pool leagues, quiz nights and regular fund-raisers for charity on the schedule.

The Camra prize pits the winner of 16 regions against each other, and the winner of the Greater Manchester category this year is a new name on me: The Flying Horse at Rochdale.

It sounds tempting, though, a 1920s Edwardian stone free house with 10 cask ales and two traditional ciders alongside live sports and music.

It’s a real slice of Rochdale’s history, too, as there has been an inn of some kind on that spot since 1691.

There’s plenty of lovely historic boozers on the final list, actually. Just one mention of Wales’ winner, the Mansel Arms at Porthyrhyd (that’s somewhere between Swansea and Carmarthen) and I want to plan a trip there. It’s an 18th century former coaching inn with wood fires and regular ale-related events.

The other pubs in the running are: The Bell at Aldworth, The Red Lion at Preston (the one in East Anglia), the Smithfield in Derby, The Admiral’s Arm at Queenborough, The Hope at Carshalton, the Grey Horse at Consett, the Bridge Inn at Peebles, the Tom Cobley at Spreyton, The Hornet at Chichester, the Firkin Shed in Bournemouth, the Prince of Wales in Shrewsbury, the Swan with Two Necks at Pendleton, the George and Dragon at Hudswell.

Good luck to all and let’s hope the title comes back to the North West once again!