- Braced for Beer! -
Admittedly we had originally reserved the day for visiting Melton Mowbray but got our dates slightly wrong, hence Crewe becomes our last minute contingency destination. The journey from Wolverhampton takes just over half an hour and we arrive in the midst of a drizzle flurry, so after a few platform shots at Crewe Station we dash to the festival hoping not to get soaked. Thankfully the venue isn't far as we plot our way via Mill Street and down the side of a Tesco supermarket to discover the Heritage Centre, slap bang beside the West Coast Main Line.
- The InterCity APT -
Handing over our £7 admission, we enter the main exhibition hall where a long line of ales are waiting to greet us. Nick immediately seeks out a peanut butter concoction whereas I avail myself of the 1918 Double Stout from Goodall's of Alsager, at 5.9% quite a potent starter! Getting our festival bearings, we admire several model railway installations and take a pew in a mock Class 47 driver's cab, Nick eagerly pressing the various buttons and switches. The star attraction however has to be the InterCity Advanced Passenger Train, the only surviving example of the APT-P high speed tilting design developed in the 1970s/1980s.
- Cask in the cab -
Nick is so taken with the peanut butter beer that I have to try it for myself, the resultant half of Sandstone's Peanut Butter Milk Stout proving deliciously drinkable in the APT driver's seat. The continuing drizzle cannot dampen our enthusiasm as we try to figure out the cab controls, Nick getting to grips with the brake lever while I check the overhead line and keep watch for any tilt faults. We then settle in the standard class saloon, chatting to Mike from Solihull about university student recruitment and campus transport access issues.
- Crewe North Junction -
With the rain momentarily easing off, we set about investigating the wider museum site starting with a green Crosville double-decker bus parked up opposite the APT. Crewe North Junction signalling centre is definitely worth a look, comprising a cafe and gift shop plus the relay store and a viewing zone where we can watch mainline trains go rumbling by. The upstairs control room is particularly atmospheric, showing the facility as it was when it closed in 1985 complete with musty odours, two banks of signalling desks and some rather complicated route diagrams.
- Relaxing in First Class -
Two further signal boxes next require our attention: Crewe Station A (opened in 1907 and also decommissioned in 1985) and Exeter West (preserved and rebuilt here having spent its working life positioned at one end of Exeter St David's station). We then collect our closing festival tipples - which respectively are Marble's Manchester Bitter for me and Lincoln Green Tuck Porter for Nick - before lapping up the luxury of the APT's first class compartment. It looks as if Nick may be getting a little too relaxed though, threatening to nod off in his reclining chair. He wakes from his slumber to concur that the Crewe Heritage Centre really is an unforgettable festival location.
- The Borough Arms -
Tokens all spent, we chug happily into the heart of Crewe in order to consider the town's Good Beer Guide contingent. The Borough Arms is to be found on Earle Street where crossing the road seems particularly perilous. Once safely inside we can reward ourselves with Purple Moose Snowdonia Ale and Woodforde's Wherry; this pub has a clear liking for Belgian brews and the same can also be said of Hops on Prince Albert Street, a place that prompts me to dabble with a Kriek (a bright pink cherry-infused fruit beer) whereas Nick satisfies his inner Russian courtesy of Gorlovka Imperial Stout.
- Hobson's in the Hop Pole -
From Hops to the Hop Pole as Wistaston Road leads us to an earthy two-roomed local boozer. We really like it here, the traditional layout boosted by the presence of a bowling green while the huge cheese and onion baps for a mere quid are definitely to be recommended! We've left ourselves scope for a swift half near the station albeit the Blind Beggar has us a little nonplussed; the beer is decent (Howard Town's Super Fortress) but the 'wiggling butt' rap soundtrack and stripped-back interior aren't really our thing, the homeward 18:19 train thus bringing relief to our eardrums. Cheers!