A historic Pennine mill town of stone cottages, cobbled alleys and imposing Victorian architecture, Ramsbottom can feel pretty remote from 21st-century life.
At weekends, you can arrive from nearby Bury by steam train on the East Lancashire Railway, perhaps to attend the World Black Pudding Throwing Championships (September 10). Later, as this is such fantastic walking country, you might clamber up Holcombe Moor to Peel Tower which (think Catherine Cookson) looks like the perfect backdrop for a fierce, rain-lashed argument between a pregnant scullery maid and her feckless wealthy lover.
In one sphere, however, Rammy is unexpectedly at the cutting edge, and that is in food and drink. It is home, among others, to two incredible tapas bars (Levanter and Baratxuri); the Ramsbottom Tap craft beer bar and the more traditional Irwell Works brewery tap; as well as noted gastropubs the Hearth of the Ram and Eagle + Child.
Located on the town’s suburban edge, the Eagle has benefited from a recent £500,000 refurb which created five new bedrooms. This splurge by its owner, Blackburn brewery Thwaites, is validation for licensee Glen Duckett who, in 2011, reopened the pub as a community-oriented social enterprise. This ethos manifests itself in many ways, but the Eagle’s primary focus is on training and employing marginalised young people.
“Well,” a cynic may sniff, “the bleeding-heart social workers at the Guardian will love that.” But last time I was here, a few years ago, dragged along on Mother’s Day (a really stupid day to eat out, admittedly), I left distinctly nonplussed. The pub looked tired, the food was so-so.
Happily, the new Eagle is very different. A glass extension leverages commanding views across the Irwell valley and its wider makeover has been executed with admirable restraint. Jazzy light-fittings apart, the vibe is sober, unfussy, authentically pubby. Natural finishes are to the fore, the colour scheme is a muted grey-green, a rustic log-burner is one prominent “feature”. The beer choice (from Marston’s, which now owns and brews several Thwaites’ beers), is humdrum, but the cask beer is well-kept.
Upstairs, the large bedrooms are similarly natty: good art and period details, handsome designer furnishings, six-foot-wide beds. I couldn’t find a wifi signal but, generously, the rooms come with free homemade biscuits, fruit and crisps, a complimentary prosecco and beer (13 Guns; Thwaites’ middling attempt at new-wave craft). Monday to Friday there is no cooked breakfast; instead, a little hamper of (OK) pastries and granola is left at your door.
Arguably the Eagle’s best new addition is its chef, Alex Shaw, who arrived last year from Didsbury’s highly rated Volta. Shaw cooks here four days a week (he also oversees the pub’s sister cafes in Manchester’s Heaton Park) and has brought a sharp, contemporary edge to the menu without neglecting the pub classics. His take on the Manchester egg (Panko crumb, pickled quail’s egg, black pudding), is perfection, and a main of punchy Bowland hogget, particularly the lemon and apricot-laced braised shoulder on a beautifully caramelised gallette potato, was also magic.
Either clumsily reheated or badly designed, a frangipane tart (the tart hot and slightly soggy, the rhubarb topping still cold), was a misstep, but no deal-breaker. The accompanying elegant white chocolate custard was truer to the overall quality of Shaw’s food.
The menu is underpinned by ingredients from the Eagle’s flourishing acre of allotment. It is planted so that kids can run around in it freely (or feed the chickens), but, simultaneously, it produces exotica such as edible borage flowers and jostaberries. Kiwis even grow on one south-facing wall.
Ramsbottom cherishes its past, but, rest assured, its food scene is rigorously modern. As a package, it makes the Eagle an attractive destination.
Ask a local
David Fuller, business development director, Ski Rossendale
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