PUBS across Bolton have been toasting the return of punters to their beer gardens.

Restrictions have been eased to allow pubgoers to use outside areas, while the substantial meal rule last summer has been scrapped.

Along with beer gardens and outdoor dining areas, non-essential shops, hairdressers, indoor gyms, swimming pools, nail salons and zoos in England opened for the first time this year.

Landlords had prepared for the big day - some were still pinching themselves that they had customers again.

Steve Hyland, owner ofWayoh Brewing Company in Horwich, revealed they had converted their car park into a huge seating area - for their first opening in 13 months.

The bar shut in March but was restricted by building works in the summer, meaning yesterday’s opening was a long time coming for Steve.

He said: “We have waited so long for it having being closed since March. We have had even longer to wait than normal businesses and of course our business depends on sales.

“We have converted the car park into a beer garden with around 50 seats and we might even expand it - we will just see how the next few days goes. We have had to move a lot of stuff around and it has been a big job but you’ve got to do it.”

Tom Taylor, landlord at the Cherry Tree in Blackrod, has adapted his outdoor area, putting up temporary marquees and outdoor seating, while also providing heaters, blankets and fairy lights.

He said: “It is really good to be open and seeing all of our happy customers back again. We are fully booked for this week and for the next few to come too - we have been raring to go and have had people asking us about things all the time.”

While people can sit outside the pubs, the rules on the number of people you can meet up with outside remains the same meaning you can meet in a beer garden in groups of up to six or from a maximum of two other households.

Sean Hornby, landlord of The Queens in Bradley Fold, said it was “very strange” to be back open, but he was delighted with the response from customers.

He said: “Once the staff got into it, it was quite okay. It’s getting used to going outside and serving people but we are getting there. We have got 30 odd tables and it’s just nice to be open again."