Saturday, March 01, 2014

A Trip Into Darkest Calderdale

With 'Ale Ambler' keeping us up to date with life in Wakefield and Sheffield, I thought that I would take a look in the other direction.

Round and about West Yorkshire, there are plenty of smaller towns  that are easily accessible from the major centres, but for one reason or another, I very rarely seem to visit them. My resolution for 2014 is to correct this oversight, and share what I find there with you. My first trip out was to Sowerby Bridge.

I had heard plenty of good things about the place from seasoned drinkers, and it seemed to be a place on the up as regards pub and beer choice, so with a spare day (it happened to be a Friday – which is relevant later) I set off in to the unknown territory of the Calder Valley to see what was on offer.

The town has a population of around 10,000 and is situated about 3 miles from Halifax. It is stands at the confluence of the rivers Ryburn and Calder and at the junction of the Calder  and Hebble Navigation  and the Rochdale canals. In fact the bridge part of its title comes from a bridge over the river. And it boasts the deepest canal lock in England with the Tuel Lane lock, (not far from the Commercial – more of which later).

But enough of that, what about the beer I hear you say ?

The easiest way to follow my footsteps is to arrive at the town by rail. It has a fairly decent rail service with trains from Leeds, Bradford and Halifax from the East and Manchester Victoria and Rochdale from the West. The journey from Leeds taking around 45 minutes.

On arrival at the station, it is not hard to find your first pub. The Jubilee Refreshment Rooms are there on the west platform,a conversion from an old railway building. It opens for beer sales at 1200 noon, but also has a fine range of coffee and snacks if you arrive earlier. It was the beer I had come for though, and was pleased to find three pumps in operation on my visit, with an offering from the local Owenshaw Mills Brewery 'Stout 13' available, along with Elland 'Bargee' and Mallinsons '12 Hops Of Christmas'. I chose the latter, being a sucker for a Mallinsons beer. In fact, it was so good I had to stay for a second half. The refreshment rooms are what they say – maybe a bit Spartan but none the worse for that,with plenty of railway memorabilia and items and information of local interest around the place. Andrew behind the bar is a very knowledgable man about beer and what his customers want. So expect a dark beer always on the bar and a light, hoppy beer as well.Many of the beers served there are sourced locally.

The station is about a 10 minute walk from the town’s main street, and if it rains there is little cover between the two. But I was fortunate, and it was dry, and after a brisk walk I found my second pub. In fact it would have been the third on my list had the ‘Firehouse’ which had a promised 12 noon opening actually adhered to that. (I have since heard an unconfirmed rumour that the premises are closed for refurbishment which may explain the closure)

‘The Works’ is situated on Hollins Mill Lane , just off the main street to the left. It is on the right hand side of the road, set back a little opposite the public baths. It is a large open plan pub, converted from an old joinery in 2007 , with a mixture of bare brick and modern furniture. The clientele are a mixed crowd, with plenty sampling the food menu, but others just there for the beer. Us beer drinkers are well catered for with three of the Timothy Taylors range on offer, along with changing guest beers from Ilkley, Wilson Potter, and Moorhouses on my visit. I decided to sample the house beer ‘Works Wonder’ a 3.9% bitter brewed by Phoenix and  a very acceptable offering, to quaff whilst watching the world go by. The pub also has regular evening entertainment with comedy, folk and jazz featuring.

Leaving the Works and returning to the main street, and walking away from the station, I soon came across the new Wetherspoons pub, situated at the bottom of Tuel Lane by the traffic lights. It has been built on the site of an old pub, ‘The Wharfe’  that looks to have been demolished and the ‘Commercial’ has replaced it. It is a large pub, with plenty of seating throughout, and on my arrival was again fairly full of diners. The food was the usual fayre for the chain and the beer range – although with 10 pumps available – was a little disappointing from my point of view, with only one local brewer being showcased, and that was Elland, with their ‘Bargee’ and ‘1872 Porter’ on the bar. Other beers came from larger breweries such as Sharps . I chose the most unusual beer on the bar from Nine Standards in the Lake District and it was quite acceptable. I must admit that some of the seats and the tables are a little high in the pub, and may be difficult for the more elderly to cope with.

My final call was to be the Ossett pub the ‘Shepherds Rest’. Again simple to  find, but a bit of a hike from the Commercial. Just follow the main road and keep walking  away from the station, the pub is again on the left hand side of the road. This was totally different to the two previous pubs – more of a local feel and an emphasis on beer – and almost empty on my arrival, with two other customers. The beer range was predominantly from the Ossett range, with guests also from their satellite brewerys. I fancied the house beer, strangely enough, called ‘Shepherds Rest’ but that was not available when I visited, so I chose the ‘White Rat’ from the Rat Brewery in Huddersfield, and it was in good form. The pub itself has a couple of rooms and a rear area where there is a dart board. A comfortable place but may be a little out of the central area to attract the casual drinker.

Outside the Shepherds is a convenient bus stop, that saves the walk back to the station and the bus drops you off in central Halifax in around 15 minutes.

A pleasant little town with plenty of nooks and crannies and the canal running through the bottom end of the town, there is a lot to explore and I will be returning for a closer look in the not too distant future, and also check out a couple of the canal side pubs which seemed to slip past my radar on this visit. 

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