I have just been back to the iconic and much-loved Puzzle Hall in Sowerby Bridge for the first time since it re-opened after lockdown. Here's what I found....
So finally, on a damp December Saturday evening, the opportunity arose. I was with my other brother and we walked down from the parents' house high above Sowerby Bridge in the suburbs near the park, reacquainting ourselves with half-forgotten streets and cut-throughs from our childhood intermingled with the buildings and dead ends that had arrived over the intervening decades. The ghosts of our childhood flickered here and there. Dams had been filled in and built on, the old mills that hadn't burnt to the ground now home to apartments. Here and there an unexpected survivor clung on; an old cobbled path, the still intact sign for a long-closed gents here, a unexpected run of railings there. The lights on the opposite hillsides twinkled like stars in the steady drizzle as we cut through the Lidl car park. The sound of a band practising in the room upstairs could be heard as we passed the Blind Pig, the cashpoint outside a reminder that this was once the Yorkshire Bank where I opened the bank account I still use today. We arrived on Hollins Mill Lane, passing the Hollins Mill pub which was once the Works. A little further on, the illuminated sign for the Puzzle Hall was beckoning us towards the pub.
I have written about the pub before; in 2017 and again in early 2020 so I am not going to go over old ground. But...in a nutshell, here's the back story. Much-loved, quirky pub renowned well beyond the confines of the Calder Valley in which it sits closes. Community group formed amongst regulars and supporters to buy and restore the pub. After successful crowdfunding campaign, work eventually begins to restore the pub after several years of neglect embellished by the odd act of vandalism. Finally in December 2019 said pub re-opens its doors. Three months later, as the country went into the first lockdown, pub closes its doors again, and they don't open until over a year later, completely missing out those strange months of 2020 when pubs could re-open amidst screens, social distancing, limits on group numbers, etc.
I had called in the Puzzle a few times during the brief period after it had re-opened in December 2019, but whilst the restoration work was impressive, I think it is fair to say it wasn't the finished article. Whilst you couldn't expect it to be like it was in the old days, it was the Puzzle, but it wasn't. It didn't seem to have a particular character at that point. Walking in on Saturday evening, the first impression was that it had. A great line up on the bar, groups of people sat in the room as you enter, with a few more occupying tables in the small room where the bar is housed. The fire was lit, there was a comfortable, welcoming feel to the place.
|Impressive line up at The Puzzle Hall|
I looked at the beers on cask - Rivington Beach House, Marble Pint, North Riding Citra, Bristol Beer Factory, with beers from Wishbone and Fernandes also featured. A good selection from some first-class breweries. Plenty to go at, but we went for pints of Rivington's 3.8% unfined but not too hazy session pale, Beach House, which features Motueka, Mosaic, and Simcoe hops. It was delicious, easily a 4 on the National Beer Scoring System. My brother, who is not a big drinker, enjoyed it too, as we chatted about this and that. The glasses soon emptied - well mine did - and I headed back to the bar to place an order, returning a few minutes later with pints of Sierra Palm from Bristol Beer Factory. This was a beer I had never come across before, a 4% amber ale. I remarked to my brother that I thought I could taste some Sabro hop in there, realising that when he looked mystified I was going into beer geek mode! It was another pleasant ale, which I reckoned was at least an NBSS 3.5, with the usual solid BBF malt foundations with citrus fruit, herbs, and a hint of coconut coming from the hops. I checked on the brewer's website and my suspicions of Sabro weren't entirely misplaced. The beer's hop bill includes HBC 472, which is a brand new breed derived from...drum roll...Sabro! Also featured is Idaho 7, an always dependable American hop variety. It made for an interesting beer all round.
|The Puzzle Hall bar|
From the other room the sound of conversation was suddenly drowned out by the sound of a drum kit being struck as a band started their sound check. A reminder that despite its small size the Puzzle hosts regular gigs, with a variety of different musical genres and spoken word on the menu. We ordered another drink, going back to the Rivington as we had both agreed how good it was. It was getting time to leave, though, me with a train to catch back to Brighouse. As we were leaving, a guy who had been popping through from the back from time to time and collecting glasses during the evening appeared again. I thought I recognised him, and he said he thought he recognised me too, and it turns out it was the pub's manager, Will Parry, who had worked for a while at the Buffet Bar in Stalybridge when it was well-established as my go-to spot for an after-work pint. Will has ended up here having worked in several places over the intervening years, and based on this evening, he is doing a great job in making the Puzzle an essential place to visit again. The beer was excellent both in terms of choice and quality, the pub was comfortable and welcoming, and I look forward to visiting again before too much longer.
I had no time to visit anywhere else in Sowerby Bridge this particular evening, but when I got back to Brighouse, I walked down into town and called in at the Market Tavern, which like the Crafty Fox a few minutes' walk away, is always a great place to go for a drink. I tend to call in early evenings these days, which means when you go in at a different time you often bump into people you haven't seen for a while, as was the case on this occasion. I was so busy talking I have forgotten what I had to drink (maybe Abbeydale Moonshine?), but it was certainly up to the usual very high standard. If you have never been in, or haven't been for a while, it is well worth calling for the beer - the normal range featuring 3 blonde ales, a stronger pale, an amber, or bitter in old money, and a dark beer - a warm welcome from the team, and friendly conversation.
|Welcoming party at the Market Tavern, Brighouse: mine hosts Snap and Debs|
Meanwhile across at The Crafty Fox, which I didn't have time to visit on this particular occasion, the bar is now attracting attention from further afield as it has just joined the Market Tavern in the 2022 Good Beer Guide. It is first time in, and has already cropped up in conversation with some of the pub ticking fraternity who will no doubt be planning visits over the course of the next few months. The bar serves both cask and keg beers from some excellent brewers. The likes of Abbeydale, Salopian, Wilde Child, and Vocation are regularly available on hand pump, whilst on the keg lines there are often beers from Polly's, Neon Raptor, Magic Rock, and Vocation. The Crafty Fox, which is run by Barry Veasey aka Baz, ably supported by wife Michelle, daughter Georgia, son Luke, and sister Kaye, attracts a wide variety of different customers for the beer, live music on Fridays, and its friendly, family atmosphere. And it has the added bonus of being right next door to Brighouse bus station! Another place that if you have not already visited you should check it out for yourself.
|Mr Crafty Fox himself...Baz at work|
And finally, back to the Puzzle Hall, it is great to see this pub on the up again. I hope that it continues to do well and attract the same loyal following that both the Market Tavern and Crafty Fox a few miles down the Calder Valley in Brighouse enjoy....
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