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A Calder Valley Ale Trail - UPDATED December 2018

You will probably have heard about the Rail Ale Trail, which heads through the Pennines from Dewsbury through Huddersfield to Stalybridge. Originally made famous by Oz Clarke and James May on a TV drinking trip around Britain a few years ago, it reached saturation point on weekends to such an extent that lager and shorts were banned by some pubs and plastic glasses introduced to the hordes of stag dos, hen parties, and fancy-dressed revellers that invaded the trans-pennine towns and villages. There are some great pubs en route but you venture to them on a summer Saturday at your peril.

However, only a few miles away to the north, there is another trail possible which takes in some great pubs and travels through some lovely countryside via the Calder Valley. Not only can it be done by train, but because the canal runs close by for the full journey, it is possible to visit a load more places by doing some of the journey on foot. Or by bus - unfortunately in recent months, industrial action has made it more difficult to travel by train at weekends, so this is how I have tended to get around the area. It is compact; only 16 miles from Brighouse to Todmorden, with the journey by train 25 minutes - if you don't get off, though longer by bus. And this doesn't even take into account Halifax, the biggest town in the area.

Starting at Brighouse, the first pub is almost next door. The Commercial/Railway - the name was due to be changed but in the midst of the signs being swapped the previous owners left, leaving it in the unusual position of having 2 signs - is a proud, square, solid-looking building now with a mini beer garden. Inside you are assured a warm welcome from Trevor, Sue and team, plus a loyal band of regulars. As my old mate Harry used to say "you enter a stranger but leave as a friend." It's that kind of place. On the real ale front there are 5 pumps, including Copper Dragon, Tetleys, often an Ossett beer, and a couple of others. Beer quality is always excellent, and as you sip your pint you can join in the friendly chat, listen to the music, play pool or darts or watch the sport on TV. If you have enough time, a few minutes away is the town's first micro pub, the Market Tavern. Run by Snap and Debbie, it has 6 hand pumps offering excellent beers from the likes of Salopian, Abbeydale, and Squawk, whilst just over the canal is Millers Bar, which has improved significantly over the past 18 months or so, offering a good choice of beers on both cask and tap, good food, and one of the best beer gardens in the area.

Take the Manchester train, and 10 minutes away is Sowerby Bridge. On the way the train passes Elland, the largest town in Calderdale without a railway station. However, if you are on the bus(there are frequent connections from Halifax and Huddersfield, and some from Brighouse), the Elland Craft & Tap, recently opened by Elland Brewery in a former building society branch, is well worth a visit for both cask and tap beers. You will get a warm welcome and you can read more here.

Sowerby Bridge is a traditional mill town and popular evening-out destination with plenty of pubs, bars and restaurants. Getting off the train, it is yards to the nearest pub. If you want to find out about the area's railway heritage then a visit to the Jubilee Refreshment Rooms makes for an excellent introduction. This was once part of the huge building that was Sowerby Bridge's station, from where a branch line headed off up the Ryburn Valley to Rishworth until it closed in 1958. Run by brothers Chris and Andrew Wright it is full of memorabilia, books and pictures, and hosts regular talks and exhibitions which explore the heritage of our railways. It is a friendly place with good beer and conversation, no TV, music, or gaming machines, drawing an eclectic mix of customers from far and wide, and serves a range of food at breakfast and lunch times with snacks throughout the day. There are normally 3 beers on, mostly from Yorkshire but with the odd incomer from t'other side o't'hill. The legendary Puzzle Hall has been shut for the past couple of years, but a few months ago the community group set up to re-open and restore the pub announced their offer was accepted, and they are currently working on bringing this iconic pub back to its former glory, so that it looks like the Puzzle will eventually open its doors once again. The Hollins Mill, in what was until recently The Works, has some great beer and is well worth a visit. There are a few other good pubs in the town if you wish to linger longer, such as the Hogshead and Firehouse.

Resuming our journey, the train passes through Luddenden Foot, where the site of the former station is passed. Here Branwell Bronte, brother of the famous literary sisters was once station master. Next up is Mytholmroyd, famous as being the birth-place of poet Ted Hughes. And guess what, the nearest pub is only yards away. This is the Shoulder of Mutton, which has a decent selection of ales and food. Close by is start of Cragg Vale, the longest continuous climb in England, as seen when the Tour de France came to the area a few years back, where the cyclists faced a climb of 968ft over a distance of 5.5 miles. Phew! Only a few minutes away back in to the village are The Dusty Miller, a solid building with some good beer, and across the road is a friendly little micro pub called The Libertine, although it doesn't tend to open until 5. 

Back to the train, our 3 minute journey takes us to Hebden Bridge. Ironically, for probably the best known place on the trip, there is no pub close by the station. So you need to head into town, around 10 minutes walk away, where there are a number of pubs to choose from. One not to miss is Calan's, a friendly, award-winning micropub which opened in 2015, and is now coming back into its own under its relatively new management team of Nadine and Damian. It has earned a well-deserved reputation for excellent beer (it always had some wonderful pork pies). A few minutes away is the Old Gate, with a good choice of ales and food in classy surroundings. Across the road is Drink?, which originally opened primarily as a bottle shop with a couple of hand pumps, but since the floods of 2015 forced a makeover, it has expanded to 4 hand pumps and a couple of taps as well, and is another must-visit when in town. A further 10 minutes walk away from the town centre is the legendary Fox and Goose, community-owned and home to great beer and an upstairs beer garden. Back in the centre, there is Vocation and Co, a joint venture between Vocation Brewery and the owners of the Old Gate, a modern bar with 4 cask ales, around 14 on keg, and 2 ciders, situated in part of the old Moyles Hotel. Here you will find a great selection of some cutting edge beers from an exciting mix of craft brewers, and serves some wonderful tacos if you are feeling hungry.

From Hebden Bridge, the train to Todmorden takes about 8 minutes. Here you are spoilt for choice with plenty of pubs within a few hundred yards of the station. Right opposite is the Queen Hotel, which served a decent pint of Moorhouses Blond Witch last time I was in. Just down the road is the local branch of the Wetherspoon's estate, the White Hart, a typical town pub with pictures of local interest. Turn left, and just around the corner is the Polished Knob, which serves a varied range of good ales at excellent prices. Not far away is the Golden Lion, which has about 4 hand pumps and is a somewhat quirky community pub with regular live bands and events. And the town now has two micro pubs, the original one is called simply enough The Pub, just beside the market, and is one of the friendliest places you will ever go and has a good selection of local ales and ciders. It has now been joined by a new one just beyond the bus station on the Burnley Road. This is the Ale House, situated in a former restaurant and shop, and again is a really friendly place. There is always Pale Eagle from the local Eagles' Crag brewery on hand pump plus a number of guest ales. Todmorden is where Yorkshire meets Lancashire; it feels on the edge, not surprisingly really, with local governance from Halifax, an Oldham postcode and a Rochdale dialling code, as well as a large contingent of Manchester-bound commuters. And at the moment, it feels like a place on the up.

In all these towns there are more pubs and plenty of places of history and general interest surrounded by some fantastic countryside that demands exploring. The 16 miles pack a lot of contrasts, so why not give the area a try....
  
The Calder Valley is accessible. Trains connect from Leeds, Bradford, Rochdale, Manchester, Huddersfield and Preston. For train and bus information, visit wymetro.com.

Follow me on Twitter @realalemusic


Canal scene near Todmorden....




Comments

  1. Thanks a lot for the post, we're going to try out this ale trail this weekend.
    The Shoulder of Mutton in Mytholmroyd is reopening this weekend, apparently.

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    1. Hi, Kelly, Hope you enjoy it, I have been meaning to do a proper update for a while, but not got round to it yet!Please let me know what the Shoulder is like.
      Thanks for the kind words!
      Cheers Chris

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  2. Hi Chris,
    A group of us have had the same idea as you. Hadn't realised you'd beat us to it. We would like to start up a web page similar to the transpennine one. Would you have any objections? We'll put a link into this blog post sand a note to say you got here first!

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  3. Hi,Mike,
    No problem at all, that is fine. I do plan a re-write at some point, and I have tweaked it slightly this morning! All the best. Cheers Chris

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    Replies
    1. Got a basic web page up... http://calder-vale-ale.uk/
      (y)

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. Nice. I've been planning the Transpennine for a while, but I think this may be a better choice. Any comment on doing it during a weekday rather than a weekend? We'll have a few coming from Australia for holiday so work isn't a factor.

    Second, are the beers mainly local that you wouldn't get anywhere further out, or mainly ones that, while decent, you could find in lots of places?

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    1. Hi, Ossie, thanks for your message. I would suggest if you go during the week you go later in the week as some places don't open on Mondays and Tuesdays. In terms of beer, this area has an amazing range, and if you follow my suggestions you will come across several you won't see everywhere. Hope that helps. Cheers Chris

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    2. Thanks Chris - appreciate it. I'll do a check first to confirm open days/times for the pubs. Although I'm sure we can find others that would be open instead!

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  6. Ossie, I've done a list of some of the pubs on the Halifax to Manchester branch of the line here:https://calder-vale-ale.uk/pubs.html
    It's a work in progress but it's got opening times and maps for starters.

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    1. Thanks! Hoping to get here in September

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  7. OK guys so starting to look at this further. When we did the Preston - Blackpool section, there was a West Lancashire Day Tripper ticket or some such, and the Transpennine has been well documented. What is the suggested method for tickets on the Calder Valley line if you will be hopping on and off at these stations on the same day? Looking at Sowery Bridge to Todmorden, potentially back as far as Brighouse as well - which is just before the Halifax junction, not sure if that may make a difference with different lines etc. And maybe even Mirfield, which is on the Transpennine list but will be on our way (staying in Leeds)

    Cheers!

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    1. Ossie,
      Good Question... & good reminder that I need to add something about tickets to our page - although if you have a look at the 'trains' dropdowns on the pubs page there are links to the various fares.
      My understanding is that any standard single or return ticket can be used as long as you progress in a 'forward' direction, you are free to hop off and on at any station on-route. There is a West Yorkshire Day Rover £8.20 which would let you go anywhere in the area, i.e. double back or change route completely if you wished.
      Another thing to check for, which is not likely to affect you if you are going during the week is the dreaded 'bus replacement service' which they put on if they are doing works on the lines.
      I would definitely recommend getting as far down as Castleton and trying The Old Post Office Ale House (& that's not just because my mate runs it!)

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    2. Too many on the list! You could do this forever. I'll keep Castleton in mind as well. Thanks!

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    3. This from the Northern Railway website regarding Anytime tickets: "You can also break up your journey at stations along your route". But the Anytime tickets are more expensive as they're designed to be used on any non-specified day in the future: what I couldn't find is whether this also applies to your bog-standard ticket (or even better the Off Peak Day Return). If not, the West Yorkshire Day Rover would seem to be best, although strangely there was no mention of that on the Northern Railway website.

      One thing I at least did manage to confirm is that it's no cheaper to pre-book any of these tickets - that's a mistake with British rail travel you only make once!

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  8. We used off-peak day returns and were able to break our journey in February. There is something on the national rail website here http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/times_fares/ticket_types/46548.aspx.
    For this journey, there's no cost saving booking in advance, on others e.g. Manchester-London, you can get significant savings by booking in advance (but you are often limited to specific trains). Its certainly not simple. If you are going to do any journeys by train in the UK, this is worth a read: http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-train-tickets
    (y)

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    1. Hadn't heard of splitting the tickets, but having travelled on the British rail system previously it doesn't surprise me in the least! Thanks for the tip

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  9. Hey guys, still lurking in the background here, Calder Valley Ale Trail starting to come together for first week of September. First bit of news to help with planning (not necessarily good news based on previous recommendations here, but important to know!) is that the West Yorkshire Day Rover ticket extends as far as Walsden, which is the stop past Todmorden, but doesn't extend as far as Castleton. So that's not to say that you couldn't include it anyway, but for an easy trail using one ticket, the Old Post Office wouldn't make the cut here (sadly). An off peak day return from Leeds to Castleton is actually more expensive than a WYDR so it doesn't really make sense to include.

    At this point we're looking at Dewsbury (West Riding), Mirfield (Navigation), Brighouse (Commercial/Railway), Sowerby Bridge (Jubilee), Mytholmroyd (Shoulder of Mutton), Hebden Bridge (Railway), Todmorden (Queen Hotel). That's about right for a day and it splices in some of the Transpennine line pubs with the Calder Valley stops.

    Although there may be better pubs we're focusing on the good ones closest to the stations. But if anybody has an absolute must-substitute on that list (ie don't go to the Railway in Hebden Bridge, much more worthwhile to go the extra distance to Calan's or the Old Gate instead etc), happy to hear it!

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