The definitive guide to the pubs and bars that line the railways in the towns and villages of the beautiful Calder Valley in West Yorkshire. After a break in updates with all the disruption of lockdowns over the last couple of years, here's the latest, updated version....
The original Rail Ale Trail heads through the Pennines from Dewsbury through Huddersfield to Stalybridge, or vice versa, depending on your standpoint. Made famous by Oz Clarke and James May on a TV drinking trip around Britain several 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 ventured 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 you can get to all these places by bus, but please keep an eye on the timetable. The area 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 with a mini beer garden out front. Inside you are assured a warm welcome from Trevor, Sue and team, plus a loyal band of regulars. As my late old mate Harry always 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 4 hand pumps featuring the likes of Copper Dragon Golden Pippin and Tetleys Bitter, with others often including White Rat and Elland Blonde. Beer quality is always reliable, 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 friendly micro pub, the Market Tavern. Run by Snap and Debbie, ably supported by Adam, it has 6 hand pumps offering excellent beers from the likes of Salopian, Abbeydale, Neepsend, and Durham, and is another friendly pub with a solid core of regulars who will make you very welcome. A little further away is The Crafty Fox on Commercial Street. This friendly place has become a very popular social hub and always features a good range of beers on both cask and tap, and beers from the likes of Vocation, Polly's, Salopian, and Neepsend often feature. A great family-run bar that like both the above that has its own character and atmosphere, courtesy of Baz, Michelle, Georgia, Luke, and Kaye....
Take the Manchester train, and 10 minutes away is Sowerby Bridge.
|Sadly closed at the moment: Jubilee Refreshment Rooms|
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, although at the moment the Jubilee Refreshment Rooms is sadly closed. It 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 hasn't re-opened since the lockdowns. Less than 10 minutes walk away the legendary Puzzle Hall Inn re-opened its doors just before Christmas 2019 after being closed for several years, and is now run by a community group, and with manager Will doing a great job, it offers a great range of beers and regularly hosts gigs and spoken word events. In the summer, the sun trap outside area is a popular spot. Close by is The Hollins Mill, in what was originally called The Works, has some great beer and is well worth a visit.
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 is The Dusty Miller, a solid building with some good beer. Across the road is an excellent bar overlooking the river, Barbary's, its name a reference to the infamous Cragg Vale Coiners. The bar features a great range of beer on hand pump and tap, and has a pleasant outside area by the river, which after floods in the town in recent years is now hopefully kept at bay by improved defences.
Back on 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. Calan's, a friendly, award-winning micropub which opened in 2015 by Alan and Alyson, was then taken over by Nadine and Damian who have since moved to run a bar in the Yorkshire Dales, and so now is known as the The Pub, having been bought by the team at the Pub in Todmorden. Over the years it earned a well-deserved reputation for excellent beer in friendly surroundings including the sun-trap yard at the front, and following a few changes to the interior, there is also some good beer on both cask and tap. A few minutes away is the Old Gate, with a good choice of ales and food in classy surroundings. Across the road from there 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 a hillside beer garden up the stairs. Back in the centre, next to the Picture House is Nightjar, a small, friendly bar which serves as the tap for the eponymous brewery in Mytholmroyd, and there is also Vocation and Co, a modern bar with 4 cask ales, around 14 on keg, and 2 ciders. Here you will find a great selection of cutting edge beers from an exciting mix of craft brewers, including of course Vocation which is brewed on the hills above Cragg Vale, and it serves some wonderful food if you are feeling hungry.
|Vocation & Co, Hebden Bridge|
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 at the moment is only open to residents. 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, which also incorporates Tor Beers, a friendly craft beer shop with bottles and cans, a bar, and a decent outside beer garden. And the town also has two micro pubs, the original one is called simply enough The Pub, which has just moved from its original location on Brook Street to a former cafe on Water Street, and is one of the friendliest places you will ever go and has a good selection of local ales and ciders. Along the Burnley Road is the Ale House, situated in a former restaurant and shop, which again is a really friendly place. There is always Pale Eagle from the well-established 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, Wigan, Blackpool, Blackburn, Accrington, and Preston. For train and bus information, visit wymetro.com.
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