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A Calder Valley Ale Trail - UPDATE June 2022

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.

Todmorden

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.

Follow me on Twitter @realalemusic










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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    Replies
    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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    Replies
    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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  10. Your website is very beautiful or Articles. I love it thank you for sharing for everyone. Vegan Leicester

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  11. Railway is currently closed but next door is Vocation & coco, opposite is Nightjar, round the corner is Calan s and if you walk a bit further you have the Old Gate . At the moment it's under local lockdown so you might have to pre book tables outside there. Cheers Tony

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