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Bicycles, Faeries, and The Blue Pig....

"...the finest month in all the year is the merry merry month of May." Lyrics from 'Broomfield Hill' by Bellowhead.

The first weekend in May is rapidly becoming famous for the Tour de Yorkshire cycle race. This year the circus came through Brighouse, and I managed to get some spectacular views from the beer garden at the Red Rooster in Brookfoot on the Sunday in the sunshine, as first the out riders, and then the cyclists passed by at breakneck speed whilst a pint or two of some excellent Abbeydale Moonshine was consumed. It was busy, and even more so in Brighouse itself later on, where there had been a street market over the weekend prior to the arrival of the peloton. The festivities concluded with some excellent music in the Bethel Street car park from Better Than Six, followed by The Rainey Street Band and guests. It was a wonderful day, Brighouse once again showing how it loves to let its hair down and support an event.

The fine weather continued over the week, and on Friday I spent a happy hour sat in the sunshine at the Trackside, the buffet bar at Bury Bolton Street station, which is on the East Lancashire Railway. The Trackside has recently been refurbished, so that the bar is at the other end of the building and the room has been opened out. There was a choice of 10 beers, which is more than I can remember from last time I had visited, and I enjoyed the two I sampled, Iceberg from Titanic, followed by Amber from Milk Street, both of which were in fine form. It is much improved from my previous visits, and with the accompaniment of the sounds and sights of the railway, it makes for an alluring place to visit. The East Lancashire Railway now runs for over 12 miles between Rawtenstall and Heywood, originally opening in 1987 after a trust had been set up and the facilities brought back into use following the line's closure by British Rail a few years earlier. It runs all year round, staffed by volunteers, some services feature steam trains, and as well as catering for visitors with Thomas the Tank Engine and other themed weekends, it provides regular passenger services.

I moved on to the Clarence where I enjoyed the house burger washed down with a pint of Brewsmith Mosaic. The Clarence is the home of the Silver Street Brewery, and is a smart, comfortable place which manages to cater well for a lot of different tastes and ages. It was a visit to the Met, which houses the Clarence's sister bar, Automatic, which was behind my visit to Bury, as I was here to see one of my favourites, the Peatbog Faeries, bringing their mix of Celtic folk and fusion all the way from the Isle of Skye to the ever-popular Big Whistle Festival which was taking place in the town over the weekend. The Met had been closed for a while for refurbishment and it was the first time I had been for a while, but it all looks good and is definitely one of my favourite venues.

The Faeries didn't mess about, starting up with some big beats right from the outset. I wrote a piece about them following the last time I had seen them and they were even better this time. You don't sit down at one of their gigs, they draw from an amazingly wide palette of sounds with traditional instruments like the bagpipes, fiddle, and whistle, backed up by guitars and keyboards and underpinned by some serious rhythms. The newly-added seats in the main hall emptied as the night went on as one by one the occupants shifted down to the main floor to throw some shapes. As I have said before, you don't have to be a folk fan to enjoy the Peatbog Faeries, it might be the starting point but it's certainly not the finish! They kept us entertained for a couple of hours, and then chatted amiably after the gig to the many of us who wanted to thank them for a fantastic time. I managed a quick pint downstairs in the Automatic, before heading back to the hotel fairly soon as I needed to be up early in the morning.

The following morning I headed back from Bury, sorted my stuff out, and then got the train from Brighouse to Hebden Bridge where I was meeting some of my old walking friends. The plan was to walk up on to the hills above Hebden, and then on the way back call in for a pint at the legendary Blue Pig. We walked through the town, and then picked up a track beside the river and began the slow climb through the woods up on to the tops. We eventually stopped off at the restored Gibson Mill for a cup of tea and a sandwich (years ago it would have been a pork pie sheltering behind a wall on the top of a mountain, but that's age for you!), bypassed the falls at Hardcastle Crags, and finally after following a road, we emerged at the top of the tree line to be met by sweeping views across the moors.

We turned right following a road, walking on the flat for a while, passing sheep with their young lambs, deserted properties, and the odd farmhouse, as the birdwatchers in the group spotted swifts, curlews, and goldfinches. The views were spectacular, the weather sunnier than the forecast had suggested. We came to a group of houses which was a hamlet called Shackleton, and began the long descent back towards Hebden. Eventually we emerged at the village of Midgehole, whose Working Men's Club is for some reason known as 'The Blue Pig'. It is a lovely spot, set in a deep wooded valley beside the river. The club is a low white building, only opens at certain times(today it was 4pm, so we had timed our walk to fit in), but as it is a members club it may vary subject to whether any of the members wants to keep the bar open. There is a little bar, with an amazing 4 hand pumps, and then a separate room with all sorts of odd furniture, old pictures, and quirky items. It is though extremely friendly and welcoming to all, and despite its rather remote location boasts over 300 members. The beer was superb, my mate had been going on about the quality of the Taylors Landlord all through the walk. I didn't try it myself, but it apparently didn't disappoint, I enjoyed the Goose Eye Chinook and the guest Paper Tiger from Scarborough Brewery. The Blue Pig was excellent and I can heartily recommend a visit, but check the opening times first.

We set off back to Hebden Bridge, where we headed for Calans for a pint and one of their legendary pork pies, which are so good that I took one back so I could take it to the football the following day. We had arranged to meet at the Cross Keys at Siddal and I suddenly realised I was getting so much attention from the dogs in the pub was because they could smell the afore-mentioned pie! We enjoyed some great beer as usual, and then it was up to The Shay where Town finally ran out 3-0 winners on penalties against Salford City in the National League North Semi-Final play-off. After the game we repaired as usual to the Three Pigeons for the post-match analysis, where I have to say that under new landlord Ben the beer was the best I have had there in ages.

I will be back at the Three Pigeons today, where this weekend they are holding a beer festival, as Town take on Chorley in the Play-off Final. Win or lose, we'll have a drink....

Midgehole WMC, aka The Blue Pig


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