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The End of the Line....

Wharfedale is right up there as one of my favourites of the Yorkshire Dales, but whilst I have walked the moors and valleys of the upper reaches countless times, and even written previously about one of the most attractive parts of the middle section of the dale here, I have for many years neglected to visit the small town that acts as the gateway to this beautiful part of the country.

That town is Ilkley. Well known to most because of the traditional song, 'Ilkley Moor Baht At', but to many as a traditional spa town and tourist destination. The moor referred to in the song broods above the town, with its miles of open country and famous Cow and Calf rocks. The coming of the railways opened up the area and soon visitors were attracted by the open space and fresh air on offer as a welcome respite to the smoke and grime of the Victorian West Riding towns. The more well-heeled, the elderly, and the infirm came to take the waters, hotels were built, and Ilkley grew almost as a small version of Harrogate.

Today, the town remains a tourist attraction, with the moor of course, plus an impressive array of shops for a small town, including branches of many high street names, boutiques, and the unusual. I walked past a Gents Outfitters which amongst the suits and shirts supplies Regimental colours. You wouldn't get that in Cleckheaton.... There are plenty of eating places and restaurants, one of which, The Box Tree, where the young Marco Pierre White cut his teeth, a regular Michelin and Egon Ronay entrant over the years. And it has some decent pubs and bars....

I caught the train from Bradford Forster Square. The trains run every half an hour or so, and the 31 minute journey takes you out of the city, through a number of small towns and villages, and through some increasingly attractive countryside. The line terminates at Ilkley, the station - complete with an M & S Foodhall- located at the top side of the town centre, but adjacent to Brook Street, the local high street. I wandered down until I came to the dominating presence of the Crescent Hotel, which has its own excellent Good Beer Guide-listed bar.

I walked in, a busy, comfortable bar, people - mainly tourists, I would guess - were eating and watching the rugby on TV, to be greeted by a bank of 8 hand pumps, offering an array of mainly local-ish beers from the likes of Saltaire, Goose Eye, and Roosters, plus a couple of the local Ilkley Bewery beers, which for me are too bland. I opted for a pint of the Big Lubelski, from Huddersfield's Beer Ink microbrewery. Good to see Ryan is getting his beers out and about (Note to self - need to pay the Beer Ink Tap another visit). The beer was very good, and the staff very welcoming, well worth a visit.

A few minutes walk away is The Flying Duck, which, behind the back of the pub, is home to the Wharfedale Brewery. Set slightly below road level, it is a welcoming stone-flagged pub with a couple of rooms. It sells beers from the in-house brewery and a few other guest beers, of which Dark Horse Blonde seemed to be the choice of those not opting for the beers brewed on site. I enjoyed the Wharfedale Blonde, an extremely quaffable session ale.

I moved on, and headed to the Friends of Ham on the sloping Wells Road. This is the local outpost of the well-known bar of the same name situated close to Leeds Railway Station. Unlike its extremely busy and at times stressful big brother, this is a small and comfortable spot where the aroma of the charcuterie reflected in its name permeates the air. Indeed many of the visitors had come to sample the cold meats, cheeses, olives, etc. The bar is situated in the former offices of the 'Ilkley Gazette'. A shop-like frontage leads into a wood-panelled room with a continental feel, with 3 hand pumps on the bar and several taps in the wall behind. I decided to go for a beer on tap, but when the guy behind the bar spotted I was struggling to see what was on - this was due to the light - he took it that I needed a full explanation about the beer styles they had. I joked with him that if I had been a mystery shopper I would have been most impressed, but actually all I needed to know was what they were and how strong! I opted for a very nice blonde beer, which I sipped as I took in the ambience and people-watched. I had to leave after a short while to catch my train, but I was very impressed with a friendly bar, with good beer, excellent, welcoming staff, and food that smelt wonderful...and which I must sample next time!

Back to Bradford, I nipped up to North Parade. Since the last time I visited a number of new bars have opened, the Beerhouse has become the Northern Social, and the area was bustling. I called in at the Sparrow and Record Cafe, both old favourites, and I am happy to report that both of them were as good as ever, both busy with an early evening crowd bolstered by fans of Bradford City who were celebrating their team's victory over Doncaster Rovers just up the road at Valley Parade. There was a good atmosphere in the air, and it is amazing that basically one street seems now to be the place to go in the whole of Bradford!
The day before I visited the Halifax and Calderdale CAMRA Beer Festival in Hebden Bridge. And I have to say, what a good do it was. A good choice of beers, with a 'Beer of the Roses' theme, an informative programme, a good atmosphere, and the chance to catch up with some old faces in the pleasant surroundings of the town hall. I particularly enjoyed Little Hopper, a 3.6% pale ale from Little Critters, and Summer Schops, a Polish-style wheat beer from Eyes Brewery in Leeds, an outfit I had not come across before. A great effort by all those involved in organising the festival. There was also plenty going on in other places in the town, with an excellent Manchester beers showcase at the Old Gate, various delights including a beer from Rawtenstall's Northern Whisper over at Drink?, and Pure North, an excellent collaboration from Northern Monk and Verdant which was on offer at Vocation and Co. An excellent day out.
Some really sad news this week. A few days ago we had the shocking scenes from Las Vegas, where a gunman fired indiscriminately from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel into a crowd watching Jason Aldean performing at a country music festival. The sheer numbers killed and wounded made it the worst ever mass shooting in the US's far from perfect history in this area, and it is beyond my comprehension as to why, even allowing for an American citizen's constitutional right to bear arms, there aren't checks and registration in place to at least weed out those who are unsuitable to own firearms and prevent the accumulation of an arsenal like the one acquired by the Las Vegas gunman. Well, we all know why, don't we, it is the power and influence of the gun lobby. But, unless something changes, sadly, similar events will happen again....

And then, 24 hours later, we had the sad news that Tom Petty had died. One of my musical heroes, ever since I saw him with the Heartbreakers at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester in 1977. They were the support for Nils Lofgren who they simply blew away as they performed tracks from their stunning eponymous first album which included tracks like 'Breakdown' and 'American Girl'. Their sound was classic American rock, full of energy but very melodic with a mixture of styles, excellent musicianship, and Petty's distinctive nasal vocal style. The band recorded several timeless classics - 'Learning to Fly', 'I Won't Back Down', 'Don't Do Me Like That', 'Refugee', 'Free Fallin', the two tracks mentioned above - I could go on. Petty later joined up with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne to form the Travelling Wilburys, who had several hits including 'The End of the Line'. He also had something of an acting career for a number of years. He was a fierce guardian of his artistic integrity which led to several arguments with his record companies over the years. But despite that, nobody seemed to have a bad word for him, and he leaves us as one of rock music's true greats.

There has been some excellent new music released recently. The latest albums by LCD Soundsystem and The War on Drugs are amongst the best of the year, whilst I have enjoyed music I have heard from the likes of new bands like The Surfing Magazines, Goat Girl, and Flatworms, plus an old survivor in Sparks. Live I have thoroughly enjoyed gigs from Chantel McGregor and The Rails, whilst in the pubs around where I live the Rainey Street Band, and Chris Martin and Scott Wainwright have provided some excellent entertainment as ever!

Until the next time....

The Flying Duck, Ilkley


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