On a bright and sunny day, I made a long overdue return visit to one of Calderdale's best known pubs. Here's what I found there, plus a few other bits and pieces from here and there....
After the gloom and wet weather of the past couple of weeks, we finally had some fantastic weather this last weekend. The sun was out and it was one of those perfect days you sometimes get in February which makes you realise that Spring is just around the corner. I turned off the main A646 Halifax to Burnley road at Luddenden Foot, and followed the road up the hill through to the village of Midgley, passing its former pub, The Sportsman, which is now a house. The road left the village and took me past farmland and then trees and once through them, skirted the edge of the moors and offered glorious views over the surrounding countryside and distant hills. I parked up at one point to take it all in and got out of the car. The air was stll and fresh, there was a distant warmth in the sun, a couple of birds were singing, and there was the sound of sheep bleating in the distance. In the Calder Valley below lay Mytholmroyd, with Cragg Vale winding its way up between the hills towards the county boundary at Blackstone Edge.
|View of Mytholmroyd and beyond|
I got back in the car and a few minutes later I passed another former pub, the Mount Skip, another convert to a house. Unlike the Sportsman, this was a pub that I did visit from time to time. It was a Timothy Taylors tied house, and not only did it always serve a decent pint, but on a day like the one we were having you could sit out on the terrace at the front or on the field wall across the road and enjoy some spectacular views. It is a few years since it closed and joined the ranks of several once popular pubs that dotted the hills in these parts - the likes of the Blue Ball and New Inn at Soyland, the Withens Hotel above Wainstalls, the Blue Ball at Norland, the Brown Cow at Scammonden, and the Shoulder of Mutton at Blackshaw Head.
Given the list above, it is great that a few still continue and thrive and the place I was visiting today was the Hare and Hounds, also a Taylors house, high on the hills above Hebden Bridge. It is situated in Wadsworth, close to the uphill settlement of Old Town, and is one of two Taylor's tied houses in Calderdale, the other being the Crossroads at Wainstalls. The building, which was probably farm cottages originally, is over 400 years old, and has been a pub since the 1840's, serving the local community and, more recently, visitors from further afield. I parked the car just up the road, walked up via the cobbled path outside, and opened the door and I was straight into the main room, with the bar on the right hand side. There is a room to the left as you enter, a further seating area facing the bar, and a further area beyond the bar.
I had probably first been to this pub, which is known locally as Lane Ends, 40 (and the rest) years ago. An old schoolfriend lived on a farm not too far away, and he and his brothers always referred to the Hare and Hounds as Cox's Bar, after the landlord of that time, one Terry Cox, who proudly served the full range of Taylors' beers, including their premium bitter, Landlord, being at the time one of only 3 pubs - all tied houses - who were allowed by the brewery to serve the beer. This seems incredible these days when Landlord crops up all over the country in the free trade and is the only beer from an independent brewery listed in the country's Top 10 cask beers. The beer has maintained its reputation as a premium beer over the years, despite the ABV being lowered, and there were two dedicated hand pumps for it on the bar, obviously down to its popularity. That said, I am not a massive fan of Landlord, and ordered a pint of the best bitter, a beer I have always preferred. This was renamed Boltmaker a few years ago, its name alluding to one of the brewery's 19 pubs, the Boltmakers Arms in the brewery's hometown of Keighley, a few miles away over the moors.
The pub was busy with most of the tables occupied by diners, along with a few walkers, although many were sat outside in the garden enjoying some spectacular views over the Upper Calder Valley. I found a small table overlooking the bar and facing a lit fire which was throwing out some heat. A few minutes later I was asked if I could move to a neighbouring table as my original choice had been reserved, which was no hassle. The staff were very polite and friendly, and efficiently marshalled a steady flow of customers that kept coming into the pub, some with bookings, some just walk-ups like myself who had been lured to the area by some much needed sunshine. I couldn't fault the quality of the beer either, it was excellent and I rated it a very rare NBSS 4.5 and probably the best pint of cask I have had all year. However, at £4.60 a pint it needed to be! I suppose that, alongside one of the impressive looking meals that I saw being served to a neighbouring table, the price of a pint will hardly be noticed by many that come here.
The Hare and Hounds was a shoo-in for the Good Beer Guide for many years, although due to stiff competition from the high number of excellent pubs and bars in Calderdale it hasn't featured since 2020. On this visit though, the beer is well worth making a journey up there for as long as you are aware it is not the cheapest.
I finished my pint - the fire was getting a bit too much - and returned to the car, taking the road in front of the pub towards Hebden Bridge, the road twisting and turning steeply through woods and past secluded houses on its journey down the hill, and within a few minutes I was there, and then heading back homewards. The Hare and Hounds is in a beautiful location which made me wonder why, like many other places across the country, there is 'Country Pub' as an addendum to the pub sign. I can understand possibly using it as a description online, but to have it on the pub sign in the middle of some attractive countryside does seem a bit like stating the obvious!
Meanwhile, the Market Tavern in Brighouse has incredibly just celebrated its 6th anniversary, and whilst it doesn't seem that long since it opened, it is hard to remember a time without it. I called in to the popular micro beside the canal and market the other day, and found that the Borah 4.2% Session Pale from Neepsend Brewery was in fine form, easily worth a NBSS rating of 4. Unfortunately, I haven't had the opportunity to visit them as much of late as I would have liked, but congratulations to Snap, Debs, Adam, and the rest of the team for their great work continuing to offer some excellent beer and friendly service to the town's discerning drinkers.
|The Market Tavern, Brighouse|
I couldn't call in to the Tavern on the actual day of their anniversary as I was heading over to Manchester that evening. A mate had got a spare ticket to see American folk-rockers Big Thief at the Academy, and when he offered it to me I jumped at the opportunity. We caught the train over from Halifax to Victoria, where the crowds were building up for rapper Dave, who was appearing next door at the AO Arena, as it is called these days. We headed to Cafe Beermoth for a beer, and then on to the normally excellent City Arms, where my beer choice, Party from Cloudwater, was nowhere up to the quality it had been when I'd had a pint of it in Dukes in Halifax the other week. With the gig being a fair way down, we decided it made sense to get a taxi, and a few minutes later, an Uber was ferrying us down Upper Brook Street towards the university. We got dropped off at the Grafton Arms, a Holts pub which had been a traditional little local's pub back in my student days. We used to go for the occasional game of darts along with some pretty cheap beer. It has been modernised somewhat now and seemed bigger, but there was nothing wrong with the welcome and the quality of the beer, the Holts Bitter in fine form (NBSS 3.5). In my student days, we used to pay coppers for Holts, and whilst it was several times more expensive 40-odd years on at £2.90, it compared very favourably with what we'd paid earlier.
We headed over to the Academy, where the usual security checks you get at Manchester gigs preceded our entry to one of the largest venues in the city. It was busy too, but we managed to get a position towards the back. just behind the mixing desk, where we managed to get an OK view of Big Thief, although not good enough to get any pictures. The band were excellent, playing many tracks from their latest album Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You as well as some from their previous albums, and whilst I generally prefer to see bands in smaller venues like the Trades Club and the Brudenell, it isn't always possible. And it turned out that my good blogging friend and intrepid pub ticker, Martin Taylor, was also there, as he mentioned it in his blog. And being a little thief, I have 'borrowed' this picture from it....
We had some fun getting home. There was torrential rain when we came out of the gig. We'd got an Uber again but were held up on the way back due to roadworks and an accident near Victoria on Great Ducie Street. We'd planned to go back on the 2256 train, but whilst we just made it to the station in time, almost inevitably the board was saying it was cancelled! Very frustrating! There was a train to Todmorden which we felt made sense to go for, as at least if the last train missed, a taxi from there would be cheaper than from Manchester. So we went for it, but it was delayed and it seemed the trains were in disarray all over Greater Manchester. We finally made it to Tod, having passed snowy scenes around Rochdale, and had half an hour or so to wait on a draughty platform before the last train to Halifax limped in, also behind schedule, to take us homewards....
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And here is some Big Thief....