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A Beer in Bronte Country....

Whilst I live close to the area made famous by the Bronte sisters, it is not somewhere I have visited very often in recent years. But last Saturday, with the trains not running and football miles away, I decided I would take a trip over there....

Situated to the west of Bradford and centred on the village of Haworth, near Keighley, is an area of the countryside between the South Pennines and Yorkshire Dales that has become known as Bronte Country, after the famous literary sisters who were brought up in the village. The sisters, along with their brother Branwell had been born a few miles away in the hilltop village of Thornton, near Bradford, but the family moved into the Parsonage in Haworth in 1820 following their father Patrick's appointment as curate there. Inspired by the experiences and adversity the family had faced - losing their mother, difficult school years, unhappy work experiences - and each with a vivid storyteller's imagination developed when growing up, the sisters went on to produce some of the classic novels of this country's literary heritage - Jane Eyre (Charlotte), Wuthering Heights (Emily), and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne). The Brontes' novels were all rooted in the moors, valleys, and villages of the area centred on Haworth, with landmarks and properties hidden behind alternative names. As the novels gradually became popular - sadly both Emily and Anne died before their books received much acclaim - and interest in the family grew, the area around Haworth began to attract visitors, the arrival of the steam train helping the growth of the early tourist industry. Today thousands of visitors come each year to visit the Parsonage (nowadays a museum and shrine to all things Bronte), visit some of the landmarks featured in the sisters' novels such as the moorland ruins of Top Withens farm, believed to be the setting for Wuthering Heights, walk the wild, windswept moors, or simply take in the craggy, bleak beauty of the area.

I set off from home with a flexible plan of where to visit, although I ended up calling in everywhere I had pencilled in. First up was a visit to a place I had called several times in the past, although not for some time. I drove along the A629 towards the sprawling village of Denholme, where I turned off along a road that climbed up steadily into open countryside. Having crossed the crest of the hill, the road dropped down sharply with expansive views of the countryside beyond opening up. I came across a pub on the right on a junction with a road heading off into the countryside beyond. There was a car park beyond, so I parked up and walked towards the Dog and Gun, a solid looking building seemingly rooted in the hillside, as a strong wind swirled around me, taking the heat out of some bright sunshine. I walked in, the pub was pretty quiet, with a 70's soundtrack playing. Being a Taylors house, several of their beers were on the bar. The car meant I was restricted to a halves, so I ordered a half of Boltmaker, and was staggered to be charged £2.70! OK, it was pretty decent (NBSS 3.5), but even for a food-orientated pub it did seemed exorbitant. The guy behind the bar though was extremely pleasant and welcoming, and we had a good chat. He told me the pub has been run by his wife's family since 1994, and they have clearly built up a very solid business over the years, although, looking around as he spoke, he told me Saturday afternoons tend to be quiet. Overall I enjoyed my visit, but I do question why the price for a half needed to be so high. And that was Boltmaker; how much would Taylor's flagship Landlord have cost?

Dog & Gun, near Oxenhope

I followed the winding road as it dropped down from the hills into Oxenhope, passing lovely stone cottages and a half-empty reservoir and a roadside pub, The Lamb. Eventually I came to a crossroads, where I turned right towards Haworth. It had been several years since I had last visited here and it seemed like the visitors were out in force. Cars were parked wall to wall along the roadside as I drove - rather optimistically - up to the car park I had always parked in at the top of the village. There was a space for me, although due to  some rather creative parking efforts by one or two of the 4x4 fraternity it was a bit of an effort to get in, but I made it. Ticket sorted, I walked into the village passing the Old White Lion and Black Bull, pubs I had visited in the past with one or other of them being the venue for a rather boozy Christmas lunch one year when I was working in Bradford. I headed down Main Street, which is an undeniably attractive sloping cobbled street lined with weavers cottages, but an array of gift shops, cafes, and a steady or in some cases, not so steady, stream of people, several walking along at a snail's pace with an ice cream stuffed in their face, conspired to detract somewhat from its charms.

Main Street, Haworth

I had gone down Main Street as that was where the next pub was situated. Almost at the bottom of the street is The Fleece, another Taylors pub, another reminder that this is the heartland for the Keighley-based brewer. I had been here before, but once again not recently. I ordered a half of Boltmaker, expecting, following the last pub, to get - if you pardon the pun - fleeced, but with a retail of £2.10 it seemed like a bargain compared the eye-watering price I was charged before! The beer though wasn't quite as good I thought (NBSS 3), but the lads behind the bar provided a friendly welcome and the place had a nice atmosphere. I managed to get a seat at a small table opposite the bar and as I drunk my beer a veritable army of staff were to-ing and fro-ing as they looked after a decent number of customers spread over a deceptively large pub, with the outside seating also fully occupied. People, some with a dog in tow, kept popping in for a quick drink, maybe to finish off their visit to the village, or to prepare themselves for the ascent up Main Street.

The Fleece, Haworth

I finished my half and headed back up the hill, stopping off for a rummage in a shop selling second-hand books and old vinyl, and then made my way back to the car, stopping on the way for a quick chat with a passing CAMRA member I know. Back in the car, I then took the twisty, turny road with several ups and downs to the village of Stanbury, around two miles away. The distance seemed to shake off casual visitor interest, and I duly arrived at the village, with the road suddenly breaking out into a wide expanse before almost immediately shrinking to a tight squeeze through another attractive though less well-known village than its neighbour down the road. I'd had a pint at one of the pubs here before, the Friendly, several years ago, but my destination this time was the Wuthering Heights (opening picture), situated smack in the middle of the village, which I had never visited before.

I spotted the pub on the right of the road, squeezed the car into a spot at the side of the road opposite the pub, but having messed about doing that for a few minutes, I then spotted the pub car park almost straight across the road, so I moved the car over there. I parked up and looked around, the Wuthering Heights is an attractive and solid-looking pub built out of local millstone grit. Before going into the pub I decided to check out the bijou beer garden situated at the far end of the car park, from where there there are lovely views over the surrounding countryside. Beyond the beer garden there is also a campsite which is owned by the pub.

I walked back to the front of the pub, where a group of  walkers and a middle-aged couple were waiting for the bus back to Haworth. I walked in, there was a wood-panelled bar to the left. There was nobody behind the bar and there was a lady waiting, who was soon joined by an older guy. A minute went by. There was still nobody behind the bar. I looked around. There was a group of walkers sat at a table in a room to the left of the bar. Behind me, there was another room to the right where I'd come in, with a further room at the far side of the bar. A corridor with internal windows went off the right of the bar, down which the older guy went off, grunting a couple of words, then returned, and finally a younger guy appeared behind the bar. I waited my turn, and when it came I ordered a half of Moorhouses' White Witch from one of the four hand pumps that adorned the bar, which also offered Taylors Landlord, Theakston Best Bitter, and a porter from Pennine. It was, I thought, a typical Yorkshire Dales rural pub line-up, although I was of course in West Yorkshire, but to counter that, pump clips and beer mats displayed above the bar were testament to the variety of beers from all around that have been served here.

Wuthering Heights, Stanbury

I took my half of White Witch (£1.95 paid for in cash as no card sales under £10) and went to sit in the afore-mentioned room to the right of the entrance. If you were thinking as you walked in that the pub was named after the song Wuthering Heights, the large number of pictures and other items connected to the Brontes in here left you in no doubt that it was named after the novel. There was not even a tiny photo of Kate Bush or a framed copy of the 1978 number one single to be seen! I took a sip of my beer; it was good (NBSS 3.5), and it was obvious that the landlord cared very much about the quality of his beer. A few more people popped in, the lad behind the bar greeting them all in a friendly and welcoming manner as he dispensed their drinks. Having been absent for a few minutes when I'd got there, it was clear that he was now staying put.

I liked the Wuthering Heights, and on balance it was the best pub I visited all day. The beer was good, the cost of it was better value than earlier, it was an attractive building in a beautiful village, and it was friendly. It had a real village pub feel to it, and in a good way. It was not hard to imagine being marooned in here with a pint of good beer for company in front of a roaring fire (or to be more accurate, log burner), whilst a raging storm swirled around and battered the outside of the pub on a dark and cold winter's night, conjuring up images from the novel with which it shares its name....

I finished my half, went back to the car, and set off, homeward bound. Rather than taking me back to Haworth, the satnav instructed me to turn right at the edge of the village along Reservoir Road towards Oxenhope. The eponymous reservoir soon appeared on the right, the banked sides exposed above a well-down water level. And then it was up a hill followed by a steady descent, with several cottages and farm tracks off to the side of the road. A few minutes later, I was passing through the first houses and terraces as you come into Oxenhope. Arriving at a main road, the satnav instructed me to turn left on to it, and almost immediately on the left was a pub I had thought about doing if time permitted. It just about did, and so I made a sharp turn into the car park at the side of the pub.

The pub in question was The Bay Horse, whose car park backs on to the entrance to Oxenhope Cricket Club, who ply their trade these days in the Halifax Cricket League. There was a match on, but even though I parked close to the entrance, I was reassured by a high and strong-looking wire fence designed to keep all but the wildest 6's away from the windscreens. I walked round to the front of the pub, where there were plenty of tables outside, but only one was occupied, by a group of 30-some ladies. I walked in, the bar was facing the door and from a selection of around 7 cask beers I opted for a half of Rudgate's 3.8% Jorvik blonde session ale, served by a friendly middle-aged guy in a white shirt who could only have been the landlord. The pub had the feel of a town pub and was reminiscent of an old Tetleys' pub (which it probably once was). It consisted of one large room, although with different areas, with what appeared to be a further room beyond a folding screen. I duly plonked myself at a small table to the side of the bar. The beer, one I had not drunk for a while, was in very good nick (NBSS 3.5), and was the best value of the day at £1.90 a half. It was the kind of place where I felt it would be great to pop in for a pint if it was on my doorstep.

Bay Horse Inn, Oxenhope

Having finished my half, I returned to the car, and windscreen still intact, I set off on the way home. It had been an enjoyable afternoon going around an area I have neglected somewhat over recent years. It made me think about getting my walking boots out and traipsing the moors maybe up to Top Withens, knowing that there are several decent pubs awaiting for a post-walk pint....

Follow me on twitter: @realalemusic


  1. Lovely read, Chris.

    £2.70 !!!! Bet there was a hefty premium, but still means Boltmaker nearly a fiver. I thought this was the North !

    We revisited the Wuthering Heights pre-walk last October and also thought it was a cracker...


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