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Outlaws In The Borderlands....

Last week I took a short road trip into a local area where the wildness of the moors is left behind in a delightful wooded South Pennines valley. This is a place with history and points of interest aplenty, whilst as you would probably expect my trip also included visiting a couple of splendid pubs....

And so I was driving high into the Pennine Hills along the A58, which runs for 75 miles between Wetherby in West Yorkshire to Prescot on Merseyside, although I was only doing a short stretch around the Lancashire-Yorkshire border. I had passed through the large village of Ripponden on the Halifax to Rochdale stretch, from where the road climbs into the hills, leaving the houses largely behind save for the odd farmhouse or barn sat within the fields. In the distance were the moors, looking gloomy under a glowering sky, dark grey clouds broken up occasionally by a flash of blue and burst of sunshine. A chain of pylons stretched across the vista, their steely presence adding a sense of menace to the scene. The huge retaining wall of Baitings Dam appeared on the left hand side, whilst on the right was the former New Inn, one of several pubs in the surrounding hills that have been converted into houses, such as the Blue Ball just across a field on the hillside above, the Travellers at Steep Lane, the Anchor at Millbank, and the Shepherds Rest at Hubberton, which were all places I visited when I was younger.

It was to one of the few surviving hilltop pubs in the South Pennines that I was making a beeline. Just after the turnoff on the right towards Mytholmroyd, just below the stone wall holding back the slapping waters of Blackstone Edge Reservoir, and just in Greater Manchester, is the White House. It is something of a landmark in these parts, being very close to the Pennine Way long-distance footpath as well as the A58, and affording sweeping views over Greater Manchester and the Pennine hills from the windswept car park at an elevation of around 1,300 feet. Blackstone Edge is a rocky outcrop on the ridge to the south of the pub. Close by is the Aiggin Stone, supposedly an ancient waymarker which indicated the traditional border between Yorkshire and Lancashire. The moors here are criss-crossed by old packhorse trails and roadways created later when the many reservoirs that dot the moors were being constructed. I once did a splendid walk which started near the White House and followed a wide track over the moors towards the landmark of Studley Pike, a war memorial high on the hills above Todmorden,  ending in a steep descent into Hebden Bridge around 10 miles away.

Looking out over Lancashire

The pub, as the name suggests is white in colour, masonry paint covering thick stone walls designed to withstand the fierce weather that can batter this exposed section of the Pennines. The building seems to be rooted in the ground. It has been here since 1671, and in 1727 Daniel Defoe, best-known for writing Robinson Crusoe, got stranded nearby in a blizzard, and remarked later on Ye Olde Trip Advisor that the pub had "a store of good ale, which flows plentifully and seems to make up for the inclemencies of the season." It has continued to attract visitors ever since, and today this family-run pub is popular with walkers, passers-by, and those from both sides of the Pennines seeking a drink or food. And for those that don't want to drive there is a regular bus service between Halifax and Rochdale which stops close by the pub.

I parked up and made my way to the entrance. I had been here before, but this was my first visit for several years. A procession of ladies who'd lunched was filing out, making approving comments about what they'd just eaten. "My lamb Henry was divine", said one. Another had enjoyed a salad - "it was sooo fresh!"- whilst a third shouldn't have had that sweet - "it's not going to help me get beach ready" she lamented, "Especially after the rag pudding!" They passed, the last one thanking me for waiting. I smiled and nodded, and then walked in to the entrance lobby and then through a big wooden door and into the bar. There were a few people stood having a drink in front of the bar, and as I approached, a young girl with dark hair came out of the bar entry. She saw me, stopped, smiled, and asked if she could help. I asked what beers they had on, not having the ability to see through the bar blockers, and having listed the four cask ales which included Theakstons Bitter and Taylors Landlord, I went for a pint of Vocation Bread & Butter. She disappeared into another part of the bar, and returned a couple of minutes later with my beer. I moved away from the bar and went to have a look around for somewhere to sit. Several rooms in the pub, with the majority of tables occupied by diners. Another friendly lass saw me wandering about and said I was welcome to sit at any free table, so I plonked down at the first table in a room opposite the bar.

I'd decided to go for the Vocation as it is only brewed a few miles away on an industrial estate on a hillside above Cragg Vale, so with it having a local provenance I was interested to see how it fared. Well, I am happy to report it was in fine form (NBSS 3.5). The pub, which was to be expected on a Sunday afternoon, is heavily-geared towards food, but as someone who just wanted a beer, I was still made to feel welcome, unlike when I'd visited the Three Mariners in Lancaster recently. From where I was sat, the food looked decent enough here and the place was busy. The beer too has been acknowledged with a regular spot for the pub in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide. I finished my pint, and headed back out into the windy car park.

I turned left, crossing back over the county boundary into West Yorkshire. I turned left again, on to the B6318 beside the reservoir, the water's edge coming right up to the side of the road, the wind whipping up a steady procession of waves. Beyond was an expanse of wild and open moorland as far as the eye could see. A small group of cattle shuffled about close to a gate that led off the road on to the moors. I was approaching Coiner's Country, where in the 18th century the Cragg Vale Coiners, an infamous and ruthless gang of counterfeiters operated very successfully from their base high in the hills around here for a few years. The gang got their name because they clipped the edges of coins and melted the clippings down to mould them into new fake coins. They were led by David Hartley, known to many as 'King David', who was eventually caught and hung for his crimes in York, his remains later buried in the churchyard in Heptonstall. 

Gradually the road, which formed an uphill section of the route when the Tour De France came to Yorkshire a few years ago, and is the longest continuous gradient in the country as it winds between Blackstone Edge and Mytholmroyd, started to descend more steadily. A few buildings appeared on the road side. A sign indicated a road to the right heading to Sowerby with a brown sign to Little Valley Brewery, who started brewing their organic and vegan beers in 2005. Set up by Dutch brewer Wim van der Spek and his partner Sue Cooper, they were based on a former turkey farm around which later developed an industrial estate where they were joined a few years later by another brewery, the aforementioned and nowadays better-known Vocation. Little Valley are best known for beers like Tod Blonde and Hebden's Wheat and have generally followed their own direction, with bottles being a very successful format for them. Earlier this year it was announced that they had been acquired by the East Yorkshire-based family brewers, Great Newsome, best known for beers like Sleck Dust and Pricky Back Otchan. The plan is for it to be business as usual, with the Little Valley range remaining organic and vegan under the new owners. 

I continued onwards. More trees were appearing as the valley sides closed in. A few more houses, old weavers cottages, other older houses with their bigger black stones, and more modern terraces. I was entering Cragg Vale, a long linear village which clings to the roadside and takes its name from the heavily-wooded valley in which it is situated. I passed a road off to the left which takes you down to the village church of St John's and the Hinchcliffe Arms, a large and historic pub which I've not visited for years. A little further down I spotted the Robin Hood Inn with its large painted mural on the side of the building (opening image). The name of a famous outlaw for a pub in valley where a notorious gang had roamed previously seems somewhat appropriate, but in reality whilst there are supposedly some local connections with Brighouse, there are over a hundred pubs with the same name across the country

With no parking spaces immediately close by I drove down a little further and found a spot just up from some houses. I walked back up to the pub, crossing over as temporary roadworks had claimed the footpath on my side of the road. The Robin Hood is a solid three-storey building which, like the White House, seems to have sprung out of the ground in which it sits. It goes back a little way from the road, but not as far as the neighbouring buildings, but there is room for a covered outside area plus a beer garden at the back where the pub holds an annual festival. Outside at the front, there were green-painted benches with small tables fashioned out of old aluminium barrels and wooden tops in matching green. There was an awning covering the bench to the right of the entrance. I have to say that the place looked welcoming.

I walked up a couple of steps into the entrance, where beyond a door was situated a small room which included the bar. Off to the left was a larger room which from what I could see was pretty full of people tucking in to Sunday lunch. In the room I had entered there were a few people sat at tables enjoying a drink, with a fluctuating cast of older guys sat at the bar chatting and joking. There were 5 beers on hand pump, Boltmaker and Landlord from Taylors, Abbeydale Deception, Port Nelson from Small World, and one I hadn't seen for a long time, Linfit Gold Medal, a pint of which I ordered from the pleasant girl behind the bar. The brewery had been established at the Sair Inn in Linthwaite in the Colne Valley by one Ron Crabtree in 1982, producing beers with evocative names such as Old Eli, Leadboiler, and Enoch's Hammer. After his death his son Jim had carried on brewing for a few years until calling it a day in 2022 due to increasing costs. And that I thought was it. However it seems that the brewery was started up again in 2023 by the former brewer with the permission of the Crabtree family, and is based at Moor End Farm in South Crosland, Huddersfield. The Gold Medal is a 4% easy-drinking golden ale which was in decent form (NBSS 3).

I sat and enjoyed my pint from my viewpoint at a small table across from the bar beside a basket full of crisps and snacks. There was a traditional, almost timeless look and feel to the place.  There was a charming clutter in the room with old pictures displayed on the walls, whilst a fireplace promised a real fire to keep the cold out in the winter months. Furnishings included upholstered banquette seating and old wooden tables. There was cosy atmosphere, with the chatter from the guys at the bar drawing you into the characters and episodes of local life. It was a very pleasant way in which to spend a quiet half an hour on a Sunday afternoon, and I look forward to calling in here again soon.

I finished my beer, returned my glass to the bar, and walked back to the car. A few minutes later I was approaching the edge of Mytholmroyd and from there it was back on the A646 through to Halifax, where I rejoined the A58 to take me almost back home. I'd had an excellent afternoon visiting a most fascinating and beautiful part of the South Pennines....

Follow me on twitter/X: @realalemusic


  1. I think that along with Paul Bailey and myself you are one of very few pubs bloggers to record your views on beer quality, Chris.

    I'd like you to go to Prescot one of these days and blog about that!

    1. Haha! I have only been to Prescot once when Town lost 1-0 to Prescot Cables, and I don't think I have ever recovered!


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