So, my girlfriend sent a link to my blog out to a host of her friends who she thought might be interested in reading my badly proof-read musings on pubs and beers. It turns out a few of them were quite into it. None more so, though, than a chap called Gareth, organiser in chief of the Bowland Stags, a group of chaps brought together by Gareth’s stag do last year (they toured breweries, it sounds like a hoot) in their quest for quality booze.
“It’s not just a piss up,” says Gareth, “with emphasis on the word ‘just'”.
Their next trip, it turned out, would be starting at Wetherspoons in Leeds station for a very swift pint, before hitting the tracks and calling in at a number of quality pubs in or around stations on the Trans-pennine line (or a trek away, if you call into Slaithwaite – pronouced “slough-it”, unless you’re very posh ).
It sounded to me like a great way to spend a Saturday, and a sure fire way to write off my Sunday. I was right on both counts, and an errors or typos here can be explained away by this strange pain in my head and slightly queasy feeling in my stomach. It just must have been that beef sarnie or pork pie. Right?
So, as I said, we started at Wetherspoons in Leeds. Not really a promising start, I sipped at my pleasant enough – but far too cold – pint of Thwaite’s Liberation, shivering in the cold station, still tasting toothpaste and waiting for my companions. Sure enough, Gareth, Alan and Simon headed to the bar came back with their pints (a pint of Moorhouse for Alan, being a Burnley man, a Leeds Brewery Winterspark for Gareth – which he was impressed with, go Leeds! – and something I forget for Simon) and all agreed that it was served too cold. A bit of whining about Spoons commenced, before we made a dash for our first train of the day – to Dewsbury.
Sure enough, the first train was delayed (quelle surprise), but we refused to let this dampen our spirits. We whipped out our mobiles, found the website for our first proper pub, the West Riding Refreshment Rooms, and digitally slavered over their beer selection.
When, some 10 minutes late, we got to Dewsbury, we found a real treat instore. The West Riding Refreshment Rooms are, essentially, an old waiting room turned into a pub, and it’s great. Made up of three small rooms, one is taken over by a small bar serving up far more real ale than they should be able to fit, with 8 pumps on a bar than can barely be 6 foot long. The atmosphere is thriving and bubbling, as the pub’s crammed full of Huddersfield Town fans watching Liverpool draw with Man City before heading to the Galpharm to watch Town defeat Hereford (obviously I didn’t predict the results; this is all written with the benefit of hindsight).
We find a quiet (ish) corner and delve into our pints. Simon and I decide it would be rude not to try Anglo-Dutch‘s Kletswater, since it’s brewed in Dewsbury. It turns out to be quite a surprise package, a light, zesty, slightly caramely session beer with starts off exciting, gets quite boring by half way down the glass, but delivers well in the final third. A sneaky blighter indeed. I had intended to try and detail what my companions drank, but for some reason my memory is a little hazy… With such a choice on display though, we commented with surprise that many of the football fans were indulging in pints of Carling. We chose not to challenge anyone on this though.
We finished our pints in Dewsbury ahead of schedule, so the next plan was to hit Huddersfield and visit between one and three pubs. The Huddersfield boozing started at the King’s Head on the station. It’s an odd old pub. Clearly, no-one’s bothered to change the furniture, or indeed, clean it, for a good decade or so. We noted that it’s one of the few places in the world where you can go for a piss and be hit by a stench as you leave the gents, instead of when you enter it.
That aside, the beer selection is, as one would expect from a pub on the Real Ale Trail, splendid. I’m a sucker for anything local, and since they were selling a beer from Bob’s Brewery, the titular Bob having lived next door to me for much of my youth, it seemed only right that I went for a pint of his Healey Ale, a good, refreshing pale ale. Perfect for a long session like today.
We had to drink most of our pints outside, so as to escape the smell inside, meaning we were soon off to pub number two, The Head of Steam. After settling down with a mint of Empire‘s Moonraker Mild – this pint proved a triumph, and can probably lay claim to being the best of the day – fruity, malty and rich – we were assured we’d have time for a round of beef sarnies and chips and still get our next train. They lied. We finished our sarnies and watched our train speed off. We were stuck in Huddersfield for half an hour, what to do? First, we got another beer in (a great treacly stout, called Treason, from local brewery Summer Wine for me), then we had to make a plan.
(As an aside, it was while we were in the Head of Steam that we wondered why more stations don’t have platform-side pubs. I’d use the train much more if every journey could coincide with a good pint, and it makes waiting for trains a thousand times better).
The answer was easy. Dewsbury’s pub had recommended making a call to The Sportsman, just a few minutes from the station. So, with half an hour to kill, we made our way. I picked up a half of Newky Black from great Wakey brewery, Fernandes, and enjoyed a 6% killer of a rich stout. We then rushed (literally in Gareth’s case, who earned 7p by winning a bet that he could be first to the station) back to the platform and jumped on a train to Slaithwaite.
Now, here’s where the claims of the Real Ale Trail get a bit murky. They reckon The Swan in Slaithwaite is 2 minutes walk from the station. They don’t mention that it’s actually over 5 minutes walk, or that it involves several big hills. We were lucky to bump into a bloke carrying several bottles of Brewdog beers (a sign of someone who knows their booze) who assured us we were on the right track, and sure enough, there it was, just over the next hill.
The Swan was a proper locals pub. Loads of good beer, sport on a big telly, and a crowd that was mure than just real ale enthusiasts but folks from Slaithwaite enjoying a decent tipple. My drink of choice here was the ever reliable Saltaire‘s Copper Ale. It’s malty, slightly spicy and a little fruity. Splendid.
Soon enough, it was time to head on to what would be my last spot (my Lancastrian companions would all make two more stops on their way home; I felt I was drunk enough to not go too much further). So, we hit Greenfield and The Railway Inn. This pub was, as the name suggests, built to house weary travellers straight off the train, and we were ready for some refreshment. As well as selling loads of beer, they also do splendid pork pies, with a range of mustards (although Simon wasn’t particularly impressed with any of the mustards, claiming they needed more spice. As a non-mustard eater I couldn’t contribute to this conversation). We all got a pint of Elland Brewery‘s Beyond The Pale – a floral, multi-award winning pale, why it wins awards is clear – while seated inconviently right infront of the big screen, blocking the view of the regulars who were there for Manchester United v Everton. We followed that with a very swift half of Millstone‘s Tiger Rut, another classy pale ale with strong citrus notes, and then it was time to seperate.
With a slightly spinning head, I got my train to Huddersfield, nodding off and awaking just in time to leave the train, before making my way back to Leeds. I did try to read some of Pete Brown’s Three Sheets To The Wind on the journey, but my concentration couldn’t quite keep up with it.
It’s worth noting here, that aside from a £4.80 ticket from Greenfield to Slaithwaite, I did this whole journey (including a bus at the start and end to Meanwood and back) for a mere £6.20 with a Metro Day Rover Bus & Train. I’d recommend it.
It’s also worth putting in that I’m currently feeling the effects of the drinking documented just above, so I apologise for any errors that may appear. And for the increasingly scant details as the day went on. It was a long one, but a good one, and I’d like to thank the Bowland Stags for inviting me along.
More on the Real Ale Trail here. All photos (except the fuzzy one of beer and pork pies, which is mine) are nicked from their website too.