West Yorkshire Wanderings

Missing out on Norwich, Mike Bird heads for “God’s Own Country”

I’ve known my best mate for over 50 years.  He lives in Norwich now, which is not only a beautiful city but also the venue of one of the best CAMRA beer festivals — usually held in Autumn half-term week (the last one in October).  It’s one of the highlights of my year when I can spend a few days catching up with him and drinking beer in the stunning setting of the St. Andrew’s and Blackfriars Halls.  I was really looking forward to going this year after missing out last year for obvious reasons, when the phone rang on Sunday morning.

“Sorry mate, it’s off.  The missus has got a touch of flu and I don’t feel too good myself.  We can’t really accommodate you and it looks likely that I won’t even be able to get to the fest myself.”  Disappointed wasn’t the word.  There I was, all packed and ready to go the following Monday morning and now – nothing.  Not wishing to waste an opportunity, J and I had a quick think and decided a couple of days in West Yorkshire may be a good substitute.

We set off on a bright morning, having decided to go the “pretty way” and take in a visit to Chatsworth House en-route.  Suffice to say that there isn’t much to report on the beer front in a visit to a stately home, except that amongst the myriad of expensive goods one could buy in the inevitable gift shop (that all attractions seem to end at) were bottles of Chatsworth Gold (4.6% and made with honey from the Chatsworth Estate) and Bakewell Bitter (4.2%) from the Peak Ales brewery whose premises are just down the road, also within the Estate.  Leaving Chatsworth we passed the aforesaid brewery which has a shop, closing at 4pm.  It was 5 past 4 – so we kept driving. 

Flogging round the Sheffield ring road, the M1 and hitting the M62 in rush hour, we were a bit worn out when we reached our hotel in Shipley, just north of Bradford.  Realising the local ‘Spoons, the Sir Norman Rae, was less than a five-minute walk away, and that it was their Beer Festival time, we decided it would be rude not to indulge and so that was our first venue of the evening.  Sir Norman Rae was a local businessman and MP and has been described as the greatest benefactor to the district since Sir Titus Salt – more of whom later.  A pleasant time was spent there, supping such local delicacies as Goose Eye Chinook and the wonderful, award-winning, Elland 1872 Porter as well as beers from Hogs Back in Hampshire, Bragdy Conwy from North Wales and a very toffee-like brew — Sweet Molly — from Wadworth of Devizes.

Beer list at the Fox in Shipley

One more stop for the evening found us at the excellent Fox micro-pub, also the home of the Beespoke Brewing Company, now owned by Chris Bee, latterly of the Salamander brewery.  This converted shop must have been one of the first of the modern set of micros, having been established in 2013.  An excellent range of beers, both cask and keg, were available, including a stout and a witbier brewed in the cellar beneath your feet.  The photo shows the beer list at the time of our visit. 

The pub décor is very reminiscent of a Belgian beer café, run by very friendly staff who apologized to us as apparently we had turned up on a “bad night” when, due to a few problems, they were forced to offer three brews from the Durham Brewery!  A final sign of good customer care is a small screen in the corner showing the train departures from Shipley station – barely a two-minute walk away – so that your supping can be timed to perfection before your train home.

The following day saw us driving over the wild and windy moors to Brontë Country and the village of Oxenhope, the southern terminus of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway – a heritage line made famous by being the location for the film The Railway Children, an updated version of which will be shown next year.  The day was spent travelling up and down the line in a diesel multiple unit and a steam-hauled train.  Our first trip of the day saw us reach Keighley just in time to see the steam loco “Tornado” fly through the station pulling a Settle to Carlisle route special excursion. 

Whilst wandering around Keighley, we noted two more micro-pubs in converted shops within 100 yards of each other, but rushing to get back to the train, we gave them a miss.  The train back was steam-hauled, with a buffet car serving an Abbeydale bitter on hand pump.  However, I was more taken by their collection of bottled beers, two of which I bought as takeaways.  What luck – I managed to get two of my favourite beers, Saltaire Triple Choc and Timothy Taylor Landlord Dark.  It is interesting to note that the Saltaire beer used to be known as Triple Chocaholic Stout (in the days before we had to be ultra-careful about our language) and that the Timothy Taylor beer used to be called Ram Tam and is Landlord with added caramel.  It is also interesting to see that the Timothy Taylor brewery is close to the line, just outside town (pictured).

Timothy Taylor’s is home of Landlord, third best selling real ale in the country

After a meal at the Wetherby Whaler (still known by the locals as “Harry Ramsden’s”, as it is his original building now refurbished but still retaining the grand piano and glass chandeliers in a fish and chip restaurant), the evening’s supping took place in Saltaire.  A short walk from the hotel brought us to the Cap and Collar, another micro-pub in a converted shop. The beers here were the usual small mix of cask and keg as shown in the photos. 

After a quick starter here, crossing the road brought us to the edifice that is the Salt Brewery and Taproom.  This ex-tram shed has been through several incarnations in recent times but is now a nice, modern, well-appointed, pizza-serving watering hole, despite the obviously fake tram tracks outside.  The Salt brewery (not to be confused with the Saltaire brewery a few miles down the road) is owned by the Ossett brewery and is (effectively) their modern, keg brewing arm.  This results in a huge array of beer dispensers on a large bar facing you when you arrive.  The full range of Ossett cask beers, plus some specials including Voodoo, a 5% chocolate orange stout, were available on hand pump alongside an array of taps of Salt keg brews.  These are brewed towards the rear of the building, the equipment for which can be seen through glass partitions.  Salt beers are generally what I call many a modern, unfiltered keg or key keg beer – an OSB.  This stands for Orange Sludgy Beers, a term in no way meaning to be derogatory but is a convenient way of describing these beers as they appear to the eye.  I have enjoyed many OSBs and will continue to do so, whilst remaining true to most things cask.

Our last day saw us driving across the dark and brooding moors again (this Brontë stuff is getting to me now!), this time to the village of Haworth.  We made a brief stop on the way in Saltaire village, a World Heritage site, being a model village built around Sir Titus Salt’s famous mill for his workers.  The mill is home to a variety of units these days, including an exhibition of paintings by David Hockney; a local, Bradford-born man. The village also contains the magnificent Victoria Hall, venue of the Bradford Beer Festival and home to a Wurlitzer organ that is played during the festival.

Haworth Steam Brewing is one of four pubs in this small Yorkshire town

Haworth is quite touristy because of the literary Brontë sisters (not forgetting their much maligned but talented in other ways brother, Branwell) but a visit to their former home at the parsonage – now designated the Brontë Parsonage Museum — is well worth the effort.  Pub-wise, there is the Black Bull, Branwell’s local barely 100 yards from his front door; the Kings Arms in which the Bridgehouse beers have been re-badged to have Brontë family names; the Haworth Steam Brewing (pictured) with its own brews, and the Fleece Inn.  I last went into this pub many moons ago when its claim to fame was that it stocked every one of the Timothy Taylor range of beers.  I also remember having a really good, local pork pie as a bar snack.  It still has its former claim but pork pies are long since gone, replaced by a full menu for well-heeled diners.

It was now time to head back south and our route took us through the town of Hebden Bridge.  Despite the lure of an 11% Imperial Stout being available to wash down gourmet burgers, we had to forego the chance to visit the newly-opened taproom of the local Vocation Brewery because a long drive and a few lunchtime bevvies don’t mix.  The M62 and a jam-ridden M6 eventually saw us home.

I phoned my mate after returning.  It turned out that his and his missus’ flu was actually Covid-19, from which they are now thankfully fully recovered.  So, after a rapid re-planning of a trip, a few days in West Yorkshire in which we saw many attractions and also managed to sample 21 different beers between us in two days, turned out to be highly enjoyable.  A return visit for the Bradford Beer Festival early next year (scheduled to be 24-26 February 2022 – Covid permitting) may well be on the cards.  Only one very slight downer though – it was …

… Not the Norwich Beer Festival.