Recently a group of friends and I went on the South Pennines Real Ale Trail. This is the same Ale Trail that featured on Oz and James Drink to Britain. Before going into detail, a quick summary — we all had an excellent day, and enjoyed a good few ales.
We decided to start at the Leeds end of the line and work our way towards Manchester. There are 8 stops along the way, and as we were intending to have at least 1 drink at each we had to carefully plan our times so we didn’t miss the last train home. A South Pennines Day Ranger (for £19) covers all the journey, and in our case, also covered our journeys to and from Sheffield. For a handy quick-reference to each pub I’d recommend printing a copy of this ale trail flyer and my google map of the rail route and pub locations.
The service required for the ale trail is operated by Northern Trains and is called the Huddersfield Route There are 2 different train services required, each covers half the route and both run to Huddersfield. The first is the Leeds — Dewsbury — Mirfield — Huddersfield service which stops at Cottingley, Morley, Batley, Dewsbury, Ravensthorpe, Mirfield, Deighton and Huddersfield, and the second is the Huddersfield — Ashton-under-Lyne — Manchester Victoria service which stops at Slaithewaite, Marsden, Greenfield, Mossley, Stalybridge, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Victoria. Both of these services run once every 60 minutes. The Huddersfield Line Timetable covers both these services.
To save a bit of time, we didn’t follow the route in a straight-through fashion as we didn’t want to spend a full hour in each pub. We started by travelling from Leeds to Dewsbury, before travelling back towards Leeds to Batley. We then headed back towards Manchester but bypassed Dewsbury (where we’d already been) and went from Batley straight to Mirfield. Whilst this only saved us 34 minutes on the ale trail, it allowed us to catch a later train from Sheffield to Leeds (A Cross Country service which only takes 41 mins to Leeds)
The Ale Trail website lists a pub for each stop, but having done part of the Ale Trail before, I knew there was more than 1 pub to choose from at each stop. Below I will cover all the pubs I am aware of
Location: 100m from the platform in the station.
Food: Yes, standard Wetherspoons menu
Our thoughts: We didn’t visit here due to time — plus of course we’ve all been to a Wetherspoons before.
The Cellar Bar
Location: 60m from the platform on the far side of the station car park.
Our thoughts: The Cellar Bar looks like it might be rather disappointing from the outside (i.e. it looks like a typical football+carling bar) but once inside the friendly staff, excellent beers and resident cat give a much better impression. Between our group we had Saltaire Blonde and Copper Dragon Golden Pippin, both of which were excellent
West Riding Refreshment Rooms
Location: In the station with direct access from platform 1
Food: Menu depends on day. On Saturdays there is an Ale Day Breakfast from 10am — 4pm
Our thoughts: The West Riding has a great interior, and lots of drinkers memorabilia. It also has an excellent selection of beer, and does a great sounding breakfast. Our only complaint was how busy it gets. At midday it felt more like midnight, absolutely rammed full of people who’d obviously started very early and were already drunk enough to be very loud. It wasn’t unfriendly drunk, everyone was jolly, but when you’re having your first pint of the day its nice to sit down and have a gentle natter at a normal volume!
The Navigation Tavern
Location: 300m from the platform. Walk down the road from the car park, turn right and go under the railway. Take the first left after passing under the railway.
Our thoughts: This was one of my favourite pubs. The interior is dated, but each time I’ve been there has been room to sit and quick service. There is also an extensive selection of ales so what’s not to like! There are hand-pull pumps on the bar, and more handles with labels above the bar — these labels are for the beers that are available on the back bar! Don’t make the mistake that some of our party made of assuming the selection is limited to the pumps on the front bar. If in doubt — ask!
Head of Steam
Location: In the station with direct access from platform 1. Towards the south-west end of the station.
Food: Yes. A very good selection is served until 9pm. We ate here and were very impressed with the quality of food and speed of service.
Our thoughts: We much preferred the head of steam to the kings head. The food, as noted above, was good. There were a couple of negatives though, both related to staff. The first was when we looked to get a table in the buffet room we were told only those people in our party who were eating could sit in there, so in effect we were told to split our party up. We chose instead to eat in the bar part of the pub which wasn’t a problem. The second issue was with one of the bar staff deliberately ignoring one member of our party when she was at the bar. There was no-one else at the bar at the time, and as soon as one of the other members of our party went to the bar instead they got service. It is our belief that the reason for the initial non-service was related to ethnic background. However, I would prefer to think that it was an innocent accident. On the positive side the beer was excellent. I had a Saltaire Raspberry Blonde which was by far the best fruit beer I’ve ever had. It had a delicious taste of raspberry without being sickly and sweet like most fruit beers.
Kings Head (FKA The Station Tavern)
Location: In the station in the “East Wing”
Our thoughts: The Kings Head has a good selection of Ales, but despite being grade 1 listed is disappointing in terms of decor and comfort.
Location: 300m from the platform. Leave the platform into the car park. Do a 180 turn and go down the little road from the car park. At the main road take a hard-right and go down the hill. Follow the curve of the road to the left. At the roundabout the pub is on the near left corner.
Our thoughts: We were a bit disappointed with the commercial which is billed as an ale pub and wine bar. It wasn’t a good start when our pints of ale were served in skiffs, especially as my better half’s Lager-Shandy was served in a proper glass — Surely the wrong way round! I asked the barman to recommend a Pale Ale and was presented with what I was told was a locally brewed pale ale. I wasn’t given the name, but I believe it was “Commerciale”. I would like to recommend people avoid it — it was quite eggy and very disappointing, not helped by the skiff no doubt. This is not the sort of experience I expect from a “CAMRA pub of the year 2009” so maybe we were just unlucky?
Location: 550m from the platform. North-East.
Our thoughts: The swan is owned by the same people as the Commercial, and is further from the station. As a result we chose not to visit.
The Riverhead Brewery Tap & Dining Room
Location: 300m from the platform. Go past “the railway” pub and follow the main road to the bottom of the hill. Go over the river. The pub is facing the river on the right.
Food: Yes, details unknown
Our thoughts: The Riverhead is owned by Ossett brewery, and as expected, offered a good choice of ales. It has a lovely setting right next to the river Colne. Whilst sat in the right hand half of the pub you get a great view into the brewery room which is always interesting.
The Tunnel End Inn
Location: 800m from platform. Leave the station, turn right and right again to cross the railway. Turn left and follow Reddisher Road due West. The pub is on the right hand side after 650m.
Our thoughts: Unfortunately the Tunnel End Inn is temporarily closed. Hopefully it will reopen soon as it sounds like one of the best potential pubs on the trail
Location: 50m from platform, on opposite side of the road
Food: We didn’t enquire, but believe there are pork pies available.
Our thoughts: The Railway Inn had a slightly less extensive selection of ales than most of the other pubs. When we visited the only ales available were Deuchars, Copper Dragon and Bombardier. The limited selection aside this was a decent pub, and it was nice to be able to get a table fairly readily.
Location: Direct access from platform, in the station
Our thoughts: A very long thin pub, which made it hard to get into. Once we made our way through the crowds we were able to find a table at the far end. The selection of beer was good but by this point we’d lost interest in making many notes. I do remember some interesting pictures on the walls however. I think this would have been one of our favourites if it had been less busy, and we’d been more sober!
We didn’t go as far as Manchester, but there are doubless pubs near the station if not in it.
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