Wednesday 21 September 2016

Transpennine Rail Ale Trail

The Transpennine rail ale trail is a stretch of pubs on the journey from Leeds to Manchester. It was made popular by that beer program starring Oz Clarke and James May. I never actually watched the show as Oz and James make me irrationally angry, but I imagine they were perfect for a show about beers and pubs as they both look like they would do a good job at being insufferable pub bores, and I'm speaking from experience here. Details of the "official" trail can be found here.

There have been plenty of horror stories about the trail since it got popular, with tales of punters pissing into local residents gardens, vandalising trains, and performing satanic rituals in abandoned mills in chocolate box Yorkshire villages (the last one may not be true.) I was a little apprehensive as we were doing the trail on a Saturday, traditionally the day when all the Fosters lads are hitting the pubs, but was also looking forward to visit some excellent sounding pubs.

Our first stop was the Cellar Bar in Batley, an entirely forgettable pub with a middling ale selection. We got in at 11:45am and  already there was a bunch of lads, including one in a fetching grass skirt, at the pool table looking fairly merry, which set the tone for the rest of the day. We swiftly moved on to Dewsbury to visit the West Riding Refreshment Rooms. Situated on the platform this was a much better bet, with a well chosen selection of cask and keg ales. As luck would have it we were there for the local "Westival" festival, so as well as the ten or so ales available in the pub, the pub was also a real ale concession as part of the festival, with an additional fifteen ales on often. My half of Sorachi from the talented Bristol Beer Factory was in good form, and  Treasure IPA from Yorkshire lads Great Heck was a tasty, hoppy treat. The ivy covered exterior of the pub is a delight to look at, and the cosy interior with train paraphernalia scattered about is also a pleasure. A brass band came on stage as part of the festival, clearly laid on for us Londoners to cement the fact that we were in Yorkshire. It was even pouring down with rain! I had a great time here.

Back on the train and alighting at Mirfield, we skipped the recommended pub and walked in the opposite direction to The Flowerpot, a CAMRA Pub of the Year (POTY) winner. This turned out to be a good idea as the trail participants were growing in number and drunkenness. It also helped that The Flowerpot was probably the best pub of the day. A fine looking stone building nestled in a pretty village, this Otley brewery owned pub serves a selection of their ales and also had some good guest ales on. The interior of the pub is full of cosy corners to enjoy a sup. My pint of White Rat took its time to settle, I'm not used to this as in London pubs the beer generally comes out ready to drink. I prefer the thrill of the settle myself. The end result was a very tasty pale ale. After a surprisingly injury free turn on the darts board it was time to head on to the next stop.

Arriving in Huddersfield, we again skipped the pub on the ale trail website and walked the ten or so minutes to The Grove. I'd read some reports that some people doing the trail don't bother venturing any further on the trail after hitting this pub, and walking in I could see why. This cosy two room pub has a superb selection of cask and keg beers available, with a dazzling amount of handpumps on the horseshoe shaped bar. I tried the collaboration brew It's Magic by  Fyne Ales and Magic Rock, two of my favourite breweries as they produce consistently good beer. It was a malty treat, and my second pint Durham Lightning Rod was a pleasingly hoppy session pale ale. Sadly we hadto move on but I look forward to returning to this lovely temple to beer in the future.

Our last stop before Manchester was Marsden, where we were supposed to visit the Riverhead Brewery TapUnfortunately the place was jam packed with braying, loud mouthed assholes. Clearly the other punters on the ale trail had been hitting the beers hard and fast, and were hassling both customers and staff. It was sad to see. I necked a Riverhead Brewery Fly Weight and we escaped up the road to The Shakespeare. The Dizzy Blonde I ordered was pure vinegar soup, and was swiftly returned for a Tetleys Dark Mild on keg, which was about as good as can be expected. This was not a great pub by any stretch of the imagination but it was quiet and had a pool table so I couldn't complain too much.

The train from Marsden to Manchester was a bit of a nightmare, and the sober customers were looking very uncomfortable on a train packed with braying ale trailers. I say "ale" trailers, from what I'd seen in the pubs most weren't drinking the ales at all - lager was the order of the day. We arrived in Manchester in one piece and had a great dinner at Red's True Barbecue - I'd never eaten so much meat in one sitting in my life and their inhouse IPA was also pretty damn good.

I enjoyed the ale trail but if I was to do it again it would definitely be during the week. My advice if you're doing it on a weekend is start as early as possible and call it quits around 3pm - the pubs are just too busy, and the customers too boorish after then. The two stand out pubs (The Flowerpot and The Grove) weren't even on the "official" trail and it was well worth straying off the beaten path. I would definitely prioritise those two pubs if you're doing the trail.

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