Back to Normal by The Man in a Hat
Back to Normal
My last stop-over trip following County was Woking, way back in February 2020. That time, I forgot my camera and my hat, but not this time, so normal service was resumed for the first time since the infamous 5-night Dover/ Bromley double-header back in October 2019, nearly 2 years ago.
You may recall that trip also included Canterbury and Whitstable, not to mention a trip to A&E at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford!
So why stay 2 nights in Halifax, a destination reachable from Stockport on the train in just over an hour, albeit via Manchester Victoria.
Well, aside from missing my Man-in-a-Hat duties terribly, I already knew that I won’t be able to go to my top 2 targets this season, namely Weymouth and Nottingham, so other opportunities had to be found.
In addition, I hadn’t been to Halifax since 2017, so this oversight also had to be rectified, and there are 5 Good Beer Guide pubs to check out, as well as many more promising venues.
Although Halifax is fairly close, it’s a bit fiddly to get to, as you have to go via Manchester Victoria, so it’s the bus into Manchester for me, where I’m meeting Stafford, my travelling companion. This is the man who, during lock-down, recommended that I stir fresh chillies into ready meals, a practice that has since gotten completely out of control, with rather predictable results.
In order to get to Victoria, I have to walk past the Kabana on Back Thomas Street, which is impossible, so it’s an early nutritional lunch of shish kebab, vegetable samosa and chicken tikka for me.
I’m soon meeting Stafford off the tram at Victoria (once I get myself onto the right platform). I’ve already sussed out the Beer House, the pub in the station, which is supposed to have Thornbridge Jaipur on, but it’s only Doom Bar, so we’re straight off to Halifax. Too early for Jaipur anyway.
Upon arrival, it’s a short walk to the Old Post Office, the pub where we’re staying for 2 nights. Stafford is already enjoying all the cobbles en-route.
Our rooms aren’t ready, giving us a chance to try the ale, the Summer Pale from Acorn. Very acceptable.
An accessible room was booked for Stafford, which you can see in the photo on the right. Access to the room is via what we later named “the ramp of death”, as the handrail ends way before the ramp does, meaning it’s very easy to literally fall off the end.
We’ve booked a table at the Stod Fold Brewery, Dean Clough, which was about a 15-minute walk in the relentless Halifax sunshine. The brewery and tap are housed in the Dean Clough Mills, making for a very nice venue to enjoy a few beers.
The food is also excellent. I’ve never seen Stafford eat so much in one sitting, albeit an extended one. I had the scotch egg and port belly bites, Stafford had the prawn & squid twists, tempura cauliflower and then the shawarma plate to finish off.
As for the beer, it’s all brewed on site, and all very good. I tried the Gold, West and the Blonde. The only disappointment was that there was no dark beer on, which had been polished off the night before, and the next barrel wouldn’t be ready to be served until tomorrow.
Friday Night Footballs?
As I’m asking for the bill, I’m engaged in conversation by a lady sat at the bar, who, noticing that I’m not from around here, asks me what we’re doing in Halifax.
When I tell her we’re here for the football, she asked me if I think her breasts are similar to footballs. Whilst I note that this is indeed a fair comparison, both in terms of shape and size, I fear the consequences of answering in the affirmative, so we beat a hasty retreat.
It’s barely 6pm, and I’ve already “pulled”.
We set off to try and find the Victorian Craft Beer Café, which should have 10 ales to choose from.
However, we happen to walk past the Grayson Unity, which is also on our hit-list. Outside, there is a board indicating that there is a gig tonight, tickets only, so anyone without a ticket will have to leave by 8pm.
We decide we must take the opportunity to visit and are delighted to find the Elland 1872 Porter is on. Strictly to be savoured in half-pint measures. However, it is so cold, I quickly order the other half, giving it a chance to warm up a bit, making it far more enjoyable.
I’m wearing my National League North Championship polo-shirt, so a couple of Halifax Supporters engage in a bit of banter regarding us being a bit early for the game. But Halifax is such a great place to visit, what can you do?
Then, I spot a big pile of onion bhajis under a cover on the bar. £1.50 - superb, going perfectly with the 1872 Porter.
After wandering the streets of Halifax, as is my way, including passing a Thai Restaurant called Pajaree’s, we eventually find the Victorian Craft Beer Café. Reports were correct, 10 ales to choose from.
An Old Flame from Southport
What’s that, you want to know more about Pajaree? Well, I first met Pajaree in the mid 90s in Southport, when I stayed at her Thai Bed & Breakfast. She christened me “Naughty Mr. Gra-ham” after being incapable of keeping a Sunday Lunch appointment with the rest of my party due to over-doing it the night before.
Over breakfast (Thai of course) the following Monday morning, Pajaree announced that she thought it would be a good idea if I packed in my job, and moved in with her, the arrangement being that she would look after me, and in return I could do “odd jobs”.
I was too shy to go in to Pajaree’s in Halifax, and it was a busy Friday night, so it wouldn’t have been fair, but here is a picture of Pajaree.
We plan to eat at Pajaree’s Saturday night.
Anyway, back to the Victorian Craft Beer Café, where the Saltaire South Island was exceptional, a fitting end to our first day.
There was no sign of the Blue Army last night, so we must seek them out in their natural habitat - Wetherspoons (the Barum Top). This works out well, as we can also get some breakfast.
Bradfield Cherry Beer for me, coffee for Stafford.
At 11:15, as we’re finishing our bacon butties, some of the advance scouts arrive (the usual suspects).
Mode of transport, minibus apparently, further proof that getting to Halifax on public transport is a bit of a pain.
For some reason there is loads of fancy dress on view, not from the Blue Army you understand, but probably various stag and hen dos, and why not, Halifax is a great weekend away.
Some that catch my eye are a giant inflatable caterpillar, a ballerina, and Jesus, who is already dishing out blessings and performing various miracles including healing people, changing water into wine and providing food for his mates and the next lucky 4,987 punters, who “have faith”.
Safe to say that “Jesus” is attracting plenty of disapproving clucks, particularly from older drinkers, and this probably was inappropriate fancy dress, even in this day and age.
Surprise! We can’t find the other Wetherspoons (the Percy Shaw), so it’s off to the Three Pigeons, not only my favourite pub in Halifax, but also one of my favourites in the whole of the UK, to meet an old County mucker, now living in Halifax, who is joining us for full match-day hospitality at The Shay.
It's slightly before Noon, so Mucker is waiting outside of the Three Pigeons for us. I gather that loitering outside a pub waiting for it to open is socially unacceptable. Not in my book. I’ve seen plenty of this behaviour during my many trips to Ireland.
Waiting here reminds me of one of the things I greatly enjoyed as a result of the pandemic. This was during the period when drinks could only be served outside, and as a result being judged by people walking past.
Being a man of leisure, you’ll find me drinking weekday afternoons way more often than Friday nights. I found the number of judgemental looks and glances I attracted was very satisfying, so thank you to all of you who gave me a look, particularly whilst sat outside of the Petersgate Tap.
The door for the Three Pigeons eventually creaks open and in we go.
Ossett’s White Rat for me, some sort of Chocolate Orange Stout for Stafford, and a nice bitter for Mucker.
Plenty of County in, including Craig, Matthew (wearing my hat) and Paul.
We’re first to arrive at The Shay for our pre-match meal. We’re on table 7, next to the County Directors. I’m in room 7 at the Old Post Office, so I see this as a sign that County are going to win 7-0, or perhaps just score in the 7th minute, who can say?
FC Halifax are in the middle of switching catering supplier, so temporary arrangements are in place, meaning that there is no draft beer at all, not even keg filth. The choice is cans of John Smith’s / Strongbow, bottles of Corona / Budweiser or wine.
Smith’s for Mucker, Strongbow for Stafford and Corona for me. There is a hand-pull on the bar, so I hope for better when we return in the Trophy or Play-offs.
I take the opportunity to get some photos of The Shay from our excellent balcony vantage point. We’ll be able to stand to watch the game if we wish - excellent.
Ten to two and still no sign of the County Directors.
Perhaps they were tipped off about the poor bar offering? Judging by their reaction upon arrival, they weren’t. Steve Bellis, Paul Jones and 3 other suits are representing County today.
Oh well, at least the Blue Army have turned up in good number.
Things are not going well in terms of determining which of my hats will be the lucky one this season, with the porkpie (lost 1) and the posh topper (drawn 1, lost 1) both winless, so I’m hoping my collapsible topper will change the tide today.
I’m sure that you’ve already read hedgegrower’s report on the game, but post-match, we learn that FC Halifax have won 7 points in 7 days. So that is what the 7s were all about!
Once we’ve heard from the Club Captain, the man-of-the-match, and the other goal scorer (Matty Warburton - didn’t see that coming), the Club kindly order a taxi for us, and off we go to the Cross Keys at Siddal, where hopefully 8 real ales await.
Reports are accurate, and we fully indulge, including the Eland 1872 Porter (again), Goose Eye’s Chinook Blonde, and Vocation’s Heart & Soul - all excellent.
Even more impressive is the local CAMRA magazine, issue number 1,072 and dated yesterday! Surely, they don’t publish every week.
It could be, as within, as well as the usual CAMRA related articles, there are listings for every pub in the area, detailing not only opening times and what’s on, but also the beers available.
Furthermore, there is an article about Stockport Beer Festival, within a broader piece about the relationship between drinking real ale and football. And there are 2 quizzes, with 80 questions in total, a crossword, and a beerdoku.
I think this is the most impressive CAMRA I’ve ever seen. I keep it as a souvenir.
Next up, the Meandering Bear, as recommended by Mucker. Not in the Good Beer Guide, but on my reserve list. Should have 5 ales and food available. We’re getting peckish again.
The pub’s name derives from an incident on 17th June 1913, and there is a rather nice poem on the wall of the pub explaining what happened.
Just in case you can’t read the poem from the picture, here it is:-
Are you sitting comfortably? Pull up a chair.
And I’ll tell you
the story of the Meandering Bear…
On June 17th 1913, our dear Halifax had a zoo.
This bear went
for a wander, as all bears do.
With this news, panic and terror swept across the streets.
What if this bear
is hungry, and one of our children it eats?
But on its journey, it changed its mind to reside in Elland Wood.
It ended up in
Siddal, as all good bears should.
After scoping Jubilee Street far and wide,
creature was captured, with no place to hide.
So, Ladies and Gents, let it be a lesson indeed.
Always keep your
bear on a chain or a lead.
So, it doesn’t run amuck in our quaint little town.
Ladies, making babies frown.
Because it might have already pulled up a chair.
To tell you the story of the meandering bear.
We have the Black Dub, brewed by Wensleydale, together with the biggest toasties we’ve ever seen. Any thoughts of visiting Pajaree later, are banished.
A further recommendation from our local guide, is a bar called Kopenhavn, which according to my research should have dark beer available. Whilst it does so, I opt for Beware the Frog of Doom, brewed by Nightjar, which turns out to be very good indeed.
Stafford has been waiting to use the accessible toilet for at least 10 minutes, so I decide to give the door a loud knock to wake up whoever is in there. To our surprise, 2 young ladies make a hasty exit, drinks in hand, who appear to be completely oblivious to the fact that they have kept someone waiting who actually needs such facilities.
Time to get back to the Old Post Office, where we’re aware there is a 2am bar tonight, on account of there being some sort of event in the back room.
Safe to say that the entire cosmopolitan population of Halifax seems to be represented at the Old Post Office event, and we sit there quietly trying to take it all in - and failing. The fancy dress we witnessed this morning in Wetherspoons is well and truly eclipsed!
I suspect it was gone midnight by the time we called it a night, but I recall the party in the back room still blaring away as I fall off to sleep. My word that was a long day.
The Long Road Home
Shall we go home? Nah. An afternoon in Sowerby Bridge on the way back is too good an opportunity to miss. There are 3 Good Beer Guide pubs to visit, as well as another which always has a dark beer available, according to local CAMRA sources.
Stafford is wearing his Stockport Blues Society Festival t-shirt. The Festival was held over the weekend of the Hatters Half Marathon, and a thoroughly superb event it was too. Don’t worry if you missed it, the Stockport Blues Society appear on the last Thursday of every month at the Spinning Top near to the Garrick Theatre and the Hat Museum on Wellington Road South. Well worth a look.
After less than 10 minutes on the train, we arrive in Sowerby Bridge and head for the Commercial Inn (Wetherspoons) for breakfast. Aside from the Phoenix Hopsack, the venue, food and ale are all rather underwhelming.
This can’t be said for our next stop, the Hogs Head Brew House and Bar, situated on the Rochdale Canal (which we can see through the window - well, I can anyway), and which brews all of its own ale on site.
The Mustang Madagascar Vanilla Porter is excellent.
I’ve been to many a canal-side pub over the decades, but I reckon this is the best I’ve ever visited.
We stay for another, the Hogs Head 6 Hop in my case, complemented by warm pork scratchings.
Off to the Turks Head, aside from the Wetherspoons, the only pub we’ll be visiting that isn’t in the Good Beer Guide. The reason - guaranteed dark beer. Can you spot a theme yet?
Yet again the local CAMRA Branch have their facts correct, and we enjoy the Bourbon Milk Stout brewed by Sonnet 43, who now call themselves S43. Very good indeed. You can’t beat a well-conditioned milk stout.
The Ugly Truth
The Turks Head is home to the ugliest dog in the world, who is called Tiddles, so no wonder he’s always pulling a face. Tiddles is the very definition of a runt, but clearly beloved by all the regulars. There are many pictures of Tiddles adorning the walls of the pub, which is pretty busy and has the feel of a proper pub, if you know what I mean.
Difficult to describe Tiddles, but think small, with a tongue too big to fit in its mouth, and one of its eyes clearly in the wrong place. In addition, one of its ears looks like it was hacked off at some point in the past and then clumsily reattached by someone completely unqualified, probably one of the regulars, who may or may not have commented “it’ll be fine, no-one will ever notice”. I forgot to get a picture of Tiddles, but this gives you the rough idea.
We stay for another, the Oakham Citra for me. Even better than the Milk Stout. How is it that the Turks Head isn’t in the Good Beer Guide? Hopefully my beer scores will help it get selected.
Can we find the Hollins Mill? Can we hell! I eventually realise that we’re the wrong side of the river. Even the usually tolerant Stafford is getting annoyed with me. We’ve been trying to find it for so long, that Stafford has to pop into the Loose Goose for some relief.
Eventually we find the Hollins Mill, which we’d actually walked past about half an hour ago. Why is this place in the Good Beer Guide? The Salopian Leon Dream is very average indeed. Perhaps I was just unlucky?
Just one Good Beer Guide pub to go, the Jubilee Refreshment Rooms at the train station, which we discover is closed, contrary to the sign in the window detailing the opening hours. Another common theme of my real ale trips, visiting pubs that are closed.
So, the visit to Sowerby Bridge sort of petered out in a bit of a damp squib, but the 2 Heads (Hogs and Turks) made the visit well worth it all in all.
Train to Victoria, then tram to Piccadilly, where I dump Stafford on the platform for the train back to Davenport. Bus home for me.
But wait, there’s more. I end up on the 201, meaning I have to get off at Denton Crown Point. By now I have certain needs of course, so I have to pop into the Crown Point Tavern to relieve myself.
It would be rude not to stay for a beer, and as I’m enjoying that, Ken the Landlord points out that the CAMRA magazines (Opening Times) have been delivered for me to distribute around Denton.
I dutifully put these in my bag and set about visiting the 4 pubs where I deliver Opening Times. I just about get home in time to grab something to eat from Ray’s Chippie. Safe to say that I sleep very well that night.
So that’s it from me for this time. The next likely stay-over trip is Torquay. For some reason Stafford is refusing to come, claiming various bad experiences of games being called off at short notice. Surely the very reason to stay over!
Man in a Hat