On Saturday myself and a group of friends went to do the Transpennine Real Ale Trail. Many of the stations on the railway line between Leeds and Manchester via Huddersfield have pubs serving real ale either on the station or nearby, and eight of these form part of an official trail.
Though it’s been done for years, the trail grew in popularity following the broadcast of Oz and James Drink to Britain, a BBC TV show with Oz Clarke and Top Gear’s James May which was broadcast in 2009. The number of people attempting the real ale trail increased significantly, although sadly many weren’t in it for the real ale. Go back a to any Saturday afternoon earlier this year and you would expect to see large groups of people – mostly men – frequently in fancy dress, drinking lager and engaging in anti-social behaviour.
A particular problem point was the small and usually quiet village of Marsden. Though Marsden has a pub right by the railway station, conveniently called The Railway, many prefer to go into the village to the Riverhead Brewery Tap and others. This BBC News video gives you an idea of how bad it was last year.
Since then, many of the pubs on the route have stopped serving lager and spirits on Saturdays, and will refuse service to those in fancy dress. In other words, patrons have to drink real ale or soft drinks. And, based on our experiences, it seems to be working – whilst a Saturday in late October is bound to be less busy than in mid-summer, the route was much quieter and the people there were better behaved. At Slaithwaite (pronounced ‘slowwwit’) station, Northern Rail had provided a couple of marshals to manage the numbers of people on the small platforms. And at Huddersfield there were a number of British Transport Police officers around, but that may be more to do with the local football team playing local rivals Leeds United at home that day.
On our visit, we went to six of the eight ‘main’ pubs on the trail. Starting at Stalybridge, we then called at Greenfield, Marsden and Slaithwaite, before then skipping straight to Dewsbury and then back to Mirfield. By this point it was getting late, so we didn’t go to Huddersfield or Batley this time around.
I’ve done Huddersfield many times before though, and the station actually plays host to two pubs. They’re both on platform 1 – The Kings Head and The Head of Steam – although the introduction of ticket barriers means that you need to exist the station to access them now. The Head of Steam is my favourite and has the largest overall drinks selection (including a good cider menu) but real ale drinkers tend to prefer The Kings Head as its ale selection is stronger.
It’s a good way to spend an afternoon with friends and I’m pleased that the solution to the problems with rowdy drinkers seems to have worked. Other ale trails are available around the country and this month’s CAMRA magazine has a special feature on pubs at stations, which seem to be enjoying something of a renaissance of late. CAMRA also published a book last year; it’s out of stock on Amazon unfortunately but is available in CAMRA’s own shop, and members get £2 off.