A word of explanation.
For those of you who may have stumbled upon this page accidentally, perhaps searching for information about leisure activities in Yorkshire, specifically in respect of canals, I offer a quick word of explanation here.
Virtually all of the content on the following pages was saved against the best efforts of an evil corporate entity who bought over a great website that I wrote for for 12 years and who are Hell-bent on being the only travel site online and will stop at nothing to do it. As this is my site and the content is meant to be in a more narrative style I shall attempt to edit as appropriate but I make no apologies for the fact that some paragraphs may read like reviews which is what they were originally written as. Certainly, at time of re-writing this here in November 2018 I am sure much of the information is out of date. I have attempted to verify if places mentioned are still functioning and will indicate where not but this is mostly a personal remembrance of a wonderful trip undertaken with great friends in the early Autumn of 2015.
There may be an occasional reference to VT which slips through the net and which refers to Virtual Tourist, undoubtedly the most genuine travel review site that has ever existed on the net (I have written for a few, believe me and it is that I referred to above) which was so awfully butchered by a criminal (yes, I can prove that) website who I shall not even name here.
Now we have the explanation out of the way, let’s get down to the trip. On the aforementioned VT we used to have all sorts of “meets” including a huge annual Euromeet somewhere in Europe (obviously) and which, whilst supported strongly by the tiny staff of VT, although they did not have the resources to actually arrange it, was always undertaken by the members themselves. At least one of the staff would always fly from the States to attend, it really was that kind of site and I would think it is a fairly rare thing when you can have a drink with the CEO of your favourite website and speak to them quite frankly about the site.
In another series of travelogues here I have written about the 2017 meet in Germany even after they had killed the actual website. You can kill the site but you cannot kill what we were about. I know there was a 2018 meet in Iceland, organised by another personal friend of mine, which I unfortunately could not make and there is one planned for 2019. Criminally convicted big business may kill off a website but it cannot kill off the will of travellers worldwide. We were travellers, we are still travellers and VT is not going to go away in spirit any time in the near future.
So, I was going to go to Yorkshire to meet dear friends for a weekend of fun and frolics on a hired canal boat. Suits me. I know I have mentioned on other pages my love for canals and canal boats and I have been deemed competent enough to crew by friends who actually run them commercially. As always I’ll try to go through this chronologically as it is the only way I can even attempt to recover all this content without getting totally lost. OK, let’s be honest, I have been totally lost mentally and occasionally physically for years. I always manage to find my way home eventually physically but mentally……………..?
Given the large UK membership of Virtual Tourist I was slightly surprised at the fairly small group who had signed up. There was Gilly, who organised the whole thing (brilliantly I might add, cheers mate), Aly, Dave who could not join us until Saturday as his teaching duties did not allow for a Friday off and your humble narrator. That was no problem, I had met them all before another VT events and got on really well with them, they are all lovely people. As I have mentioned elsewhere here on my pages, Yorkshire is a part of the UK I have visited far too infrequently. Yes, I walked an LDP (Long Distance Path) many years ago with my then fiancee and I had been there once or twice on other occasions but I knew damn little about it and so when I jumped on my train in London I was actually quite looking forward to it.
Again, a quick piece of travel advice if you may be reading this overseas and thinking of using the trains in UK when you visit. Always, always book ahead as “walk-up” fares are out the far side of ridiculous. Generally speaking, the further ahead you book the better as you get the best deals and, if you are not confined to a particular time, then travel after 0930 as it is considerably cheaper, it is called “off-peak”. Certainly, the very best fares require you to commit to specific trains but I have never had a problem with that.
I am now going back into review mode as explained above to describe the journey although I shall attempt to make it as readable as possible. Sorry, I just cannot break the habit, I reckon I was born to write travel reviews if I ever find a site I can trust and I probably won’t so I bought my own! Again it is culled from something I wrote at the time on VT.
Let the train take the strain.
Whilst it is undoubtedly more expensive than the bus (coach) I much prefer travelling in the UK by train as it is considerably quicker and certainly more comfortable and this is the mode of transport I used to and from Halifax.
Trains leave Kings Cross and take a little over two hours and most involve a change at Leeds although I did manage to get one of the few direct trains which take just a shade over two hours on a pleasant service run by Grand Central.
The station was clean and tidy and it offers the following services as outlined in the attached website. The station code is HFX and the ticket office is open Monday – Friday 05:50 – 20:00, Saturday 05:50 – 20:00 and Sunday 08:15 – 19:00. There are ticket machines outside these hours including accessible machines.
The full postal address is Horton Street, Halifax, West Yorkshire HX1 1QE and there are always appear to be taxis waiting outside when the station is open. Refreshments are provided in the cafe opposite the booking hall which is open Monday to Saturday 06:00 – 18:00 and Sunday 09:00 – 18:00.
Access to all platforms is by stairs or lift and there is an accessibility helpline available for information on 0808 156 1606. It is available Monday to Saturday 0800 – 2000 and Sunday 0900 – 1700. There do not appear to be accessible toilets available.
I’m glad I did that. Sod it, it is my site and I basically started writing online to help other travellers so I see no reason to stop now.
It perhaps seems strange that as a UK citizen I had visited the city of Halifax in Canada in 2014 but had never visited the place in England for which it was named. This was a four day affair starting Friday lunchtime and finishing Monday morning although I had decided to make a bit of a trip out of it and arrive on the Thursday to avoid a very early start and also added three additional days at the end to explore an area I know lamentably little about.
Our start and finish point for the boat was Sowerby Bridge although I could not find any accommodation there in my price range but a bit of internet searching showed up a few places in nearby Halifax which is a mere seven minutes by train or not much more on a fairly inexpensive taxi ride. That was decided then and Halifax was duly chosen as my base.
So what did I know about this town of about 100,000 souls? To my shame the answer is just about nothing. I knew it had a history of textile production, was home to one of the largest building societies in the UK, had a close association with Rugby League and a football (soccer) team who are languishing somewhat at present having gone bankrupt in 2007 after more than 100 years in the top flights of the English game.
I know a little bit more now although there is undoubtedly much more I can learn. I found a fairly typical Yorkshire mill town on the banks of the River Calder albeit that the mills are long closed with many of them now converted to office and other use. Easily the largest of these is the massive Dean Clough Mill I will write of later and which stretches for over half a mile. It was once one of the largest textile factories in the world specialising in carpets and it really is rather impressive.
Other medium and heavy industries have gone the way of the mills and it is hard to know whether the place is in decline or making a resurgence. There are many closed down industrial units apparently not earmarked for anything and I noticed a disproportionate number of restaurants shut down. In contrast, many other buildings seem to be thriving in their new guises.
Halifax has very good public transport connections and makes an excellent base for exploring the delightful nearby Calderdale as well as being close enough to major cities like Leeds, Bradford, Rochdale and Burnley.
It shall be interesting to see what the future holds for this friendly and pleasant town.
Out of the Station and I knew it was walkable to the place I had booked to stay in so I swerved the taxis as mentioned above and took off in what I hoped was the right direction. Fortunately, I am of a generation that does not rely on GPS technology which is just as well as I cannot operate it and I quickly came to the Old Post Office in good order.
I had left booking quite late and they did not have any single rooms left but offered single occupancy of a double room for a very reasonable £30 per night. Purely coincidentally both the rooms I stayed in were the fully accessible rooms situated on the ground floor up a ramp to right of the pub with the other rooms being on the upper floor. I had Room 1 on the first night and Room 2 on the later nights when I returned and so had an opportunity to check both of them out.
Location and price are important to me and the latter was excellent with the former not much behind it. The walk from the Station was fairly flat and I managed it easily even with luggage. Should the traveller be arriving by bus then the bus station is a mere 200 yards in the other direction. I was slightly concerned initially at the location on Winding Road which appears to be a fairly main thoroughfare with the rooms facing it but I need not have worried as it is really quiet at night and road noise was not a problem at all.
I went into the bar and spoke to the friendly young barmaid who booked me in quickly and courteously. I explained that I would be returning later and enquired if I could settle my bill for both stays on the one card transaction and that was no problem. After a quick pint in the pleasant bar, I went up the gentle wheelchair ramp and let myself into the room which was certainly not palatial but perfectly adequate and spotlessly clean. The double bed proved to be very comfortable and more than enough for my 6’5″ frame. There was a wall-mounted TV and the bathroom was of the wetroom type with all the usual handrails etc. associated with accessibility for the mobility impaired. When I later used the shower it had plenty of piping hot water at a very decent pressure so no complaints there.
The second room I stayed in was much of the same although it did have a rather incongruous easy chair in it which was positioned in such a way that it would have been impossible to sit in unless you put your legs up on the bed as there was about three inches clearance between the two pieces of furniture. This, however, is a very minor quibble.
Accommodation is offered on a room only basis as the pub does not open for breakfasts but there are numerous places within a few minutes walk where you can get a bite to eat. The local Wetherspoons pub, the Percy Shaw, which I shall speak of later, provides breakfast from 0800 and is only a few minutes walk.
When I travel I merely require a clean and comfortable bed and enough hot water for a shower and the Old Post Office certainly provides all that at a price that undercuts even the no-frills chains locally by some distance. If you are on a budget I certainly recommend it.
In the almost OCD way I have of checking my information I have recently (November 2018) checked the information regarding this establishment and I find that the accessible room is still a remarkably reasonable £38 whilst, if you are on a serious budget, a single with shared facilities is a ludicrously cheap £29. I really enjoyed it there.
With the kit duly stowed it was time for a look around, the weather was typically Yorkshire but not horribly so and off I went. I had seen an obviously Christian church to my right as I had walked to the hotel so I thought I might as well start there as it was only a very short walk back and it turned out to be not merely a Church but a Minster.
People tend to have an image of Minsters being huge and grand edifices and, certainly in the case of somewhere like York, this is true but the term Minster merely refers to a missionary church, a fact I only learned whilst I was there. As I often say, every day is a schoolday on the road. Indeed, the Minster was originally merely called Halifax Parish Church. If the reader is interested then there are another two Minsters in West Yorkshire at Dewsbury and Leeds.
Another thing I mention often here is that I am of no religious faith and yet I find places of worship endlessly fascinating and was very flattered to have a couple of my reviews on them included in certain VT press pieces, one of which was actually published internationally when I was on this trip. Get me pretending to be a travel writer!
On a midweek September afternoon the place was naturally very quiet and I was greeted by a very friendly old chap who gave me a self-guide tour leaflet although that proved not to be necessary as he basically wandered about with me pointing out things of interest. I suppose he was glad of the company.
The history of Halifax Minster may be as long as 900 years but early records are extremely sparse. There may have been a hermitage hereabouts as far back as the seventh century but the first vaguely solid evidence is for a vicar being appointed in 1274 although an 1150 gravestone has been found nearby. Interestingly, it features a pair of shears thereby providing the first evidence of a textile industry in Calderdale.
Various eminent clerics have presided here including Dr. Thomas Brent, chaplain to King Henry VII and William Rokeby who baptised Mary Tudor in 1516. Rather grotesquely his heart and bowels are interred in the Minster although I am not sure where the rest of him is. During the Reformation, Halifax became increasingly Protestant although Dr. Holdsworth, the incumbent at the time seems to have gone whichever way the wind was blowing at the time. The area and church experienced further upheaval during the Civil War and subsequent Reformation with the local populace being overwhelmingly Puritan.
Times were hard then as evidenced by the effigy of Old Tristam, a local licensed beggar (really) with his alms box which now serves to hold donations from visitors. There is no admission charge but donations are obviously welcome and there is a £3 charge for photography. Remarkably, they have had to cement poor old Tristram into the ground as he has been stolen on more than one occasion. It defeats my fairly fertile imagination what kind of person would steal a donation box from a place of worship but there you are.
Halifax boomed during the Industrial Revolution although remarkably the Church, as it still was, did not undergo a full refurbishment until 1878 – 1879 under the supervision of the famous architect George Gilbert Scott. He is a fascinating man and I have written about him many times in various places. He is known for designing the Albert Memorial and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London and the stunning hotel that still graces St. Pancras railway station in that city. The £20,000 refit included several structural alterations and, somewhat puzzlingly, the lowering of most of the pews. This is effectively the building you see today although minor alterations have taken place since.
Another favourite subject of mine is military history and many old colours of the Duke of Wellington’s Royal Regiment are laid up here. The Regiment has a long association with the town and the excellent Regimental Museum will be dealt with in a future entry in this little series.
Another feature of interest is the organ which was originally built in 1763 by John Snetzler and is regarded as being of great interest albeit that only a little of the original work remains, having been subsumed in various enlargements.
Halifax Minster is definitely worth a visit and, should you wish to do so, here are the logistics taken from the attached website. Again I am back into travel review mode and again I make no apology. I do hope it may assist someone some time.
There is accessible ramp to the accessible toilet at the West End of church and accessible entry from the surrounding area. Please ask the volunteer about this. Assistance dogs are allowed in the building.
There is no parking on site. There are pay and display parking bays in the streets around Halifax Minster and several council pay and display car parks close by. Pay and display is Monday – Saturday 0800 – 1600. Please check the parking meters for further information on the day of your visit.
Lest we forget.
Readers of my other pages will know that I have a great interest in military history and also in war graves and memorials and there are many tips included here about them for which I make no apology. Like any right-thinking person I hate war but the tragic fact is that wars happen and people are required to pay the ultimate price when they do. It has happened since the dawn of time and shows no signs of going away any time soon, more’s the pity.
The main memorial in Halifax stands in the gardens just North of the Minster Church of St. John in the open space that is variously known as Duffy Park or Cripplegate Park. It is 25 feet tall and was designed by H. Scott Davis. It was unveiled on the 15th of October 1922 by Sir George Fisher-Smith but it was not here at the time. It was originally in Bellevue Park and was moved to the present location some years later.
If you are passing, you may wish to pause for a moment to reflect on the sacrifices made by previous generations.
As I was walking out from the Minster, having inspected and paid respects at the war memorial as described, I was treated to the sight of an immaculately preserved old Morris motor car, which I can tell from the number plate pre-dates 1962, being driven into the carpark in a manner that would not have disgraced the Monte Carlo rally. Out jumps the vicar in full ecclesiastical kit and takes off at the trot into the Minster. He must have been late for a meeting of the Parish Council or something and it was just totally surreal. I had to take an image of the motor though, which was an absolute beauty.
There was still time for a good wander as it was only early September and I had plenty of daylight left so I took off for what I thought was the direction of the centre of town. Obviously a pint was called for and there certainly appeared to be no shortage of options as the town is well served for what were to turn out to be uniformly decent pubs.
The first of a few.
The first on that caught my eye was the Gundog. What a find. It looked great from the outside and I believe it had had a bit of a refurbishment on the inside. Again, another review from my VT writing.
I do like old-fashioned pubs and I knew the minute I walked into the Gundog pub in Crown Street that I had stumbled upon a beauty. In fairness, the exterior had hinted at it but the interior was a delight with various little side rooms and so on. I got my pint which was well-kept and served promptly by a very friendly barmaid and retired to the room which is on your right as you come in the door and faces the street. Although I was drinking cider I noticed that they had a good selection of real ales and they can offer this selection as they are a freehouse which means they are not tied to the products of a particular brewery as many establishments are. Prices were very reasonable.
Having settled myself on the comfy bench seat I took in the fine wood-panelled walls, lovely old-fashioned fireplace and even noted the old bell pushes which were used to summon the bar staff in days past. What really took my eye, however, were the simply stunning leaded windows you can see in one of the images here. One featured a stained glass panel of an old rugby match and the other a game of cricket. It was really cosy in there so I had to have another pint and was served by a barman this time, the staff having changed over. He was as charming as his colleague and it only added to a very pleasant visit although regrettably I had to move on after a couple as I had other places still to visit.
If I am back in Halifax I shall definitely return here and I strongly suggest the reader does as well if they are in town.
It is what it is.
Back on the completely unplanned ramble and I happened upon another place which proved to be a completely different entity although decent enough in it’s own way. I came upon the Old Cock and Oak Bar which was down a bit of a back street but I do have a knack of finding slightly out of the way pubs. I also have a fairly well-defined ability to be able to gauge what kind of pub I am in within a few seconds of walking through the door and so it was here.
Firstly, the place is huge and on an early midweek evening it was very predominantly males in there although there were one or two females. There were several large screen TVs showing a variety of sporting events and I chose the back bar as I had seen cricket on the screen there. I believe this is the Oak Lounge mentioned in the full name of the premises, presumably due to the rather pleasant panelling there. I went to the bar and was served by a pleasant and chatty young lady who provided a pint of well-kept cider very promptly.
As well as the TV screens the rear room also boasted a couple of pool tables which seemed to be getting plenty of use. I was told by a local that this place can become, shall we say, a little lively on a Friday and Saturday night but it was perfectly well ordered when I was there so I can only speak as I find. This may be something to do with the fact that they have live music on those nights but the couple of locals I exchanged a few words with all seemed friendly enough.
There is not really much more I can tell you about this place. Certainly there are more atmospheric pubs in the town but I can find no fault with this place, as they say “it is what it is”.
Yet another gem.
It undoubtedly “was what it was” and none the worse for it but I was on a bit of a mission. A city I had never been in so there had to be plenty more to explore and I set about it with a will. I came to a road junction where there was a sign advertising an Italian restaurant and indicating to use the other door down the side street. I was also looking for somewhere to eat that evening and I wandered down to where I thought the door was to check out the menu. Instead of a menu I saw a sign stating that this was the local current CAMRA Pub of the Season. This intrigued me as there was nothing else to suggest it was a pub and it would be unusual for a restaurant to be designated thus. For readers not aware of CAMRA it is an acronym standing for the CAMpaign for Real Ale which is a consumer pressure group that concerns itself with the preservation of real ales, ciders and the British pub which are all subjects dear to my heart!
Obviously I walked straight in and was greeted by the slightly unusual but very welcome sight which you can see in one of the images. It was immediately obvious that the premises had not been designed as a pub which was all to be explained to me later. It was fairly quiet in there and I chatted to the very friendly barman whilst perusing the extensive beer and cider menu before deciding on a pint of one particular cider which turned out to be rather good. Please don’t ask me what it was as I rally cannot recall.
The story is that the premises had indeed been an Italian restaurant for some time before going out of business, then lay empty for four or five years when the current management bought it over, gave it a lick of paint and opened it as is now under the rather grand name of the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe in November 2014. Most of the original decor has been retained which gives it more a cafe-bar feel than a pub but it does not suffer for that.
I particularly liked the wood ceiling and the shelving which was presumably designed for wine bottles initially but now serve to display some of the huge range of available bottled beers. I know many pubs use this device as a decorative tool but in here it is the genuine current stock as I found out when one of the staff produced a small step and reached up to take some bottles down to resupply the chiller. If none of the bottles appeal then you may want to try one of the eight real ales from the pump or twelve beers from the keg which are offered. These change regularly. They also have a spirits licence if that is your thing but it really is a beer / cider place.
If there are all sorts of beers here then it is the same with the patrons and the VCBC, as it seems to be called locally, certainly attracts a very varied clientele. On the evening I visited there was a poetry session in the small upstairs area which attracted a number of “alternative” types and became quite raucous. I was cordially invited to join in but declined although I sort of regretted that due to the amount of fun they were apparently having.
Downstairs there were guys in work gear mixing quite happily with “suits”, a young couple having what appeared to be a romantic tryst in the quieter little area to the left whilst an older chap got on with his crossword nearby and then, of course, there was your humble narrator! It does not get much more eclectic than that but it was all extremely friendly.
I tried a couple of the beers (the saison was good) but I eventually settled on the grapefruit beer and you did read that correctly. I do like fruit beers and ciders and I am particularly fond of grapefruit so this was an obvious choice. It was slightly more expensive than most of the other brews on offer but I still found all the prices to be very reasonable as I am used to London and I have to say that it was worth every penny as it was utterly delicious.
Should you wish to combine your love of beer with your love of matters internet (hopefully reading my blog) then there is free wifi available. Regrettably, I am not sure how accessible it would be here as I only saw one entrance and that has two steps up to it. It is extremely dog friendly here and also extremely beard friendly. At one point early on there were nine men and two ladies present and all but one of the men had face furniture of one sort or another. I felt right at home although I do stress that it is not mandatory! It is open 1100 – 2300 every day except Friday and Saturday when it stays open an extra hour.
All in all this is another great venue in a town where I seemed to have been ricocheting round quite a few, I do recommend it highly and herein ends another travel review written for such a site but it does not end there.
It had to be a curry.
Yorkshire is famous for many things like tea, cricket, the Dales and so on but in more recent times it is known as a county with a huge South Asian immigrant population and renowned for it’s contributions to the curry cuisine of the world. Well, I had a bellyful of very decent beer and cider in me so a plate of something spicy seemed right in order as I do love a curry and am lucky enough to live in an area with something like nine curry houses within a 500 yard radius of my front door.
As I mentioned above, where I live in the East End of London there is certainly no shortage of “Indian” restaurants although the fact of the matter is that they are no such thing and are almost exclusively owned and staffed by Bangladeshis. In West Yorkshire, however, the situation is somewhat different as the majority of the Asian population there are of Pakistani descent and so it was no surprise to me when I saw a restaurant called Kashmiri Aroma which is on the first floor of a modern looking building right in the centre of town.
When I went in I noticed that it was a large establishment although it was fairly well empty which may have been due to it approaching closing time on a weekday night. There were only two other tables occupied which is normally not a great sign but I need not have worried as I shall explain now. The decor is modern and bright and the staff were well turned out. I was greeted in a very friendly manner, shown to a table and the obligatory beer and poppadums were duly produced. I am not sure if it was just natural Yorkshire friendliness or they were merely bored but I had conversations with no less than three of the waiters whilst waiting for my meal to arrive. These conversations confirmed my earlier surmise that the place was, indeed, Pakistani run (I am not going to get into the Indian / Pakistani dispute over the Kashmir region here, they told me they were Pakistanis). Maybe the respective Governments of those two nuclear enabled countries should just sit down, listen to the wonderful Led Zeppelin song named for the region and chill out. I suppose that is just the old hippy in me talking.
My starter of chicken liver tikka (£3:70) duly arrived and was delightful. Described as “Spring chicken liver marinated in selected herbs and spices and cooked over charcoal”, I had selected it mostly on the basis that it was a dish I had never had before. Yes, I do take my travel writing seriously and took images of the menu for use as notes later! I do like to try new things and it certainly did not disappoint, being fairly delicately spiced and cooked to perfection. I am a big fan of offal anyway as I think it is much underused and can be absolutely beautiful. I’ll take a plate of devilled kidneys for breakfast any time but I’m damned if I know where to find such a dish now.
For my main course I had opted for chicken Kashmir which is not as hot a dish as I would normally choose but I had been having a little bit of stomach trouble for a few days and so I thought discretion was the better part of valour. Add in the name of the restaurant and it’s probable provenance and it was an obvious choice. It was delightfully spiced although not overly hot and the lychees added a nice note of sweetness. Lychees are one of my favourite exotic fruits so this was perfect for me. Strangely, I rarely eat rice in Asian restaurants as it just bloats me but I do love Asian breads and a couple of nice warm chapati complemented the meal nicely.
I hadn’t really considered what time it was as the Asian restaurants near me stay open pretty late every night but when I checked the opening times to write this piece originally I discovered that I had been there a bit beyond closing time. I was not rushed in the slightest and was asked if I wanted dessert or coffee which I thought in retrospect was a nice touch.
Later on in my trip I was talking to an Asian taxi driver who mentioned that he thought the place was expensive. Perhaps it is just that I am used to London prices but I found it very reasonable given the quality of the surroundings, service and, most importantly, the food. I have no hesitation in highly recommending Kashmiri Aroma which is open for a la carte and on Sunday there is also a buffet which starts at 1630.
It was a completely satisfied Fergy (in every sense of the word) that returned to his comfy bed nearby. I was going on a canal boat trip, one of the great loves of my life, I hadn’t even seen a canal at that point and yet it had been a brilliant day out.
I’ll get “on the cut” (canal talk for being on the canal) in the next entry so stay tuned and spread the word.