Cruising ends and exploring begins.

I do hope the reader has come upon this page by way of those previous and, if not, I would recommend they have a look back a few entries on this site as this will all make a bit more sense.

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The final stretch to home.

My friends Gilly and Aly and I had awoken very early on the “good ship Westmorelend” i.e. the canal boat we had hired for a weekend in the little backwater called Salterhebble. I use the word backwater advisedly as it is, being a now closed off section of what was formerly the Halifax canal but is now really the “road to nowhere” being probably a mile or a little more to a basin and a decent enough bar / restaurant (see previous entry) but we had to be on the move early. The boat needed to be back by 0900 and I expect most folk on a short hire probably moor up “back at base” but I was very glad that we had not as we were treated to a simply beautiful early autumnal morning which was probably the most aesthetically pleasing of the trip.

I fully appreciate how boatyards work but it seems to me that a supposed four day weekend hire is really about two and a half days. I am not knocking the firm we went with as they were great and they all do the same thing but it always seems to me like short-changing the customer a bit.

We took off after a cup of tea / coffee each (I am a coffee man myself) and I was quite happy to let the ladies crack on at the tiller. OK, and I remember it well, even at this early hour, Gilly did a bit more blackberry gathering although not too serious. If this sounds crazy to you, again please read the previous entries, it will all make sense. It made little sense at the time but it does now!

With the ladies navigating us nicely I was in a position to take a reasonably comprehensive if brief video on the features of a narrowboat for those of you that don’t know them. Now, to load it up on this site is going to cost me a lot of money as they are obviously a commercial site and need to turn a bob or two so I am tempted to use my Youtube channel which I really need to attend to urgently. I’ll let you know. I am never going to make money out of this site, nor is that the intention so why spend more than I need to when I can do it elsewhere for free? Here is a link if I have done it correctly!

I have also uploaded a short video of the beautiful canal that day.  A video of the Cut on this gorgeous early morning.

If memory serves, we slipped moorings about 0700 and it was a very gentle amble back to the yard where we arrived well in time and another cut and paste from a now sadly deceased website will hopefully explain our RTB (Return to base in Forces speak).

“On the way back, after a brilliant weekend I was at the helm and pulling up slowly to the wharf, not entirely sure of where they wanted me to moor. A young lad beckoned from the quay and was obviously looking to refuel the craft as he was standing beside a pump. The only problem was that he was indicating a space about eight feet wide and the craft I was supposedly piloting was about seven and a half wide not to mention about 58′ long! Not a problem. With shouted instructions from the wharf he backed me in perfectly and started his job of refilling. That finished, he asked me to draw up and “parallel park” alongside another boat already moored. Well, a tricky job but he offered to come on board and walk me in which meant him giving me commands to basically ram the adjoining boat extremely slowly at which point he fended us off with his feet and brought us to a perfect stop stern onto the quay. He had obviously done this many times before. I love working with pros!

So that was that then. Backed in with the help of the lad and we were back safe with just a couple of scuffs on the strakes but they expect that. Being people of a certain age, we had not trashed the boat although I know it regrettably happens and so they asked us very politely if they could check it out. Sure, we have nothing to hide although I suspect they knew that by the look of us not to mention the ludicrously large grins on all our faces. I know some young crews go for a week in summer and just trash the boat, which is why many firms will not accept single sex crews under a certain age and rightly so. In our case, apart from a few dishevelled bedclothes (which had been neatly stowed) and perhaps a crumb or two there was nothing to find fault with and we were invited inside the boathouse for Gilly to sign off a couple of legal documents or whatever they might have been. I just stood outside and had a smoke! With everything apparently deemed OK, it was time to head off albeit very regretfully.

Again, I shall go back to my original writings here. Dave had left to go back to work and Gilly and Aly were both catching buses home but I still had a few days holiday to go and so I asked the same delightful lady (she of the slightly terrified safety briefing before we had set out) if I could leave my kitbag in the office and that was no problem at all. I was thinking perhaps they would have a storeroom as boatyards always do but I was told to just dump it in the corner of the main office and she would look after it. That was great, and much appreciated. OK, I was travelling light but it is so much easier to wander when you are not humping a suitcase, no matter how small.

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HQ for our little jaunt.

The ladies and I headed the short distance up to town and decided upon the Commercial Inn again as it had been too early for breakfast aboard but never to early for a pint. I still was not feeling on top form physically although mentally and, dare I say it, spritually, I was flying. Despite the slight gastro-intestinal mishap, and again folks I apologise for not pulling my weight all the way, it had been an utterly magical time in a beautiful place with great friends doing something that I love so dearly, it was literally like a dream come true. Again, I do not want to sound melodramatic about it but it really had been that good and I thank you all if you ever manage to stumble across this blog and appreciate the sentiments involved.

That was another thing that was murdered (I use the word advisedly) when VT was killed off.  I have lost contact with so many friends as I refuse to sacrifice my privacy on the altar of so-called social media, which is probably the most anti-social thing in the history of mankind. Therefore I have lost touch with all but a handful (a literal handful) of my many friends from that great site.

The ladies left within about half an hour for their respective buses but I only had to get a few miles back down the road to Halifax where I had my room booked for the night and so, after another couple of pints, I took myself for a look round the delights of Sowerby Bridge and it is indeed a delightful place. I still wasn’t feeling on top form although a lot better than I had been and I took myself into a chemist’s (pharmacist’s) shop and spoke to the young female South Asian pharmacist on duty who listened carefully to my symptoms and concluded it was probably severe indigestion. Severe? I’ll say it was and I have never been laid up like that before even after the heaviest of mess dinners and too much port and brandy with the cheeseboard!

I have always thought that pharmacists get a bit of a raw deal as they are generally perceived as being the “poor relations” of Doctors. As far as I am aware, a pharmacy degree takes five years in my country which is the same as a Doctor but without the hospital add-ons. Considering you can get a degree in “media studies” (whatever in blazes that might be and not worth the paper it is written on) in three years, I think they deserve much more respect. Anyway the charming young lady produced some non-prescription medication which I paid for and duly pocketed and which turned out to be most efficacious although my method of administration was probably little obscure as will be seen. I honestly think that if more people went to their local pharmacist for minor ailments instead of clogging up the creaking General Practitioner system which is just about to collapse now then the whole NHS would be in a far better place.

Yet another little off-topic ramble of mine and no, I shall not apologise for it. I am getting used to this idea of editorial control and quite liking it.

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I really liked this statue.

The first thing which I stopped to look at was a statue I had passed earlier but not had time to stop and examine properly and as always I hope my suitably edited writing from the time will serve by way of explanation.

“It is no secret that I do not like modern so-called art and this extends to statuary. I have seen far too many rusting heaps of metal in public spaces masquerading as art and looking like somebody just dumped a load of rubbish from the local tip to be impressed by them, much less be happy that I am probably paying for them out of my taxes. This is why I was so delighted to come upon the wonderful piece you see in the image here.

The statue stands at the entrance to the old wharf in the middle of town and is beautifully rendered by the sculptor, Roger Burnett. It depicts a man, assisted by a small boy, opening a lock gate on the canal and as a confirmed narrowboat fan it instantly resonated with me as I have worked a few lock gates myself.

The statue per se was delightful but it became even better later on when I was having a refreshing pint in the nearby Commercial Inn (please see my review elsewhere in this entry regarding that). A framed photo of the statue on the wall added the information that the statue was of Mr. Richard Tiffany who was for many years the town lock-keeper before they shut the Rochdale Canal as a commercial entity. To make the piece completely perfect for me, the young boy in the statue was modelled on the late Mr. Tiffany’s real great grandson.

You may call me old-fashioned, a Philistine or indeed anything else you want but I will always consider Tracy Emin (incidentally the apparently “sainted” Ms. Emin is from Margate which is near Broadstairs which I know well, and I have heard some stories!), Damian Hirst et al as no more than commercial chancers whilst this for me is a piece of art both aesthetically pleasing and exactly in and of it’s place. Given a choice of a pickled sheep, a condom strewn unmade bed or this I know which one I would rather look at.” Here endeth the lesson from the art critic of Fergy’s Rambles, which is me like every other job here. I love it.

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The next thing I can across was the rather impressive Christchurch Anglican church which had been pointed out to me on the Friday as being one of the stops on the rushbearing procession. If you do not know what the archaic practice of rushbearing is and have come upon this page randomly then please go back three entries where I explain it. In ecclesiastical terms the church is relatively young as it dates only to 1821 but there is a history of worship here dating to 1526, again not terribly old by UK standards but at that time Sowerby Bridge was nothing more than a bridge, a mill and a few scattered dwellings. Prior to that the locals would have had to gone to Halifax and visited the Minster (then still merely the parish church) which I mentioned a couple of entries ago. I’ll bet it would have taken a lot longer than the seven minute train journey that had brought me here! Regrettably the Church did not seem to be open which is a sad indictment of our modern times although sensible I suppose and so I continued on my way.

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River Calder from Sowerby Bridge.

I managed a few images and I do not propose to bore you with them all here but I rather liked the one above of the Calder taken from the bridge albeit it would have been a lot more pleasant had there been a bit of sun! Onward, ever onward and by now it was opening time in normal pubs so that sounded like a plan notwithstanding that it was a crazy one given the state I had been in gastro-intestinally so recently but I have always had a bit of a mad streak in me so when I saw the Roxy, I was in like a shot. As the image suggests it was formerly the Electric Cinema, opened in the middle of the First World War and showed it’s last film in 1963 when it became a bingo hall for many years and eventually the “venue and bistro” it describes itself as now.

The Oxford English Dictionary which I consider to be the sole arbiter in matters of my language defines a bistro as “a small, inexpensive restaurant”. Inexpensive it certainly is but it is like being in an aircraft hangar or, well, an old converted cinema so don’t know where they got that appellation from. I should stress that I have no complaints about the Roxy, the service was efficient, the pint was fine, the “facilities” were clean as was the bar area but it all just seemed to be a bit soulless to me. They are obviously in direct competition with the nearby Wetherspoons as described above by offering all sorts of deals on food and drink and evidently working on economies of scale. It is just that Wetherspoons do it so much better.

I do realise that washing down medication for an upset stomach with acidic cider is probably not the medically prescribed method but we are back to my mad streak again. I am also conscious that members of my family occasionally have a look here if they are very bored but they already know I am a headcase so no harm done there although my cousin Liz, a qualified nurse, would probably have given me an ear-bashing for it. Whether it be my lunacy, natural healing or the efficacy of the medicine given me by the fine young pharmacist I could not possibly say but I was feeling a lot easier by the time I left the Roxy. Having looked it up online to write this piece, I know it gets slated badly but I am a great believer in writing as I find and I have no complaints. Trust me (don’t they all say that, but this time it is true) everything I write here is the truth. It is the only way I can write. That might not count for a lot in this increasingly degenerating world (now, I really am in old man mode!) but it is the best I’ve got.

Enough of me sitting here at 0544 on a December morning in 2018 writing this up as my sleep disorder, or the “sleep fairy” as I rather disaffectionally call her, has obviously been put on overtime recently and I must say that doing this now and formerly on other sites has been somewhat of a therapy for me. It gives me something to do when I cannot sleep and hopefully it is of some sort of interest / benefit to my tiny readership. Yes, I still read  books (does anyone remember them?) and love doing so but this gives me another interest.  No, I do not have one of those book reading machines you see people using on the Tube in London. I like a book to feel like a book and, yes, I am sounding older by the paragraph here. That is OK, I have no illusions and I get my pensioner buspass next year!

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“If I only had a brain”. I know how you feel, mate.

Let’s get back to Sowerby Bridge then and have another look round. The next thing of interest I came across was the rather charming scarecrow you see pictured here. Now, when the church was first built here in 1526 there may have been farming usage of the local land but I certainly found no evidence of arable cultivation here nor even of avian scavangers so I can only presume it was a remnant of the Rushbearing (as described above) and damned interesting I found it.

For those of us of a certain generation a scarecrow will always conjure up images of the “Wizard of Oz! film starring Judy Garland long before even I was born. As I walked past and took the obligatory image, I actually found myself humming the “theme tune” from his character which is, “If I only had a brain”. After my recent performance with the stomach medication washed down with cider I could not resist a somewhat wry smile. Maybe in a former life I was the “strawman”. I literally tipped my hat to him and carried on. If I only had a brain. Enough of this Hollywood nonsense and it was time for another pint. Yes, I was feeling whole lot better.

I knew of the Moorings pub /restaurant near where I had to go and pick up my kit from the lovely young lady at the boathouse but I still had time on my side (just!). Let’s be honest I no longer have time on my side and how Mick Jagger still sings that at 75 years old is a mystery to me. Still, he sings it well and I’ll never make that age so fair play to him. It is Keith Richard I worry about, he has obviously done a Robert Johnson. Go on, look it up as I am not going to do all the work for you here!

As usual the original writing will, I trust, suffice but I shall edit a bit more to include the peas. Yes, you read that right.

” On our way down to pick up the boat on the Friday we had passed the Moorings “pub and kitchen” which was situated in one of the old wharf buildings and I had almost instantly dismissed it as a place I would go albeit that we didn’t have time anyway. When I see the term “pub and kitchen” I automatically think of over-priced food and drink in an atmosphere of people just wanting to be seen. By all means call me dyed in the wool (a very apposite term in this area) but I like a pub to be a pub.

My initial impression was that it was not really my kind of place and was trying too hard. I also noticed that it was totally empty but that was perhaps not surprising on a September Monday in a dormitory town during working hours. I ordered a pint of cider from a very chatty and friendly young barmaid and planted myself on a rather comfortable leather Chesterfield sofa by the window where I could overlook the wharf. Indeed, I could see the boat we had vacated that morning which was a delightful view if slightly poignant.

Although I had no intention of dining there, I did take a quick glance at the menu which seemed to be of the “gastropub” variety and priced accordingly.

I went to the toilet (bathroom / CR / washroom or whatever) which was up the stairs and spotlessly clean. This did raise an issue with me regarding accessible toilets and I didn’t see one although I was not particularly looking. I cannot find any information on the attached website but I cannot believe that a place so apparently recently refurbished would not have such a facility.”

There you go for the original writing from the time and I am slightly ashamed of myself that I did not mention the peas! At one point there was a guy came in with a huge bag of peas taken that afternoon from his allotment / greenhouse / cloche or whatever an destined for the kitchen. I love locally sourced and fresh food. The barmaid grabbed a handful before taking them upstairs to the kitchen and slapped them on the bar, telling me they are “bloody lovely”.

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They don’t come much fresher and they don’t last long!

I just have to post an image here, well at least of the remnants. I like peas, especially freshly shelled, but I swear I have never tasted anything like these. Literally they were mouth-watering, never had peas like them.

I do really like that and, no, I am not an “eco-warrior” in the modern sense. It certainly boosted up my appreciation of a “poncy” place considerably and maybe, just maybe, I should start to believe when they say on their chalkboards “all local produce”. How do you source a kumquat locally in the UK for your duck sauce in the middle of February? Sorry, did I mention I am arguably the most cynical man on the planet? OK, Rick Wakeman, Ian Hislop, Jeremy Clarkson and a few others might be up there but they have all sought fame and fortune (and done bloody well out of it) whereas I just carried a grudge against an ever-worsening world. Maybe they were right and I am now wondering if there is a website where I can sign up to be professionally grumpy.

Let’s be honest, no wedding is complete without the obnoxious old uncle / aunt / long lost cousin that nobody really wanted to invite but had to be invited to avoid family tensions. If someone was lucky enough to have a wonderful loving extended family with no such embarrassing encumbrances then perhaps I could fill that void. I think I may have found a market nice there as my marketing friend would say.

Right, enough digression for the moment although it will undoubtedly rear it’s ugly head again soon enough. I spent longer than I expected in the Moorings. Despite my initial misgivings, and I maintain my original stance that it is an upmarket place as evidenced by the “after work” crowd coming in and drinking bottles of Rioja or whatever, it is not at all a bad place for a drink even for a scruffy passerby like me and I was certainly not looked down upon as I had half expected. OK, it is difficult to physically look down on me at 6’5″ but you get the idea.

I was aware that time was no longer my friend as the office with my entire worldly good and possessions would be closing shortly. I bade farewell to the friendly staff who had changed shifts whilst I was there and so obtained a view of several employees who were all exemplary. I took the short walk back along the wharf, pausing for a wistful glance at the lovely Westmoreland which had served us so well, and back into the office to collect my kit. It was the same young lady on the desk and I did have to ask her if she worked all day every day which raised a smile. I normally do not buy souvenirs but I felt vaguely obliged due to the extreme helpfulness of this young lady. Would that all those in “service” industries were like her. Having secured a few bits and pieces, I thanked her most sincerely and trundled off back along the wharf to let her lock up. I have to say that if she was the “face” of Shire Cruisers, she was perfect for the task. Isn’t it funny how some people just make an impression on you?

With the kit secured it was about time to think about heading back to Halifax where my berth for the night was. I had not checked the bus times but I need not have worried as they run pretty late. I have to say that public transport here far outstrips my native Northern Ireland where the last bus to my village goes at 1750 from the large town nearby. I swear I once briefly lived in a village in Northern Ireland where the bus ran once a week (market day)! I kid you not.

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Back to base. Check out the furniture arrangement!

Back then to Halifax and re-ensconced (think how much that word would score in Scrabble on a triple word score if it is even a proper word) in the Old Post Office. Again, for some reason they had put me in the other accessible room on the ground floor which suited me nicely. The wall of my bedroom would have been the back wall of the bar, which is close enough for me and so, with the kit stowed, it was straight back in there for a quick one before sallying off to sample the delights of a weekday evening in this fine town.

It had been an early start and a longish but hugely enjoyable day wandering around so I did not want to get adventurous and I decided on the local Wetherspoons, in this case the Percy Shaw which was literally five minutes walk away from my digs through the bus station. As always I knew I could get a decent pint, a tasty meal that was not going to break the bank and internet that works more often than it doesn’t! So, who was Percy Shaw I hear you ask. Actually I do not but do hope you did which will prove you have as enquiring a mind as mine! This was exactly the title I picked for my tip on VT when I wrote it what seems like an age ago now, “So who was Percy Shaw?” and again I shall let it stand on it’s own here as he is an interesting man.

I went into what looked like a fairly modern building both externally and internally before opting for my usual Strongbow cider from the very good selection of beers and ciders on offer. Part of the Wetherspoon business model seems to involve never apparently having enough staff on which I suppose keeps overheads down but can be frustrating when you are waiting for service. In fairness, service here was always pretty good.

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I just love spare ribs.

I’ll tell you about the excellent breakfast next day in due course but that evening I just wanted a small plate and the half rack of ribs offered with coleslaw and chips (fries) was just what was required. Again, if memory serves it was only £4 (2015 price). At a time of slightly greater hunger the chilli dog served with chips and onion rings proved very filling. As previously mentioned, portions in Wetherspoon generally tend to be generous and the full rack of ribs really is a challenge although one I attempt from time to time. I would not even attempt the mixed grill!

The Percy Shaw is in a large modern building as I said and is clean and bright with spotless toilet facilities. The walls are adorned, as usual in the chain, with items of local interest and I did find out the interesting piece of information that the telegraphic address of Halifax was “Toffee Town” back in the days of telegrams and so on. This was due to the fact that it was where the very popular brand of sweets known as Quality Street were made (and still are for all I know). The main draw of the decorations, however, brings me back nicely to the Mr. Percy Shaw. You may not have heard of him but I will guarantee you have seen his best known invention which is the cat’s eyes which you see in the middle of the road. I do wonder how many of them there are in the world now. So now you know.

I did year a story once, undoubtedly apocryphal about him being interviewed about the invention of the cat’s eye device and he explained that it was when he saw a cat eye reflecting in the dark, as they do, that he hit on the plan. In a slightly risque comment thereafter he allegedly stated that if the cat had been walking away from him he would probably have invented the pencil sharpener but enough of this.

The pub named for the good Percy is yet another safe bet for a meal and a drink and should you wish to visit then they are open Mon – Thu: 8am to 12am, Fri – Sat: 8am to 1am and Sun: 8am to 12am. Suitably refreshed it was off for another great night’s sleep in yet another comfy bed in my hotel.

I shall go for another excursion in the next chapter of this little series so stay tuned and spread the word.

I get to the other Halifax.

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.

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I got there in one piece.

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.

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My home from home in Halifax.

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.

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As comfy as you like.

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.

A mini-Minster.

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.

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Halifax Minster on a dull Yorkshire day.

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.

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Poor old cemented Tristram.

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.

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Lest we forget.

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.

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Isn’t she a beauty?

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.

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A very fine pub.

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.

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A beautiful place for a pint.

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.

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Check out the windows, they are stunning.

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.

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Old Cock and Oak Bar.

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.

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What a great place.

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.

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Beards are not obligatory!

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.

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A fine curry house.

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.

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An unusual starter.

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.

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Every bit as tasty as it looks.

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.