A Journey Along the Pennine Rail Ale Trail

pennine rail ale trail railway tracks

The station taverns of the famous Trans-Pennine Railway are becoming an unlikely tourist destination – Matt Callard set out with a hardy group of travellers to discover why.

You’ve probably taken the Trans-Pennine express before. Boarded at Leeds and spent 40-minutes fiddling with your iPad, blinking at the endless rolls of the moors and generally easing your brain in and out of theta rhythm.

entrance to the train station tavern barYou would have pulled into Dewsbury Station and taken in the pretty Railway Children look of it all and drifted off into a Jenny Agutter-inspired reverie. It’s likely you by-passed Huddersfield Station without a thought to privileges that might have come your way should you have endeavoured to disembark. You certainly would have crossed the red rose border into Stalybridge where you’d have been too busy thinking about the big city adventures of Manchester or Liverpool to consider what wonders an old-fashioned track-side watering hole might provide. But oh, what joys have passed you by!

“Old tavern character”

Look closer when your express train pauses at Dewsbury and you might see determined men and women (but let’s be honest, usually men) hopping off the train and into the adjacent inn – men in suits, men in groups, men with a secret twinkle in their eye and a thirst for something special.

So it’s with some excitement that I’m joined by the On: photographer and a few dozen good people from Leeds financial juggernaut TD Waterhouse (now closed down: Ed) for an evening sojourn to these places of good repute – all organised by On’s very own booze expert, Paul Howard.

hand holding pint of ale bitterWe’re on the trail of good ale, of course – an honest and rewarding pursuit in these perilous times – and the stations dotting this famous route are filled with the CAMRA-affiliated stuff. Plus, we’re looking for a bit of genuine old tavern character, maybe even a chaser of general good humour and bonhomie. But I think there’s something else we’re pursuing too – escape.

Escape not just from the gaseous tap-poured slime you drink in lager-fuelled theme pubs, not just from the hullabaloo of city boozing, but escape from the pub routine.

“Pleasant sampling”

So, if you like to be in control, purchase a return to Stalybridge (£12.20). Then, seek out the train timetable and plan your ale-attack with military detail. Or if you’re feeling like approaching this with reckless abandon, jump on the first west-bound locomotive from platform 10 and pray you reach Dewsbury before the inspector comes. Whatever, after five stop-offs, three hours and half a pint of Exterminator, you’re likely to end up on the 11.36 to Aberystywth either way.

Arrive in Dewsbury (25 mins) and head for the Grade II listed West Riding Refreshment Rooms on Platform 2. Its Tardis-like interior includes train memorabilia, wooden floors and is appealingly atmospheric. Best of all, there’s Yorkshire stalwart Timothy Taylor on tap to start your engines. Plus a host of interesting microbrewery beers.

pumps in tavern beerRumour has it, so appealing was this hostelry, some of our fellow explorers chose to end their expedition here! While this wasn’t exactly revelling in the spirit of adventure, we doff a cap to their single-minded interpretation of the phrase ‘trans-Pennine’. After one hour of pleasant sampling, head nodding and regular uses of the words ‘fruity’, ‘heady’ and ‘moreish’ we head for our Huddersfield-bound train.


The train/platform/direction dilemma can be problematic. Especially after half a dark mild. So watch where you’re boarding and try to make sure you hit the express trains rather than the pesky stop-at-every-station ones. Or else, follow the On: photographer, who is in turn following the main crowd, and hope for the best.

Huddersfield (10 minutes) boasts two stations either side of the platform (one for the return journey, of course). So try the ruggedly authentic, diesel-scented Station Tavern first of all. There are over a dozen real ales and microbrewers on show. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a roaring fire for company.

By now you should be asking yourself two questions: Am I pacing myself correctly here and why is my face so red?

“Gem of a journey”

blackboard in real ale tavernThe fairly recent tourist pull of these places (including a massive blast of publicity when Oz Clark and James May stopped by for their recent Big Wine Adventure series for BBC2) means these pubs are not yet fully equipped to provide for 25 people arriving in tow and all ordering halfs. So prepare for a bit of hanging around if you’re in a group. But, really, that’s all part of the charm. Although the raised eyebrows from some of the regulars revealed a slightly different take on matters.

Seventy minutes in Huddersfield then you’re hopping back on the train for a 20 minute journey over the border into Lancashire and onward to Stalybridge’s Buffet Bar. For me, this was the gem of the journey. Dangerously snug, adorned with curios, oozing step-back-in-time character (despite a discreet £50k revamp). Plus, there is a plethora of splendid local ales to try. Here is a while-away-the-hours location. Except we’ve only got 59 minutes and we’re all getting pleasantly rough around the edges.

“Booze heritage hot spot”

stalybridge real ale tavern inn pubRemembering to turn around (not as easy as that sounds), head back to Huddersfield’s Head of Steam (another Grade II lister) to peruse a massive beer list including Black Sheep and Deuchars IPA. If you’re lucky you might catch a bit of jazz. Believe me, it will sound inexplicably wonderful! Your Leeds-bound train departs at quarter past ten, arriving at about quarter to eleven.

As the local councils see the pound sign potential of these booze heritage hot spots, will they lose their essential character? Possibly. But right now this Pennine pub crawl retains an earthy charm far removed from the clamour of city centre socialising. Time to try it for yourself? It’s a great escape.

Track facts:
No station is more than 1 minute away from the train.
Planning your itinery in advance is recommended (sticking to it is difficult!).
Marsden Station hosts a couple of lovely nearby pubs which are fabulous in the summer – the express does not stop here however.
Last sensible Leeds-bound train is 22.31

Article correct at time of posting


1 comment

  1. Mike Shaw 28 May, 2013 at 19:37 Reply

    Well it was a good tail until it got took over by drunks, it’s so bad the pubs have decided to stop selling larger, shots and alcopops, they are stopping Stag and Hen parties and fancy dress and larger groups, they are trying to get back to an Ale Trail, will that work? We will see.

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