A few months back I received an email from Tony from Halifax & Calderdale CAMRA inviting me to speak at their beer festival in September. I’d never done anything like that before but I reasoned it was far enough away not to stress about it just yet so I agreed.
Last week I realised it was time to get preparing, so I set aside a morning to plan and structure my talk. How was I supposed to fill an hour? Don’t people get bored after 20 minutes? How could I keep this interesting? I decided to talk about myself (as anyone can do THAT for an hour) and structured my talk around my life in beer and pubs. I broke it down into sections and wrote out little prompt cards to help me through. Tony had asked if I needed any tech setting up but I’d been to enough presentations to know that there is ALWAYS a hitch with the tech – and I didn’t need that stressing me out on the day. To break up the talk, I added in a couple of readings from my blog and a bit of interactivity, throwing some questions out to the audience. I had no idea how that last bit would go but Martin was going to be there and I was confident that at least he would help me out. I practised what I was going to say out loud and it was around 40 minutes so I figured that would be sufficient. Hence, after one morning’s prep, I could now put this to bed until it was time to pull out my prompt cards on the day of the fest.
On the morning of the fest – a Friday – I was satisfied that I had a good plan in place for the day. There was a beer festival and seven pubs for a kick off. But how did that fit into my SlimmingWorld plan? Well the joy of SlimmingWorld is its flexibility – so anything goes (within reason!). Paddington – who is my
sponsor accountability bear – had it all in hand.
The train from Blackpool North to Halifax was 90 minutes and direct, which meant I could settle back and relax with my Earl Grey and my Kindle. I’m currently reading the new Stephen King, Fairy Tale, and had just got to a particularly exciting part in the story, so immersed myself in this world, paying no attention whatsoever to where the train was.
The Shaun The Sheep theme tune brought me back to the real world. Oh that was my phone! It was Tony, who had just boarded my train at Hebden Bridge but had failed to spot me on it, despite me sporting my bright tangerine Fritidsklader cagoule. We agreed to meet on the platform at Halifax. I decided I now needed to pay attention to where I was. Oh – almost at Halifax! I packed away Paddington, my empty flask and Kindle (well iPad) and was ready for the next stage of my day.
As soon as I stepped off the train, I was stunned by how beautiful Halifax was.
A man who I assumed to be Tony greeted me and escorted me out of the station and into town.
The day before, I’d meticulously planned my itinerary, plotting the pubs Tony had recommended on a map, researching their menus, realising none of them had ANYTHING I could eat on the SlimmingWorld plan, researching pubs that DID have suitable scran as well as a caff for breakfast. I’d sent this itinerary to Tony to see what he thought. He had pretty much pooh-poohed my choice of caff for breakfast (‘it’s in the opposite direction to the festival’) but I’d wanted to visit The Shay Cafe – predominantly because of its location, well, at The Shay, home of Halifax Town.
As we exited the station, Tony waved his hand dismissively in the direction of the Shay.
‘The Shay Cafe’s over there but let me take you this way and show you something else.’
Since he’d taken the trouble to invite me to speak at the fest, kept in touch with regular updates, recommended pubs and met me on the train, I decided to revert to ‘follow mode’ and go with the flow.
I spotted Eureka, the children’s museum that a couple of Pool fans had recommended I visit today. Alas this was not a Football Tourist Guide – purely a beer trip – and I hadn’t factored in any time for tourism.
Tony pointed out the conflicting architecture of the Square Chapel Arts Centre, which was both old and modern.
‘There’s a craft beer bar in there, too, which you might want to visit later.’
‘Ooh I’ve already got seven pubs on my list – I can’t go factoring any more in!’
I did, but not that one.
As we approached the Piece Hall, we met up with Glyn, who was also on his way to the festival.
As soon as we stepped through these gates, I thanked Tony profusely for bringing me here. It was breathtaking.
These photos really don’t do this place justice. I wasn’t expecting anything like this in Halifax.
Tony pointed out the breakfast options here. I had researched these online in advance and ruled all of them out, apart from one place which had a particularly dirty menu. I couldn’t face that in the end so Tony took me to another place that might be more suitable.
We entered through a beautiful arcade.
I’d actually ruled out this place in my research but I couldn’t remember why and, besides, how dangerous could it be? I really did need further sustenance before the fest to help soak up the beer. I ordered the Light Breakfast and an Earl Grey and Tony kindly paid.
Halfway up the stairs I spotted this.
Tony, Glyn and I took a seat and had a natter about the unreliability of printers while we waited for our breakfasts to arrive. As soon as mine was placed in front of me, I realised why I had ruled this place out.
‘Ooh – er – what’s in those scrambled eggs?’
‘Milk. Is that ok?’
‘Er – well – er – no, don’t worry – it’s not going to kill me or anything.’
I ate the tomatoes and beans, cut the fat off the bacon and ate that as well as most of the eggs. Milk is allowed as a ‘Healthy Extra’ on SlimmingWorld so it wasn’t the end of the world. I didn’t touch the bread, as my appetite was now satisfied (this was my second breakfast of the morning, remember, after my flask of quark and blueberries on the train).
My tea arrived with a cookie. Do you see how HARD it is to diet when not being ultra careful about where you eat? But the willpower was strong and I resisted.
I forgot to photograph (and visit) the toilets that Tony had recommended (he knew his audience) and followed him through town to the festival.
This was the venue for the fest.
The Dean Clough Mill complex was once (so I’m told) home to the biggest carpet manufacturer in the world. Everything in Halifax was so BIG and impressive. I wished Lee was here, as this was all such eye candy for a video.
As we approached the entrance to the Viaduct Theatre (in D Mill), we met Chris Dyson, a fellow beer blogger who I hadn’t met before and who had spoken at this festival previously. Chris’s blog is beautifully written, so please do pop over there and give him a read (bookmark it for reading after this one).
We headed into the venue and I was shown to the room where my talk would be taking place. I was pleased to see it would be round a table and not theatre-style seating. This was a more relaxed setting and immediately set me at ease. There were also sofas at the edge of the room, so I settled back in one of those to prepare. I connected to the WiFi, loaded up the pages from which I’d do my readings, got Paddington out for moral support, poured myself a glass of cordial, went for a pre-talk wee, got my fanzines out to plug at the end of the talk and reviewed my prompt cards so my subject matter was fresh in my mind.
Meanwhile I’d made a new friend in Suzanne, a Bury fan. Everyone was so friendly here. I’d never met any of these people before in my life and yet I was amongst friends – and this was my tribe, my family. This is the beauty of beer festivals – and something I spoke about today. I also met John, another Bury fan. I was interested to hear of the latest developments at Bury. With the horrors that we’ve been through at Blackpool, I can empathise so much more with clubs in turmoil than I ever could before. And it’s truly heartbreaking what has happened – and is still happening – with Bury. I really do hope that the clubs merge successfully and they can come together for a united and happy future. Although I know from experience that there are so many complications that come out of a prolonged period of unrest.
I took a position at the head of the table and settled down in preparation for my talk. As the start time of 1pm arrived, so did the attendees and the table was soon full, as well as a couple of seats around the perimeter of the room. Tony introduced me and explained why he had invited me to speak at today’s festival (which was useful, as I had no idea). Apparently this was because I love beer and he was confident I’d speak about it enthusiastically – which, of course, I did.
The talk went better than I could have imagined. I mentioned above that I’d included interactivity. When I had spoken about my first pub and what it meant to me, I asked the audience about their first pub. Martin was indeed the first to respond. What I wasn’t expecting was for everyone to answer – and in order too, as the answers spread clockwise around the whole table, with some fascinating and engaging responses. This must have taken around 15 minutes to get around everyone and that, coupled with the readings from my blog (about Wigan Beer Festival and Peterborough pub crawl), made up for over half of my allocated hour. Indeed I had to speed through my last couple of prompt cards as the clock approached 2pm.
Even better, half of the attendees bought a fanzine off me at the end of the talk, so it had proved worth bringing those. Ooh this was a glimpse of what life might be like on the road with by book tour whenever I get that finished (you will note I keep signing up for more Open University modules as an avoidance measure). If you want to follow suit and support me by buying the fanzine here’s a link you can use to subscribe:
I was informed about a forthcoming dark beer festival at one of the pubs I was about to visit which may also be of interest to you, dear reader.
Right: now it was time to drink! Where are those beers…?
Paddington had highlighted three beers for me to try today (I’d already annotated them on my festival programme with a circle, ready to draw a face inside expressing how I felt about the beers). There was also a possible fourth beer. However, with seven pubs yet to visit this afternoon, I was keen to keep the numbers low here today. And I would – as always at a festival – be on thirds.
How could I resist a ginger beer? These are such a rarity these days. I only ever seem to see them at beer festivals – and not at all of those. This was a fine example and I enjoyed it very much.
The beers were in quite a small, narrowish room and I had no trouble identifying people I knew to have a natter with.
Here I met Dermot, a heritage pub photographer who I knew from Twitter; and spotted the familiar face of Chris from Stockport & South Manchester CAMRA. Both parties were sorry to have missed Martin, who had sloped off with Christine to get some lunch.
And here, too, were Kev and Chris from Blackpool, who it was a nice surprise to see – although I don’t know why I was surprised, as they pop up at every festival in the North West (were we still in the North West?). They were off doing pubs this afternoon, too – and it turned out we were aiming for the same train home, so I’d see them there if not beforehand. It would be great to have some company on the way home, as I suspected I’d be in no fit state to retain anything I read and I was already up to date on Corrie.
This one was on my list because it was a Lancashire mild that I hadn’t tried before. It was thick and tasted more like a 5% stout or porter than a 3.6% mild.
And this one was on my list because it was from Hartlepool and I liked Hartlepool. And oh my word it proved to be my favourite beer of the day. It smelled so good I made everyone else smell it – and it tasted sublime. And look how fluffy it is!
This was the optional fourth beer on my list.
This was a beer I knew I loved, having enjoyed it at Bowland Beer Hall recently. But I could hear Paddington’s voice from my rucksack (he’s my accountability bear, remember, and determined to get me to my target weight). ‘I hope you don’t mind me saying, Miss Stuart, but you’ll be having at least six more beers today – do you really need to try one you’ve already had recently?’ Paddington gave me the strength to say no and head off in search of, well, more beer and pubbage, reluctant as I was to leave my new friends.
I wasn’t entirely clear on who would be accompanying me on my crawl this afternoon but I knew there would be friends popping up along the way. First of all it was fellow blogger Chris Dyson who, with his local knowledge, led me to the first pub on my tight itinerary.
This pub was in the same mill complex as the festival so we didn’t have far to walk. Nonetheless I was well and truly in ‘follow mode’ now, despite having all the pubs noted on a Google Map on my phone. Halifax being as visually stunning as it was, I was pleased to be able to enjoy the view as opposed to having to look at my phone.
On entering Stod Fold, I was instantly reminded of one of those two pubs next door to each other in Blackburn that I never got round to blogging about so can’t properly reference here. I think it was the Drummers Arms. Anyway they’re both good (Rock Box is the other one). We approached the bar and contemplated the pump clips.
I opted for a half of the Dark. This was a stronger ABV than I would have liked at the start of a crawl but you know I can’t resist a dark beer.
We got chatting to Greg, who was sitting at the bar, initiated when he leaned back to make space for me to photograph the pump clips in front of him. He was a Sheffield Wednesday fan, which of course led to a conversation about our (everybody’s?) mutual dislike of Nottingham Forest. I love meeting and talking to random strangers in pubs. I recommended the Welcome to Wrexham series (which is the best thing on tv ever, by the way) and he in turn recommended Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. I like receiving recommendations and am currently watching It’s Always Sunny In
Blackpool Philadelphia because an old drinking buddy raved about it all the time.
A message pinged through from Martin, advising that Fierce Bramble Porter was on in the pub where we had arranged our post-fest rendezvous. That man knows me too well. I downed my beer and Chris and I whisked ourselves off to join our fellow beer blogger.
I was still in ‘follow mode’ but this pub didn’t seem so far away. I already knew I was going to love it, as it had been described as ‘quirky’ by more than one person. Find out why in a moment; meanwhile here’s the beer board.
It was lovely to catch up with Martin and Christine. I’ve only met this great couple three times before (see Sheffield, Barnsley and Manchester) but we instantly connected with so much in common and I already consider them great friends. They are widely travelled and have so many interesting stories to tell and are wonderful company.
Oh the pub quirkiness? Here you go:
Martin was insistent that I photograph the gents toilets (this is the second time I have had gents toilets foisted upon me, the first being in the unblogged Philharmonic in Liverpool – hmm I really must do a Liverpool blog…). Anyway here’s the Grayston gents:
I appreciated this sign (at the bar, not in the gents) as I suppose men may not realise how women can feel when walking alone at night. I am on guard and will cross the road to avoid passing a man on the street. I favour footwear that is flat with a good grip so I can comfortably increase my speed when required. I may also have my keys clenched in my fist so I am able to defend myself if necessary. And I always hold my front door closed with my foot as soon as it’s closed in the seconds before I lock it – just in case.
Now it was time to head to a pub that hadn’t been on my original itinerary but so many people had mentioned it today that it would have been remiss of me not to visit. Despite this meaning EIGHT pubs on my itinerary now…
Situated in an arcade, this was one of those places where I feel somewhat overawed by choice and under pressure to make a decision before I’ve had chance to properly digest the menu.
I spotted this and plumped for it.
I was pleased that this was (a) not very strong, despite being suitably exciting; and (b) available in thirds, thus allowing me a taste but not making too much of a dent in my daily syn allowance. Obvs I was going to be WELL over my syns today but Paddington does allow me a ‘flexi syn’ day every now and then. Without days like this I might go off plan completely so these sessions do actually help to keep me on the straight and narrow.
Oh look at this exciting food offering:
What helps me to maintain my weight loss is keeping my food on plan on days like this. Only when I reach my target weight will Paddington permit me pub scran such as a Bhaji Butty and Broccoli & Cauliflower Nuggets.
Martin, Christine, Chris and I took a seat at a table outside the bar but still indoors in the shelter of the arcade. This sign on the table amused me.
You probably won’t be surprised to know that it was the toilets that were the main conversation piece for me. Indeed I found something in the Ladies that I’ve never seen in a pubtoilet before…
Was this really a TELEVISION in the toilet cubicle? I took a moment to examine the object more closely. Yes, it seemed to be. But why was it so low down, below eye level? And why encourage people to spend longer on the toilet, risking lenghty queues. I was most confused, as were the others when I showed them the photo. It was one way viewing, wasn’t it?
Of course sober me writing this has just spotted the branding and looked it up and it is apparently a heater, which makes much more sense, if a far less interesting story.
I did like the hand drier in here.
All things considered, this was a most blogworthy place and I was pleased to have been persuaded to visit. And the company wasn’t half bad either.
Sadly this was there Martin and Christine left us. I was left pondering Martin’s question about how many Twitter people I had met in real life and realised it was way more than I had initially thought. Indeed I had met many today alone, with more rendezvous planned in the coming weeks and months.
Oh my word. What a beer choice.
Beer lists these big are overwhelming when I’m with other people and feel pressured into making a quick decision. If I was on my own I might have taken longer over the decision. Looking at the list now, I can see the Vocation Naughty & Nice, Wild Weather (one of my fave breweries), a smoked porter and a Tartarus. I had none of these and ended up going for the first porter I saw on the bar.
I liked this pub for many reasons. There were lots of different rooms – and they were brimming with quirky stuff.
I could have happily spent longer in here but I was conscious that I needed to eat. I arranged to meet Tony et al in the next-but-one pub and Chris said his goodbyes. It had been lovely to meet him.
Aside from having a SlimmingWorld-friendly menu, the main reason I selected this place for dining was because Irish pubs make me feel like I’m on holiday.
I observed the pump clips for blog purposes only; I was taking a break from the beer (on Paddington’s advice) and ordered a diet pop in here.
My menu scanning was clearly hugely impaired today because I didn’t order the curry. Instead, I opted for the chilli.
I ate this seated at the bar and was in and out of the pub in half an hour at most as I still had another two pubs to fit in before my train.
This bar is in the pretty arcade with the caff with the free cookie.
Tony, Glyn and Chris were already here when I arrived. I was confused by Chris’s presence as he had already said his goodbyes but it turned out he thought I’d be longer on my food break.
Here’s what I had:
I was pleased to be able to order a third again in here and this is the glass it came in:
How had this menu passed me by on my pub research? There’s plenty on here I could have eaten.
Right – no time to dawdle. Next!
This is the sister pub of The Grayson Unity.
I have no idea what I drank in here – as I was with company, I wasn’t updating Untappd as I went along (and I messed up my entries on the way home). Probably the Elland.
This pub is called the Meandering Bear after a bear that escaped from Halifax Zoo, which there’s a poem about on the wall.
I was about to critique this poem when someone piped up that their mate had written it so I kept my mouth shut and took a picture of the menu instead.
Now it really was time to say goodbye to everyone. Tony, Chris, Glyn et al had been the perfect hosts – but it was time for me to head off to one last pub which was (sort of) on the way back to Halifax station.
This was the only traditional pub I visited today and it made for a welcome final stop.
This pub would have made a good Pub of Choice for a match against Halifax.
But again no time to dawdle here as I really wanted to make that half past seven train home (yes I really had packed all that drinking into a little over five hours).
As soon as I reached the station I realised I’d foolishly forgotten to acquire a bottle of water for the journey home – nor did there appear to be anywhere to do so here. Oh well, never mind – I’d be home soon enough. I took a seat on the appropriate platform and once again admired the view.
I was pleased to see Kev and Chris rock up and enjoyed their company on the 90 minute journey home.
Back at North station, I waved the lads goodbye as they headed to the loo while I trotted into town to catch a bus home. By now I was both thirsty and in need of a wee myself, so I’d be glad to be back home sooner rather than later.
I was surprised to find the bus shelters deserted. Damn – I must have just missed the bus.
As I waited alone, I was approached by a man who said he was in charge of a stag do (despite no-one else being around) and wanted to know where was best to go for a dance. Of course he was asking the wrong person here (although I did enjoy a dance at Marton Institute Beer Festival the other week). I pointed out Brannigans across the road with a disclaimer that it had been a different place when I occasionally went there 25+ years ago. He said they’d already been there and he was looking for an alternative. All I could suggest was that he could dance anywhere he wanted to – here in the street if he wanted to. I just wanted an end to the conversation really as I wanted to go home.
Closer inspection of the shelters revealed that the buses were currently diverted to a street I hadn’t heard of (I really must brush up on these Blackpool street names – I only know them by pubs). Of course the sober thing to do here would have been to look on the map for said street. But it all seemed very confusing and I just wanted to get home. So I started walking.
I quickly decided that walking home after a day on the lash wasn’t the most sensible move, so I jumped in a black cab and was home in no time at all.
What a wonderful day out that had been. Thank you to Tony for inviting me and being the perfect host. Thank you to Martin, Christine, Chris and everyone for turning up and supporting me at my talk. I felt at home instantly on arriving in Halifax and I will be very pleased to return to this beautiful town in the future.
Next Up: Meeting The New Signings & Blackpool v Norwich City.