This appeared in PupPaper Issue 583

The visit to Leicester proved the desert of real ale that I expected, the pub we visited ended up going to during the afternoon being a Greene King pub (which was made worse by poor bar management and service) and the visit to my dads local had me going to my backstop beer of Marstons Smooth. So a visit to the consistently good Ship Inn in Brighouse fed my need on Thursday night with a couple of nice beers including Brunels IPA (Buttcombe). The customer service and quality of beer I received over my weekend away and back at home were on the opposite ends of the scale, a fact highlighted by my experience at the Ring O’Bells below.

As well as writing this weekly column, I also write quarterly real ale walk for another local publication, and this week was deadline day. This gave me the opportunity to pop into the recently re-opened Ring O’Bells this weekend as part of my research. Its a pub I’ll be definitely be visiting again, with a good selection of 5 real ales, which seem to be kept very well. Only having limited time, I tried their Farmhouse Blonde which hit the spot, a nice light, yet well flavoured beer. I was also pleased to see the landlords accommodation of children, which was most welcome after pushing a pram for 5 miles up and hills from my home at Southowram via Hipperholme. The
food looks good and at a reasonable price as well. I must commend the customer service there, which I could not fault at all.

I don’t have a great deal of free time, having 2 children, including a 10 month old. This means you have to chose your pubs with them in mind when out, but still balance the need for a quality beer. I’m sure many of you out there will have children and after 7 years of extensive research, since my eldest was born, I now know a decent pub which balances the two needs in most areas.

Hebden Bridge and the surrounding area are very good in this aspect with the Black Lion, Hole in the Wall, Stubbing Wharf and Fox & Goose all being good in both their acceptance of children and stocking good real ales. As you head further down towards Halifax, the Works, Moorings and Jubilee Refreshment Rooms in Sowerby Bridge all manage to balance this combination as well. Coming through past Elland and Brighouse I’ve had good experiences at the Barge and Barrel and Casa Del Lago (who normally have a couple of real ales from large breweries). As you come round the other side of Beacon Hill, the Cock of the North, Travellers Inn (both Hipperholme) and the Sportsman (via its playgym at the ski slope and excellent bar in the main pub) at Ploughcroft all score excellently on both counts.

Several of my favourite pubs are not on this list, including the Ship Inn and Red Rooster in Brighouse, but this is not a criticism of them at all, its just that these pubs are very much an adults domain, part of the reason I visit them in fact. Children in pubs is a decisive issue and everyone has their own opinions. Personally I don’t see a problem with them as long as the premises are suitable, they are not there too late, the parents keep them entertained and recognise when a distruptive or overtired child needs to go home. 15 years ago, a child friendly pub was in the vast minority of establishments, however the increase in families going for a drink and / or meal means that more pubs are chosing to welcome them, if not catering for them.

This is just one of several changes which have shaped the pub trade over the last 20 years. We’ve gone from having the disparity of the majority of the market which seemed to be either trendy bars, student pubs or drinking dens, to a situation where we have pubs which cater to people like us who love real ale, and are good for a quick drink or a long evening session, as well as children centric chain pubs and everything inbetween. Who knows where we will be in another 20 years, but what I do know is that real ale will still be going strong.