A grand day out

Katie Mather takes us on a dreamy pub crawl around Ilkley, one of her favourite places to get drunk


I step off the minibus and onto a flagged pavement directly in front of Ilkley’s Anglican church, taking in the neat bedding begonias and blackened stonework. We’ve come from Clitheroe together on a trip organised by my local pub, and I’m stretching my arms after the hour-ish long drive.

“Stop looking at the graveyard, the pub’s this way!”

My pubmates have disembarked and they’re heading with purpose to the Flying Duck, the first pub on our crawl. Thirsty after a perilous journey on the winding A roads, a subtle battle for first position is taking place at the top of the group. Everybody wants to be the first inside. I hook my waterproof over my arm — the clouds are breaking, look — and follow the crowd into a thick-walled 18th century coaching inn, now brewpub, fire roaring despite the watery sunshine. The bar sits along the far wall, and entering the main room means stepping down stone steps into the space, giving it a feeling of cosy intimacy. Whatever is being cooked in the back kitchen smells incredible. A couple of dogs dry out like rag rugs by the fireplace.

I buy myself a pint of Wharfedale IPA, brewed next door, and a pint of Amarillo for the pubmate I was sat beside on the bus. As a result, he insists on buying the next two rounds. This tug of war continues throughout the day, ending with a full and highly impromptu sherry tasting. But first things first: our starting-line pints.

I settle down at a round table by myself, and get chatting to a couple who’ve come to visit the town for the weekend. Evidently this isn’t their first time in Ilkley, and they’re keen to give recommendations for places to eat. I nod and pretend to make mental notes, knowing that my lunch will actually be crisps and a pork pie. Ilkley is beloved, and this is what happens. People want to you to enjoy your visit there as much as they have.

The couple drink up and pull their dog from the hearth and out of the door, and a pint is put down in front of me. 

“I thought we were going after those?”

“Nah, you’ve got time.”

I do not have time. One gulp and I spot our self-appointed ringleaders making shuffly about-to-put-me-coat-on movements. The panicked bargaining begins: down it and suffer the consequences, or leave half and seem rude? The firsties are already out of the door by now. I think we all know which path I chose.

Walking through Ilkley on a brightening April day with a slight buzz on might be one of the nicest feelings in the world. The day’s ahead of you, everything’s alright with the world, the mizzling rain’s given over for a bit. You kid yourself that you might split from the group after the next one and go for a walk through the Riverside Gardens, and watch the River Wharfe swirl blackly around the pillars of the old bridge. As it happens, we get pretty close, wandering through residential streets to Ilkley Moor Vaults, the site of one of the best roast dinners I’ve ever had in my life. But today, there is no roast to be had by us. We are here for beer. 

Walking through Ilkley on a brightening April day with a slight buzz on might be one of the nicest feelings in the world.

Looking like a cricket pavilion that got lost on a dog walk, the cheerful blue-painted wooden frontage of the pub always makes me smile. Inside it feels smart — cosy, dog-friendly, but smart — and I look down at my jeans and remember wearing a nice summer dress the last time I was here. I look away from the dining guests enviously and order Ilkley Brewery pints for myself and two pubmates I fell into step with on the way, and we wander back out the front and into the beer garden where we feel less conspicuously buzzed. It’s mild now, and my waterproof remains unworn. A dog from a neighbouring table crawls under the picnic bench to say hello, its curly ears wet at the bottom.

“She’ll find a puddle anywhere!” her owners laugh. They’re wearing the clothes and look of people who got up early to walk a fair distance. It’s still a little early for the beer garden to be heaving, but there’s a decent crowd thanks to our minibusful, and lots of random bursts of laughter. The clink of pint pots scooped up to be taken back to the bar rings in the air. I no-thankyou-very-much a second pint and sit for a moment with my new friend, apologising quietly for not having any treats in my pockets.

After a headcount reveals one of us to be missing, moving on is postponed. The invisible man returns to the garden with more pints, and everybody groans theatrically. 

The next stop on our route around Ilkley is Bar T’at, named after the folk song everybody is legally obliged to recite a few lines of anytime Ilkley is mentioned in conversation.

Tha’s bahn t’catch thi deeath o’cowd

On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at

Unassuming from the outside, Bar T’at is actually fairly large inside, and really very nice with it’s modern-rustic décor. I was thrilled to see Okell’s Bitter on — a pint of Isle of Man TT Races nostalgia as far as I’m concerned. It’s gotten busy as we wait to be served, and I grow self-conscious about the size of our group crowding around the blackboards and the bar to choose from the extensive beer list. The person serving me tells me not to worry. Apparently an even larger group just left.

A group photo is taken, and I’m instructed to have a Brass Castle hazelnut mild next. I get a half in a stemmed glass and more photos of me are taken. Apparently we’re at the stage of the beer crawl when stemmed glassware is hilarious. I’m fancy! Look at me being fancy!

Time’s ticking, and we’ve spent too long in the comfortable embrace of Bar T’at. The minibus will be with us in less than two hours, and I want to divert the crew to a wine bar for a stop. A dangerous tactic, but I’ve built up a store of Dutch courage. 

Around the corner(ish) from Bar T’at is Friends Of Ham, a wine bar that sells great beer and delicious-smelling food. There’s a dining room out the back, however I’ve never seen it, preoccupied as I always am with the charcuterie out front. The Clitheroe busload wanders in, smaller (some might have disappeared to a more regular pub-type scenario — their loss), and their initial hesitations about trendiness, fanciness and general snobbery are immediately assuaged. I’m beaming. There are very few places I’m happier to be in than a room with its own leg of jamón.

Friends Of Ham is a small indie chain of bars, with a larger bar in Leeds on New Station Road. The Ilkley one is superior, in my opinion. It’s in Ilkley, for a start. I lead the lads and lasses over to the bar, chuffed as a mother hen with their excited mutterings. The multitude of beer taps! A fridge full of Belgian beer and cans! Sherry! When was the last time you had sherry?

My original minibus mate singles me out, knowing instinctively that I’d be up for an impromptu sherry tasting event.

I lead the lads and lasses over to the bar, chuffed as a mother hen with their excited mutterings

“It’s not beer,” he says, “but it’s bloody great.” I munch my cheese and ham plate delightedly.

Our final stop is Fuggle & Golding, a bottle shop and bar back in the direction of the river. The sun’s low in the sky now, it’ll be dark soon, and we’ve got 45 minutes until our bus takes us safely home. I always like walking down the main streets of Ilkley. The hanging baskets are some of the most exuberant in the world; truly Dolly Parton-esque. The shops are so neatly Victorian. The place is so modestly and generally beautiful, with the odd flourish of filigree ironwork and the stateliness of old spa town glamour.

Fuggle & Golding is a lot of our groups’ favourite craft beer micropub in the town. Serving beer from the likes of DEYA, Verdant, Northern Monk, Pressure Drop, Neon Raptor and Polly’s on tap, tall fridges stacked with colourful cans make up most of its interior design. By this point I’m strictly on softies, so I grab a Cloudwater soda and sit precariously on a high stool, chatting to the owners about, oh, who knows. Sorry, Mark and Sarah. 

Folk are grabbing tinnies for the road, and I applaud them, but I’m done. The bus waits for us at the church where we began our trip and we make our merry way to it, the blue evening softly closing around us. By the time we reach the Skipton roundabout, I’m asleep, as my pubmates sing along to Do I Love You by Frank Butler. 

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