A bridge in time2
A brisk day in March, wet but without rain. Ducking through the dripping steel railway bridge, carving through residual puddles, Sowerby Bridge seems jack-knifed between the twenty first century and the 1970s. It’s partly the lack of ubiquitous chain stores, partly the dubious puns of the shabby independent shops, but mostly the hues of a downtrodden day in a small Yorkshire town.
Out the other side of the town the road befriends the trajectory of the River Ryburn as it steers through the steep wooded valley, roaming towards the Calder. The Triangle public house, in the tiny village of Triangle, is boarded up, not the first dead watering hole on the winding roads that lead to the quiet, charming town of Ripponden.
At Ripponden, about as remote an urban centre you can get in the sprawl of West Yorkshire, time blends from 1970s into the eighteenth century in the shadow of the Victorian church. A few footsteps further on the day retreats to nearer the 1670s as a cold breeze rustles across the cobbles of the ancient humpbacked bridge that leads to a quiet, unassuming public house.
The Old Bridge deserves its name. The bridge from which it takes its name, just like the church whose shadow it lies in, has been rebuilt many times since the first packhorse crossing. The pub is as old, over 700 years as the oldest records attest too. In the 14th century the town were not even on the first of their four churches that the river or weather has razed along the way. Old broom, new handles, new brushes.
The Ryburn runs straight and narrow under the ancient structure, the pub nestles on the northern side, resplendent in bright white wash. Warm fires, real ale, fine dining, but with not an ounce of pretension. The Old Bridge is family run, locally revered, bustling with merry drinkers around the bar and belly-patting diners, content and perhaps a little dozy.
Since 1307 similar scenes may have been played out in this hidden pocket of hostelry. On the main York to Chester road, journey-worn travellers would have put their feet up here, may have knocked back unfussy ale and unfussy food, stocking up on victuals and sleep. Curled up in a window nook in 2012 the beer is a little brighter and food is a little more fussy (but excellent) – scallops with parsnip puree, mackerel pate, sea bass with chorizo, crisp and luscious belly pork.
Bowed by time, oak beams run low in the sitting rooms either side of the cheery communal bar, warmed by fires or stoves and sitting under a cockeyed triangular roof that’s seen seven centuries of welcomes and goodbyes.
The river barely flows. A tear drop on the neck of a window box daffodil is frozen in the crisp Sunday air. Under these bows, between mahogany panelled walls, Airedale Valley Bitter meets chocolate orange brownie (scrumptious), and like that droplet, we’re immovable, resolved to enjoy the slowness with which two hours lumber by.
One hundred and twenty minutes. But a tiny percentage of the years and patrons that the Old Bridge has watched over in its lifetime.Tags: british pubs, West Yorkshire, yorkshire