We’ll come to your town or neighbourhood, we said. We’ll spend a day messing about and write it up for Deserter, we said. Unless it’s fucking miles away, we said (but forgot that we said).
Consequently, the Dulwich Raider and I found ourselves on a train from King Cross bound for Leeds with some cans of pink gin and tonic to smooth our passage. Our services, if you can call them that, had been purchased in the shape of pledger support for our upcoming book, Shirk, Rest and Play, by a man they call “Ian”. And we are men of our words. Unless we forget those words.
In truth, it was too good an opportunity to miss. The chance for a local’s-eye view of a town we didn’t know well, a trawl around one of the UK’s fastest growing cities and its bars, plus tinned spirits on public transport with a nice sit down. A couple of hundred miles wasn’t going to keep us from our destiny: To do what we do at home, somewhere else.
But first a shock. Ian sent a message saying he wasn’t going to be able to join us, due to a recent fall and injury! We were sad. However, he was sending replacements – his girlfriend, Nadine, and Joanne, both old friends of ours and two of the more fun accomplices we know. We were saved!
With her massive quiff, leather jacket and chunky glam boots, Nadine stood out while awaiting our arrival on the station concourse, before she led us through the mysterious streets of Leeds. As a recent arrival in Yorkshire herself, Nadine was also something of a stranger to the city. But she’d asked the lads in her office for craft beer tips and they’d provided a map of town centre watering holes for discerning tipplers, or even the likes of us.
We started to lose heart when we passed the Midnight Bell, a Leeds Brewery pub, then the promise of the Cross Keys. But just as we’d begun to allow fear and doubt enter our callow hearts, they were blown away by a familiar sight – a monk in his flippin’ hood. A northern monk. For we had been spirited to the taproom of one of our favourite brewers – Northern Monk – who offered some 16 brews, including a Quadruple IPA, clocking in at 15%. Hallelujah!
Sitting outside in the courtyard enjoying fine ale, Nadine told us all about the owls. Millions of them, all around Leeds. Making a racket and swivelling their heads around like an exorcist’s pet. At least that’s what I thought she was saying, though it transpired she was talking about owls adorning buildings and sculptures around the city. Shame, as I was all for this massive upgrade on the pigeons we’re used to down south. Still, it was nice to be among the humans, outside an exemplary taproom.
“To whit,” began the Raider, raising his glass for a “cheers”.
“To woo,” replied Nadine.
Joanne then joined us, a welcome sight we hadn’t seen since the Before Time. Also new to Leeds, Joanne is a northern lass, though as she’s from ‘the other place’, she probably keeps it on the down low. She’s been getting to know the local population through the medium of Tinder. It’s a slow process but one that comes with benefits.
Though reluctant to leave, we hit the trail for North Brewing’s taproom, to be joined by the Raider’s cousin Nic and her partner, who we would christen John the Biscuit.
“Fancy a biscuit?” whispered John to the Raider, passing him a single foil mound of baked goodness as we settled into our delicious pints of Sputnik. “A quarter each will see you alright,” he winked.
Oh, that sort of biscuit. We all tucked in, even those who don’t normally partake of the herb. Maybe they just liked biscuits. Regardless, we were all soon in the grip of uncontrollable laughter on the wave of a smooth, almost dignified high. Why don’t we do edibles more often, we asked ourselves? Because we’re lazy twats who like smoking stuff, was the unspoken reply.
“Have you lost weight?” I asked Nic, employing the observational writer’s eye for detail that makes me such a hit with the ladies.
“Oh, well spotted, Sherlock. I’ve lost four fucking stone.”
That’s more than 2kg, kids.
We weaved through the city centre, a busy metropolis decorated by youthful creatures who, shall we say, were not sensibly dressed. It was an eye-opener into an almost Geordie-like world of flesh, tan and heels and a stark reminder that we were very much in The North: a land where every night is a hen night. We dodged the fairy princesses (or were they moths? No, don’t be silly. Who goes on a hen night dressed as a moth?) and reached Beer Hawk.
It looked and felt like part of a chain, but they still served up a fine pint of Saucery, from Huddersfield brewer Magic Rock (now part of beverage behemoth Lion Global Markets, sadly). From our table outside, we could watch the city go by, while drinking in what was essentially an alley. A luxury alley, if you will.
Unable to get into Assembly Underground due to an aversion to queueing – a place I’m certain we would have enjoyed – we popped into Nation of Shopkeepers for more ace pints and an excited chat about just how brilliant 2003 was.
By now the biscuit had us desperate for food. That and the fact we hadn’t eaten. We headed to Brew York with its promise of Asian street food and more beer, but sadly the sign for food turned out to be just a sign. There wasn’t any food. The beer was welcome, as we were thirsty too, but we were getting desperate and were out of biscuits.
Nadine corralled us into The Reliance, a quite swanky place, at least for people in our state. Nevertheless they made us very welcome. I was too ‘relaxed’ for a meal that required cutlery so discovering beef empanadas with chimichurri on the menu felt like a miracle of civilisation. The veggies among us were chuffed with their options. We were happy again. We could carry on boozing.
That was the final port of call before returning to Nadine and Ian’s to finally catch up with the guy who called us to Leeds in the first place. Though injured, Ian was still in better shape than us, especially as we rolled quite unnecessary joints to smoke in the garden, watched over no doubt by eagle-eyed owls.
Ian told us that the local association with owls goes back hundreds of years to Sir John Savile, the first Alderman of Leeds, who had owls on his coat-of-arms. Why? Did he introduce European Owls to Yorkshire? No. “He just liked owls,” Ian revealed.
After a well deserved and dreamless sleep we awoke to a breakfast worthy of an Alderman, or at least a top notch bed and breakfast, before contemplating our departure. Tired and emotional, a train snooze beckoned, though first we had to change at York.
“You’ll be wanting to visit the glorious York Tap then,” piped up Ian. “It’s a pub on a platform!”
Our interest in booze had been resuscitated. We’d have to get an early train in contravention of all sorts of ticketing regulations, if not natural law, but it sounded worth it. A pub on a platform! It felt naughty, jumping on a Newcastle train we had no right to be on, but when you’re a renegade, you know no fear.
“I’m scared,” said the Raider as the announcer announced likely punishments for ticket transgressors, including, if I heard correctly, disembowelment for sitting in someone else’s seat. But when we slowed coming into York, we knew our innards were safe.
When we caught sight of the Tap, we almost cried. A stunning Grade A listed Edwardian building, with bowed stained glass alcoves and a curved bar of ten cask pumps. The Raider practically skipped round the side to find several Thornbridge and Timmy Taylor pumps in addition. Affable Yorkshire service delivered absurdly perfect pints from Saltaire and Bristol Beer Factory. Did we really have to leave? With a journey time of an hour 45, a day trip to York without ever venturing outside the station is a vibe worth considering for your bucket list.
To conclude, good times are there to be had in Leeds, along with great ale, a more relaxed pace and slightly friendlier people than the capital. And if you are lucky, a man named John will emerge from the desert (or, say, Sheffield), promising your spirit will rise to the heavens.
“Give it an hour, and you’ll be laughing your tits off.”