Driving to Shibden Mill Inn from my home in north Leeds offers a view of another side of Yorkshire: the gritty suburbs around Bradford’s northern ring road and former mill towns on the approach to Halifax. On a dreary Easter Monday with the constant drizzle of rain punctuated by the (very) odd sunbeam, it feels romantic and melancholy.
The sat-nav suddenly swings me onto Swales Moor Road and the undulating hills of the Pennines open up before me in scenes like those from opening credits of Last Tango in Halifax. After a short climb, there’s another unexpected turn to the left that has me on a narrow, cobbled street tilted at a nauseating gradient that sees me take a dizzying, bone-rattling descent into Shibden Valley itself.
It feels remote, incongruous and wild after the grey suburbs, so much so that I promise if I round the next turn and I still see no pub, I’m going to pull over and check the address.
That next turn comes to reveal Shibden Mill Inn, a 17th-century pub, restaurant and rooms overlooking the bubbling waters of Red Beck that powered the inn’s waterwheel in days gone by.
Shibden Mill Inn has been owned by husband-and-wife team Simon and Caitlin Heaton and run by general manager Glen Pearson for the last 18 years. Over that time, they’ve taken a ramshackle old pub and turned it into a destination inn that people come from miles around to visit – and they’ve picked up a number of gongs in recognition of the hard work they’ve put in along the way.
I’m shown to my room, the ever-so-grand Bower Suite, by duty manager Maria who opens the door with a flourish. I’m not sure what I expected – probably the usual country chic styling you get in gastro-inn rooms these days – but the room’s size sees me audibly gasp. With double-height ceilings, skylight windows and a terrace, it’s all framed with a huge stone archway, a legacy of this part of the building’s former life as a barn.
Stylish touches are everywhere: a canopied bed, free-standing bath, retro radio and Samsung flat-screen TV – and there’s a striking rhubarb-and-custard colour scheme that may or may not pay tribute to the nearby Rhubarb Triangle.
Later in the evening, I head down to the pub for dinner – there’s a grill restaurant that’s open on weekends (and also where breakfast is served), but even if a table were available there tonight, I think I’d prefer to dine in the pub itself thanks to its buzzy atmosphere. There’s a nice mix of locals at the bar, room guests dining together and a couple on the table opposite me who seem from their conversation to be on a first date. I can’t help but earwig all night – well you need something to keep you entertained when you’re dining like Billy No Mates.
Décor wise it’s again, not quite what you’d expect: So many of these kinds of places have been ‘gastroed’ up to their eyeballs: scrubbed wooden floors, restored furniture, fancy log burners, everything written on a chalk board… but Shibden Mill manages to make use of its period features without turning them into the main event. Yes, you get open fires and low-wood-beamed ceilings, but you also get the odd remnant of artex that looks like its been painted over several times. Refreshingly, it’s not been over-sanitised.
The meal that follows is mostly a treat: skrei cod with cauliflower couscous is a tender starter, followed by an excellent steak – although the chunky chips are a little underdone for my liking. Gluten-free sticky toffee pudding is an indulgent treat I should have avoided for waistline, if not taste, reasons but is still delicious. I accompany it all with a fruity glass of rioja (or two).
Back in the room, I have a comfy night’s sleep on the gigantic bed – and find everything’s kept toasty warm thanks to underfloor heating and radiators than I can control myself through a working thermostat. (My pet hate is not being able to regulate temperature myself in a hotel room).
Another nice feature is a framed list of where the necessities are – so when I wake up in the morning and want to press a shirt, I’m not opening every cupboard in the room in frustration in an effort to find the iron.
Breakfast – back in the grill restaurant – is excellent, even if I’m rushed by the need of an early start and don’t get to linger over it as long as I would have liked. Treats include homemade jams, local honey, the chef’s own take on muesli and a range of hot items from full English to eggs Benedict.
With double rooms starting at just £125 a night B&B, and three-course meals from around £40 per head (including wine), Shibden’s definitely the kind of place I’ll be heading back to… You should try it too – just make sure the suspension on your car’s been fixed before attempt to come down that cobbled street.
See www.shibdenmillinn.com for more