Starting from a fine old tavern and ending in a superlative inter-war pub classic, this is the shortest cycle ride that I will be featuring on the website. However, before you think it will be a doddle, let me warn you that this ride may be the death of you! To earn your celebratory end-of-ride beer, you will have to haul yourself up one of the toughest cobbled lanes in Yorkshire.
Trooper Lane in Halifax is the stuff of legend. If you can drag your backside up this celebrated climb you might be tough enough to enter the next edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen.
In BBC's "Happy Valley," a crime drama set in the Calder Valley, the evil Tommy Lee Royce got off lightly when he was given a life sentence. Police Sergeant Catherine Cawood had the chance to stove his head in with a fire extinguisher but a more merciless punishment would have been to strap him to a bicycle and make him ride up Trooper Lane.
I headed to Trooper Lane on what was the official rest day of our Tour de Yorkshire hill climbing holiday in The Dales. I had a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the climb after seeing Trooper Lane on ITV's Cycle Show in 2015. I was mesmerised by the sight of Simon Warren pedalling up the hideously steep cobbled lane, a terrifying section of road in the world of two wheels. The author and cycling luminary even provided a commentary as he made his way up the savage slope. I invited my cycling friends to join me on this sojourn but they suggested that I insert a pedal and crank arm where the sun doesn't shine. They too had seen the Cycle Show and ticked the box "Choose Life" whilst taking the day off.
Of course, climbing specialists like Simon Warren and Tejvan Pettinger make extreme ascending look and sound so easy. But to me, a mere plodding touring cyclist, Trooper Lane seemed to be offering unimaginable pain and torture. Perversely, this is what makes such hills so appealing. There's nothing quite like a bit of lung-busting, eye-popping pedalling action.
On arrival in Halifax I undertook a reconnaissance mission in the car. As I trundled up the hill, almost stalling the engine in a few very steep places, I thought that this looked an impossible task on the bike. I parked at the top to take some photographs and again thought it looked a monumental undertaking. Using crampons and climbing rope, I lowered myself down Trooper Lane to take a look at other sections of outlandish pavé.
As I walked back up towards Bank Top, with the aid of an oxygen mask, I thought about the residents of the cottages up here. There is probably a property price premium just for the view. From the top of the lane you can see the Eiffel Tower. However, residents are expected to take it in turns handing the paper and daily post to the astronauts who pass a few feet overhead in the international space station. Well, it seems that way when you are stood at the foot of the cobbles looking up towards the summit.
Other questions were buzzing around my cranium - such as how do you get your shopping from up here? Presumably there is a lobby group campaigning large retail stores to install a travel belt from the checkout all the way up to Bank Top. And who empties the bins? Then I got to thinking why the name and how the hell did anyone think it would be a good idea to build a road on such a steep gradient? And besides, back in the day, how did anyone get up this hill with a horse and cart?
The name possibly derives from Calderdale's military associations. Trooper Lane connects Halifax with Bank Top and Southowram where there was once plenty of industrial activity such as quarrying and mining. This was reflected in local tavern's names such as the Delvers' Arms, though the most quirky appellation was a boozer called "Who Could A' Thowt It," a name perhaps to roll out after a successful two-wheeled assault on Trooper Lane.
There wasn't so much development in the old days. During the 19th century Trooper Lane rose out of Caddy Fields, wound itself around Swan Bank Colliery and zig-zagged up through the small locale around Blaithroyd Farm and onwards to the sandstone quarries up the hill. In the summer of 1937 Roy Casson, a young lad who lived in Trooper Lane, fell to his death in one of the quarries. I couldn't help but wonder if he was riding his bike down the steep hill?
Living up here where the air is a little thinner, the appropriately-named Eliza Mountain met her end just after the Second World War. It was reported that the Trooper Lane resident collapsed and died when talking to her husband. The newspaper item fails to mention whether or not her husband had suggested that she should do the shopping on her bicycle!
A little Dutch Courage can be acquired at the Cross Keys, a cycle-friendly pub that is only a short distance from Trooper Lane. Located on the corner of Whitegate, the 17th century inn has, under the stewardship of Hugh Kirby and Ruth Dunsmore, undergone something of a renaissance in recent years. Relieving Admiral Taverns of a failed boozer and closed property, the couple took the Cross Keys back to basics, offering real ale and traditional pub games for the local community to embrace. Oh, and pork pies! No sooner had they taken over the pub in 2012 when the local branch of CAMRA bestowed an award for their efforts. Up to six interesting beers are on sale so you can select something with a little va-va-voom for your impending hilly effort.
Appropriately, Halifax's cemetery is located at the foot of Trooper Lane. A former lodge of Stoney Royd is located on the corner of Siddal New Road. As I had already dubbed the ride "Death on Wheels," I nipped inside the funeral directors to book my place at the foot of the climb and found that there was a discount available for Row 1 Plot 4 as they had, in what is dubbed "here's one we prepared earlier," a trench ready and waiting for failed cycling attempts. There was a slight surcharge for burial with one's bike.
I started the climb from the lodge. If you feel happier having a run-up you can roll down Water Lane before hitting the cobbles next to the undertakers - at such a pace it will be a similar feel to seeing riders launching into the cobbles of the Arenberg Trench during the Paris-Roubaix Race.
Relief from the bumpity-bump of the cobbles on Swan Bank Lane comes after the road bears right and up Trooper Lane proper. The road is flanked by warning signs for lorry drivers. These should be supplemented with warnings for those with a nervous disposition or a dodgy ticker. Although the wheels are now on tarmac, the sight of the first bend will have you flicking for an easier sprocket. A Range Rover appeared around the bend in front of me and I was forced onto the inner curve which must have a gradient around 35% - going into the red is not a great start to the climb!
At the apex of Trooper Lane and Jubilee Street there was a bloke relaxing in the sun reading his newspaper. Without too much huffing and puffing I bade him good afternoon. The sight of lycra-clad idiots on wheels must provide a constant source of entertainment for the residents of Trooper Lane. They probably pay a bookies runner to nip down to William Hill's to place bets on the likelihood of a successful effort. I would like to think I was looking in reasonable shape at this stage - I had even managed to change onto a smaller sprocket after the initial shock of the first bend. Only the one sprocket mind you - I am the sort of cyclist that likes a higher cadence rather than grinding uphill with lots of upper body motion or paperboy weaving.
I was still feeling in good shape as I made my way around the bend before Bennett Street. The gradient through the houses doesn't relent - according to Strava, the average gradient for the entire climb is a tadge below 20% so you can expect little relief with your muscle-straining effort. At the next bend I had a disaster. I was so focused on the cobbles in front of me that I pedalled past the left-hand bend and straight into High Grove Lane. I was halfway up the cul-de-sac before I realised my gaffe. I was so furious with myself for making such a blunder. I could have just turned back and turned right and continue up Trooper Lane but this had debased my 'pure' climb. There was nothing for it, I had to roll back down to the start line in the fashion of a counter sliding down a grinning python on a snakes and ladders board. I stopped to report my folly to the bloke reading his newspaper and he was flabbergasted that I was going to do it all again. As I carried on down the hill he probably phoned William Hill's for an update on my odds!
Slightly demoralised, I could certainly feel the effort of the first climb in my legs. However, the adrenalin must have kicked in because my Strava data tells me that I was slightly faster on the second climb through the lower section. It was not until I had passed High Grove Lane for the second time that I felt I was making progress. The tarmac rises gradually at this stage and I was out of gearing options with half of the climb remaining. I made my way around the right-hand bend where a woman was tending to her pots and planters. I had little breath for polite conversation. And then you see the cobbles looming ahead.....
When you arrive at the cobbled section the task really does seem impossible. The gradient increases further and the cobbles disappear into the distance. It is here you witness the full horror of the task.
As I glanced upwards along the cobbles, I wondered how long I could maintain my effort. I am beginning to wonder why I am carrying a water bottle. The effort of the climb is all-consuming and demands both hands on the bars - there is no hope of drinking up here. I think about shedding some vital grams and ditching the bottle. I think about chucking the tool kit in my other bidon. In fact, why not shed the few grams contained in the bottle cages themselves. Who needs that extra weight when your eyes are bulging with the intense endeavour. I am now out of the saddle - I think about sawing off the seat post to shave a few more grams off the bike's weight. If I had been carrying a rasp I'd have made a start on any auxiliary metal in the frame! I have 'stuff' in my back pockets. What was I thinking? In fact, with the weight of my sweat-laden clothes I should have rode up in just my pants. On the plus side, all of these thoughts divert some of the impulses in my brain that is telling me this is hurting. I can feel my heartbeat ... in my ears! And still the cobbled road goes on.
After about 150 metres of steep cobbles the road bends slightly to the left. One hopes that the gradient eases but Trooper Lane is relentless. The steep cobbles continue into the distance to another bend.
I start to think of song titles that are appropriate for my situation. In other words, songs with which to die. I can hear the lyrics "Hello darkness, my old friend..." and "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" but I keep coming back to "Waiting Around to Die." And still the cobbled road goes on. There is a slight left-hand bend and the road ramps up even further. There is still no end in sight. I am now looking like Steve Martin when he turns into a skeleton during "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." I really am "Knocking on Heaven's Door."
Passing Blaithroyd Lane, the final left-hand bend is approaching. There are two blokes working in a garden. I am hoping for a few words of encouragement but the silence is deafening. The gradient is hovering at around 25% at this point but once around the bend you can see the summit in the distance. This has two effects, the finish is within reach which is a terrific boost to morale but it is also tantalisingly a long way up the cobbles. You just have to forget about your lungs that have popped out of your chest cavity and rested upon the stem of your bike and keep going. Surely I cannot concede defeat at this stage of the climb. I keep heaving away, trying not to look at the top, simply concentrating on keeping the wheels turning. I am not going to fail now - I would rather die on the bike and let others think up an appropriate epitaph. And then the top is within reach, a final push and you're over the crest. It really is a punch-the-air moment and they could no doubt here my whoop in Bradford.
Once I got my breath back, I looked back down the climb just to check that it looked as hard as it felt. For the Statto's among you, I managed to climb the hill in 6 minutes and 43 seconds. No great shakes but this placed me in the Top 25 per cent of registered attempts so I was reasonably content with my time. Hell, I was chuffed just to ride all the way up. Besides, lots of folks have taken up to 25 minutes to ascend Trooper Lane. And these slower times should also be honoured for these cyclists valiantly steered their front forks in the direction of the cobbles.
Time to celebrate ..... you can roll down Southoram Bank to work your way around to South Parade where you find the Three Pigeons, a rare survivor from the art deco period that has original features including oak veneer panelled walls, terrazzo floors and a spectacular octagonal domed lobby from which the rooms radiate. Indeed, the lobby, a distinctive feature of northern pubs, is thought to be the last remaining example in the country. Designed by local architects Jackson and Fox, the Three Pigeons was rebuilt in 1932 for Samuel Webster and Sons, a Halifax firm based at the Fountain Head Brewery. The Three Pigeons Inn has existed for a couple of centuries. When 79 year-old Thomas Senior died in March 1834 it was reported that he had been the publican for more than forty years. The current Three Pigeons was acquired by the Ossett Brewery in 2005 and the company undertook a sympathetic refurbishment of the building which now serves a wide range of their beers.
Do try to allow time for a look around Halifax as it has a wealth of Victoriana and plenty of interesting industrial buildings to explore.
View and Download Map
The route map covers the cycle ride from the Cross Keys to the Three Pigeons only. Anyone undertaking this ride is advised to perform some form of warm-up to get the muscles going before tackling the climb. I pottered around Halifax looking at some marvellous buildings including the superb Town Hall.
I cycled in a very squiggly fashion around Halifax before going up Trooper Lane so I have only included the profile for the hill climb here - check out the red zone!
Trooper Lane is featured in the second regional guide to Britain's toughest hill climbs compiled by Simon Warren. Indeed, there is a possibility that all of the UK's hills will be known as "Warrens" in the same way that Scottish Mountains over 3,000 feet are called "Munros." Yorkshire has so many great climbs there may be a second volume just for this county. But here in this book you'll find classics such as Fleet Moss, Park Rash and Rosedale Chimney. All of the climbs are presented with a photograph and description and are all rated out of 10. By the way, this climb is given the maximum rating of 10.
If you prefer online accounts of hill climbing - and a whole lot more - then click on Tejvan Pettinger's wonderful cycling blog and marvel how he quietly goes about his business. It's often understated but this is a man who lets his bike do the talking. Featuring plenty of great photographs, his accounts are insightful, frank and highly informative.
Have Your Say
If you would like to share any further information on this route - perhaps you drank in different pubs? Or maybe you spotted something I missed en-route? Whatever the reason it would be great to hear of your stories or route guidance for others. Simply send a message and I'll post it here.
Choose Your Bike
With this ride you need to concern yourself with gearing rather than the actual bike - though a light steed will be highly favourable. Cycling maestro Tejvan Pettinger went up Trooper Lane with a 39 tooth chainring which, to me, is unthinkable. I doff my cycling cap to these cycling gods. I would suggest that most riders would need a compact 34 tooth chainring with something big on the cassette. Combined with a 32 tooth sprocket, most roadies should just about make it up this climb.
Clothing and Equipment
If you have read my report on this ride then take my advice and ditch the lot. Take absolutely nothing with you or you'll simply regret carrying the extra weight.
The cobbles on Trooper Lane are in generally good condition and the gaps between the setts are not massive. However, consider a wide road tyre and only inflate to a low pressure. I went up with 70psi rather than my normal 110psi. Any lower than that on a road tyre would risk a pinch flat/puncture.
Some Inn Signs on this Route
Three pigeons are portrayed in silhouette perched on the branch of a tree with brilliant sunrays in the background reminiscent of a sign for the Rising Sun. It is thought that this sign was once very popular in the south of England whereas in the north, which was traditionally the land of pigeon fanciers, it is not so common. Pigeons are known for their incredible navigation. The Romans recognised this and used them for communication. Their use was widespread in the trenches of World War One. Even in World War 2 they were used for transmitting messages and 32 birds were awarded the Dickin Medal for gallantry. The decoration was named after the social reformer Maria Dickin who founded the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals [PDSA] in 1917.
Some Old Images of Halifax
"George Budds , married, of Beaconsfield Street, Trooper Lane, Halifax, was killed at Stone Trough Brewery, Halifax, yesterday. His
clothing was caught by a revolving shaft while he was whitewashing."
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer : March 1st 1938 Page 4.
"A fine of £3. with £2. 10s. costs and 10s. damages, was imposed at Halifax today on Eli Oldham builder's labourer, Dodworth Road,
Barnsley, who pleaded not guilty to doing wilful damage to a settee, wallpaper and a child's scarf in a room at the Three Pigeons Inn at Halifax."
"Disturber in the Inn"
Yorkshire Evening Post : January 31st 1947 P.1.
"A decision by Halifax magistrates was successfully challenged before Lord Hewart and Justices Goddard and Singleton, in a King's Bench
Divisional Court, yesterday, by Mr. Fieldea Sunderland, landlord of the Three Pigeons Inn, Halifax. Mr. Sunderland, on an information preferred by Inspector Percy Robinson,
was charged with having kept a room in his licensed premises for music without the appropriate licence, and was lined £5. Mr. Paley Scott., K.C., and Mr. R.
Castle-Miller [instructed by Messrs. Moore, Shepherd and Whitley] appeared for Mr. Sunderland. Mr. Scott explained that in the "best" room in his house
Mr. Sunderland kept a piano. It was there for the use of customers, one of whom, whose hobby was music, played it for the enjoyment of other customers. He received no payment,
and no instructions from Mr. Sunderland as to what he should play and when. Counsel contended that there was nothing illegal in keeping a piano in a public house without a
music licence, providing nobody was engaged to play it either or not. The was no evidence of any arrangement between Mr. Sunderland and the customer in question. Mr. Vernon
Gatte argued the case for the police to support the conviction. The appeal was allowed with costs, Lord Hewart stating that the facts seemed already covered by a decided
"Piano at an Inn"
Yorkshire Post & Leeds Intelligencer : Nov 13th 1935 Page 12.
Some Old Halifax Beers
I have not got that many beer labels from this area as it is way outside the Midlands region. However, I have included some here. The first six beer labels are from Samuel Webster & Sons Ltd., the biggest of the Halifax brewers. Founded in 1838, the brewery was acquired by Samuel Webster in 1860. Three sons formed the partnership aroundd the same time. Growth was fairly rapid in the mid-Victorian period and the firm operated 100 tied houses by 1880. The brewery did commission some lovely buildings in and around Halifax - The Three Pigeons on this page is a fine example. Over the years the company bought out other breweries until they became a target themselves. The company was eventually taken over by Watney Mann in the 1970s. However, Watney Mann were themselves bought out in 1990 by Grand Metropolitan who disposed of Webster's Brewery to Courage. The brewery at Halifax was eventually closed in 1996 with the loss of around 400 jobs.
Thomas Ramsden & Son Ltd.
The historic Stone Trough Brewery was owned by several parties before it was acquired by Thomas Ramsden & Son in 1881. They also operated the Mixenden Brewery at Ovenden but moved production over after expanding the site at Commercial Street in 1887. Like Samuel Webster & Sons Ltd., the company expanded by taking over other local breweries, along with their tied houses. The brewery operated 117 licensed houses by 1964, the year in which they were acquired by Allied Breweries Ltd. The brewery at Halifax was subsequently closed.
Richard Whitaker & Sons Ltd.
Richard Whitaker originally produced his ales at a couple of sites in Halifax, most notably at the old Stannary Inn where it is thought the business was founded in 1849. In 1867 production was moved to the Seedlings Mount Brewery at Corporation Street. This site was also to become known as the "Cock o' the North" brewery, the labels of their products featured a cock. The business was registered as Richard Whitaker & Sons Ltd. in April 1890. The brewery was substantially enlarged three years later. It was in 1959 that Whitbread first got involved with Richard Whitaker & Sons Ltd. With two Whitbread directors joining the board, it was not long before all of the pubs operated by the Halifax brewery were stocking bottled beers by Whitbread. The tied estate of 135 public houses was completely subsumed by Whitbread and in August 1968 the company was simply merged into the Whitbread empire. Within months, during February 1969, production of beers at Whitaker's ceased. The brewery was demolished in 1973. For a period the Whitaker brands were produced at Bentley's Yorkshire Breweries at Woodlesford near Leeds.
Daniel Fielding & Sons
This brewery was a little to the north of Halifax but, what the heck, let's feature it here. Daniel Fielding was both a farmer and brewer. He first retailed from a simple beer house in the village but the business grew steadily. Larger scaled production was based at the White Castle Brewery at Bradshaw Lane near Queensbury to the north of Halifax. The company, along with an estate of 19 tied houses, was bought by Samuel Webster & Sons Ltd. in 1961. The brewery was subsequently closed.