On The Right Tracks for a Northern Coffee Adventure

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Northern railway contacted me recently to ask me if I’d be interested in joining them for a coffee adventure. My answer, of course, was “you had me at coffee”, and on Sunday I met up with a bunch of very pleasant folk at Manchester Victoria.

Northern had planned what they called their “Northern Coffee Adventure”, which was a trip from Manchester Victoria via train (plus a very pleasant stroll along the canal) to Dark Woods Roastery in Marsden, in the picturesque Colne Valley, near Huddersfield. Northern rail passengers won the tickets in a competition and were promised the chance to taste some great coffees, enjoy breakfast from a local bakery, and discover more about coffee and coffee roasting from the coffee experts at Dark Woods.

I jumped on a train to Picadilly on Sunday morning, and walked out into what looked like Manchester but felt like Antarctica! Not sure where this cold came from, but at least it was dry and sunny.

I don’t often walk through town this early on a Sunday morning, in fact, I don’t usually walk anywhere this early on a Sunday morning unless dreaming counts? I decided to walk to Victoria, which only took about 15 mins (I was walking fast as it was sodding cold), and then met up with the group, which included some folk from Northern, some other local bloggers/press, a very, very tall photographer, the group of competition winners, and a musical duo who were providing audio entertainment for us on the train.

The Northern guard who was with us was providing local business announcements at each station on the PA system, which I realise was a one-off for this event, but I thought it was a great idea! For example, I discovered that there’s an Indian vegetarian restaurant in Ashton-under-Lyne called Lily’s (I’m Pescetarian. I was full veggie for a while but I really missed fish).

I had a chat with one of the folk from Northern who explained to me that they were putting this event on, and others like it, to try to highlight some of the brilliant places that are really easily accessible via the railway which makes for great days out.

I think this a great idea, for Northern, for businesses in these kinds of areas that rely on tourism, and for the public who may be missing out on visiting some really pretty and interesting towns and villages within a fairly short train journey, without the hassle of driving & parking.

 

Marsden

As we traveled towards Marsden it struck me what a picturesque area this whole area is, and how daft it was that I’d never thought to visit this area before, given that it only took about half an hour to get there by train! The train station is right next to the Huddersfield narrow canal, and within a minute or two stroll down the hill, you’re at the river Colne which is in the middle of this pretty village. The Railway pub is right opposite the train station (obviously) if you need refreshments first, or while you’re waiting for your train. I popped in here for 10 mins while I was waiting for the train back, very friendly folk, and they serve coffee too, which was handy for me as it wasn’t beer o’clock yet.

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Marsden is surrounded by high moors, and with the canal and the river too, you really get the feeling you’re out in the countryside. It reminded me of Last of the Summer Wine, which is no surprise given that this was a regular filming location for the series, see Last of the Summer Wine filming locations.

Ian from Dark Woods led us through the village, and then onto the canal while giving us some facts and info about the place. It took about 25 mins I’d say to get to Dark woods along the canal, and it’s a really pleasant walk, I’d definitely recommend it – especially on a day like this.

If you carry on walking for maybe 20 minutes, you end up in the next village along which is Slaithwaite, and if you like you can get the train from here rather than turning around and walking back to Marsden. So this isn’t a bad plan, get on at Victoria, visit Marsden, have a very pleasant stroll through the village, then up onto the canal and along the canal to Slaithwaite, and get the train back to Manchester from here. I think I’ll do this with my wife and kids in the not too distant future, although the kids are getting to the point that being seen in public with them ruins their street cred, so it might just be the two of us.

Dark Woods Roastery

I know of the roastery already, of course, they’re in the list of coffee roasters, and I’ve read about them in the past as being this great roastery in a really great location, in a renovated water mill on the banks of the River Colne. It’s really in a fantastic location, and they do open as a popup cafe occasionally so if you’re doing this walk along the canal it’s worthwhile turning right down the track a bit after lock 31, just to see if they’re open. I’m assuming they inform members of their mailing list when they’re going to be opening the pop-up cafe, so it may be an idea to join their mailing list, as I have just done so I can plan a trip when this is open.

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The Dark Woods founders are Damian Blackburn, Paul Meikle-Janney, and Ian Agnew, and they bring an amazing amount of coffee knowledge and experience to Dark Woods. Read their story, and you’ll see what I mean.

The roastery itself is a really nice open plan space, with bare brick walls and exposed beams, lots of natural light flooding in from the big windows and the skylights, and plenty of heat coming from the open flame log burner, which is very welcoming in weather like this!

They have two roasters, a very nicely restored 1950’s Probat UG22, and a more modern Probat Probatone5 – and from the amount of coffee they’re roasting at the moment I would imagine they’re both working around the clock in the week.

They have a very nice coffee shop setup, from which I enjoyed a very nice flat white not long after entering the roastery. I made a bee-line for the counter while most people were getting themselves some of the very nice pastries Roger’s wholesale bakery had provided for us – I was peckish, but there was far too much blood in my caffeine stream so that needed dealing with first!

Food was my next priority after coffee, and I reached for an almond croissant which was roughly the size of a small dog – and it was bloody lovely!

After Ian and Damian had finished making coffee for us all, Damian began the talk, which started off with some background about Dark Woods, and then lots of info about how coffee is grown and processed.

Ian’s talk concluded with how they imported lot #227 coffee the first coffee ever to be awarded a score of 97/100 and an incredible value of $5,000 per kilo – and, to my surprise, they had brewed some for us all to taste along with their award-winning La Huella Panama.

Lot #227 is probably the most interesting coffee I’ve ever tasted. The one word that springs to mind are ‘diverse’ and ‘lingering’, which are two words, never mind. It’s floral, sweet, and fruity, and it has the longest lingering aftertaste I’ve ever experienced.

I was trying to make notes of the taste but there were just so many different tastes that I really struggled. Is this a coffee I would want to drink all day? Probably not, which is a good thing since it would possibly result in bankruptcy. It’s not what I would call ‘easy drinking’ coffee, it’s very complex, I’d even go so far as to say it’s a bit weird, but it’s certainly a taste I won’t forget, and I’m really grateful to Dark Woods for the rare opportunity to taste this coffee.

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Damian was up next, he continued the talk while starting a roast on the probatone5. Unfortunately, I was so engrossed by Damian’s talk (I love seeing coffee roasting in action), that I missed the chance to taste their La Huella, but everyone else seemed to enjoy it.

After the event, after having a chat with Damian and then with the guys from Northern, and thanking them for such a great day – I headed back towards the canal. Some of the others went to Slaithwaite to catch the train back from there, but I decided to spend a bit of time in Marsden.

I had a good wander around, I couldn’t take my eyes off the views of the Moors surrounding the village, I wonder if the folk who live there just get so accustomed to it that they forget how stunning it is?

I popped into the Railway pub for a coffee while waiting for the train back (every hour at 28 past). I nearly walked out of the pub without the gift bag that I had very kindly been given which included a bag of coffee beans, but thankfully the landlord obviously is a lot more observant than I am, and reminded me just as I was walking through the door! 😉

I got back to a very busy Manchester (Christmas markets), it took me roughly double the time to walk back to Piccadilly from Victoria, but that’s fine, I was in no rush, there are plenty of trains back from Piccadilly.

This was a really good day, I’m very glad Northern dropped me a line. It’s been a bit of an eye-opener to me too, in terms of using the trains, as I wouldn’t usually think of getting a train to somewhere like this for a day out. I’d usually get the train if I was heading to a city, but I wouldn’t usually think about getting a train to a more rural location.  If we were planning a day out in the country somewhere as a family, we would usually get in the car and head out to one of the more obvious choices within an hour’s drive of South Manchester. After this, though, I’ll definitely think about exploring more rural areas by rail.

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