THIS lovely old pub sits between the two sides of a peaceful green valley.
To reach its front door you must first drive up past the stone cottages of a narrow winding road, before descending steep Blake Hill to where Shibden Brook bubbles along beside the car park.
It is so pretty, so tranquil a setting, that you might easily be out in the Dales or high in the North York Moors. And once inside, propping up the bar, sitting beside the roaring fire, or relaxing in one of the pub’s beautifully appointed bedrooms, you can suspend disbelief sufficiently to imagine that you really are in some lovely countryside location, and not just a mile from the busy centre of Halifax.
The area’s name is a corruption of the old English ‘Scepe Dene’ – sheep hill – and the watermill once ground corn for the whole of Halifax. The small Board Inn on the site was bought by local brewers Websters in 1890, when it became the Shibden Mill Inn, and for the past 20 years the Heaton family have built the business by extending the accommodation into a nearby barn, and establishing a reputation for first rate hospitality.
We have visited sufficiently often over the years to have witnessed the Heatons’ incremental changes. On this occasion we are lucky enough to be here for the night, and our stay begins with us being shown up to the beautiful Bower Suite with its deep roll-top bath, plush sofa, private terrace and a bed the size of Derbyshire.
Washed, relaxed and refreshed we first head down to the bar. Though the Shibden is clearly edging toward the fine dining end of the market, its credentials as a pub are underlined by the choice of beers, which starts with their own Shibden Special, which is brewed by the excellent Moorhouse’s in Burnley. The choice continues by way of regulars Black Sheep and Little Valley’s Withens Pale, along with one guest beer, the hop-heavy Bread and Butter from Vocation Brewery, based next door to Little Valley near Hebden Bridge.
And though nursing a beer in the comfortable lounge would be a splendid way to spend the evening, we go one better and treat ourselves to dinner from the Shibden’s menu of high-end pub food. From the traditional beam-ceilinged bar, we’re shown to a barrel-ceilinged room on one side, decorated in oxblood red, where the artwork is a homage to fine wines.
Our starters prove the perfect opening to an evening of fabulous dining. A mound of red onion and blueberry chutney offers a tangy counterpoint to the earthy venison parfait (£9) which is presented in a miniature kilner jar with a small brioche loaf. The soft scallops (£12) are beautifully displayed among a verjus foam, chicken skin custard, and slices of strawberry.
The tang of soft-smoked tomatoes cuts nicely through the delicate flavours of the red bream (£18), decorated in watercress, dashed with mussels, and drizzled in a fennel sauce. The 8oz rump (£23) is nicely pink at its heart and served with a basket of chunky chips, shallots, tomatoes and an oversized mushroom.
Coffees and a selection of cheeses (£8.50) round off a memorable evening, and rather than having to navigate our way up Blake Hill in the dark, we are fortunate to simply climb a short flight of stairs to bed.
It’s an indulgence, but we all deserve one of those from time to time.
Shibden, Halifax, HX3 7UL
Type: Food-oriented country inn
Host: Simon Heaton
Opening hours: Noon-11pm Mon-Fri; noon-11.30pm Sat; noon-10.30pm Sun
Beers: Good choice of real ales plus Guinness, Thatchers Gold and good selection of lagers
Wine: First-rate selection
Food: Quality pub meals served lunchtimes and evenings Mon-Sat and noon-7.30pm Sun
Children: Welcomed – kids’ meals available
Disabled: Slightly tricky access
Beer Garden: Attractive area to the side with outside bar
Entertainment: Regular programme of special events
Functions: Areas available for private hire
Accommodation: Eleven bedrooms available at a range of prices
Parking: Large area to the front
Telephone: 01422 365840