Sarah Cotterill takes a drive out of the city to explore the hidden West Yorkshire gem that is Slawit.
You don’t need to travel far from Leeds to enjoy the very best of the West Yorkshire countryside. And there’s no better getaway than a visit to the canalside mill village named this year by The Times as the top place to live in the North and Northeast: Slaithwaite.
And top it certainly is. With micro-pubs, artist studios and bakeries galore, you may leave scratching your head as to why this rural idyll isn’t marketed mercilessly by Kirklees Council. Or you may leave, as we did, and get straight on Rightmove to gawk at the super low house prices and well-connected transport links.
Slaithwaite, commonly pronounced by locals as "Slawit", is in fact one of those "hidden gems" that seems to still be - hidden. Hidden yes, but sleepy no, there’s a real cooperative spirit to this community, keen to make the most of the textiles industry the village was built on. And as the slanted dry-stone walls guide you down to Slawit, four miles of precipitous bends from the M62, the abundance of lush meadows clarifies the area’s dominance in the woollen trade.
Samuel Lewis’ depiction of the "bold and romantic" scenery in his 1848 Topographical Dictionary of England, is a befitting one. Yet, there’s something of a prophetic charm to the Colne Valley; the iron-grey terraces, the iron-grey skies; the steep mossy banks stretching up to the panoramic hills of the Pennines.
Hold your breath, and the clouds will give way to shafts of green light illuminating the curvaceous rock face; spot a plucky mountain goat tottering up a crevice.
Read on for our guide to the best places to eat and drink in Slaithwate.
Start your day sanctimoniously at The Old Coach House Healing Centre, a short wander down the track from Manchester Road, where plenty of on-street parking is available. A placard tied to the lamppost reads "The magic begins here".
Inside is an enchanting courtyard with colourful shrubs, bunting and twinkling wind chimes. Towels are pegged to the railings around a pond, a low barn tucked into the side of the forest, grass on the ceiling and a round hobbit door to welcome guests to this exclusive retreat.
Think private Hydrotherapy tubs, holistic therapies, saunas, and hammocks overlooking the river. At the Wild Café, you can feed the soul with a wholesome brunch of smoothies, granola and homemade vegan fruit loaf. There’s even a treehouse complete with underfloor heating and an incense-doused meditation zone.
The Old Coach House, Cellars Clough, Marsden, Huddersfield HD7 6LY
From the Healing Centre, carry over the bridge and up the steps onto the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, which takes you through the numbered locks and right into the heart of the village, with views of multi-coloured cottages high above. The towpath was restored for filming the much-cherished TV series’ Where the Heart Is and the canal-side scenes for Last of the Summer Wine, now in the reliable hands of the Canal & River Trust.
Frothy elderflower heads hang over the fence separating you from the fields on one side, narrowboats lining the other. As the path widens, Slaithwaite lies ahead, with its tall brick mill tower reaching heavenwards.
With the village in sight, the royal blue doors of Empire Micro-brewery’s old boiler house appear beside you, a collection of kegs stacked out front, started by real ale aficionado Russ Beverley. Experimenting out of the side garage of the Fieldhead Pub in Quarmby, Empire brews a range of core table beers and a few specialist pours for the beerheads.
There’s the Moonraker, in homage to the area’s legendary moonshine smugglers, now celebrated at Slaithwaite annual folklore festival, and an unctuous 4.7% Chocwork Orange Porter. Open to the public every weekday.
Empire Brewing, Slaithwaite, Huddersfield HD7 5HA
Just past the Brewery, another Slaithwaite success story. The Handmade Bakery is a not-for-profit social enterprise championing the traditional skill of artisan bread-making. Learn the craft of slow fermentation, patisserie, or Italian doughs at one of its day courses, or pop in for some picnic fodder for your canalside walk.
The café has a truly special atmosphere, with denim-clad baristas on front of house, and bakers shaping and kneading just over the counter. There’s even flour dusting the teal pendant lampshades. Don’t miss homemade soups, savoury Danish rolls and a pretty special Polish-baked cheesecake sprinkled with cinnamon. Oh and grab a bag of Shipton Mill flour, or a loaf of the malted granary to see you through the week.
The Handmade Bakery Ltd, Unit 6 Upper Mills, Canal Side, Slaithwaite, Huddersfield HD7 5HA
Steer off the towpath as the canal ducks under the bridge, and you’ll see the grey-fronted Polkadot Lane to the left of the Market Place. Inside it’s a cornucopia of coloured pottery, painted in reds and blues and greens; teapots in delicate florals, butter dishes veiled in miniature bee designs, spoon rests outlined with dots and concentric circles.
This Polish pottery began life as a stall at Manchester Christmas markets, after founders Paul and Anna visited the city of Bolesławiec with Anna’s auntie. Today, Polkadot Lane is jam-packed with beautiful hand-made stoneware direct from Bolesławiec – a definite must-visit.
Polkadot Lane, 3 Market Pl, Slaithwaite, Huddersfield HD7 5AP
It’s never to early for a pint. As luck would have it, just over the roundabout you’ll find Hideaway Craft House. A brick building with a slanted roof, two skylights illuminating a long marble-topped bar with an impressive tap line behind. You’ll find craft ales from the likes of Thornbridge Brewery, Verdant, Brew York, Kirkstall and locals Magic Rock, as well as fridges stacked high with florid cans of sours, stouts and IPAs to take home. With its own lager on draught and 80s renegade classics arcade games in the basement, this family-run business is proving a hit with the village.
Hideaway Craft House, 24 Station Rd, Slaithwaite, Huddersfield HD7 5AW
Globe Arts Studio is a fantastic example of Slaithwaite’s creative side, offering a variety of workshops and courses to tempt even the most novice of artists. In collaboration with local practitioners, Globe Arts is committed to community development with its family-friendly activities, events space and gallery. Learn how to use an etch press with their beginners printmaking course, felt your own sketchbook cover, or whip out the charcoals for their weekly life drawing class.
Globe Arts Studio, Carr Ln, Slaithwaite, Huddersfield HD7 5AG
You may hear Northern Sole Café before you see it, with folk out on the terrace enjoying the music under parasols. Billed as serving "foot-stompin' street food", the scran is an ensemble of loaded fries, Northern Sole Bereight’os – twelve-inch filled tortillas wraps, and Throwback Grilled Cheeses, oozing with homemade onion relish, chorizo or BBQ pulled beef. Try Manchester street food hero Grandad’s proper provenance sausages, smothered in chin spilling toppings between a soft brioche bun. Don’t miss the live Mowtown music and DJs on rotation each month.
Northern Sole Café, 39 Bridge St, Slaithwaite, Huddersfield HD7 5JN
Think of the most gorgeous children’s store imaginable, all pastel pinks and greens and yellows. With traditional wooden toys and sustainable clothing, the softest muslins and blankets, and balms and butters for mother and baby. Wicker baskets are loaded with beautifully illustrated books, educating little ones on culture and the environment. There’s even a café with all manner of goodies on sourdough, homemade granolas and banana bread. The perfect place to buy a gift for the young families in your life.
Acorn & Pip, 6-7 Carr Ln, Slaithwaite, Huddersfield HD7 5AN
Like many of the shops and businesses in Slaithwaite, The Antiques Warehouse inhabits an old dye house within the nearby Britannia Mill complex. Happily while away a few hours mooching around this Aladdin’s cave, full to the rafters with trinkets and treasures from near and far. Selling everything from mid-century lighting to Victorian silverware, be sure to seek out a little memento of your trip, which will take pride of place on any mantelpiece. Look out for the vintage garms bargain bin in the adjoining local makers gallery too.
The Antiques Warehouse, Britannia Mill, Britannia Rd, Huddersfield HD7 5HE
No visit to Slaithwaite should pass by without a slice of pizza (or nine) at Anello. This neighbourhood pizzeria, from the duo behind Rudy’s in Manchester, opened in the Summer of 2020 and has been welcoming hungry fans ever since. The glass-fronted space is bright and chic, with stunning design detail everywhere. Patchwork cushions, abstract art and huge monstera palms in every corner.
The seasonal snacks list features golden golf balls of arancini, serpent-like sticks of caraway seed grissini with a Calabrian chilli dip, and cured pork collar with a tangy citrus pickled walnut and fennel salad. The main event is everything you ever wanted a more; bulbous black pockets of air erupting from huge wheels of dough. Save room for dessert, the pistachio frangipane tart is beyond dreamy.
Anello, 8 Britannia Rd, Slaithwaite, Huddersfield HD7 5HG
With your crust well and truly stuffed, it’s time to head for the car. But what’s this? A sign pointing you off the canal for Zapato Brewery? Well, another pint wouldn’t hurt, would it?
The tap garden is open from Wednesday to Sunday with a handful of picnic benches on the lawn of the brewery surrounded by nature. Alongside its own cask ale and pilsner, you’ll find a range of Belgian and German guest beers, plus a line-up of rotating street food traders parked up outside. Regulars include MorMor, Twisted Kitchen, Good Boy Burger and Nasi Lemak.
Zapato Brewing Unit 1a, Holme Mill Cottages, W Slaithwaite Rd, Marsden, Huddersfield HD7 6LS
Odds are you’ve already had a coffee from Dark Woods without even realising it at one of the cafes in Leeds that have created their own bean blend with this prolific roastery. Situated in the same renovated mill development as Zapato, this award-winning B Corp uses only traceable speciality grade coffees in their vintage Probat drum roaster and has a dedicated barista training school on site. We’d recommend booking your visit to coincide with one of their monthly café pop-ups, where you can enjoy a fresher than fresh brew, alongside locally made cakes and pastries. A bag of retail beans for the road, and you’re good to go.
Dark Woods Coffee Ltd. Holme Mill Cottages, W Slaithwaite Rd, Huddersfield HD7 6LS
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