Sarah Cotterill takes in the local landmarks and libations on the Leeds Beer and Heritage Walk.

Life doesn’t afford many opportunities to meander around Leeds without a rigid agenda. To pause, look up, and examine the landmarks we’re so used to rushing past in a frenzy. To sip and savour the famous ales brewed from the city’s very own water supply. To retrace the footsteps of the loiners of yesterday, whose industrial endeavours forged the landscapes we now know and love. To walk, talk, and drink in good company.

Described on the printed flyer as a ‘gentle two-and-a-half-hour ramble’, the Leeds Beer and Heritage Walk allows for both a tangential route and conversation. In fact, you don’t even have to like beer to enjoy it. Led by former British Beer Writer of the Year, Simon Jenkins, and Tetley’s ex-Public Relations guru, Nikki Massen, the walk is a merry mix of unexpected architecture, startling historical anecdotes and more familiar hand-poured pints across Leeds’ favourite pubs.

They manage to strike the right balance between walking, talking and drinking. That’s no mean feat given the miles gained and the sheer number of pubs in the vicinity

The journey begins on City Square, where our first set of tenuous heroes are introduced. We meet Edward, The Black Prince, riding his larger-than-life bronze steed into the Battle of Crecy during the Hundred Years War; The scientist, Joseph Priestley, who appears to be brandishing what looks like a table tennis bat, but is in fact a magnifying glass  - more practical perhaps for discovering that crucial gas, oxygen; Dr Hook – not the American rock band, but the Victorian Vicar of Leeds; and Scottish engineer, James Watt - off of light bulb fame.

Leaving this ‘rag-bag’ bunch of statues behind, Simon recites more incongruous tales, including the football auction held behind the now faded grandeur of the Met Hotel, where the actual players were sold for the highest bid. His story telling is so engaging, that Nikki’s reactions appear as if she’s hearing each piece of information for the first time.

2023 08 11 Leeds Beer Walk Simon And Nikki
Simon and Nikki Image: Simon Jenkins

The pair formed It’s The Beer Talking in 2019 after a thirty-two-year friendship working together as reporters for the Selby Times. Both are huge Leeds advocates, so when Nikki’s husband, a budding home brewer, purchased a few domain names the duo jumped on the chance to combine their knowledge and treat groups to tutored beer tastings and walking tours. Routes are varied, and cater to the needs of each client.

As we wind along Whitehall Quay onto the riverbank, heading west out of the city - and away from the watering holes - I wonder if we come across as keener excursionists than we are. But in no time at all, we are curving back across the bridge, lilacs and greens framing the Aire’s path towards the train station. Simon dives into the history of the railway, instrumental in building the Leeds Liverpool canal, pointing out the ornate Tower Works factory chimneys mimicking popular Italian designs.

2023 08 11 Leeds Beer Walk Dark Arches
The Dark Arches Image: Simon Jenkins

Our first refreshments are courtesy of SALT Brewery, where we learn of Granary Wharf’s redevelopment, from dirty and derelict to a thriving sun trap, now home to a handful of bars, hotels and restaurants happily shoulder to shoulder beside the marina.

Once through those aromatic Dark Arches, we are onto the Adelphi, where we explore the heritage of what was once the biggest cask ale brewery in the world. Sat on squeaking red leather stools inside the traditional wooden bar front, a pint of Tetley’s Best in hand, Nikki regales us in accounts of the father and son Maltsters, the extensive canning line, one-hundred year old yeast culture, and fresh water well. She remembers going over the road to the stables with sugar cubes for the shire horses, where Sheaf St events space resides today, and spending beer tokens in the onsite staff shop. So renowned was the brand that in 1911 Houdini even attempted to escape from a padlocked metal cask filled with Tetley Ale at the Empire Palace Theatre on Briggate. Spoiler alert - he abandoned ship.

2023 08 11 Leeds Beer Walk The Adelphi
The Adelphi Image: Simon Jenkins

Crossing the Leeds Bridge, where the first ever motion picture was captured in 1888 by Louis Le Prince, it’s on to Whitelocks for our last round. It’s a suitably stunning setting to end on, with its colourful stained-glass windows, polished brass, and patterned tiling, once described by John Betjeman, as ‘the very heart of Leeds.’ As we clamber onto one of the picnic benches in the narrow ginnel, under swathes of festoon lighting, we reflect on the amount we’ve managed to squeeze into the evening.

Leeds Beer and Heritage Walks somehow manage to strike the right balance between walking, talking and drinking. That’s no mean feat given the miles gained and the sheer number of pubs in the vicinity. Their website reads like an enthusiasts yellow pages - listing other notable taverns across Yorkshire, linking Simon’s latest publications on the subject, and even his guest appearance on the BeerCast Podcast. With gift cards and curated beer experiences on offer, no matter your inclination, I reckon It’s The Beer Talking really will whet your windpipes.

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