It’s one helluva road trip from Austin, Texas to Cragg Vale, West Yorkshire. Eventually you turn right off the B6138 (England’s largest continuous gradient that once tested the calves of Tour de France competitors) and plunge into a wooded hollow, home to the Hinchliffe Arms.
It’s as sturdy a Pennine hostelry as you’ll find and it’s about to be revived under arguably Manchester’s premier ‘pub custodian’. Well, landlady sounds a bit Bet Lynch. Esther Maylor is not giving up her controlling interest in The Eagle Salford, which she has run for a decade from the age of 25. But from the end of May she’ll be at the helm of the Hinchliffe. Big boots to fill here with the reign of one Robert Owen Brown still a recent association. Even allowing for pandemic pressures, it’s not felt the same since he relinquished the stewardship.
So how does Austin gatecrash the narrative? In March Esther was performing with her Manc band Heavy Salad at the influential South by South West Festival in the Texan capital of cool. A multi-talented musician in her own right, the Lincolnshire vicar’s daughter is currently part of Salad’s girl backing trio. To get a flavour of the band visit this link or maybe catch them at Manchester Psych Fest this September.
Music played a part in levering Esther into the hospitality industry. She was in a band called Biederbeck with Johnny Booth, who along with actor Rupert Hill had a business turning around run-down pubs. She begged a bar job at his debut project, The Castle in the Northern Quarter, out of which arose The Eagle opening. That was a collab with brewers Joseph Holt, which entailed adding on an intimate music venue to the once grim backstreet boozer.
All a far cry from the rural idyll of Cragg Vale, but there is a certain symbiosis. The Hinchliffe’s own new lease of life sprang from another Manchester brewery, JW Lees. Taking it over, they gave it an extensive and sympathetic renovation befitting its location.
That’s where Robert Owen Brown enters the picture in the summer of 2017. I was excited to have Rob and his ‘nose to tail eating’ ethos on my Calder Valley doorstep.
After all, when he was cooking at The Mark Addy (a cobble’s throw, almost, from The Eagle) I had worked with him on his cookbook, Crispy Squirrel and Vimto Trifle. I welcomed him to Yorkshire by quoting from the book’s blurb: “Robert Owen Brown is the real thing… a chef who combines oceans of technique with an instinct to feed and a deep understanding of gutsy cooking – the verdict of Observer food critic Jay Rayner, for whom Rob is a panellist on his BBC Radio 4 show, The Kitchen Cabinet.
“Radio air time, mind, doesn’t put bums on seats. And Cragg Vale is hardly Maida Vale. Just regard it as a scenic adventure getting there. Which is surprisingly easy from Manchester, especially if after the M62 you go the A58 wild moorland route. Alternatively, get off the Halifax train at Mytholmroyd and grab a cab. You’ll end up inching down an incline into a ludicrously picturesque wooded dell with a church and gurgling stream.”
I’d suggest following those trusted travel instructions to check out what Esther Maylor brings to the table.
Be warned there won’t be an immediate food offering when the new era kicks off at the end of May. That’s for a future full of potential surprises. Just a full drinks menu (note to Lees – a couple of guest beers would be a plus) and the kind of warm welcome that’s big in Salford… and Texas.
Hinchliffe Arms, Church Bank Lane, Cragg Vale, near Mytholmroyd, HX7 5TA. 01422 887439.