THE ROMANS were the earliest folk to settle in Ripponden, arriving 2,000 years ago to skilfully build the nearby cobbled road to link Manchester with Ilkley.
In the 1400s, a church and a small cluster of half-timbered dwellings appeared in Rybourndene, as it was then known. Over the next few centuries, the town grew as weavers moved into the village and a cottage textile industry flourished, the harsh local land making farming uneconomical.
Many of Ripponden’s inhabitants today are well-to-do commuters who retrace their ancient forebears’ footsteps daily in expensive four-wheel-drives over the Pennines to air-conditioned offices in Manchester – and even Huddersfield.
This goes some way to explaining why a fairly isolated, wet and windy town with a population of 6,412 has an unusually high density of very good restaurants.
The Fox Bar and Bistro is within 300 yards of three other fine eateries: El Gato Negro, famous for its tapas, the newly-opened Milestone and the Old Bridge Inn. The last being the venue for the fiercely-contested national event, the Annual Charity Pork Pie Competition, which this year was won by Hinchliffe’s of Netherton.
News of Ripponden’s dynamic culinary scene has spread as far as us in Bolster Moor and we were therefore not surprised to find no parking space within 100 yards of the Fox when we arrived just before 7pm a couple of Fridays ago.
We left the drizzly, dark, damp street, opened the door and entered into a vibrant and colourful tableau. It was slightly surreal and very welcoming.
The long stone bar area was populated by dozens of mainly well-dressed people chatting away or eating at one of the wooden tables set on the stone flagged floor near the roaring woodburner. It was busy and buzzy, just the place to wind down after slaving away all week at the Examiner.
The bar diners were taking advantage of the Early Bird menu: two bar meals or fresh pasta for £15 from 5pm to 7pm Monday to Friday. But with the lavish Examiner expense account burning a hole in my pocket, we headed for a table in the main restaurant area and ordered a là carte.
The 40-cover restaurant area (with room for another 40 upstairs at weekends) has a contemporary feel. The Millstone Grit edifice has wooden floors, table and chairs with modern photographs adorning the mostly plain walls.
The Fox is the first restaurant for local couple Patrick and Melanie Thornber. Since opening 17 months ago they have successfully juggled a busy restaurant and bar with looking after their two young children.
The Fox has a split personality, it is very busy at weekends and much quieter during the week.