The Trans-Pennine Ale Trail which runs between Dewsbury and Stalybridge – taking in pubs in the likes of Mirfield, Huddersfield, Slaithwaite and Marsden – has become a victim of its own success.
“We’ve been drinking since 9.30 this morning,” a young man who’s part of a group dressed as tennis players tells us.
We’re on the 16.15 to Slaithwaite on Saturday and the train is heaving.
It’s like one giant party – except if you’re one of the bewildered locals trying to get home.
There are open beer cans galore, singing and plenty of colourful language in a variety of northern accents.
This is the result of the Ale Trail – an unofficial initiative originally designed for a handful of real ale fans to enjoy a few relaxing pints of craft beer along the Trans-Pennine line.
The trail appeared on BBC2’s Oz and James Drink to Britain in 2009 and since then it’s been taken over on weekends by stag, hen, birthday and arbitrary drinking parties.
Myself, Colne Valley MP Jason McCartney, Colne Valley councillor Donna Bellamy and local Tory campaigner Mat Noble alight at Slaithwaite – along with approximately 130 revellers.
A small village like Slaithwaite was never designed to be a ‘party town’ and steps have had to be taken to keep some order.
We stop and talk to Ed and Antony, two burly security guards hired by Northern Rail for crowd control.
“I’ve seen a woman virtually naked on the platform – it’s not want you expect in a rural village,” Ed says.
In between keeping crowds of drunk people away from trains shooting past at 70mph, Ed and Antony clear up the pint glasses and bottles left at the station.
We head down into Slaithwaite village.
There’s a sizeable crowd outside The Commercial drinking bottles of lager – there’s barely a glass of real ale in sight.
“Ale trail is madness, beers and getting really p****d,” says 23-year-old Paul, from Salford, who’s celebrating his birthday.
I tell him that Kirklees Council is planning a street drinking ban in Slaithwaite and Marsden.
His friends cheer, then Paul slurs: “Nobody cares.”
We pass into The Shoulder of Mutton across the road and the atmosphere is more sedate. If there are Ale Trailers inside you’d be hard pressed to tell.
We speak to a local family having a quiet drink in the corner with their children.
They don’t hesitate to point out the problems the Ale Trail has brought – but they’re broadly supportive of it.
“Most of them you can have a nice chat with,” says Martin, 51, who’s lived in Colne Valley all his life.
“There has been bother but they just want to have a good time and go home.”
Craig, 38, from Slaithwaite, adds: “I wouldn’t want it stopped.”
We head back towards the station and spot Ale Trailers buying bottles of lager from a convenience shop, before dashing the bottle caps on the pavement.
There’s a sweary conversation between a group of lads and a group of middle-aged women. There’s no hostility – it’s just that it’s not even 6pm and local folk of all ages are walking by.
At the station there’s already a large boisterous crowd queuing for the train to Marsden.
We have been asked to state that not everyone queueing for the train at Slaithwaite was part of the group on the ale trail.
A two-carriage Northern Rail train arrives and another 150 or so party-goers alight, some dressed as cowboys, and another 150 pile onto the little train.
There’s plenty of cheering and shouting, mostly good-natured, as the incoming and outgoing crowds pass each other.
But in a less jovial mood at Marsden Station are the Robinson family, who as local residents are affected by the Ale Trail, most summer weekends.
David and his wife Janet came to collect their daughter 23-year-old Stephanie, following a concerned call from her about the number of seemingly inebriated people catching the train at Huddersfield.
Janet is very supportive of the Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) planned for Marsden station and the main street leading into the village.
Under the orders, which are currently out to public consultation, people caught with open alcohol containers, urinating in the street or participating in any sort of anti-social behaviour can be hit with £100 spot fines.
As we talk we spot two men urinating in a lane behind the station.
Janet, 65, says: “I would be delighted if some of the pubs would shut. I think the orders are a brilliant idea.
“We see a lot of people getting on the trains with glasses – they could be used as weapons.”
There’s a noisy bunch at The Railway, which as you’ve guessed, is opposite Marsden station.
But when Jason, Donna, Mat and I make it into the village it’s all pretty calm.
Unless you look hard you’d just think it was an average summer Saturday evening outside The Riverhead.
There’s a group dressed in tweed jackets and flat caps (ironically, I presume) but their behaviour is respectful.
A rowdy crowd grows outside The Railway as we leave Marsden on the 18.29 to Huddersfield.
But the train back is half full and fairly quiet. The later trains as people from out of town scramble to get home may be a different story.
On our return to Huddersfield, Jason and I contemplate what has been an unlikely success story – and a victim of its own success.
As we pull into Huddersfield station I think we’re as ambivalent about the Ale Trail as we were when we started our journey.
I’m certain, however, that a phenomenon sparking as complex issues as the Ale Trail requires complex solutions.
And unless the Ale Trail dissipates under its own steam we’ll be riding the train and scratching our heads again in the not-too-distant future.