Metropolitan Borough of Calder, Information Centre, 1 Bridge Gate, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, HX7 8JP
On unclassified road off A6033 li miles north of Hebden Bridge centre — signposted Hardcastle Crags
Map reference: SD997
Approximately 2-mile trail along valley of Hebden Water, woodlands and rock escarpment – beautiful aspects compared to Switzerland by Swiss visitors
Illustrated trail guide; car parks; close to National Trust Hardcastle Crags Just as the tide of the industrial revolution brought the black satanic mills to Hebden Bridge, equally ferocious commercial forces have now closed their doors. Gone are the corduroy cloth mills whose clattering looms worked through the night until the Fifties. The mill-hands’ sooty back-to-back houses are being cleaned and renovated. Even the Rochdale Canal, which used to be clogged with horse-drawn barges bringing coal into the town and taking cotton out, is today a haven of peace for the fisherman.
Hebden Bridge has left the mighty wheels of industry to the great conurbations of Yorkshire and Lancashire which flank the town on each side. It has become a sanctuary for those working in Leeds or Manchester, being a commut-able distance away; and in recent years, a favourite spot with walkers. For the surrounding countryside is the wild, desolate moorland
of the South Pennines, with a sprinkling of wooded valleys and tiny villages hewn out of solid sandstone and millstone grit. Those who love the thatched cottages of Sussex would probably not appreciate this area’s wild beauty. It was this savage scenery which gave inspiration to the Bronte sisters – they lived just north of Hebden Bridge at Haworth.
There are over 130 walks in the South Pen-nines, all within a twenty mile radius of Heb-den Bridge. One, Slurring Rock NatureTrail, explores the National Trust-owned woodland of Hardcastle Crags, although ramblers are free to find their own walks both here and in Crimsworth Dene.
The first leg of the Slurring Rock trail passes through the ancient Manor of Wadsworth, which was lorded by the Savile family from the Middle Ages. Unwisely, the first Lord Savile felled great stretches of woodland in the late 19th century, and the mixed deciduous and coniferous trees of today are comparatively young. They are inhabited by the rare and almost extinct red squirrel and by a variety of nesting birds in spring.
The Wadsworth estate was separated from Heptonstall by Hebden Water, a fast-flowing stream which attracts its own forms of plant and animal life. Dippers and wagtails are frequent visitors, and where the river cliff constantly trickles with water, moisture-loving plants such as herb Robert, wood sorrel and golden saxifrage have taken hold.
Here and there along the route are reminders of the industrial past: weirs, to summon the power to drive water wheels; the sites of once-active mills and the ruins of weavers’ cottages. At the heart of Hebden Valley is the best-preserved water-driven cotton mill, Gibson Mill. Three-storeys high, with a group of work-ers’ cottages nestling beneath it, it was built in 1800 and converted to steam power around sixty years later. By the turn of the century the machines were silent.
Features of the trail have local names which are a strange mixture of ancient and modern languages. Clearings in the woodlands are named ‘royd’ a mediaeval word, combined into
many place-names. A low-lying meadow near the river is called a Norse word meaning an island or low-lying land close to a lake or river. Stepping stones are ‘hippins’, and the trail itself is so-called because generations of children have been sliding or’slurring’down the highest point of the walk, where the Lower Kinderscout Grits overlie the Sabden Shales and form an escarpment.
On one June day each year, the lush Holme and the green woods around it echo with the voices of another language. This is the site of the Annual Swiss Landsgemeinde, an event which draws all Swiss nationals living in England together. The spot was chosen since it resembles, in scenery, the place in Switzerland where the Republic was founded.
Before the industrial revolution, the in-habitants of these woodlands would have pur-sued work other than weaving. The trail skirts a small quarry where rock for repairing roads was cut; and the glades are scattered with charcoal hearths. They span generations of solitary burners, for felling took place only every twenty-five to thirty years. The valley floor supported farms. Hebden Hey Farm, now owned by Halifax’s Scouts Association, would have bred sheep for wool, as the woollen indus-try was established here in the 13th century.
Some traditions have kept going throughout Hebden Bridge’s history of change. It is re-nowned for its brass band and Morris dancing country and like most of the surrounding vil-lages, a Pace Egg Play is held each year on Good Friday. The locals eat Dock Pudding each spring – a mixture of sweet dock (which grows profusely), young nettles, onions and oatmeal which is first boiled, then fried and served with bacon and potatoes.
There are almost as many golf courses in the North as there are towns, and the nearest to Hebden Bridge is the pleasant moorland course at Todmorden. Pony trekking over the wild countryside is gaining popularity and rock climbers find faces at Widdop and Heptons-tall. Anglers are put in a quandary, for although the Rochdale Canal is well-stocked with coarse fish (especially large bream), the water is uncharacteristically clear for a canal, and the fish elusive.
Heptonstall, which overlooks Hebden Bridge is another historic village, perhaps best explored by following a walk described in a booklet published by the Caldcr Civic Trust. The Old Grammar School, which was founded in 1642, is a museum today, exhibiting relics of both the school and the village, and nearby are the ruins of the Church of St Thomas a Becket, which was begun round 1256. Like Mankin-holes and Luddenden, Heptonstall was a well-known handloom weaving village, and the houses have the characteristic mullioned windows which let the maximum amount light into the room and on to the looms.
Several miles to the north are the windswept acres of parkland furnished with early English water colours, period furniture, ivories and 18th-century glass. The Hall holds various sporting activities throughout the summer and there is also a woodland trail.
For the more serious walker, there is the challenge of the 250-mile Pennine Way which stretches from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm on the Scottish border. There is also the New Calderdale Way, a fifty-mile circular route in the valley of the Calder River.