First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The chaffinches of Hebden Dale certainly seemed pleased with the day. They were practising their ‘fast-bowler-doing-his-run-up’ songs from every oak and sycamore in the deep, sun-struck valley on this beautiful spring morning – or so it seemed as I descended the gravelly path to where the Hebden Water sparkled among its gritstone rocks. Hebden Dale winds down to Hebden Bridge, one of West Yorkshire’s most productive weaving towns not so long ago, nowadays all cleaned up and classy. Walking by the river up this quiet cleft in the flank of the Brontë Moors, I pictured the smoke and pollution, the roar and clatter of milling that filled the town and its satellite dale scarcely more than a century ago, and found such scenes almost impossible to credit.
Last time I’d walked the dale, the Hebden Water had been charged with storm water and rushed viscous and peat-brown down from the moors. Today the river ran slow and limpid, its dimpled surface reflecting an electric blue flash as a kingfisher streaked by. Broken walls and the remnants of old sluices showed where the mills had once lined the banks. One remains in the dale, the Queen of them all, the handsome neo-classical Gibson Mill, beautifully restored by the National Trust. I stopped in at the Muddy Boots Café for a cuppa and a bit of cake (chocolate, sticky, sinful) and went on up the dale, the chaffinches singing me over the bridges and through the miniature alps of Hardcastle Crags. A steep little climb up the dale side and I was walking up a meadow full of lambs towards the dark stone house of Walshaw.
The long, low farmhouses of these moors, many of them built all of a piece with their cattle barns, always put me in mind of John Wesley and the other passionate non-conformist preachers who set the gunpowder trail of Methodism alight around the farms and mills of West Yorkshire in the mid-18th century. I don’t know whether Wesley or his fiery colleague, the red-haired Scots pedlar William Darney, ever preached in the barns or outhouses at Walshaw or Lady Royd or Shackleton, the farms along the lane that runs back towards Hebden Bridge along the rim of the dale. But I pictured them there, travel-stained and weary, uplifting their congregations of ploughmen and weavers with glimpses of a promised land.
Start & finish: Hardcastle Crags car park (OS ref SD987292)
Getting there: Train (www.thetrainline.com; www.railcard.co.uk) to Hebden Bridge (2 miles). Bus: from Bradford (500), Keighley (663,664,665) to Hebden Bridge; service ‘H’ from Hebden Bridge station to car park. Road: M65 Junction 9, A646 to Hebden Bridge; A6033 towards Haworth; in 3/4 mile, left to car park (OS ref 987292).
Walk (4 ½ miles, moderate grade, OS Explorer OL21): Follow red-and-white, then red waymark poles down to the river’s edge, then upstream to Gibson Mill (973298). Cross river here; on along left (west bank). In 1/3 mile cross, then recross by adjacent footbridges (971304) to continue on left bank; in another 1/3 mile cross to right bank beside weir and stone hut (973309). Cross side beck by stone bridge; right through stone wall gap; climb steep path on left of beck to farmyard (974313). Right by Walshaw Cottage along stony lane for 1 ½ miles to Shackleton (983295); right here (footpath fingerpost) down crumbling walled field track. Cross stile at bottom; bear left and down through woodland for 1/3 mile to reach upper car park; steps to lower car park and bus stop.
NB – Online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk
Lunch: Muddy Boots Café, Gibson Mill (open weekends, many weekdays: check at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-hardcastlecrags; tel 01422-844518)
More info: Hebden Bridge TIC (01422-843831 or 368725); www.yorkshire.com