The International Writers Magazine: Yorkshire
just for a second, try and imagine the quintessence of Yorkshire.
What immediately springs to mind? Flat caps? Dry and monotone
voices? Grim and grimy rows of infinite, anonymous terrace houses?
Indeed, all of those are synonymous, especially with the west
riding of England's largest county, Yorkshire.
there is one secluded town in the Calderdale, that bucks the trend
set by its neighbours, and that town is Hebden Bridge.
If you travel by
rail to Hebden Bridge from the east, I.e. from Leeds, Bradford, et al,
you pass through the pleasant, yet mundane surroundings of the Leeds/
Bradford conurbation before arriving at Bradford Interchange. From here,
it is a short distance to Halifax rail station. However I must warn
you, that if any of you decide to take this same journey, don't worry,
it's rather commonplace to experience feelings of apathy and that of
a soul- wrenching sense of worthlessness as you pass between two of
the dreariest places in the north of the England. Successfully, these
two places both yield the overall uniform black that has come to be
stereotypical with these once- industrial giants of the north, as well,
they both have the dubious distinction of making everywhere else in
West Yorkshire look elegant.
Anyway, not to dwell on the unsavoury nature of this trip, as soon as
you depart Halifax rail station the urban decadence and forlorn appearance
of Bradford and Halifax falls away into insignificance and the landscape
begins to drastically rise on either side. The high and exuberantly
verdant walls of the Calderdale replace redundant warehouses and tired
mills. Out of the train window, you are treated to views of babbling
brooks and the meandering river Calder as it laps and bounces eastwards.
Shortly after the scenery is established, the phenomenal Wainhouse tower
emerges over a bluff and powerfully dominates the skyline for the rest
of the journey as you pass through Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd before
arriving, somewhat rejuvenated at Hebden Bridge station.
The real joy of Hebden rail station is that it still retains all its
original features - cast iron name plates and signs still adorn the
platform whilst an original signal box still operates beyond the platforms'
edge. The station has a handsome and highly retrospective booking office
housed in a grand old stone building. Fortunately it still remains true
to its origins and is devoid of mainstream coffee shops and other establishments
aimed at the impulse buyer.
As a keen and relatively experienced walker, I always do my best to
avoid tourist traps and over- populated areas, so every time I journey
to Hebden, my first port- of call is 'Horsehold Road'. A brutal un-
paved road that snakes and winds up the Calderdale wall to a summit,
which yields one of my very favourite views. From a lone bench atop
the Calderdale, it is possible to see the entirety of Hebden Bridge
in one eye- full, mind the colourful expression. A few feet away from
the bench is a near vertical drop to the basin floor; I wouldn't like
to hazard a guess at the distance to the ground, but you would certainly
be met with an exciting death if you were to fall.
Directly ahead on the opposing side of the valley wall is a terrific
platter of floral splendor. This is broken only (I say only somewhat
flippantly here) by a lone house with it's own private bowling green.
Now if that doesn't send over wafts of opulence, I dont what would.
This time as I ventured up Horsehold it never once ceased raining, as
it seldom does in these parts anyway. So I took a well earned rest on
the said bench and enjoyed a few sips from a bottle of bitter lemon
that I purchased from an impulse- buyer friendly Off- License in Leeds
train station. I was at total ease and tranquility (sitting serenely
on that bench in the pouring rain with a bottle in my hand must have
made me resemble some inner- city down and out. Probably much to the
distress of any passer- by.), absorbed in my view when a Murder of Crows
plodded gravely towards to me. Even though I was breathing heavily and
sweating profusely, I didnt feel as though I was about to relinquish
my grip on life just yet. 'You'll be lucky, you dirty bastards', I muttered
before dispersing of the delightfully named psychopomps, or death harbingers
with some unseemly arm waving and a few poorly aimed splashes of bitter
lemon. I took this to be a sign of our parting and I left in haste,
bounding effortlessly back through the rain and down Horsehold road.
Once, about a year ago when I was descending this road, I passed an
attractive young lady wearing some of the most rambunctiously lysergic
inspired clothes I've ever seen. She was carrying a small pair of drums
under-arm, which would go on to produce of the biggest sounds I've ever
heard. Whilst I stood at the side of the road trying to catch my breath,
she played out an absolutely wonderful tribal beat Behind us was the
vegetating Calder wall, whereas before us was the great expanse of the
Calder valley. At that height, these two small drums and their capable
owner did a pretty successful job of filling the void, with the most
hypnotic rhythmic beat that I've had the pleasure of experiencing
Hebden Bridge folk are great lover lovers of all things green (which
is to be read as 'Eco- friendly'), so I couldn't resist one of my usual
visits to the aptly named Green Shop, which sits in between the river
and canal. From this shop it is possible to buy an array of 'green'
things, ranging from Eco- friendly shampoo, washing agents and floor
cleaners. All of the former is to be dispensed by ones- self from large
kegs with taps on the sides. The contents can be ascertained by reading
the crudely handwritten text that has been scrawled on the sides.
It is also possible to buy pencils that have been fashioned out of roughly
cut sections of tree branch. I am at a loss to explain how the graphite
is inserted, but I guess it's probably better not to ask. I think it's
a safe bet that they're not home made.
The amicable proprietor of the shop is also a guitar luthier. As a keen
guitarist myself, I took a special interest in these. Among the Telecaster
copies, he had created a guitar that utilized an old biscuit tin as
the resonating chamber. I picked it up for a bit of a twang, but the
string spacing and intonation were a little off. I always find that
things like this make for 'nice' (strictly in the Edwardian sense) ideas,
but little more. I bade my farewells and left his shop in search of
more lone- traveler gratification.
of the real pleasures of Hebden town is that it lays claim to three
antiquarian bookshops. Perhaps this sounds a little modest, or trifling
of a small, quaint town, but take into account the fact that Leeds,
a major city that from west to east is 14 miles by the 21 miles
south to north has only two antiquarian book shops. Pretty amazing
dont you think. And all of these bookshops in Hebden are on
I went into one
of the finer looking of the three and bought 12 vintage postcards for
a pound. Once I was back outside in the driving rain I resented this
on the grounds that A: I had nowhere to conceal them, and B: they were
all unutterably rubbish.
Before evolving into Hebden Bridge, the area was known as Heptenbryge
(say the latter aloud and you'll appreciate that it sounds hardly any
different to its modern day name). The place started life as a river
crossing for local goods and as trade gradually increased, so did the
size of the town. What went from a minor riverside settlement put in
place to cope with the influx of the wares of other towns, began to
grow and boomed during the industrial revolution. It produced a type
of cotton known as fustian, and, its greatest use was corduroy.
Nowadays, industry has all but ceased in Hebden. I don't know how much
revenue the Green Shop generates, but I would doubt that it's anything
to make a song and dance about. Hebden Bridge is an ideal refuge for
artists, writers, visionaries and the like who come to Hebden to live
the dream, as it were.
With its apparent seclusion from the rest of the world, Hebden has a
tendency to breed introverts and other colourful personalities. Hebden
Bridge is also the lesbian capital of the north (the author writes this
in all seriousness and expects the reader to read it that manner too),
but that is just the nature of this wonderful place. It bucks the trend
of other higher populated and trend- setting Yorkshire towns with effortless
ease and style
With it's culturally diversity, the night- life can be highly recommended,
especially the locally renowned Trades Club which often plays host to
world class jazz, blues and world music. In the summer, Hebden Bridge
holds highly acclaimed arts and music festivals that are best appreciated
on a fine evening in the height of summer. With festival spectacles
ranging from fire- eaters, to all manner of juggling acts, the festival
nights also see street parades and free- form improvisational music
gatherings featuring the some of the best percussionists and vocalists.
When one is suitably imbibed with good, dark beer and taking in the
ambience of these activities, it is easy to liken Hebden to a low- key
New Orleans. If you don't believe me, check it out for yourselves.
If you have
the means to do so, travel to Hebden Bridge, experience Yorkshire
as it is so seldom experienced anywhere else. Better still, take
a competent percussionist along with you.
PS If any of you readers would be interested in receiving any
of the antiquarian postcards that I bought on the day, just get
© Alex Clark May 2005
by Alex Clark
World Destinations here in Hacktreks
all rights reserved