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The International Writers Magazine
: Yorkshire

Hermetic Hebden
Alex Clark

OK, 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. However, 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 don’t 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 didn’t 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.

One 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 don’t you think. And all of these bookshops in Hebden are on one road.

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 in touch.
© Alex Clark May 2005

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