Hebden Bridge is a small village tucked away in a valley between steep hills in the Yorkshire Pennines. It was an industrial town of textile mills which originally developed due to a plentiful supply of running water needed to power the machinery.
Like most textile towns in Lancashire and Yorkshire, its industry declined in the 1960’s and 70’s. However, unlike most of the other cotton and wool communities, it got a new lease of life when it was colonised by artists, writers and “New Age” types in the 1970’s and 80’s. Today it’s a thriving tourist “honey pot” with art galleries, independent shops, cafes and restaurants and a sever lack of parking!
We decided to have a day out there on Saturday. Knowing that parking is a problem, and that its not an easy drive down the narrow’ winding roads that run along the Calder valley, we decided to go by train. There’s a station at Hebden Bridge on the line that runs from Manchester to Halifax and beyond, with a regular service with trains from Manchester about every 20 minutes. The train fare from Wigan was about £17, but by booking two tickets, one to the last station on the line in Greater Manchester (Rochdale or Littleborough) and then another one from there to the final destination, we were able to make a substantial saving as the maximum fare between any two stations in Greater Manchester is £3-90. I don’t know why the full “normal” fare can’t reflect the subsidised fare for travel within the county boundary.
Getting off the train at our destination was like stepping back into the past. When the train station at Hebden Bridge was renovated in 1997 the signage was changed to the style used by the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway before the days of British Rail.
We walked the short distance along the Rochdale canal from the train station to the centre of the village and had a wander round the streets lined with old, traditional stone buildings.
The original community was the village of Heptonstall, a steep climb up on the hillside. But a settlement developed in the valley around the old bridge over the River Calder. It has been a major crossing point since medieval times and although there are now two new bridges capable of carrying modern traffic, the old packhorse bridge, built around 1510, is still standing and can be crossed by foot.
It’s only a small town so it doesn’t take too long to explore unless you browse, as we did, in the shops and galleries, of which Hebden Bridge has more than its fair share. Due to the tourist trade it has considerably more shops than most other villages of the same size. It’s more akin to “honeypot” towns in the National Parks such as the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales than the Yorkshire and Lancashire Pennines. Even the old mill in the centre of town has been converted into shops and a cafe.
It was noticeable that other than a branch of Boots, a recently opened Rohan franchise and the main banks, the town was devoid of all the usual chains that dominate the high streets in just about every town in the UK. There were plenty of coffee shops and tea rooms but no branches of Starbucks, Costa Coffee and the like. This must be a deliberate policy, and it’s not a bad one.
After mooching round the shops and galleries and grabbing something to eat we went for a short walk along the Rochdale canal. It’s lines with old mills and other former working buildings, many of which have been converted to new uses.
Having spent a pleasant few hours in the town we headed back to the station and caught the train back to Manchester.
There are a number of potential walks starting from the village and I think I’ll be returning in the near future. Hebden Bridge has been designated as a “Walkers Welcome Town”. As part of this there are way marked trails and other facilities for walkers. There are a couple of routes I quite fancy following – up to and along Hardcastle Crags and, more strenuous, up Stoodley Pike.