After a hectic few weeks at work I took something of an inprompu decision to extend the Bank Hliday weekend and take a few days off work. I had a commitment on the Wednesday but decided that I could afford to take the other three days of the working week as holiday.
On the Tuesday we caught the train to Manchester and then transferred on to another that took us to Hebden Bridge. A total journey time of just over 1 1/2 hours.
Hebden bridge is a picturesque, small former textile town. Like most similar towns in Lancashire and Yorkshire, its industry declined in the 1960’s and 70’s. However, 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. It’s featured in TV recently as one of the settings for the gritty police thriller “Happy Valley” and was in the news over the Christmas period when it was badly hit by the floods that affected the North of England.
We had a quick look around the town, but our main objective was to walk up to the National Trust site of Hardcastle Crags.
A beauty spot of the South Pennines with more than 160 hectares (400 acres) of unspoilt woodland.
Hebden Bridge has been designated as a “Walkers Welcome Town”. As part of this there are way marked trails and other facilities for walkers. We were going to follow one of the trails up to the Hardcastle Crags site and then explore the woodlands. So we made our way across town and then crossed the small bridge over Hebden Water. The track more or less followed the course of the right bank of the river
The trail took us through pleasant woodland along the bank of the river
Before deviating up hill
Following a track higher up the side of the valley
before descending back down to the river bank
Close to the beginning of the Castle Crags estate
There are several waymarked trails in the woods. We took the path that continued to follow the course of the river, heading upstream towards Gibson Mill.
At several points the river could be crossed using stepping stones. Not too bad as the river level was low, but probably more scary when the water is deeper.
Eventually we arrived at Gibson Mill, about half a mile along the valley, which was built around 1800.
The National Trust website gives us a little history
The mill was driven by a water wheel and produced cotton cloth up until 1890. In 1833, twenty one workers were employed, each working around seventy two hours per week and living in the adjacent mill workers’ cottages.
In the early 1900s, Gibson Mill began to be used as an ‘entertainment emporium’ for the local people. It offered dining saloons, a dance hall, a roller-skating rink, refreshment kiosks and boating on the mill pond. After the Second World War, the mill slipped into disuse, and was acquired by the National Trust in 1950.
We had a bite to eat in the obligatory cafe and then had a look around the mill building where there were displays and information about the mill and it’s history.
It was only a small building and only a few spinners were employed. This coupled with its location made it uneconomic. But in the early years of the 20th century it became a popular destination for workers from the nearby West Yorkshire textile towns
One of the displays was a recreation of the tea rooms that occupiedthe top floor of the building with two sections – First Class and Second Class.
The NT have made efforts for the mill to become a model of sustainable development and self sufficiency. Power is provided by two water powered turbines, photo voltaic panels and a wood burning boiler. There’s also a wood burning ceramic stove and composting toilets (being repaired currently so they’ve had to bring in temporary chemical porta-loos) and they’ve used locally-sourced reclaimed interior materials.
After looking around the mill we decided to follow the Railway Trail that headed further upstream.
Back through woodlands
There were still lots f bluebells to be seen higher up the valley
Eventually we came out of the woods into more rugged moorland
before descending back down to the bottom of the valley, turning back to head downstream.
After a while the trail took us over a footbridge on to the other side of the river, climbing up the valley side and through more wodland
There were large expanses of wild garlic coming into flower (we could usually smell it before we could see it!)
The path took us past the crags themselves – stacks of millstone grit (a hard sandstone found all over the Pennines).
Eventually we arrived back at he mill.
We retraced our steps and leaving the estate took the path on the left bank of the river back to Hebden Bridge. Then on to the station to catch our train back to Manchester and beyond!