Coiner Country

For my second walk last week, on Tuesday I caught the train to Hebden Bridge and set off for a wander in the hills to the south of the small former industrial town. The landscape here at one time would not have been dissimilar to that of Bowland where I’d been walking the previous day. Hills and deep valleys that, before the arrival of humans, would have been covered with woodland, but the trees were felled and the flocks of sheep sent up on the hills resulting in a landscape of peat covered millstone grit moorland. The underlying landscape may be similar, but there’s a big difference between how the two areas evolved and, so, how they look today.

Bowland was a forest – and way back ‘forest’ that meant that it was reserved for hunting by nobility. Consequently, human settlements were small and scattered. Landowners weren’t allowed to clear and cultivate the land, restricting development and prohibiting change. In many ways time seems to have passed it by. That isn’t entirely true as during the 18th Century it wasn’t completely untouched by the industrial revolution; there were some mills and facories and mining activity, but on a relatively small scale, with litle trace of it now. And for many years the land was still dominated by hunting of a sort, with large shooting estates restricting develoment and prohibiting access.

The Calder Valley, however, developed differently. Like much of the South Pennine regions of both Lancashire and Yorkshire a textile industry emerged. Initially with spinning and weaving done in the home, providing a second income for subsistence farmers. Raw wool or yarn would be provided by merchants, which was processed by a family of spinsters and a hand loom weaver, the finished cloth then collected by the merchant. This was known as the “putting out” system. The architecture of the traditional farmhouses and cottages reflect this. They were built with workrooms on the upper floor and windows constructed to allow as much daylight in as possible. Commonly there was a row of multiple small panes divided by stone mullions.

Then with the advent of the Industrial Revolution the narrow valleys with their fast running rivers were ideal for water powered mills. This all led to a very different human landscape than in Bowland with a much denser population with larger settlements and with houses and farms scattered across the valleys and on the lower slopes of the hills. This was very evident during my walk when, before I was up on top of the moors, I seemed to be passing old farms and dwellings every few minutes!

I caught the direct train from Wigan alighting at Hebden Bridge station. It was like travelling back in time to the middle of the 20th century – but, then, it is Yorkshire.

I set off turning right from the station and under the tracks to join a steep track up the hill.

and then took a track alongside fields heading in the direction of Mytholmroyd.

I passed several old houses

before turning crossing a stile and setting off up a path up the steep hill side.

Looking back down to Mytholmroyd

At the top of the climb I reached Erringden Moor – the purple heather was out!

The moor here is a notorious bog and boardwalks have been lain across the worst sections by the local Community Rights Of Way Service (CROWS). Without the work done by CROWS this route would be pretty much impassable for much of the year. Walkers who wander of the path can easily become stuck in the bog up to their knees, and in the past the bog has allegedly swallowed numerous sheep and even a horse. However, thanks to the efforts by CROWS’ volunteers, it’s now become a popular route, particularly due to it’s historical associations,

for I was now in the stomping ground of the Cragg Vale Coiners, a notorious counterfeiting gang who lived in what was then an inaccessible territory in the late 18th century. The gang used to take gold coins and shave or file the edges. The shavings of precious metal were then melted and cast to produce new counterfeit coins which were put into circulation along with the originals. That’s why modern coins have a milled edge as that allows such tampering to be detected.

A large proportion of the local population were involved in this and they were led by “King David” Hartley, who lived in a remote farmhouse on top of the moor, which was on my route. (His brothers were known as the Duke of Edinburgh and the Duke of York). Some consider the coiners to be local heroes, Calderdale “Robin Hoods”. Others consider them as a bunch of vicious rogues. I think there’s an element of truth in both points of view.

The Coiners are the subject of a rather excellent prize winning novel, The Gallows Pole by Ben Myers, who lives in the area. It’s being adapted for TV for the renowned director Shane Meadows. I’m looking forward to watching it.

I followed the path that took me along the top of the steep, wooded narrow valley known as Broadhead Clough, now a nature reserve. Given the impassable nature of the moors, this was the main way up to “King David’s” house. It would have been easy for the gang to control access through the clough.

There was a good view over Mytholmroyd as I carried on along the moor.

I reached Bell House

Bell House – the Home of “King David” Hartley

There was an elderly gent with a younger man (his grandson?) working on a vehicle parked outside the bounds of the property. He was the father of the owner and was staying in the house. He called over and told me I could have a look inside the courtyard if I wanted. I took him up on the offer.

Bell House

I stopped to chat for a while before carrying on, taking a path across the moor

from another old farmhouse (nicely converted and modernised) a couple of hundred metres or so from Bell House.

This took me to a track overlooking the steep valley of Cragg Vale.

I carried on along the track towards Withins Clough Reservoir, which was built to supply water to Morley, near Leeds. Construction, which drowned a number of farms in the valley, started in 1891 .

I took the path alongside the side of the reservoir. Due to the lack of rain over many weeks the water level was very low

Then I turned off to take a path across the moor leading to Stoodley Pike

Looking back towards the reservoir

As I climbed up the hillside, the monument on top of Stoodley Pike came into view

Reaching the top of the hill I stopped to take a rest, grab a bite to eat, and take in the view over the moors towards Todmorden and the hills beyond, where I’d been walking earlier in the year.

Rested, I carried on towards Hebden Bridge. The cloud that had provided some relief from the heat of he sun had dispersed and it was getting hot as the heat wave we’d been promised stared to arrive.

Looking back to Stoodley Pike

As I crossed the fields the hilltop village of Heptonstall came into view

as well as Hebden Village down in the bottom of the valley.

After crossing the fields I took the path down through the woods (some welcome shade provided by the trees) which would lead back down into the valley.

There were glimpses of Hebden Bridge with it’s distinctive architecture through the trees. The tall terraced houses that can be seen in the photograph below are “over and under” houses built due to the limited space in the narrow Calder valley. In most northern industrial cities and towns workers’ houses were often built “back to back” – i.e. two houses sharing a common rear wall. This wasn’t so feasible in Hebden Bridge so they built one house on top of another. One house occupies the upper storeys which face uphill while the second house in the lower two storeys face downhill with their back wall against the hillside.

Arriving back at the station, I wasn’t quite ready to return home, so I decided to wander along the canal and pop into the town centre.

I had in mind to climb up to Heptonstall and take a look at the grave of “King David”. He was buried there following his hanging at York on 28 April 1770. However, the temperature had risen considerably during the day and I was tired after what had been a long walk, so instead bought myself a couple of bottles of cold diet coke from the Co-op and returned to the station. I didn’t have too long to wait for the direct train to Wigan North Western.

The route