A walk from Todmorden to Hebden Bridge

After a week in the flat, flat, flat Netherlands, I was itching to get out into the hills. So on the Monday between Christmas and New Year, I decided to get out for a walk – my last for 2019. Checking out the weather forecast the South Pennines looked a good bet, so I took the train over to Todmorden from where I set out for a walk over the moors to Hebden Bridge. It was a continuation of a walk I did at the end of August when I walked from Littleborough to Todmorden on a hot, late summer day. This time it was also bright and sunny and although obviously colder, it was milder than I expected.

The start of my route this time meant retracing my steps from my August walk, from the train station in Todmorden as far as the small, former textile manufacturing, village of Lumbutts. Leaving the station I passed the ornate, neo-Classical town hall which straddles the former border between Lancashire and Yorkshire. Since Local Government reorganisation in the 1970’s it’s been entirely in West Yorkshire, but remnants of the old loyalties remain. 

I crossed over the Rochdale canal. If I’d wanted I could have followed the towpath to my destination, a much flatter and easier route than the one I’d chosen over the hills and moors – but that would have rather defeated my objective.

Following the Calderdale Way I climbed up out of the town and into the countryside. Looking back over the fields I could see back to Todmorden and the moors to the west. I’ve plans to get up there some time in the near future.

Carrying on Stoodley Pike, surmounted by the monument erected after the Napoleonic and Crimean wars, came into view.

I passed a number of old farm houses, many of them restored as desirable, and expensive, modern homes. Most retain the old windows. In the past it was hard to make a living from farming out in this bleak landscape and, before the advent of the Industrial Revolution, farming families would supplement their earnings by spinning and weaving. The rows of narrow windows was to allow in light for these activities.

After a while I reached Lumbutts, passing the site of the old mill with it’s tower that used to house three water wheels which powered the machinery.

I carried on past the village chapel

and then started to climb up on to the moors via the old packhorse trail.

I reached the top of the hill and turned off the packhorse trail, which now descended down the other side of the moor, and turned north, following the well trodden path, which is part of the Pennine Way, towards Stoodley Pike.

There were quite a few walkers and mountain bikers up on the moor heading to and from the summit. It was still bright and sunny, but there was a strong, stiff cold breeze.

I made my way along the path through the peat until I reached the monument. The current stone tower was completed in 1856 at the end of the Crimean War, replacing an earlier tower erected in 1815

The viewing platform 40 ft high can be reached via a spiral staircase of 39 steps inside the tower, accessed by this door.

I made my way up, using the light of my phone as the steps are in the pitch black. On a sunny day there were good views across the moors from the elevated position.

including the path I was going to take to head towards my final destination.

After a hot coffee from my flask and a bite to eat I carried on along the route of the Pennine Way across the moor, but then turned off to Follow the Pennine Bridleway through the fields and then, after a while, turning off the bridleway to take a path through some pleasant woodland towards the town.

As I got closer to Hebden Bridge I could see the old textile village of Heptonstall over the other side of the valley lit up by the sunshine. But dark clouds were gathering and the bright day started to gradually turn grey.

Turning on to a cobbled road, I started to descend steeply down into Hebden Bridge.

The tall terraced houses were built with 4 or 5 storeys and 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 secon house in the lower two stories face downhill with their back wall against the hillside.

With the decline of the textile industry in the 1950’s and 1960’s Hebden Bridge, like many northern textile towns, became depressed and dilapidated. However, in the 1980’s it started to attract “incomers” – mainly people who favoured a more “alternative” lifestyle – who have regenerated the community.

Today the town is very picturesque and a desirable place to live, as well as being something of a honey pot. But in the past there would have been sulphurous smoke belching from the chimneys of the textile mills which would have filled the valley and it wouldn’t have been such a pleasant location.

I reached the Rochdale canal (the same waterway I crossed in Todmorden) and joined the footpath and walked towards the town centre.

I passed the Trades Club, a socialist members cooperative, club, bar and music venue built in 1924 as a joint enterprise by half a dozen local trade unions. Today it’s been revived and has been described as “the hippest venue in the North” by The Guardian. Many major artists, including  Patti Smith,  Laura Marling, The Fall The Unthanks, Curved Air,  Nico, Thurston Moore, Slaves, Lee Scratch Perry, Marc Almond and Donovan have played here.

I had a wander around the town centre, which is full of small, mainly independent, shops.

There are two independent bookshops in the town and I couldn’t resist calling into one of them, the Bookcase, which looked particularly good, for a browse. The shop had a good selection and I ended up buying a copy of a guide book to the West Yorkshire Moors.

Written by a local author, Christopher Goddard, it includes hand drawn maps of the moors and walks, in a style reminiscent of Wainwright’s guides to the Lakeland Fells, togethor with information about the moors, their history, geology and wildlife. A good buy.

I set back towards the main square over the old bridge

and then made my way back along the canal towpath

to the train station where I was able to catch a direct train back to Wigan Wallgate.

Dusk had fallen and it began to turn dark during my journey home. But I was able to relax and read my new purchase, finding inspiration for some other walks around Todmorden and Hebden Bridge for the near future.

A walk from Littleborough to Todmorden

For my second walk during the hot and sunny Bank Holiday weekend, not wanting to endure the inevitably busy traffic, I decided to take the train over to Littleborough. I’d worked out a route that would take me over to Todmorden, taking in a stretch of the Pennine Way. It was a long walk but doable. As it happens I ended up extending it a little.

Arriving at the station, a short walk along the road I was on a minor road that crossed the canal and then became a track that was soon out into the fields. A path then took me through some woods, past a farm and then past the golf course with views of the hills opening up.

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The low cloud that was hanging over Wigan and Manchester had cleared by the time I reached Littleborough. It was sunny and becoming hot and there was barely a breeze. The wind turbines on the hills were completely still.

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The line of pylons carrying power cables that stretch out over the moors brought to mind a poem by Stephen Spender that I’d studied for my O Level in English Literature. Here’s an extract

The Pylons

The secret of these hills was stone, and cottages
Of that stone made,
And crumbling roads
That turned on sudden hidden villages

Now over these small hills, they have built the concrete
That trails black wire
Pylons, those pillars
Bare like nude giant girls that have no secret.

by Stephen Spender (extract)
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Can’t say I’ve seen many nude girls that look quite like that, mind!

I guess that the modern day equivalent are the Wind Turbines of which I could see plenty on the nearby hills during my walk.

I’d originally planned to climb up the “Roman road”, that would let me join the Pennine Way to the north of Blackstone Edge. As it happens as I reached the path that would lead me to the start of the ascent, looking up to Blackstone Edge I decided to divert and climb the edge, taking the path up to the south of the summit, adding 2 or 3 miles to my planned route.

Looking down to Hollingworth Lake as I climbed

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A couple of curious locals ahead

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The top of Blackstone Edge ahead

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It didn’t take too long to reach the top of the hill with it’s jumble of millstone grit bolders

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I stopped by the trig point for a short break and a bite to eat. Just like on Friday, long range visibility wasn’t so great but the views over the moors were still OK.

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I was now on the Pennine way so followed the path heading northwards. Looking back to the Edge.

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I reached the Aiggin stone

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The Pennine Way then descended down the “Roman road”

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before turning north by the drain – a waterway taking water from one of the reservoirs that feed the Rochdale canal

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It wasn’t too long before I reached the White Horse pub on the A58 which runs over the Pennines from Littleborough to Halifax.

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Crossing over there’s a short walk stretch of road before the Pennine way continues along a gravel path that’s used a a service road for a string of reservoirs.

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This path extends for a few miles and is pretty flat. It’s reputedly the easiest stretch of the Pennine Way. The lack of inclines means it’s also one of the least interesting stretches, but on a fine day there were good views over the moors and the water in the reservoirs was a lovely bright blue.

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About a mile along the track I reached this little bridge, which I crossed and then walked along to an outcrop of millstone grit in a former quarry

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Inscribed on the rock is a poem

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This one of the Stanza Stones – poems by Simon Armitage (the new Poet Laureate) inscribed on rocks on the moors between Marsden (his home town) and Ilkley, all about an aspect of the water which frequently falls on these moors. This is the Rain Stone

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Unusually (!) it wasn’t raining today, but it had been a few days before and the moors off the path were wet and boggy.

Rejoining the path I carried on heading north passing a string of small reservoirs.

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After passing the last of the reservoirs, the path continued over the boggy moor. Fortunately flagstones have been laid down over the boggiest section other it would have meant walking through a quagmire. There’s a reason why Simon Armitage located his Stanza Stones up here!

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Soon, Stoodley Pike came into view

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It didn’t look so far off, but sometimes your eyes can deceive you!

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Carrying on, Todmorden and the nearby villages came into view down in the valley

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and looking in the opposite direction towards Cragg Vale, home of the Coiners

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My plan was to descend down the Calderdale Way and follow it to Todmorden where I’d catch the train back to Wigan. Looking north along the Pennine Way, Stoodley Pike didn’t look so far off and I was tempted to continue onwards.

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But I’d extended my walk by a few miles already by tackling Blackstone Edge so I decided to stick to my original intention.

The path was an old packhorse trail and had been paved, making the walking relatively easy.

I was greeted by a couple of sheep as I entered the small village of Mankinholes

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It’s small village of old traditional Pennine houses, an ancient settlement, going back to the 13th century, and some of the houses were built in the 17 th century. They would probably have been originally occupied by textile workers, weavers and spinners, who worked from home, so the houses have the typical rows of mullioned windows that allowed maximum light into the first floor work rooms.

I reckon that later on, after the Industrial Revolution had killed off the domestic textile industry, the occupants probably went to work in the mill in nearby Lumbutts – there’s an old path across the fields between the two villages and that was what I followed.

Lumbutts isn’t as old, coming into existence along with the mill in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Reaching Lumbutts I passed the local pub which, on a Bank Holiday afternoon, was busy with customers enjoying a meal and a pint.

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Time was getting on so I didn’t stop but carried on to have a look at the village chapel

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It’s rather a large chapel for a small village but probably served the surrounding area. It was only constructed in 1911, replacing an earlier building. The ground floor was used for the Sunday School with the main chapel above it.

I rejoined the Calderdale way which carried on along the road and down the hill towards the old mill. The only thing left is the unusual old tower.

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The mill was water powered and the tower contained three water wheels, one on top of the other, powered from lodges on the hills above.

I carried on along the road for a while passing the rows of terraced workers’ houses

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A short while further on the Calderdale Way turned off the road to start crossing some fields. Looking across to Stoodley Pike

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I passed a number of old, traditional houses which are now expensive, desirable residences

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Soon I could see Todmordem, but it was still a way off

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I carried on along the Calderdale way through fields and along a country lane, eventually arriving at the small former textile town down in the bottom of the narrow valley.

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Todmorden used to split by the border between Lancashire and Yorkshire and the neo-Classical Town Hall actually straddles the border.

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Since Local Government reorganisation it’s been entirely in West Yorkshire, but remnants of the old loyalties remain. My walk had taken me from Littleborough in Lancashire (well, Greater Manchester these days) and across the border into West Yorkshire. But it would be difficult to tell the difference as the landscape and architecture across the South Pennines is essentially the same.

I’d run out of water a couple of miles before reaching the town (should have stopped at that pub!) so needed to get some cold liquid. It was nearly 5 o’clock and everything seemed shut but I managed to find an off licence were I was able to buy a couple of bottles of diet coke from the fridge for a couple of quid. The cold liquid and caffeine were more than welcome and I quickly downed the contents of one of the bottles saving the second for the journey home.

I didn’t have too much time to look round before the next train was due so I made my way to the station. It was running 10 minutes late and I might have otherwise missed it (although they run every half hour). Just over an hour later I was back in Wigan.

Another grand walk on what was probably going to be the last sunny day for a while. I also feel that September is the beginning of Autumn, so this was my last walk during this year’s summer. But Autumn can be a good time for walks too – so fingers crossed!