The Bridestones and various other rocks

On Easter Saturday I decided to take advantage of the good weather and get out for walk. Travelling over the Easter holiday isn’t always an easy experience – the roads can be jammed and engineering works can make train travel difficult. However, I didn’t have any problem taking the direct train from Wigan to Todmorden for a walk I’d been planning for a while up to the Bridestones up on the hills to the north of the town. I wanted to take a look at the collections of millstone grit outcrops, with stones weathered into weird and wonderful shapes, of which there are a number up on the moors here.

I’d based the walk on a route in The West Yorkshire Moors by Christopher Goddard which I’d bought during a visit to Hebden Bridge a few years ago. It provides a good guide to this part of the Pennines with suggested walking routes with hand drawn maps including directions, walking instructions and background information. I didn’t follow his route exactly – I made a couple of “deviations” but it helped me navigate the otherwise potentially confusing web of paths up on the moors.

Looking up to the moors from the town as I left the station I could see that it was a little foggy, but it was burning off and I expected it to have cleared by the time I got up there – I wasn’t wrong!

I walked through the streets of terraced houses and started the steep climb up the steep rise of Meadow Bottom Row, passing a series small rows of of terraced houses set perpendicular to the road

and then past some interesting old houses

Chimney House on Meadow Bottom Road. This is a rather curious house which seems to have been converted from a former industrial premises and the chimney has been incorporated into the dwelling. I couldn’t find any information about the house but am intrigued as to its history.
Another view of Chimney House
Traditional style Pennine houses. Those windows suggest the original occupants would have been involved in spinning and hand loom weaving before the rise of the all conquering factory system of cloth manufacture in the north of England

The road had turned into a track by now and I turned off down a path that took me through some woods and then up onto the moor

near the golf course and the first collection of millstone grit outcrops that I’d encounter during the walk – the Butt Stones.

I climbed up to take in the view over the moors and down towards Todmoden (I had no interest whatsoever in the golf course!)

The view down to Todmorden. Still a little murkey due to the morning mist
Looking over the moor towards Whirlaw

After clambering back down I joined the Calderdale Way which, here, takes the route of an ancient lane. In the old days travellers would have followed trails high up on the moors rather than have to traverse through the wet and boggy valleys. Albeit the moors up here would also be described as such (and still are!) but it would have been worse down in the valleys.

It was easy walking along the path which climbed gently along the side of the moor. The path was contained between dry stone walls with fields on either side – there were several lonely farms up here.

In one of the fields I spotted some rather peculiar flat faced sheep which looked rather like four legged Teddy Bears. I’d never seen anything like them before. A little research suggests that they might have been Southdown sheep, although I’m no expert and could easily be wrong.

The “teddy bear” sheep. Unfortunately I had to zoom in and the photo isn’t too clear.

I approached Whirlaw and this is where I made my first deviation off the route, taking the path around the hill up towards Windy Harbour farm

joining the Todmorden centenary Way I encountered the stone carving of the Wizard of Whirlaw – looking like a Yorkshire version of an Easter Island statue.

The Wizard of Whirlaw

I haven’t been able to find out who carved this statue, but it was inspired by the novel of the same name, published in 1959, written by William (Billy) Holt, a well known character round these parts. I first came across him way back in the 1970’s when I read Millstone Grit, a book of a 50 mile journey around the Pennine towns of what was then the West Riding of Yorkshire and East Lancashire, which includes an interview with the 77 year old Billy. His life story is fascinating. He started work in a mill when he was 12 years old, but although he didn’t enjoy school he had a tremendous thirst for knowledge, teaching himself German. Like many working class men he joined up in 1914, seeing it as an opportunity to experience some excitement away from the monotony of the mills. After the war he became politicised, joining the Communist Party and leading a protest against the Means Test that led to a 9 month prison sentence. He stood for the local council while he was in jail and, although he didn’t win, came close to defeating the prominent sitting Councillor. However, on leaving jail he stood again and this time was elected.

He became a newspaper correspondent, travelling abroad to countries including Russia and covering the Spanish Civil War and also during and after WW2 did broadcasts for the BBC. Later on he ran a pioneering mobile library service and developed a ‘model’ farm. At the age of 66 he made a trip across Europe on Trigger, an aging ex-rag-and-bone horse he’d rescued. And as he clearly had time to spare(!) he took up painting and writing, authoring several novels and autobiographical works including the Wizard of Whirlaw.

I carried on along the path until I came to the collection of boulders that comprise the Whirlaw stones

I scrambled up on to the top of the rocks to take in the view

before carrying on and re-joining the Calderdale Way

After a short while I came to a squeeze stile which I squeezed through heading north up the hill through the heather

climbing up towards Bridestones moor

Bridestones farm

and cutting across up to the summit of the ridge and the main collection of shattered, weathered rocks

I’d reached the Great Bride Stones

There were a number of climbers “bouldering” – scrambling up the gritstone boulders

This collection of Millstone Grit rock formations stretches for about half a mile along the ridge. The rocks have been eroded by the wind and rain creating weird and wonderful shapes

The most famous being the Bottleneck Bride, a large boulder precariously perched on a narrow neck of rock.

The Bottleneck Bride

There was, apparently, a groom stood next to “her” once upon a time, but today “he” lies prone on the ground next to her having fallen over – or deliberatly knocked down – some time in the past.

There are other Bridestones on Staindale Moor, within Dalby Forest, on the edge of the North York Moors and a prehistoric cairn near Congleton in Cheshire bears the same name.

No-one knows for certain how these rock formations got their name, but one theory is that it is derived from the Celtic diety Bridia, also known as ‘Brigantia’, the goddess of the Brigantes tribe who lived in this part of England before the Roman Conquest.

I spent some time here looking around the rocks before setting off again following the path along the ridge.

before cutting across and taking the path heading down hill by Redmires Water.

At the end of the path I was back to Stony Lane and the Calderdale Way.

I turned left and followed the track and carried on for a while until I turned off down another track towards the next set of rocks the Orchan Stones, passing a couple of friendly ponies in a field by the junction

Reaching the Orchan Stones

I clambered up to the top to take in the views

Looking down to Todmorden
Looking over to Lancashire
Looking back up to the Bridestones

It was time to start my descent back down to the town. My route took me past Lower hartley Farm where I was “greeted” by two sheepdogs who started barking loudly as soon as the saw me. Luckily they were in the farm yard and garden and weren’t able to get out.

After crossing the field and along a track I started to descend

down to Rake Farm

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The 16th Century farm house had been done up very nicely

I carried on down the farm track, passing another farm

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and shortly after that I reached the edge of the town. I walked through a housing estate and then took a path through the woods and fields back to Meadow Bottom Row.

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Passing the little streets of terraced houses I descended and was soon back into the main part of the town down in the valley.

The trains to Manchester are very regular but I wanted to catch the one that went straight back to Wigan without the need to change at Manchester Victoria, so I had about 40 minutes to wait. I had a bit of a mooch around the town centre and bought myself a couple of tins of diet coke from Aldi (I didn’t fancy a hot drink but needed some liquid with some caffeine).

The border between the historic counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire
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The neo-Classical town hall which sits over the historic border between the red and white rose counties

Arriving back at the station I didn’t have too long to wait for my train

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.