When I was a youngster I would travel alone across the Pennines by rail to stay with an Aunt and Uncle in Manchester. A whole new world would appear to me as the steam train travelled down Calderdale, I have a long lasting vision of steep sided enclosing valleys, running streams and tall weaving houses with mullioned windows. All very atmospheric. Well I was here again today – stepping out of the train, albeit a diesel rail car, onto a platform deep in the valley.
Notices told me that Todmorden was Incredible-edible, an initiative focusing on local food and growing vegetables for the community. Throughout the town are plots planted up by locals with information on eating and crops to pick, well there wasn’t much at this time of year. An applaudable venture but I wonder how successful.
Everywhere was quiet as I slipped back onto the towpath in the town centre where there is a watering station for the boaters. Immediately there were boats, I should really be calling them barges, which had been conspicuously rare on the previous sections of the Rochdale Canal in the last two days. A basin full of lived in boats, alternative lifestyles are common in this valley.
A canal barge chugged by with jolly occupants, the first vessel I’ve seen in motion. Obviously this area will be busy in the better months with canal traffic. I noticed there were several companies offering canal trips.The river Calder runs alongside the canal and severe damage was caused by the catastrophic floods of Boxing day 2015. A lot of repair work has been carried out in the intervening years.
Approaching Hebden Bridge are Stubbing Locks and Hebble Mill, the workers cottages here are classic ‘back to back’. Hebden Bridge’s centre is a crystals throw from the canal and is thronged with tourists visiting the new age emporiums. Thankfully I find a cafe on the edge, it turned out to be far superior to what its appearance suggested. Cool music, excellent coffee and tasty homemade quiche. Its long list of fancy teas betraying the town’s hippy roots. Back on the canal all was peace and quiet man. Mytholmroyd was virtually bypassed. It was the area where counterfeit ‘coiners’ operated in the 18th century, the industrial revolution brought many mills and foundries to the town and it was the birth place of Ted Hughes, the late poet laureate, whose early work was influenced by local nature. A cast iron statue by Kenny Hunter of a hawk commemorates Hughes’ poem Hawk Roosting and has connotations to the nearby Hawksclough Mill. Sympathetically renovated mills and warehouses contrast with the sheds further on. The canal continues with the River Calder alongside. In the area of Luddenden Foot there must have been vast mill workings judging from the amount of derelict land. A large complex of weaving sheds are being used for other purposes. The surrounding country side is surprisingly green and the canal is a popular recreational pathway in Calderdale.Approaching Sowerby Bridge mills crowd in and then suddenly the canal comes into a town centre car park where I mingled with shoppers. In front is the prominent parish church.The deep Tuel Lane Lock takes the canal under the main road on its way to join the Calder-Hebble canal – but that’s for tomorrow. That prominent Wainhouse Tower in the distance on the edge of Halifax is the tallest folly in the world. The nostalgic Jubilee Refreshment Rooms at the train station provided a good beer whilst I waited for my train.
A couple of extras …
As I write this the weather forecast for tomorrow is dire. Siberian winds bringing in snow, subzero temperatures and a significant wind chill factor. Maybe the east side of the Pennines isnt the place to be.