Nestled in a valley between Manchester and Leeds, along the tight and windy A646 lies Hebden Bridge, where old terrace houses belch peat fumes into the winter air, and on summer days young children dive into pools of iron rich, browny orange water, beneath cascading waterfalls, before heading home for tea.
Many people ‘know’ Hebden Bridge, perhaps they drove through it or went on a school trip there once or even heard of it in the newspaper for its diverse sexual demographics but few get under the surface and experience all this town has to offer. So here are some things to do when you visit Hebden Bridge and some reasons why I love the town so much.
For the food and the drink
In recent years the town has seen an explosion of interesting and varied eateries from vegetarian restaurants to vegan cafes and fantastic Italian food (Marco’s). Quaint tea rooms juxtapose the local Turkish restaurant and market stalls with fresh farm meats and cheese attract a lot of people to the town, whilst also helping to support some endangered bastions of Englishness.
Unfortunately my favourite pie shop has closed down so the standard of classic Yorkshire pies in Hebden Bridge has diminished in quality, but of course I am not bitter, as there is a new bakery in its place with pies I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole! However, there are plenty of dinky sandwich shops and little cafes to glide the time away in this dinky Yorkshire town.
To finish this food tour of Hebden there is classic gastro pubfood everywhere and my personal recommendation is the Old Gate pub, with some fine ale on tap and some great food. Said pubs are great for a quite drink and there are several bars that offer a unique slice of Hebden Bridge life and Hippy culture. If you want to party after closing time or see some awesome live music then the trades club is the place to go, with a great atmosphere, and a great selection of bands!
For the walks and the scenery (and the climbing)
This area of Yorkshire is heavily forested especially along the valley sides which offer, the walker and scenery lover, endless opportunities to walk through stunning forests of oak and birch and pine and beech. You can walk along the canal and the River Calder then follow its tributaries into spacious wooded valleys. The walks are well signposted and there are dozens of public footpaths, twisting and winding all around the town and valley. Maps can be obtained from the tourist information that list pleasant routes for all ages and the town is walker friendly with dogs being allowed in pubs and muddy boots suffered.
If you tire of this then you can wind your way up old narrow roads onto the moors and to the 19th century reservoirs where you can really feel at peace with the world, as you wander over tussocks and past old farm labor buildings truly at ease. The land of the Bronte sisters and Ted Hughes, you can see for miles from various vantage points such as Bridestones, Gorples or Widdop, and enjoy what many others have enjoyed before and hopefully many more in the future.
The lovers of rock climbing will find themselves well indulged in Hebden Bridge with many many old gritstone quarries cleared and cleaned, ready for crimping fingers and rubber boots. All Trad grades are catered for in the area and he bouldering is real hot at the moment and developing every day. For the beginner there are even local climbing guides who will take you out for the day and teach you the ropes (literally). You might even bump into Jerry Peel at the Old Gate pub, after your warm down, and sup a nice craft ale with a local hero.
For the anti rambler you could take a guided tour along the canal, on a barge, or visit Hardcastle crags and wander through pine forests all day, the choice is yours, and for a small town Hebden Bridge has it all, especially if you like walking up hills.
Th art and the self-expression
Hebden Bridge is a town of independent thinkers; it’s home to writers and poets from Ted Hughes to Silvia Plath and many aspiring authors yet to be discovered. There are workshops and writers groups and several crumbling mills, saved and restored, now used as art exhibitons, a real liberal community, nestled in the heart of old Yorkshire.
Any day of the week you can find young buskers plying their trade on the cobbled streets and the talented Ed Sheeran was born in Halifax and lived in Hebden Bridge as a baby, albeit not in his formative years, but another claim to fame is always welcome. There are a wealth of talented and underrated musicians in town and if you are lucky you might catch them at the trades club or at one of the many festivals we have in Hebden Bridge.
We even had our ver own short lived Banksy who made various artistic statements around Hebden Bridge such as leaving a pair of red shoes outside every shop: I am not entirely sure if he was ever outed but it is nice to know the artistic spirit of the town is strong and ingrained in this pretty pennine town.
Which leads me onto…
The festivals and parades
Speaking of festivals: the locals have got together in their droves and oragaised some fantastic festivals for everone to enjoy such as:
The arts festival– Where the town comes alive at the end of June and into early July. Self experssion abounds with whacky modern art exhibitions, fantastic photograpy and street artists entertaining the masses. It is a magical time to be in Hebden Bridge.
The Pace Egg Play- Every Easter in the little village on the hill aove Hebde Bridge, one that time forgot, Heptonstall, is a play. A wild performance of an old story with modern twists performed by old and young performers, some worse for wear. St George is there and basically he fights a litany of characters and wins… I think. There is a man with a doll who gives out gifts and kisses any pretty girls he sees. It is medieval fun at its finest and its survival is integral for our history as after the Great War many of the men who knew how to perform it were lost and we are lucky that it still exists today.
Brass band festival– Waking in the morning to the sound of a ‘brass band off’ floating through the window is just another one of those classic Hebden Bridge moments. As you can imagine many brass bands from around the country come to Hebden Bridge and play their top hits for the amusement of the old and young. It’s classic and gives you a deep respect for Yorkshire and its history.
Hand made Parade– I am not sure who woke up one day and decided that walking through the town in handmade costumes would be a good idea but I am damn glad that they thought of it. Throngs of people crowd the streets to watch people of all ages parade through the town, in their handmade costumes that required months of love, and graft to make. Cheers and awe expend themselves at the sight of what people can do when given one man’s tat, as it is turned into giant birds with bicycle powered wings or a huge squid man. It is colorful and beautiful and a wonder of human ingenuity.
The list goes on and on and each festival has a great website full of information about the events and how to participate.
For the history
Abandoned 19th century towers poke out over the tree tops and under-over houses form the solution for packing people in to the small Valley. Murky canals snake along the valley floor with the railway to its side usurping it in power and tenacity. Break out on to the moors and you can leave the industrial revolution behind and go back into the agrarian where you can find houses from the English civil war and old barns still in use today.
A final place, already, briefly mentioned is the little village of Heptonstall perched above Hebden Bridge and facing down the valley; it is a village frozen in time and a place where many film crews come for an authentic 19th century period drama. You can wander round the cobbled streets past little cottages and take a trip to the ‘new’ church standing next to the old church ruins with a 13th/14th century church tower. If you have a spare moment it is the best place to visit for a quiet walk and some wonderful photos.
I won’t pretend that this town is perfect, far from it, it has many social issues that need to be addressed but I still love the place, especially the nature and I hope, when you visit, you will love it too.