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Walking and cycling in Holmfirth and the Holme Valley

PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 December 2015 | UPDATED: 15:25 26 April 2017

Hills of Holmfirth

Hills of Holmfirth

Joan Russell Photography

David Marsh visits a town that has the antidote to Christmas excess. Photographs by Joan Russell

Maxine and Trevor Walker on their feet  with dogs Poppy and Percy Maxine and Trevor Walker on their feet with dogs Poppy and Percy

Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat so the traditional festive rhyme goes; and let’s face it, the poor old bird isn’t the only one piling on the pounds at this time of year. Celebratory drinks, Christmas pudding, Yule logs and mince pies topped with brandy butter all add up to a nightmare for those counting the calories.

Hardly surprising then that come December 26th lots of people will look to burn off some of those calories by pulling on their boots and going in search of a good walk – and they will find plenty to choose from if they head to Holmfirth. The rugged and beautiful Pennine hills and moors that surround this charming West Yorkshire market town provide some outstanding walking.

Blackmoor Foot reservoir offers a walk that is easily accessible for wheelchairs and prams, Digley reservoir is popular for a family stroll, Winscar reservoir has some outstanding scenery and is also easily accessible while the Hepworth Bluebell Walk is a delight during any season.

In a nod to the long-running television comedy that ran for 31 series and continues to attract visitors to Holmfirth, there is a Last of the Summer Wine country walk that takes in not only landmarks made famous by the antics of Nora Batty, Compo, Clegg et al, but also features the area’s characteristic deep valleys.

Ask renowned artist Ashley Jackson how long he has been in Holmfirth and he’ll tell you: ‘I was here BC – before Compo.’ The artist, famed for his atmospheric landscapes, has been in Holmfirth for over 40 years and the town and its distinctive surrounding countryside has helped inspire his work. Ashley was only 14 years old when he would head for the tops above Holmfirth with his brush and paints to capture the landscape that was to play such an important part in his career.

A Walk with Ashley, developed by the artist and Kirklees Council along with an accompanying booklet, allows people to explore the beauty of the moors themselves by following in his footsteps and seeing the exact locations captured in some of his paintings. He said: ‘The Holme Valley breeds a certain character, shepherds, farmers and quarrymen, who have had to work hard to survive. It’s a special place. If you go to Wessenden Head above Holmfirth you will see bridges over the dikes. They were built by apprentices and the workmanship is wonderful. It’s well worth seeing.

‘Holmfirth is a wonderful place for artists. We have potters, sculptors, painters and poets – a real community of artists that is excellent for the town.’

For those who prefer to take their exercise on two wheels rather than two feet, Holmfirth and the Holme Valley in which it sits, has some wonderful and challenging cycle routes for both mountain bikers and road cyclists. The ascent of Holme Moss – all 1,719ft of it – was one of the highlights enjoyed by thousands of spectators last year when the Tour de France came to Yorkshire. The profile of the event, coupled with this year’s success of the first Tour de Yorkshire, has given cycling in the county a huge boost.

Speaking from the Albion Cycling Shop and Cafe, a business started in 2014 in Thongsbridge just outside Holmfirth, regular cyclist Dave Micklethwaite, who was “minding the shop” while the owner was away, said: ‘There’s no doubt that following the tours, cycling has grown in popularity and lots of cyclists head out this way because there are great rides to be had.

‘The London Olympics and the success of the British team were also fantastic for cycling and it’s interesting to see that it’s becoming a sport for the whole family.’

If post-Christmas exercise is as much a part of the festive season as turkey and turkey leftovers, then so, of course, is shopping. In an era when it could be argued that too many high streets look and feel the same, Holmfirth boasts some excellent independent shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants that help it stand out from the crowd. Meandering around the town’s pleasant streets and alleys is a great way to pick up a few festive bargains.

The Picturedrome, which opened in 1912 as the Valley Theatre and today is a venue for cinema, music, comedy and theatre performances, is certainly into the Christmas spirit with a December programme that includes Lindisfarne’s Christmas Show, Kim Wilde’s Christmas Party, Roy Wood’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Big Band Christmas Party and Bad Manners – The Big Christmas Ska Blowout.

It’s not surprising that Holmfirth does Christmas so well; it’s a town that loves a good festival. No sooner will Christmas be out of the way than thoughts will turn to 2016 when a festival of folk, beer festival, film festival, arts festival, music festival and food and drink festival will be among the events on Holmfirth’s packed entertainment calendar. Like puppies, Holmfirth’s not just for Christmas.

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