5 reasons to visit Calderdale
PUBLISHED: 14:09 14 November 2016 | UPDATED: 14:09 14 November 2016
Joan Russell Photography
Richard Darn suggests five great reasons for visiting Calderdale, a treasure he believes doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
Dry-stone walls, chapels, clough woodlands, weaving cottages, chimneys, steep hillsides and settlements huddled in the valley bottom are all here – a full house of iconic features to blow the hiking socks off traditionalists.
Surely this is one of the most distinctive places in Britain? Calderdale is actually the southernmost of the Yorkshire Dales’ valleys and, but for arbitrary boundaries, it would figure alongside romantic Swaledale, Arkengarthdale and Wensleydale in the public imagination. But it doesn’t and that is a shame, because this is a glorious place.
What we actually need is a Five Wonders of Calderdale campaign. So here goes.
You will struggle to find soaring monastic ruins or castles in Calderdale. This is a landscape shaped by ordinary people in all their quirkiness. ‘Calder’ means swift stream in Celtic and textile making started a long time ago – a pair of shears graces an 1150 grave slab in Halifax parish church. Locals made a cheap durable cloth called Kersey favoured by the lower orders. Perhaps Calderdale was the official kit supplier to the Peasants’ Revolt? Tons of this stuff was eventually shipped out to the continent and in return they imported puritan beliefs.
By the time of the English Civil War, Calderdale lined up with other textile areas against the shires and strongly supported Parliament. But when the Royalists won at the Battle of Adwalton Moor near Bradford, many fled over the border into Lancashire. The graves of Yorkshire refugees who never made it back can still be found in a Burnley churchyard. When peace did come it was with a Puritan government reflecting the views of local people. And, unlike today, they had a slightly different outlook on what counts as a good time.
Today Hebden may be the home of carnivals like the Handmade Parade (June), while Sowerby Bridge has its Rushbearing festival (September), but back then feast days - including Christmas - were banned. Anyone who cooked a goose or indulged in popish Yuletide celebrations could expect a fine or imprisonment. The locals have chilled out a bit since then.
This little bird is found only in the South Pennines in England. Sociable, but on my visit keeping its head down, it nests under rocky crags or on patches of bracken.
It’s also a bit of a ringer for a linnet or meadow pippet, so bring your binoculars. What’s so special about it? Well, these days it is very rare. Before a project started to restore the meadows the finch relies on, there were just 100 breeding pairs locally. On the menu for this fussy eater are dandelion seeds in spring, common sorrel seeds in the summer and hawkbit and thistle seeds in autumn.
With such low numbers nothing is guaranteed, but an alliance of conservationists, landowners and farmers have signed up to do their bit to ensure that the twite has a future. Over 1,000 acres of land has been reseeded with the plants it favours. It will be back in spring, so listen out for its distinctive ‘twai-eeet’ call.
Since I’d made a sweaty ascent to the top of the hill I reckoned I’d include the 120 foot tall monument that stands at its peak on the list. The present stone structure replaced an earlier one built to mark victory in the Napoleonic Wars (1815) but, weakened by lightening, it collapsed 40 years later.
Another war came along, so the masons got busy erecting a replacement (with an internal staircase) to mark the end of the Crimean War. Both conflicts caused disruption to export markets, so peace was doubly welcomed. That’s interesting, but it’s really the view you come here for.
Linger and gaze down the Calder Valley to get the true measure of the land. If the fields seem small that’s because in the distant past land was split between family members on the death of the owner.
Hebden Bridge is fabulous, but there are other communities in Calderdale worthy of mention. The border between Yorkshire and Lancashire once ran directly through Todmorden town hall, but these days the place is firmly lodged in the White Rose county. Hebden’s Bohemian spirit has lapped the shores of Tod and infused it with more colour, but it retains bags of authenticity.
The Incredible Edible movement was founded here in 2008 to spread the gospel about organic veg and real food, with passers-by invited to pluck produce from urban plots. This grassroots response to mass production has been a global phenomenon. There are over 100 projects in the UK and 700 more worldwide. On the back of this, the town’s gastronomic offer has gone up a notch or two with grand cafés like the Old Co-Op Shop occupying a lovingly restored former Co-operative building alongside the Rochdale Canal.
Calderdale does things its own way and sometimes the rest of the world follows.
Halifax is the gateway to Calderdale and a town of real character. One landmark catches my eye every time I drive through – the 275 foot Wainhouse Tower that dominates the skyline. I’d always thought this was a real chimney, albeit an extremely grand one. After all, the Victorians did not do things by half and this was the town of Dean Clough.
It was indeed built as a chimney to serve the dye works owned by John Edward Wainhouse. But it was also constructed to irritate his neighbour who boasted he had the largest private estate in the town. Big it may have been, but the lofty new tower had viewing platforms so it was no longer private. When Wainhouse sold his mill, the new owner refused to take on the tower, so he kept it for himself. Elaborate galleries and a corona dome were added to complete the edifice in 1875.
So here’s a chimney, still the tallest building in Calderdale, that has never smoked, built to annoy a boastful neighbour, over-engineered to the point of becoming an artwork and which is now officially recognised as the world’s largest folly. You really couldn’t make it up.