Follow the fame trail at Cleckheaton in West Yorkshire
PUBLISHED: 12:12 12 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:37 20 February 2013
A trip to a friendly, folkie West Yorkshire town sends Chris Titley down memory lane
Mr Tickle was always my favourite. Not because he went round tickling everybody but because his long arms meant he could raid the fridge for a sandwich without leaving his bed.
But I also retain a strong fondness for Mr Bump, Mr Uppity and, self-evidently, Mr Lazy. Anyone visiting Cleckheaton who grew up with the Mr Men books will be transported to those simpler days upon learning that their creator, Roger Hargreaves, grew up in the town.
Outsold only by JK Rowling and Jacqueline Wilson among British authors, Roger is rightly celebrated by townsfolk. But hes far from the only local hero.
The best way to find out about them all is to follow the Spen Fame Trail. Put together by the Spen Valley Civic Society, this is a series of pavement plaques to the great and good. To get the most out of the trail, enter spen.mobi into your phones web browser and you can find out extra information about each one.
Here youll discover local links with everyone from the Luddites to Patrick Bront to the man who founded the Pearson business empire, owner of the Financial Times and Penguin books.
Even if youve never read a Mr Men book, Cleckheaton will inspire thoughts of childhood because its here where youll find the Lion sweet factory, creator of Midget Gems, also on the fame trail.
If you want to get to the heart of the modern town then head for the library. Its part of an impressive Grade II listed building bought for Cleckheaton in 1930 by the philanthropic Mowatt family; and does so much more than lend books.
Weve got indoor curling which is a little bit different. We have afternoon teas, explains Kathryn Parry, customer service manager at Cleckheaton Library and town hall. In adult learners week we had some watercolour classes, Zumba dance classes and IT taster sessions for people. Theres a Nordic walking group that meets at the library then go off for a walk before coming back here for coffee.
For Kathryn, Cleckheaton is a special little place. Its got its own town centre, independent shops, and an indoor market. There always seems to be quite a lot going on. The town hall, thats a Grade II listed building too. Its got a 500-seat theatre. There are lots of shows that go on here, its very busy.
Another of the towns big events is the Cleckheaton Folk Festival. Taking place between July 6th and 8th it brings stars like Cara Dillon and Vic Garbutt to the Spen Valley.
The folk festival is three days every year and it takes over, says Sharon Rushworth, who has lived in Cleckheaton for 28 years. People come from Australia and all over its massive. Every pub in Cleckheaton opens its doors, as does the town hall and the streets are full of dancers. Ive gone into the pub sometimes and everybodys singing. Its absolutely lovely.
Sharon describes Cleckheaton as a town made up of villages.
Each village is independent and very proud of its area, but then Cleckheaton as a whole comes together for the folk festival and bigger events.
For young and old, the friendliness of the town is its biggest draw. When I was bringing my children up it was lovely because there was so much you could get involved in. You werent isolated. Now, at weekends if Im shopping, I bump into people whose children were in the toddler group with mine.
At the other end of the age scale, Sharons father moved to Cleckheaton from Huddersfield when his wife died six years ago. Back then he knew no one in the town. And he now knows everybody and he chats to people and he feels that Cleckheatons his home. People talk to you. Its very friendly.
You are never short of things to do in the town. The Spen Valley Greenway cycle route, running along abandoned railway lines, goes through Cleckheaton. Fans of less vigorous forms of transport should head to Royds Park for a trip on the miniature railway.
On the first Saturday of the month you can stock up the larder with fresh local produce at the Farmers Market, which complements the daily market in the town. Or why not go for a record-breaking curry? The Aakash, housed inside the one-time Providence Congregational Chapel, claims to be the largest Indian restaurant in the world.
Theres a thriving artistic community in the town too. As well as the amateur dramatic societies that regularly draw sell-out audiences to the town hall, there are reading groups, a poetry group, and Cleckheaton Writers Group, set up by Karen Naylor.
I wanted to find a local writers group and there wasnt one in my area, she said. I pestered the local library and they got a writer to come and give a talk. Lots of people who were interested in a writers group came. Three writers groups were set up on the back of it, one of which is mine, says Karen.
Karen writes everything from childrens stories to crime fiction. Other members of the group specialise in fantasy and biography. We have quite a few events at the library and at the town hall. We had author Jodi Picoult last year it was packed out you couldnt get a seat. And Wendy Holden came to the library. She went to school here.
To find out more about the group, check out karennaylor.blogspot.co.uk. Karen says Cleckheaton has a great communal atmosphere. Its lovely, quite rural; its only a little town. We have quite a few independent shops and we have quite a few cafs, like Blend and the restaurant Aldos.
Ive lived in Cleckheaton all my life. Its so friendly. You dont have to worry about crime, things like that, she adds.
For Sharon Rushworth, theres nowhere else quite like it. I cant imagine anywhere else Id rather be, she says. Its just a joy, and Im proud to say I live there.
Getting there: Cleckheaton could not be better connected. Its next to the M62 and bang in the middle of Leeds, Bradford, Halifax and Huddersfield. No railway station but plenty of buses to and from these locations.
Where to park: Try Crown Street or Bradford Road car parks.
What to do: Follow the Spen Fame Trail. Or visit the Red House Museum, Gomersal, which explores the local Bront connections and the areas 20th century history