Why I love the Yorkshire Pennines
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 June 2016
© steven gillis hd9 imaging / Alamy Stock Photo
Russell Hood counts the blessings of lonely Widdop Moor
Pennine Yorkshire has many areas of exquisite natural beauty, little known by the many travellers who automatically head for the better-frequented green-shaded areas of northern England tourist maps - the Dales, the Peak District, the Lakes and North York Moors. Pennine Yorkshire is different. It’s not shaded green, so it doesn’t attract hordes of tourists. You’re left in relative peace to discover for yourself all that this delightful countryside has to offer. In an area in excess of 800 square miles, you’ll find far more than the soulful bleating of lost sheep or the distant trilling of a soaring curlew. Relatively few people have discovered this gem that constitutes the rugged backbone of England.
A perfect example is the route across Widdop Moor, linking Hebden Bridge with the Colne Valley to the north. Nine miles of near-deserted single track road, most of which is within West Yorkshire. It snakes by Hardcastle Craggs and skirts Heptonstall Moor on its way to Widdop Reservoir, and yet is deserted beyond belief.
According to Wikipedia, there are 43 reservoirs and dams listed for West Yorkshire. That’s more than any other county in England, apart from the mighty urban sprawl that is Greater Manchester, which can claim 51 to its name. Many of the West Yorkshire ones have evocative names such as Baitings, Eccup and Elslack. There are also one or two more familiar sites such as the better-known Scammonden reservoir high up on Saddleworth Moor, adjacent to the thunderous traffic traversing the Pennines on the M62.
Just a few miles away, I decided to try and analyse why I find the area so fascinatingly beautiful. The route across Widdop is every bit as dramatic as parts of Highland Scotland. Narrow, twisting roads, unfenced for the most part, delineate the shore of the reservoir, visible for miles ahead. Drystone walls would be a more accurate description of the road’s boundaries – sadly dilapidated where they have been the responsibility of generations of hard-pressed hill farmers. Or immaculately constructed from well-dressed millstone grit blocks where they border the workings of the local water authority.
As you meander along, sheep will be absent-mindedly nibbling at unknown foodstuffs in the middle of the tarmac. In their own time, they will reluctantly move to one side and make way for you to pass. Their leisurely attitude to life only adds to the peace, tranquillity and solitude of these delightful surroundings.
Often swathed in mist, and in winter one of the most desolate of places, on occasions when the sun is shining the area will reward you with constant surprises, and yet wildlife appears to play a minimal part in the environment up here; very few birds, even fewer sounds. The water of the reservoir glistens in the distance as the lighter coloured eddies of snaking currents reveal the hidden depths of this precious resource that is unobtrusively piped to meet the needs of thirsty northern cities.
I happened to travel the route by car last July - a sunny Friday afternoon at 3.30pm, about a week after the schools had broken up for the summer holidays. In the space of nine miles I passed just 16 cars coming from the opposite direction. Cars, mind you. No buses, trucks or even vans. That was less than two vehicles per mile. Given it was such a lovely day, only three cyclists and three walkers were spotted. And on the return journey at 5.30pm? Only two cars this time. No walkers. No cyclists.
Where were all the families with their children playing in the babbling streams? Where were the fluorescent-clad ramblers, hokey-cokeying their way along the valley bottoms? And isn’t 5.30pm rush hour? What rush hour? Within a stone’s throw are the mill town conurbations of Burnley, Nelson and Colne to the west and Bingley, Bradford and Halifax to the east.
But aren’t they all examples of how the Pennines have been blighted with post-industrial dereliction? Maybe they were once upon a time but not now, for the most part. The dark satanic mills are no longer dark and unlikely to be satanic these days. The chances are they’ve been lovingly restored, converted into luxury apartments or, as in the case of the monumental Salts Mill at Saltaire, now proudly housing the art works of world-famous David Hockney. Now there’s a man who found inspiration from his unique surroundings. Pennine Yorkshire. You’ll only believe it when you do it.