Why you should explore the countryside around Huddersfield
PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 May 2017
Explore the grandeur and historic fascination that is on our doorstep, says Richard Darn
I’d like to introduce you to one of England’s most beautiful places. The Yorkshire Dales? Or the North York Moors? Maybe the Yorkshire coastline? No, this is the green triangle between Sheffield, Barnsley and Huddersfield. Haven’t heard of it? Great, because it’s so special we don’t want to spoil it! Rolling hills, ancient woodland, historic villages and landmarks of the Industrial Revolution make this a fabulous destination for discerning visitors and aspiring residents.
One of the pleasures of writing articles like this is a chance to revisit treasures sometimes taken for granted. In fact it prompted me to pump up the wheels, saddle up and take a bike ride to Huddersfield through surprisingly verdant countryside.
Fabulous views arrive from the outset with Emley Moor TV mast (now a Grade II listed historic building!) looming serenely over glorious Cawthorne and High Hoyland. Built in 1969 to replace a mast that collapsed under the weight of ice, it remains the UK’s tallest free standing structure at nearly 1,100 ft high, despite London’s soaring skyline. When so much architecture from this period is ugly, this stands as a beacon of elegance – a glorious synergy of human ingenuity and natural wonder that looks even more stunning at sunset.
My gateway into Kirklees is Denby Dale, famed as home to the world’s largest meat pie, a tradition that started in 1788 to celebrate the recovery of King George III from mental illness. It’s a very Yorkshire response – ‘Hail the King is well, so it’s pies all round’. Make sure you stop for a while to take in the enormity of the 21-arch Victorian railway viaduct - another Grade II structure.
Cycling in these parts is as rewarding as it is strenuous. You have to work hard for those fine lofty views. But a detour west through Upper Denby to take in High Flatts Quaker village is highly recommended. I first encountered this gem in the Pennine foothills during Heritage Open Days (September 7th–10th this year) and learnt that Quakers first met here in the 17th century when they were being persecuted. The simple meeting house dates to the following century and other period buildings huddle around a cobbled square. They may have been a close-knit community of believers, but the Friends didn’t want to hide themselves away from the world and to prove the point they ran a rehabilitation centre for inebriated women! If you come by car, park at the top of the lane and wander down. The views east extend as far as the Yorkshire Wolds and it’s a fine place for a spring stroll.
Pushing on through Shepley and Shelley, I arrived at my coffee and scone pit-stop - Kirkburton, a thriving place, interspersed with estate agents, designer clothing shops, florists and an endless supply of hair salons. The village once boasted eight textile mills and scores of coal mines, with the pungent smell of leather tanning hanging heavily in the air. Today it could not be more different; clean, leafy and with old weaver’s cottages adorning the hillside, plus the impressive Grade I All Hallows Church with its rare Anglo Saxon cross. Legend has it that the old vicarage is haunted by the wife of a former priest who made the mistake of supporting the King during the English Civil War in what was a strongly Parliamentarian settlement. When soldiers came to arrest him his wife was accidentally shot in the melee. It’s a fascinating tale, made more poignant by the fact some of my relatives lived here during the conflict.
You can’t help noticing that the area is very wooded, providing a distinctive, light and pleasant backcloth to the plethora of old buildings (Kirklees has more listed properties than York). High on the hill is Myers Wood, were amateur archaeologists have uncovered the 700-year-old remains of iron making, including furnaces, all possibly part of Rievaulx Abbey’s vast landowning across the county.
Alongside is Storthes Hall, best known as the site of an asylum established in 1904 and named after a mansion built in 1788 for the mill owning Horsefield family. These days the complex is a student village, reflecting the huge importance of education to Kirklees. The local university, formed out of Huddersfield Polytechnic in 1992, now has nearly 20,000 students and employs 2,000 staff. That’s made a tremendous contribution to the local economy and it’s one reason why the town centre is such a buzzing place compared with other similar sized places. Interestingly the university claims descent from the Young Men’s Mental Improvement Society established in 1841 by five mill employees. A humbling thought indeed.
The final stretch of my trek into Huddersfield takes me past the Tolson Museum in Knowle Park which offers a vivid picture of local life from pre-history to the present day. Housed in an impressive mansion built for yet another textile baron, John Beaumount, it was given to the townsfolk by a latter owner Legh Tolson in memory of his two nephews killed in the First World War. Originally displaying rocks and fossils, it was expanded to reflect the rich human story of Kirklees, complete with objects from the 1812 Luddite Rebellion when machines and mills were attacked by men fearing for their jobs. That episode culminated in the assassination of a mill owner and the execution of three of those held responsible in York. This grim chapter is a reminder that we glamorise the past at our peril.
In truth I could have chosen a dozen other routes into Huddersfield and found a similarly rich offering of scenic splendour and historic fascination. We are lucky people indeed to have such grandeur on our doorsteps.