South Pennines walk - South Pennines and Hebden Bridge
PUBLISHED: 09:18 14 December 2016 | UPDATED: 10:50 14 December 2016
Terry Fletcher hoofs it over some ancient trackways in the South Pennines around Hebden Bridge
This circuit makes a fine walk for the short days of mid-winter but much of it might once have been done just as well on horseback and it follows in hoof prints both ancient and modern. It knits together a stretch of canal towpath where powerful horses once towed heavily-laden barges through the Pennines and even older stone flagged causeys, the routes taken by pack ponies in the days before passable roads. To show that modern horsepower still has a part to play in the local economy, it follows a stretch of the relatively new Pennine Bridleway that shadows the line of the Pennine Way long-distance footpath that snakes its way along the backbone of England from the Derbyshire Peak District to Scotland.
The walk begins in Hebden Bridge, once Yorkshire’s capital of quirkiness but now taking on a veneer of Bohemian chic. The town is amply supplied with pubs, cafés and restaurants and at this time of year still has more than enough individuality to combine some fresh air with a bit of Christmas shopping away from the major chains.
1. From the town centre cross the main A646 valley road and join the towpath of the Rochdale Canal. This 32-mile (51km) waterway runs from Sowerby Bridge to Manchester and opened in 1804. It provides a gentle half hour leg loosener to start the walk. Turn right along the towpath, passing shops, a café and a pub. It passes beneath a railway bridge which provides a handy half way marker. However long it takes you to get here will be roughly the same time to where you leave the canal.
2. As the towpath reaches a road bridge turn left through a rough parking area and turn right to the main road. Cross over and go right and after about 75 yards turn left under a railway bridge into Underbank Avenue. Once under the railway turn left in front of houses until they end where another track comes under the line. Here turn uphill on a road signed as the Pennine Bridleway beside the stream of Jumble Hole Clough. At a bridge the bridleway swings rightwards still following a concreted road, which is followed to its end. Here take the left hand fork, still climbing on a deteriorating track which becomes a causey – a narrow, stone flagged packhorse trail. As it climbs it shakes off the surrounding trees and views open out across the moors, including to the 120ft (37m) obelisk on Stoodley Pike on the opposite hillside. Originally built to celebrate victory over Napoleon, it had to be rebuilt 40 years later after it collapsed following a lightning strike. When the causey reaches a farm access road turn right up this and follow it to a road.
3. Turn left along this for 50 yards and look out for an extremely discreet bridleway sign on a fencepost on the right marking a way between the houses. This arrow-straight track is followed over the crest of the hill to the hamlet of Shaw Bottom. Go behind the houses and turn right along the hillside.
4. After about 300 yards look out for a knee-high post on the left which marks a steep stepped path down into the clough. Go down this to cross a clapper bridge and then climb diagonally right up the other side, ignoring steps going straight up the slopes. The causey follows the clough, just inside the treeline before escaping through a gate into a field. Continue following the causey guided by flagstones and marker posts through fields. The tower of Heptonstall Church pokes through the trees ahead. When it comes to a T-junction with a rising track go left to quickly reach a tarmac drive. Go right on this and then pass behind the house on a waymarked track and the causey stones resume. Follow the causey until it reaches a lane. Turn uphill for a few yards to the next bend and turn off through a gap on the right signed to Heptonstall. The next short section is rough going clambering over boulders and tree roots before the going eases along the edge of an escarpment as the village approaches.
5. At a gate with signs warning of a steep drop turn left into the village on a narrow track between the houses. Cross one estate road to reach a T-junction where the path goes right behind the houses. It is, however, worth taking a short diversion left to the church where the American poet Sylvia Plath is buried.
Follow the unmade road behind the houses down to the bowling club and then turn right on a marked path past allotments. Where it enters open group bear left aiming for Hebden Bridge. The going again becomes a little rough and is quite steep down through the woods, zigzagging downhill to reach a road. Turn right down this and as you descend look out for a very steep set of steps on the left. These drop down to the main road. Turn left back into Hebden Bridge.
Start/finish: Hebden Bridge
Height gain: 1500ft/460m
Terrain: Some steep climbs and descents, awkward in places, especially around Heptonstall
Time: 3-4 hours
Parking: Pay and display
Refreshments: Wide choice in Hebden Bridge
Maps: OS Outdoor Leisure OL21 South Pennines