Motorhome travel: Calderdale in West Yorkshire
I’ve come to West Yorkshire to have a habitation check on Stella, my WildAx campervan. On previous visits I’ve seen little of Calderdale beyond the view of it from the M62 as the motorway crosses the Pennines. This time I’m taking a short break to explore the district further.
It is an unfamiliar landscape containing of miles of vast, empty moors with all the settlements squeezed into deeply incised, wooded valleys. So deep, in fact, that most of the towns and villages are hidden until you are upon them. The place names also seem mysterious to me – what are the derivations and pronunciations of Mankinholes, Midgehole and Mytholmroyd?
I head to Keighley then drive south up the Worth Valley. Before the last climb over Oxenhope Moor and down into Calderdale, I stop in Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters. Without a navigator, I park immediately in a residential street, but later discover that the Brontë Village pay and display car park is well signed and has plenty of space for larger vehicles.
At the bottom of the village is Haworth Station, a stop on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, where heritage steam and diesel trains run daily in summer and at weekends in winter. From here a steep lane leads up to the equally steep cobbled Main Street, lined with attractive shop fronts. At the top I find the church and, behind it, the Brontë Parsonage Museum. The afternoon is too short both to go into the museum and to explore the moors that gave Emily Brontë’s writing its wild character.
Blue sky and sunshine beckon so, as is usual for me, walking wins. Surely I must be treading in the footsteps of the famous sisters as I walk through the churchyard and up an avenue onto Penistone Hill. Views from the top are superb and the hill is criss-crossed with paths. It’s a popular place, with plenty of parking if you don’t want to make the climb.
My walk takes me a couple of miles west to the Brontë Waterfalls, which the sisters used to visit for inspiration. On the way to the beauty spot, dark clouds roll in and a sudden squall drives rain into my face. I feel I’ve had the full Wuthering Heights experience by the time the sun returns and turns the tumbling beck into a cascade of sparkling diamonds.
Moving south, I stop in a parking area on the A6033 at the top of Oxenhope Moor to enjoy the view over a patchwork of emerald fields and the flaxen-coloured moorland on either side. It is an immense open space, only bounded by a network of old stone walls on its flanks. Continuing down into Calderdale I wish I wasn’t driving and could look properly at the delightful views unfolding at every twist and turn of the road. The landscape consists of rows of farms strung out along high tracks and steep slopes with a chequerboard of lush pastures plunging down into deep, wooded valleys.
An overnight storm blows through while I’m cosy at a sheltered Brit Stop. The next day dawns bright and breezy, with heaped cumulus scudding across the sky. It’s ideal weather for a walk to the National Trust’s Hardcastle Crags and Gibson Mill. I head for Midgehole, just north of Hebden Bridge, passing the first car park as it looks too tight and finding more spacious parking uphill under the trees.
The wooded riverside path provides a delightful route to Gibson Mill. Gnarled oaks and smooth-barked beech trees are interspersed with stands of shapely pines. Heavy rain has swollen Hebden Water covering the stepping stones that cross it in a couple of places. Runnels stream downhill across the path, but boggier places are paved with stone so I avoid getting my boots wet and muddy. Shafts of sunlight spotlight the 200-year-old mill buildings as I near them. It’s a peaceful haven, with the glassy mill pond reflecting the autumn-tinted trees and billowing clouds perfectly.
After visiting the Weaving Shed Café I explore three floors of the mill, learning about its energy self-sufficiency and discovering that, after it ceased operating as a mill, it became an ‘entertainment emporium’. Tea dances may not be my thing, but I’d have loved to join the roller skaters on the top floor!
Continuing up the valley I soon come to Hardcastle Crags; stacked tiers of millstone grit outcropping above the valley floor. I divert up a path to their exposed summit and enjoy a view over the treetops while eating my packed lunch. From there I keep on up the valley to Walshaw following a walk that cuts back over the moors and offers a sweeping panorama from Shackleton Knoll before descending past eerie, ruined farms.
After detouring down to Lumb Hole Waterfall, I return south along an old drove road, visiting Abel Cross, a pair of ancient marker stones bearing crosses. After a night at the small but handy Elland Hall Farm campsite, I wander to the canal that threads through the valley beside the river. Here it is the Calder and Hebble Navigation, which joins the Rochdale Canal further west. A pleasant stroll past old mill buildings leads to a secluded backwater, hidden from the busy roads.
Elland’s ancient church of St Mary the Virgin fascinates me as the churchyard is paved with grave slabs, some dating back to the 1600s. I obtain the key from nearby Dobson’s Sweet Factory and, once inside, discover that the church dates back to 1180 and has magnificent medieval stained glass in the east window. A wander along the high street leads me to Dobson’s Sweet Shop where rows of jars of boiled sweets remind me of my childhood.
I drive back to Hebden Bridge and take a turning so sharp and sheer that I have to go past and use a turning circle to access it. Low gear takes me up to Heptonstall, where there’s a large, well-signed car park beside the bowling green (donations through the letterbox). I’ve read that for stunning views of the Calder Valley, I should take a steep but picturesque walk from the old packhorse bridge in Hebden Bridge up The Buttress to Heptonstall and back down by way of Hell Hole Rocks, so I do this from the top.
Hell Hole proves to be a vertical quarry face with a bird’s-eye view from the permissive path running above the big drop. The Buttress turns out to be a cobbled lane linking the communities. Like many in this area it’s too steep to have been surfaced as a modern road. I then spend an hour or two meandering through the streets of Hebden Bridge, soaking up the atmosphere, which feels like Glastonbury crossed with Hampstead Heath.
The town is attractive, having an alternative feel but also stylish shops and expensive galleries. The market is just packing up, but lots of people are browsing the shop windows, eating in pavement cafés or feeding the ducks beside the 500-year-old packhorse bridge.
My final night is spent at Hebden Bridge Caravan and Motorhome Club site, which is actually at Cragg Vale, just south of Mytholmroyd (I’m told it’s pronounced “My-thumb-royd”). Graceful birch trees shade some of the central pitches, while my spot on the edge of the site backs onto wooded Cragg Brook. At night the sound of rushing water to lulls me to sleep. On the other side I might be hearing the road noise.
I’m up early in the morning for a final walk to explore the obelisk on top of Stoodley Pike, a feature that’s been tempting me from afar wherever I’ve been around Calderdale. The campsite isn’t the nearest place to climb it from, but it makes a lovely six-mile circuit starting through Broadhead Clough Nature Reserve, a narrow, wooded valley rich in fungi, mosses and liverworts as well as larger wildlife. This area is less visited than the other side of the hill, where the most popular walk to the monument is from Hebden Bridge on the Pennine Way, returning via Todmorden and the Rochdale Canal.
Dick’s Lane, a wide, walled drove road characteristic of these high moors, channels me to Stoodley Pike. I’m captivated by the 360-degree views from the foot of the obelisk on the hilltop, but they are even better from the elevated balcony part-way up the structure. Reaching the balcony entails climbing a pitch-dark spiral staircase, but fortunately I have a head torch in my rucksack.
Laid out below is Todmorden and, further down Calderdale, are the various woods and moors I’ve visited. I can even trace the onward route I’ll take through Cragg Vale, up the longest continuous incline in Britain, which I’ll be driving up in my campervan as I head over the moors to the motorway at the start of my journey home.
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