Monday, 24 April 2017

Review: Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, UK

Bank holidays are made for getaways. You know if you can travel when the traffic is not ridiculously chaotic.

Our destination for the April Bank Holiday was Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire - not too far from Leeds and Keighley. Described as a bohemian, creative market village with a cute shopping centre and stunning surroundings it was an ideal destination. Their tourist website is here.

It also got voted as the lesbian capital of the UK by the BBC but we saw little signs of why exactly that was although a few rainbow flags were spotted.

We were staying in an Airbnb with friends. The hosts had allowed us to arrive whenever was convenient so we checked in just after lunch. The nearest supermarket was in Sowerby Bridge a quick 10 minute drive away and that was our first stop to stock up. There were a few co-ops in the village and plenty of cafes if you are without a car.
The Hebden Bridge
Hebden Bridge is also very dog friendly and that proved very handy when exploring the village. It was a short walk from our Airbnb via a canal to get to the heart of the village and on arrival we were greeted with independent gift shops and cafes as well as a tourist information centre. Our first stop was the famous Hebden Bridge followed by the tourist information centre to improve my local knowledge.

We were the 'dead' centre of town in our Airbnb, our neighbours were 'dead' upset (sorry)

With guidebook in hand I was informing my party of the history of the town from it's original days as a packhorse route that provided weary travellers with inns and food on their journey to flourishing days as a wool market before declining as people moved to the nearby cities for work. It's resurgence came in the 60's and 70's as creative types moved to the area in search of inspiration and tranquility. As transport routes improved it soon became a great country location for those working in Leeds and Manchester. Today is still has it creative side and tourism is on a steady increase.

We spent the Saturday in the village enjoying what the shops and cafes had to offer including the cream tea at the Blitz cafe that was delicious and the Lampost Cafe  that had dog friendly cakes on offer, so we splurged on treats for the dogs after their walk.

A relaxed Saturday left us with plenty of energy to spent the Sunday exploring the area. That meant a walk in the beautiful surrounding hills.

Hardcastle Crags
The picturesque walk I had in my mind was sadly over shadowed by mist and rain but with map in hand Laura and I decided it was still worth exploring even if it was just to give Bisbee a walk. What we should have done is gone to Hardcastle Crags a scenic woodland valley with a visitor centre, what we did was took our paper map and headed to the hills. I secretly hoped the weather forecast was right and that the rain would move on to leave behind a nice clear day. It did not.

As we ascended the hill behind our Airbnb it felt good to be out in the fresh air but as we started the woodland part of the walk our initial positivity started to wain. The path was thin and steep and in order to walk it safely we had to do so single file. With the promise of ruins and interesting sights ahead we persevered. After an hour we started to find the map directions harder to follow, whimsical directions like 'left at the great oak tree, or step through the hole in the wall as you look towards the valley' started to seem confusing and harder to align with what we could see. One wrong turn in particular took us to the very top of a hill into a farm that had two Alsatian dogs ready to chase us off - thankfully an electric fence protected us but it had our hearts racing.

The start, the middle, the end
After two hours the rain still hadn't subsided and we were almost completely lost so we decided to head back into the woods and down towards the stream to see if we could get our bearings. Thanks to my wonderful wife's sharp eye she spotted a bridge that sounded like one of the points mentioned on the map. The only problem was it was way down the hill and the sheer drop did not seem like a good idea, We tried right - dead end, we tried left - complete bog and so then we went back to the farm and tried a different route. Eventually we made it to the bridge almost an hour later.

Our adventurer, me sherpering Laura and  one of the many precarious bridges
Some 4 hours later we took our friends up on the offer of a rescue - it was the first time we had seen a road. The frustrating thing was it a 4 minute drive from the Airbnb but would have taken us 34 mins to walk. Be warned the hills around Hebden Bridge are steep. Steeper than they look. And not easy to navigate in the spring/ when wet. Maybe wait for the mud to dry out.

The map that caused the challenge, the bridge that saved us, the Bee Boles (old beehives) we got to see and the somewhat misty view we enjoyed

The steep slopes down had been harder to navigate that the pathways going up. Often the path became a bog. Often that bog would be ankle deep. Laura's walking shoes eventually became mud clogs and that made them super slippy so the scene would often have Laura gripping my shoulders as I slowly guided us both down - imagine someone learning to ski and there you have Laura trying to get down. Thankfully Bisbee was happy bounding in whatever direction took her fancy and our slow pace seemed to provided more time for her to explore.

After the 4 hours we were greeted with a home cooked roast and it tasted SO good. We love that Airbnb's really are a home from home and allow you to cook when and what you want. Our evening was spent watching films on TV.

While it was an experience it is one I am glad we attempted, next time though i'm sticking to the well trodden tourist tracks.

The canals crossing the village, the variety of things to do and the restaurants to try should keep you entertained for a weekend getaway and the fact that the houses and village lay out have barely changed over time add a sense that you have stepped back in time. If you can, take a walk up The Buttress (a very steep packhorse route) to enjoy views over the valleys.

We plan to make the trip back to visit Hardcastle Crags but until then we will reminisce on bank holiday visit and discovering a new place.

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