September, (to and) from and to (and from) Hebden Bridge


We’re almost at the end of this series of adventures in miniature, and although not all the walks we’ve written about have been done in splendid isolation, we haven’t up to this point been for a walk together for the whole of the last year. For the final pair of instalments we spent a very enjoyable afternoon in and around Hebden Bridge.

My own experience of the day was bookended by car journeys from and back to Glossop. Neither was particularly unpleasant, and they didn’t seem unduly long since I’ve just started a new job that requires frequent three-hour commutes. Those are by train, which of course affords plentiful reading time, but as a substitute today’s trip was narrated by Hugh Fraser reading to me about the exploits of Agatha Christie’s number one fictional Belgian, Hercule Poirot. And you’d have to go a lot further than Yorkshire to find a more pleasant way to spend a few hours than that.

Walking boots seem to become useless about a fortnight after they reach the peak of their comfort and these recent replacements still have quite a long way to go. Their crime may only be that they are not already seven years old. Today they continue their initiation.

A striking feature of the day, both on foot and by road, was hills. Mainly, if memory serves, going up. It can’t be denied that this sort of thing, as we reluctantly agreed at the time, is necessary for achieving the best views. And there were certainly some doozies; I think some of them might even have been vistas.

From the highest points we saw clusters of electricity-generating wind turbines on nearby hills across one valley and reflected on the conditions in which the building of such structures is justifiable. My companion spends his professional life considering questions just such as this, so I was, as usual when we talk, left with rich food for thought.

The view across another valley revealed the tower of the monument on Stoodley Pike in Todmorden. Built to commemorate the fall of Napoleon’s Paris, the original collapsed at the outbreak of war in Crimea after having narrowly survived a lightning strike.  Paul reckons some bloke reckons it’s Masonic. That’s good enough for me.

We wondered about the correct geological term for the network of folded, variegated valleys that characterize the head of these dales. The landscape is on a larger scale than the corner of the High Peak where I live; there are certainly hills at home, but you have to go a bit out of the town – ideally to the south – before they start to roll and spread out. South West Yorkshire takes the hills and spreads them out over a wider area. I can’t help but see Postman Pat trundling his van round stone-walled lanes even on those few occasions when he isn’t in fact doing that. My first thought on seeing this kind of Yorkshire landscape is always that it is more dramatic than at home; I can’t quite escape that feeling, but I’m persuaded that ‘dramatic’ is the wrong word. It sprawls more, but it does a weaker job of looming and my impression is that there are more trees to soften the edges.

Throughout the afternoon we didn’t mention sheep at all, despite walking through several fields of the things. Here they are recorded for posterity. Not by name, I’m afraid – we didn’t talk about them, never mind to them. They certainly contributed to the atmosphere; I hope they’d be satisfied to hear that.

In a general way one of the highlights of the walk was seeing the iridescent blue flash of a kingfisher skimming low over a stream. I can’t confidently assert that it was a highlight in any more than a general way, because I didn’t, as it turns out, see it. First Paul spied it as we descended a bank twenty or thirty yards from the water, and lamented that he hadn’t brought his binoculars. I had brought my binoculars, and twisted to get them out of the pocket of my bag. I lingered over that task, trying to explain an irritating problem I’d started to notice with them recently, and while I was absorbed with that I missed the kingfisher again. It might have been twice more.

The route back to Hebden Bridge took in woodland full of ghost buildings and tales of floods and unconnected impressive, but characteristically modest, lifesaving, school buses meandering around undulating lanes cut into the overwhelming green. We talked about happiness and its relation to low expectations; we talked about the difficulties of weight loss and stopped in at a fascinating shop for cake and fizzy drinks. The store is tiny, but boasts an almost unreasonably large range of magazines and provisions. It manages to fit a fresh food counter and a beer and wine selection to rival all the nearby supermarkets into a space about the size of my kitchen. We talked about an idea for another project, developing a similar motivating idea to this one but with pictures, that I think we will do throughout next year.

Back from strolling and it was chucking-out time at the nursery, so I went along to meet Bertie and we spent a delightful ten minutes throwing rubble at ducks. Obviously Paul and I helped him to source the stones, because children have to learn not to do stuff by first doing it, then gradually realising as they get older that their parents and other adults were slightly, though indulgently, disapproving at the time, until they’re a little bit ashamed of throwing gravel at waterfowl and they don’t do it any more, although they do go on to indulge their own children in doing it and the cycle repeats. Right, that’s parenting sorted, in case you were after any tips.

“Wait a minute! Are those fieldfares? Ah, no, just starlings. I was going to say.”

Twenty-four thousand words, it turns out, paints a picture.

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