Britain at its best: Hebden Bridge where Ed Sheeran was born is a true northern star
- Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire is ‘just the right side of gentrified’, says Rob Crossan
- He stayed at Little Nook cottage, which is perched on the farthest edge of town
- The town centre has organic bakeries, Afghan rug shops and craft ale stores
You really shouldn’t be in shorts’, says my guide Grant as we huff and puff up the incline of the valley.
‘Why on earth not?’ I reply, as the Yorkshire sun casts an amber glint on us.
‘Because Hebden Bridge was once dubbed “Trouser Town”.’
Priceless: Pictured above is the Rochdale canal in Hebden Bridge
A centre for the making of corduroy during the early years of the Industrial Revolution, the cotton mill beneath where Grant (a guide for the National Trust which owns this land) and myself stand is silent now, the only noise coming from a family eating ice creams from the cafe on the ground floor.
The mill is a stone block of former industry hidden deep within Hardcastle Crags, a forested wilderness known as the ‘back garden’ of Hebden Bridge.
With 400 acres of conifer and beech trees and tinkling streams to hike around, I’m finding that, even sans trousers, the Crags makes for an idyllic introduction to West Yorkshire.
Walking along the two miles of tapering lanes, trails and canal towpaths that lead from here into the town centre is a joy.
This is a town just the right side of gentrified, with organic bakeries, Afghan rug shops and craft ale stores as well as old-school ironmongers and white-tiled butchers filling the sandstone frontages of a maze of tall, narrow, steep streets.
These vertiginous roads have their rewards though. At the top of a grid of cobbled lanes leading up from the town centre lies Heptonstall, an adjoining village to Hebden, whose church was struck by lightning back in 1847.
Unusually, a new church was built alongside it and the original left to moulder as a ruin. The graveyard is the final resting place of Sylvia Plath, who lived here with her poet husband Ted Hughes. He once wrote that the town was a place of ‘Elizabethan, marvellous, little kingdoms, going for next to nothing’.
‘It’s true. You could buy a house here for less than £100, even in the Seventies’, the barman in the community-owned Fox and Goose pub back down the hill in Hebden tells me.
Star quality: Hebden-born Ed Sheeran
I find free cheese and crackers on the bar, bottled beers from the town’s Little Valley brewery and Breton music enthusiasts playing violins and hurdy-gurdys in the garden. The town’s creative streak continues to this day. Talking to locals at the market that serves up everything from cheese scones to venison steaks, I’m told that Hebden is the birthplace of Ed Sheeran as well as the home of Coronation Street actress Paula Lane, who runs a drama school in the town.
I am staying at Little Nook cottage. Perched on the farthest edge of town, this is an aptly named bijou stone hideaway managed by the Hare and Hounds, a rural pub two minutes’ walk down the lane. With pigs and chickens roaming the garden, I watch passing riders tether up their horses and pop in for a quick libation while owners David and Jeanette pour foaming pints of Timothy Taylor and dispense gargantuan slabs of homemade steak and ale pie.
The house prices may not be £100 any more. But this corner of Yorkshire is priceless for walkers, thinkers and discerning drinkers.
Rob Crossan was a guest of yorkshire.com. LNER (lner.co.uk) trains from London King’s Cross to Leeds from £58 return. Local trains operate between Leeds and Hebden Bridge. Little Nook Cottage (sleeping two) costs from £120 self-catering for a two-night minimum stay (hareandhounds.me.uk).
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