Ye gods, what a boring walk. I'm desperate to say something good about this stretch, but the walk from Standedge to Hebden Bridge really is tedious. If it weren't part of the Pennine Way I'm sure nobody would bother to hoof the 15 monotonous miles I've just had to endure, but a travelogue must report the highs and the lows, so here goes.
Without wasting too much effort on the details, the Pennine Way goes north from Standedge over grey moorland until it crosses the A640 and the A672, both of which were 18th-century turnpike roads where a toll would be charged for traffic, and both of which are now unremarkable tarmac A-roads. After passing a bacon butty van, the Way crosses the M62 – arguably the most interesting part of the whole day – and then plods over more moor, goes down a short section of Roman road, crosses the A58, wanders past the White House pub, and then enters an area that manages to eclipse even the moors in terms of monotony.
I'm talking about the reservoirs that were built to provide water for the Rochdale Canal, which opened back in 1804. The Pennine Way slogs past the western shores of Blackstone, White Holme, Light Hazzles and Warland Reservoirs, and even though I'm writing this on a table outside a lovely pub in Hebden Bridge with a pint of Black Sheep ale on the table and the sun beaming down on the pretty town centre, I still can't think of a good thing to say about the reservoirs of West Yorkshire. OK, perhaps I should be complimentary about the paths, which were flat and easy to walk along, and I should probably point out that the weather was neither too hot nor too cold... but apart from track quality and weather, I can't think of anything else to write about. It really is that uninspiring.
I did meet Trevor in the reservoir section, though, and he provided me with some thoughts to chew over during the next part of the walk. Most notably he reminded me that Saddleworth Moor, which David and I had crossed on day two of the Pennine Way, was where Myra Hindley and Ian Brady buried the children they murdered, and some of the bodies have yet to be found; this really helped endear me to the area, particularly as I'm already so fond of bogs and moors. He also told me he'd had a conversation with the man running the bacon butty van on the A627, and apparently the man's father had opened that van in 1961, before the M62 and the Pennine Way had come along. This wasn't the interesting bit, even though the mind boggles at the dedication required to run a bacon butty van for 42 years in an area as bleak as Junction 22 of the M62; the interesting bit was that so far this year, the bacon butty man has met 18 Land's End to John o'Groats walkers, a much larger number than he's met in any previous year. I didn't pop in for a lard burger so this count doesn't include me, and if you add in Barry, who's taking a different route through the Pennines, that's at least 20 people walking the End-to-End this year. I'm surprised it's that many; obviously masochism is catching on.
Anyway, back to the track, about which there is precious little more to say apart from a quick word about the Stoodley Pike monument that sits high up on a ridge between Todmorden and Hebden Bridge. This 125ft-tall stone tower is the kind of monument you'd expect round here; there's no namby-pamby artistic subtlety in the robust tapered stone tower that points into the sky like an extended middle digit, and given its history, its sturdy design makes sense. The pike was built as a monument to peace after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, but in 1854, just as the Russian ambassador was being expelled from London at the start of the Crimean War, it fell down, only to be rebuilt when peace was again restored in 1856. No doubt they worried that another collapse would trigger off another war, hence the no-nonsense construction of the second version.
Even more interesting than the story of the monument are the visible effects of pollution on the tower. The west side of the tower is the light grey colour of the local stone, but the east side is totally black, the stones smothered in a layer of pollution from the mills that pumped out huge amounts of smoke during the industrial revolution; presumably this east-west split is caused by the prevailing wind blowing from the west, thus preventing the soot from settling on that side. The valleys below Stoodley Pike saw the birth of the industrial revolution and here you can still see the effects, caked on this distant monument to peace.
A mile after Stoodley I left the Pennine Way and dropped down into Hebden Bridge, a very pleasant little town that sits in the steep-sided Calder Valley. In the early 20th century this place would have been smothered in the same thick blanket of industrial pollution that blackened Stoodley Pike, but these days the mills no longer weave cotton cloth and the town centre is a delightfully pretty Yorkshire postcard, with tourist-friendly terraced houses perched on the sides of the valley, lots of twee tea shops and boutiques, and a thriving artistic community.
I stumbled across the latter as I stomped down the steep path into Hebden. Just off the footpath I could see a large dome tent, but not a modern day-glo affair, more an ancient, lived-in grotto that bore an uncanny resemblance to the turtle-esque Tuareg tents of the Sahara. Standing by the tent and admiring the garden was a half-naked couple, cuddling and laughing and more than happy to say hello to a wandering walker. Just down the path I dropped into a small copse and there was another couple, gathering wood and sheepishly smiling at me through their long hair and tie-dyed clothes. I'd evidently just walked through a tiny colony of hippies and the theme continued in town; far from being a gritty northern industrial town, Hebden Bridge is a laid-back delight.
This only made my B&B all the more intriguing. I liked the Angeldale Guesthouse, so don't think I'm complaining about the warm welcome or my delightful room which overlooked Hebden's fascinating terraces, enabling me to spy on a world where washing is still hung out to dry across the middle of the street. No, the thing that really amazed me was my hosts' obsession with little yellow notices.
Most B&Bs have the odd sign about the place. The majority of bathrooms have a polite reminder to put the shower curtain inside the shower before turning on the water, some ask ladies to dispose of their hygiene products in the bags provided, and almost all places of a reasonable size have information on the door about what to do in the event of a fire. But the Angeldale was in a class of its own; there were little yellow laminated notices absolutely everywhere, and it was quite unnerving.
Without a doubt the main theme was the guesthouse's No Smoking policy, which cropped up at every single opportunity. In my room I counted five signs pointing out that I wasn't allowed to smoke, and that was without even daring to open the guest's information file, which mentioned it more times that I could be bothered to count. Stuck to the inside of my door were five other notices, including a note detailing the fire policy, a notice listing breakfast times and two scary notices pointing out my duties as a resident (no smoking, payment on registration, no visitors, and the fact that I had entered into a legal contract with the guesthouse in booking a bed in the first place). But the best notice was an incredible 350-word explanation of why the guesthouse had a No Smoking policy in the first place, which started with this telling admission:
We make people aware of the fact that we have a No Smoking policy through our literature, website, advertising and informing the local information staff.
In case the message hadn't got through, they'd stuck another notice to the wall opposite the door, right in my line of sight as I entered my room. It said:
By smoking you risk setting off our fire alarm system.
If we smell smoke (day or night) you also risk being asked to leave, without a refund.
There will also be additional charges billed to you.
(See our No Smoking policy and terms and conditions.)
You never know, I might not have spotted this sign despite the large print size, so I was glad to see another notice tacked to the television:
Please remember we request guests NOT to smoke on the premises. Thank you!
And in case I thought I could have a crafty fag out of the window, a little yellow laminated notice on the sash pointed out the following:
No smoking means no smoking!
DON'T RISK SETTING OFF THE FIRE ALARM
(Smoking by an open window still makes the curtains and room smell for which you will be billed.)
Oh, and don't forget the No Smoking signs in the toilet and the bathroom, and the sign by the front door that said:
For not smoking in our house. It really is much appreciated.
I hadn't even thought about smoking when I walked into Hebden Bridge, but I spent most of the night hankering for a crafty fag, purely because I wasn't allowed one...
Lovely Hebden Bridge
Luckily the charm of Hebden Bridge was more powerful than the curse of the little yellow notices and I spent a happy afternoon wandering round town. As the sun broke through the clouds and turned it from an overcast sauna into a perfect summer's day, I realised just how beautiful Yorkshire can be.
I'm not alone, as Hebden Bridge has successfully turned itself from an industrial black spot into a tourist heaven. The old mill in the centre of town has been refurbished and beneath the ivy-clad shadow of the scrubbed factory chimney lurks Il Mulino, an Italian restaurant and pizzeria; this conversion of the town's industrial centrepiece into a continental eating spot sums up modern Hebden Bridge rather well, and in the sunshine it feels like a modern, cosmopolitan place.
The town square is a lively place to watch the activity. I sat and soaked up a slice of Yorkshire life as kids shot past on their skateboards, heading for the market where they showed off their latest tricks; old ladies strolled past, looking in the shop windows and soaking up the sun; a drunk sat on one of the town benches, sucking on a bottle and gently wetting himself into a puddle on the pavement; tattooed men walked their bulging dogs, keeping them under control with nothing more than whistles; nattering mothers stood on the corner and swapped the day's news; and in the middle of it all sat little old me, happy just to drink in the atmosphere.
What a lovely place. I'm surprised the Pennine Way bypasses Hebden Bridge, choosing instead to stay a mile and a half to the west, a long way from the refurbished mills and the pleasant town square. After such a tedious day's walk, I think it's the Pennine Way that misses out; more fool the route planners, then.