Observing Hebden Bridge from afar, you’d be forgiven for thinking we were in the age of Sylvia Plath, the troubled queen of modern literature buried in a corner of the town. The mill chimneys – constructed of no-nonsense Yorkshire grit – guard over the town as a sulphur-caked memorial of industrial greatness. It is the quintessential northern settlement; a canal, dainty terraced houses, and rain. Lots of rain.
But this town, unlike its many Gradgridian counterparts that sprawl the pennines, has a heart. Sitting between the hardworking Rochdale Canal and the altogether more easy-going River Calder, Hebden Bridge has become a hub of creativity, cosmopolitan living and ‘joie de vivre’. Tucked into every narrow, cobbled street you will find independent retailers selling vintage clothing, little craft stalls peddling cushions and jewellery and, of course, pies. You will find cheese shops, coffee shops, vegan cafes, soap shops and silk. There are galleries selling art from all over the world, including the talented local ‘camera club’, as well as picture houses showcasing Yorkshire talent. If Hebden Bridge could be described in a word, it would be ‘independent’. And that’s before you get to the make-up of the town, with a booming LGBT+ community. Visiting here for the August ‘Happy Valley Pride’ festival, so called after the BBC drama set in the town, brings the vibrancy of this town’s offering to the fore. A true joy, as long as you haven’t forgotten your umbrella.
You’d be well advised to go for the day as there is so much to do. Driving is easy and there is plenty of parking throughout the town, but getting the train is even easier – with regular services from Leeds and Manchester Victoria. The setting – in the Calder Valley – offers plenty of trails for walkers and cyclists alike. Lunch is covered by everything from coffee shops, micro-breweries, community pubs, and everything in-between, totalling about 50 places to eat and drink.
Shopping is a serious business; be sure to allow a solid half day to wander around the countless outlets and market stalls. Be prepared to buy at least a few things for your digs, and consume your body weight in tea and cake as you go along. That is if you can spare a minute from posting the picture-perfect postcard setting onto your Instastory.
Yorkshire folk will proudly boast that their county is God’s own, but Hebden Bridge is the multi-coloured beating soul. But don’t just take my word for it…
Where to go
Caffeine? You really can take your pick, but the coffee at Café Solo takes some beating. It would be rude not to have the orange and cardamom cake.
Lunch? Try Green’s Vegetarian Café for a global offering of tasty dishes. The eggs are unrivalled, and the sociable mezze platter will hit any spot.
Shopping? The Yorkshire Soap Company is a safe bet for a visit, with unusual cosmetics on offer. The town is bustling with gift shops and knick-knack outlets – everything from eco-friendly specialists to seamstresses transforming beautiful fabric into whatever you like. And then there’s the market stalls.
Sweet shops? Compulsory visit – ‘Something Sweet’ will give you a quarter of pretty much anything you can think of in a jar.
Cheese? Pennine Wine and Cheese is a personal favourite. The shelves are brimming with artisan jams, chutneys and preserves, while the fridges offer handmade chocolate and Yorkshire cheeses. The ‘Harrogate blue’ is a mellow, yellow blue cheese to die for, particularly on a locally made oatcake.
Walks? Take your pick from the Pennine Trail, but Hardcastle Crags offers 15 miles of beautiful woodland. The Rochdale Canal walk goes right through the town, a challenging but enjoyable trek if you’re after something a little more taxing.
Arts? Keep an eye out for regular arts festivals, and if you like theatre, ‘The Little Theatre’ and their local company put on regular dramas and plays.