OL21: the South Pennines (around Haworth)

OS Explorer map OL21, South Pennines: Burley, Hebden Bridge, Keighley & Todmorden – I own this map, but had not visited it before starting this blog. Visited for this post 12th August 2021.

I came to this map area for for a short-ish holiday with my friends Erithacus, Vesper and Millicent. As regular readers may know, the four of us lived together one year, and have been on trips together a few times before – notably to Snowdonia and the Yorkshire Dales. Unfortunately, 2020-21’s coronavirus pandemic got in the way of us going on another holiday together, so we were very happy to finally be able to go ahead with this one in August, a year and a half after our last!

The Pennines, being the range of hills that run north to south along the length of the northern half of England, are divided into several areas. The most well-known of these are the national parks of the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales; however in my opinion the South Pennines and the North Pennines – second and fourth respectively if one runs from south to north – are just as great as their more famous neighbours. The South Pennines is therefore the name for rather a large upland area, sitting right next to the sizeable cities of Bradford and Huddersfield to the east, but still feeling perfectly remote when you’re in them.

The view from our cottage in Stanbury

For this trip, we’d booked a cottage in the village of Stanbury, which sits in the Worth valley at the eastern side of the South Pennines, near the larger settlements of Haworth and Keighley. The area around Stanbury and Haworth is – as is indeed rather impossible for any visitor to miss – known as Brontë Country, for reasonably obvious reasons. We’d booked the place for four nights, Thursday to Monday, though the plan was to set off quite late on Thursday after an only slightly early work finish: that way we’d be able to get as much holiday as possible for two days of annual leave!

The trip started when Vesper and I were joined at our Cambridge home by Millicent, being dropped off by his father; it then being about 4pm, the three of us then left pretty directly for Erithacus’s place nearby, where we collected both her and her cat Truus before beginning the four-ish hour drive to our holiday cottage. Truus, though, wouldn’t be staying with us for long: we dropped her off just an hour later at our next stop, my parents’ house in Northamptonshire, since they’d be looking after Truus while we were away. Since we had three hours of driving left to do and it was after 5pm, we didn’t stay long, but we did take the opportunity to grab a few eggs from my parents’ chickens, and for Erithacus to borrow a pair of Mother Dearest’s walking boots.

Vesper and Erithacus sitting in the cottage the next morning!

Now, after mine and Erithacus’s positive Burger King experience on our way up to Durham a few weeks earlier, the four of us decided to do the same for our dinner this evening. Alas, the en-route Burger King that I identified turned out not to exist, but we soon enough found ourselves one, in a leisure park in Meadowhall, a Sheffield suburb – which excitingly had a tram stop! I must come back to Sheffield to go on the trams sometime. At the leisure park, Vesper and Millicent went to get us the promised burgers, while I called Morrisons customer services: I’d ordered a Morrisons delivery to arrive at the holiday cottage between 9-10pm that evening, but unfortunately we were likely to arrive around 9:45, so I wanted to let them know. I was very impressed with their customer services: despite it being well past 8pm, I got through to a real person very quickly, who then called the store, who called the driver. The message then came back down the chain to me that the driver would wait for us for 15 minutes when he arrived at our address. (If we missed him, the items would be returned to the store, and we’d be refunded.)

In the end, unfortunately we missed the Morrisons delivery, arriving a sliver before 10pm. The cottage, though, was very nice: it was an old mid-terrace, with a view (as we saw the next morning) over the upper Worth valley to the moors beyond. Rather quirkily, the cottage was set well back from the road, behind another set of cottages, and access to it was via a path through the neighbours’ garden! We sat around and did a little necessary unpacking, before proceeding quite quickly to bed. The room Vesper and I were staying in had a four-poster bed, which seemed quite out of place in the poky, rustic room!

Surveying the landscape at the start of our first walk of the trip!

The next morning, I got up quite early (as I usually do these days), and headed off to Morrisons in Keighley, some 20 minutes’ drive away, to make up for our missed delivery the night before. I was pleased to find that Morrisons’s bakery cherry pie is, unlike the parallel offerings from Sainsbury’s and Tesco, vegan, which would please Vesper! I therefore duly added such a pie to our shopping basket, and it was eaten that evening, to wide acclaim.

After I returned from the shopping trip – and after various necessary activities such as unpacking, sitting around, eating breakfast, and sitting around – we made ourselves some packed lunches and went out for a walk. This being Brontë Country, we thought we’d better see do least one Brontë thing, so we walked over to the Brontë Waterfalls, these being, I’m told, mentioned by the sisters B as one of their favourite locations to walk to.

The route of our first day’s walk, to the Brontë Waterfalls and the ruins Top Withens

The walk to the falls was great, with Erithacus and Millicent attempting to identify various wildflowers (admittedly without much success) as we made our way through sheepy fields and quiet lanes between drystone walls. Vesper loves a good drystone wall: she, having spent much of her childhood in rural Lancashire, says that hills and drystone walls are what make her feel at home. The waterfalls themselves were a nice little bit of stony, tree-lined river, with a cute old footbridge (you guessed it, the Brontë Bridge). In my opinion it wasn’t so much a waterfall as a watergraduallydescend, but there you go.

From the Falls, we decided to continue on (rather than returning directly), and so set off again, going further westwards into the moors. The walk was, again, very nice; taking us first through fields then out onto open moorland, on a clear but not too hot day.

The West Yorkshire moors, as seen on our walk up to Top Withens. The colours are lovely!

The destination for our walk was Top Withens, a ruined farmhouse, and yet another Brontë-connected thing. In this case, the link is fairly tenuous – copying from Wikipedia, I can tell you that the plaque in the house says:

This farmhouse has been associated with “Wuthering Heights”, the Earnshaw home in Emily Brontë’s novel. The buildings, even when complete, bore no resemblance to the house she described, but the situation may have been in her mind when she wrote of the moorland setting of the Heights.

[1]. Nevertheless, the house is a popular tourist destination (as well as sitting on the Pennine Way), and there were signs in Japanese, due to the volume of visitors from there the place apparently gets.

It being rather windy, we ended up sitting down in the ruins to eat the packed lunch we’d brought, before returning to the cottage by a more direct route, walking along the Pennine Way for a little while.

Now, something I often end up doing when visiting a fun part of the UK is imagining how realistic it would be to move there, and what life would be like in such a circumstance – which usually leads to me browsing through houses available to rent on Rightmove, and looking into the local public transport connections. When doing the latter, I was very happy to find that the public transport is pretty great: Stanbury, the village of ~250 people we were staying in, has an hourly bus service – the B1 Brontë Bus – to Keighley, the nearest big town and railway station. Nearby Haworth, a town of some 6000 inhabitants, has them every 20 minutes, then continuing hourly until past 10pm.

A pretty heather-lined portion of our path back from Top Withens to Stanbury

Various settlements in Cambridgeshire (which I don’t think is a particularly bad county for bus services) would love to get a fraction of that service: for example, Chatteris, pop. 11000, gets about one bus an hour, while Rampton, pop. 450 and barely 6 miles from Cambridge, gets just one bus per day in each direction. While I’m not a fan of some things the Campaign to Protect Rural England get up to, I wholeheartedly support their “Bus for every village every hour” campaign – their report is well worth reading, and makes the great point that plenty of other countries manage rural bus services so much better than the UK: various Swiss cantons guarantee every village of over 300 people a bus every hour from 6am to midnight.

When talking to non-Brits about going walking in England, something I often have to get them out of is the “walking trails” mindset: foreigners (at least from some places), I find, often think that recreational walking has to be done on specific named walking routes, which one has to specifically seek out; the question “are there any walking trails” around here therefore making sense from their perspective as something to ask. However, this doesn’t make much sense in England, where most every village has several public footpaths going in various directions, and which can be linked up into walks in innumerable ways, but which aren’t named, and vary wildly in whether they go to or from anywhere logical – and also in what the physical path is like, from a surfaced, well waymarked trail, to a set of overgrown stiles at the edges of muddy fields or, sometimes, nothing at all.

The object of our second walk in the area: The Sea!

Given this usual plenitude of options, the difficulty of choosing a walk is usually in narrowing it down: especially if one’s on holiday and has a car at one’s disposal, there are usually hundreds of possibilities in the area that seem like they’ll be nice. I therefore often end up picking via fairly arbitrary means: in particular choosing a feature on the map that looks mildly interesting or quirky, and building a walk around that. While often this might be a church, a ruin, a castle or something; on the second day of this holiday, we went for another reliable map feature: the silly name! When looking over the map, we were delighted to find a small body of water on Keighley Moor, just a few miles from the cottage, tantalisingly labelled “The Sea”.

The Sea!

It was another good moortop walk, taking us a little under an hour to reach The Sea from where we parked. The Sea was indeed a sort of bean-shaped pond some ten yards long, sitting a hundred yards or so of tussocky ground away from another section of the Pennine Way. I still have no idea why it’s named so, but it was a good excuse for a walk!

We spent four nights at the cottage in Stanbury, and had a thoroughly great time; it was really nice to be away on holiday as a group again after far too long an interval. Our third full day was spent mostly in the house, with just a couple of short wanders out in smaller groups. I have one more post to tell from this trip, about a stop we made on the way home at the end. See you then, dear reader!

[1] Having never read it before, I picked up Wuthering Heights in the week before this trip. I have to say, I didn’t like it; I just don’t enjoy reading a book where nearly all the characters are nasty to each other all the time, I like my books rather happier. Oh well!

2 thoughts on “OL21: the South Pennines (around Haworth)

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