Ten of our favourite ways to get to know the South Pennines. What are you waiting for?
1. Get out and up. At South Pennines HQ we prefer a rainy day on the moors to a sunny one in the office. With the highest concentration of accessible paths and trails in England, it’s easy to discover the incredible beauty of the South Pennine landscape, the place of inspiration for the Brontë sisters and Ted Hughes and one of the most important sites in Europe for upland birds. You can find lots of paths to walk, cycle or ride or ask a local for their favourite route – some of the best views are off the beaten track.
2. Explore. Our towns and villages have plenty to look at: independent shops, bustling markets, welcoming places to eat. But be a little bit nosy. Seek out the cobbles, the ginnels, the worn flights of steps, the back to back houses, mullioned windows, under and over dwellings, packhorse bridges. Look up at dates and inscriptions. Touch the millstone grit used to build our farms, mills and dry stone walls.
3. Be inspired. Find the poetry in the landscape between Marsden and Ilkley, seeking out the Stanza Stones along the 47 mile trail created by celebrated South Pennines poet Simon Armitage. Or experience the landscape of the Brontes on board a Keighley and Worth Valley Railway steam train. Take your notebook, sketchbook or camera and create your own masterpiece.
4. Take to the water. It’s everywhere. (And we’re not talking about rain.) Listen out for it. The South Pennines rivers, canals and reservoirs so crucial to the Industrial Revolution are a distinctive part of our landscape. The Huddersfield Narrow Canal boasts the highest stretch of canal in Britain as well as Standedge Tunnel – the longest, deepest and highest canal tunnel. Walk from Marsden to Slaithwaite along the tow path, and fill your lungs with the smell of baking bread at the Handmade Bakery and fermenting hops at Empire Brewing. Spot the colourful canal boats and distinctive narrow locks at Saddleworth. Take a trip on the Rochdale Canal from Hebden Bridge or learn to windsurf at Hollingworth Lake. Simon Armitage described the water of the South Pennines as ‘our common gold, our shaping force, our local vintage’. Make it part of your visit.
5. Be green. Book on a course with Edibles in Slaithwaite or walk the Green Route in Incredible Edible Todmorden. Visit the renovated 19th century Gibson Mill, the National Trust’s flagship sustainable building at the heart of the unspoilt wooded valley of Hardcastle Crags. It combines traditional and 21st century technology creating a wonderful visitor centre boasting a biomass stove and worm-composting toilets! Hire an electric bike from the Alternative Technology Centre in Hebden Bridge.
6. Make a splash. Visit the spa town of Ilkley and follow in the footsteps of Charles Darwin by taking the plunge at 18th century White Wells. In warmer weather, soak up the seaside atmosphere at the Ilkley lido, the only lido in Yorkshire. Play on the stepping stones – as well as in Ilkley, look out for sets in Uppermill, Hardcastle Craggs, Addingham. Some of you might even be brave enough to have a wild swim at Gaddings Dam near Todmorden (NB it’s not something any of us have done yet…)
7. Get art and about. There’s art in every town in the South Pennines. Salt’s Mill in Saltaire is home to the work of David Hockney. Many other galleries have changing exhibitions. Artists studios and workshops are plentiful so buy something to remind you of your visit, or make your own.
8. Taste it. Have a look at www.hereforthebeer.co.uk and choose a pub to try a pint of local ale. There are over 30 breweries in the area so it won’t be hard. Try the recommendations of places to eat on our Taste pages and then seek out your own.
9. Mill about. Traces of the industrial revolution are all over the South Pennines. Many of the mills have been converted into apartments, breweries, industrial units. But not all. Visit Ellenroad Mill to see the world’s largest working steam engine. Dean Clough in Halifax, once the world’s largest carpet factory, is now home to Northern Broadsides theatre company, a restaurant and an art gallery. Or find out what it was like to live here in times gone by: Calderdale Industrial Museum in Halifax, the Colne Valley Museum in Golcar and Saddleworth Museum are all worth a visit. (Please phone ahead as hours are sometimes limited due to availability of volunteers.)
10. Come back. People who have spent most of their lives here are still discovering new things to love about the South Pennines. To really get to know a place and its people takes time. Walk in winter snow or sit by the canal in the spring sunshine. Come at different times of the year and see how the colours change on the moors. We promise the South Pennines will keep on surprising you.