The magical River of Mist
If you’re lucky you might see the famous River of Mist during your stay at Elmet Farmhouse, a remarkable phenomenon unique to this area. Usually it forms early in the morning as the sun rises and fog starts to lift, but sometimes it appears later in the day after heavy rain.
Moisture is trapped in the steep-sided wooded valleys. Swathes of mist swirl around clinging to the hills, with Stoodley Pike and Heptonstall church peeping through on the tops.
There is nothing quite like the magical River of Mist – and Elmet Farmhouse gives you a bird’s eye view.
© All photos copyright Lesley Jackson
10 Fascinating Facts about Funky Hebden Bridge
1. Hebden Bridge used to be known as Fustianopolis because many of its textile mills specialised in fustian – the generic name for corduroy and moleskin. Hebden Bridge has also been described as Trouser Town because it became an important centre for garment-making, especially working mens’ trousers made from fustian cloth.
Left: Canalside mill in Hebden Bridge. Right: Fustian cutter’s blade sculpture in St George’s Square
2. Hebden Bridge was one of the earliest towns to embrace the Co-operative Movement, just a few years after the Rochdale Pioneers. The Hebden Bridge Fustian Manufacturing Society, based in Nutclough Mill, was the first co-operative mill in the UK. Community spirit and co-operative principles still characterise the town. Hebweb was the first community website in the UK.
Left: Tower of Nutclough Mill. Right: Workers’ housing in Hebden Bridge
3. Until the 19th century Hebden Bridge was much smaller and more insignificant than Heptonstall, the small village on the top of the hill. Whereas Heptonstall had been a flourishing cloth-making centre for centuries, Hebden Bridge was little more than a bridging point over Hebden Water for packhorses en route to Heptonstall via the Buttress (an incredibly steep stone-paved track). But following the industrial revolution, everything changed. Hebden Bridge expanded rapidly and the Calder Valley became a hub for large water-powered and steam-powered textile factories.
Left: 16th century bridge crossing Hebden Water. Right: The Buttress
4. Because the Upper Calder Valley is so steep-sided, there’s very little space on the valley bottom for housing. When Hebden Bridge expanded during the 19th century, double-decker terraces were developed, consisting of underdwellings and overdwellings, running along the contours of the valley and up and down the slopes. ‘Flying freeholds’ – another Hebden Bridge novelty – were introduced as a result.
Double-decker terraces in Hebden Bridge
5. Hebden Bridge boasts the highest proportion of independent shops per capita in the country, a distinction it shares with Totnes in Devon. From butchers and bakers to designer-makers, Hebden Bridge combines traditional businesses, such as ironmongers, haberdashery and and florists, with craft lighting, jewellery and organic food.
Independent shops in Hebden Bridge
6. Hebden Bridge’s thriving general market, held each thursday, recently won the national award for Best Small Outdoor Market in the UK. It sells everything from fresh fish, local cheese and sourdough bread to toiletries, plants and fruit and veg. Hebden Bridge also has a good flea market each wednesday and a twice-monthly farmers’ market on sunday.
Hebden Bridge Market
7. Mytholmroyd-born poet Ted Hughes retained life-long connections with Hebden Bridge. His book Remains of Elmet (1979), a collaboration with photographer Fay Godwin, is all about the Upper Calder Valley. Hughes’s parents lived in a house called The Beacon at Slack, near Heptonstall, where his wife Sylvia Plath was buried. Lumb Bank, an 18th century millowner’s house in Colden Clough once owned by Hughes, later became a creative writing centre run by the Arvon Foundation, still going strong today.
Left: Remains of Elmet. Right: Lumb Bank
8. Internationally renowned photographer Martin Parr lived and worked in Hebden Bridge during the mid 1970s at the start of his career. His photographs from this period, focusing on the non-conformist chapels that once dominated this area, were recently published in a book called The Non-Conformists. Exhibited at the National Media Museum in Bradford in 2013, Parr’s Hebden Bridge photographs are currently on show in The Rhubarb Triangle and Other Stories at The Hepworth, Wakefield in 2016.
Left: Hope Chapel, Hebden Bridge. Right: Birchcliffe Chapel, Hebden Bridge
Left: Providence Chapel, Midgley. Right: Heptonstall Methodist Chapel
9. Maverick singer songwriter Ed Sheeran spent his formative early childhood years in Hebden Bridge and seems to have absorbed its quirky, independent spirit. His parents lived in a house on Birchcliffe Road in Hebden Bridge at the time. Ed’s father was a curator at Cartwright Hall in Bradford and his mother worked at Manchester City Art Gallery.
Left: West Royd (left), Ed Sheeran’s childhood home on Birchcliffe Road, Hebden Bridge. Right: Eiffel Tower opposite West Royd
10. Hebden Bridge and the Calder Valley are popular locations for TV dramas, both historical and contemporary. The picturesque village of Heptonstall recently appeared in Jericho, while Holdsworth House, a 17th century house in Halifax, was an important location in Last Tango in Halifax. Hebden Bridge features prominently in Series 2 of Happy Valley, which, like Last Tango, was written by BAFTA award-winning screenwriter Sally Wainwright, who grew up in Calderdale. Catherine Cawood, the feisty police officer in Happy Valley played by Sarah Lancashire, lives in a house on Hangingroyd Road in the centre of Hebden Bridge.
Hebden Bridge – key location for Happy Valley. Left: Bridge Gate. Right: Bridge Mill.
Heptonstall – key location for ITV’s Jericho
© Text and photos copyright Lesley Jackson
Ted Hughes and Remains of Elmet
Ted Hughes (1930-1998) was one of the greatest British poets of the 20th century. Born in Mytholmroyd, near Hebden Bridge, he spent his early childhood in the Upper Calder Valley and remained deeply attached to the area throughout his life. As well as shaping his character, it triggered his fascination with the natural world and inspired some of his most memorable poems, such as ‘The Horses’, ‘Cock-Crows’ and ‘Football at Slack’.
In 1979 Ted Hughes published a collection of poems called Remains of Elmet specifically about this unique part of Yorkshire. Subtitled A Pennine Sequence, it was created in response to a powerful series of black and white photographs by Fay Godwin and features an iconic image of Heptonstall Church and Stoodley Pike on its cover, with shafts of sunlight streaming through the clouds. This photograph is virtually identical to the view from Elmet Farmhouse.
Elmet Then and Now
Elmet was the ancient name of the Celtic kingdom in this part of Yorkshire, hence the title of Hughes’s book. At the time he wrote Remains of Elmet, during the late 1970s, the textile industry was dying and the area was in decline. Hughes’s poems and Fay Godwin’s photographs record the dereliction that characterised the area at that date, a legacy of the industrial revolution. Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall have since undergone a renaissance, but the surrounding countryside retains its raw elemental beauty.
The view of Heptonstall and Stoodley Pike from across the valley at Pecket Well clearly had special resonance for Ted Hughes, which explains why he picked this image for the cover of Remains of Elmet. Fay Godwin’s iconic photograph captures the special potency of this view.
As well as being highly evocative in its own right, this view had personal associations for Ted Hughes. His cousin David Farrar lived at Wilcroft Cottage, half way up the drive from Elmet Farmhouse, close to where this photograph was taken. Hughes visited his cousin there during the 1950s and early 1960s, on at least one occasion with Sylvia Plath.
Visitors to Elmet Farmhouse can sit in the window seat and read Remains of Elmet while looking at the landscape that inspired these poems. There are also recordings of Ted Hughes reading these poems and other works such as Moortown Diaries and Crow – From the Life and Songs of Crow (1972). Also in the farmhouse is Birthday Letters (1998), a moving collection of poems about Ted Hughes’s relationship with Sylvia Plath, published a few months before his death.
Discover Elmet – The Kingdom of Ted Hughes
A Pennine Sequence, including Heptonstall, Lumb Bank, Crimsworth Dean, Hardcastle Crags and other places associated with Ted Hughes. All these photographs were taken within a few miles of Elmet Farmhouse.
Crimsworth Dean, the secluded valley where Ted Hughes roamed as a child, is just a short walk from Elmet Farmhouse. With its woods, becks and waterfalls and its lapwings, curlews and kestrels, it’s easy to see why it triggered his poetic imagination. Hardcastle Crags, the wooded gorge just below Elmet Farmhouse, also features in Remains of Elmet. The rugged heather moorland on the tops and over towards Haworth was also a potent source of inspiration. Sylvia Plath also responded to this evocative landscape with its strong Brontë associations in her poems ‘Two Views of Top Withins’, ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Hardcastle Crags’.
For Ted Hughes, the ancient village of Heptonstall with its ruined 13th century church, was the symbolic focal point of the Upper Calder Valley. His parents lived at Slack, just above Heptonstall village, in a house called The Beacon with remarkable panoramic 360º views of the surrounding hills, including Stoodley Pike and Pecket Well. Heptonstall church, where Sylvia Plath was buried following her suicide in 1963, is a prominent feature on the horizon directly opposite Elmet Farmhouse.
Hughes later bought a handsome 18th century millowner’s house called Lumb Bank in Colden Clough, just below Heptonstall, with a view to living there. From 1975-89 he leased the house to the Arvon Foundation as a base for creative writing courses. This organisation, which now owns Lumb Bank, was actively supported by Ted Hughes and he gave regular readings there from the mid 1970s onwards. Now known as the Ted Hughes Arvon Centre, Lumb Bank is still going strong.
A footpath runs down from Heptonstall past Lumb Bank into the steep wooded valley of Colden Clough, where tall mill chimneys poke through the trees by the banks of Colden Water.
Photograph on cover of Remains of Elmet by Fay Godwin
© Text and other photographs copyright Lesley Jackson