“I wish I were out of doors—I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy […] I’m sure I should be myself were I once among the heather on those hills. Open the window again wide […].” (12.46) – Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
Hebden Bridge was the perfect town for a rest day. It had the air of an inland resort, a creative place with masses of little independent shops, and with some wonderful places to eat and drink. It’s worth making a special trip to Hebden Bridge just to eat at Marcos, an honest-to-goodness proper Italian Pizzeria run by four talented young men.
In our opinion it’s unquestionably the best pizza you will eat outside Italy. In fact it’s pretty much like being in Italy. We spent a blissful couple of hours there doing the newspaper crossword and finishing off our meal with some excellent lemon ice cream with a shot of vodka poured over the top. Fabulous coffee. As I said, Hebden Bridge is an excellent place to spend a rest day!
With clothes freshly laundered by kind Christine at the Angeldale guesthouse, and fuelled by an excellent cooked breakfast, we climbed out of Hebden Bridge up a phenomenally steep cobbled street called The Buttress. Feet, knees and backs were feeling rejuvenated, and although the path was steep we made excellent time up to Gibson Mill below Hardcastle Crags, an off-the-grid National Trust property buried deep in a long, beautifully-managed woodland.
The early industrial mill, now a café, was staffed by a kind warden who offered us a free tea or coffee when he heard about our long journey, but sadly my route expert judged that we had not walked far enough to earn that yet. The mill is surrounded by a system of pools and reedbeds to filter water, and power is provided by biomass. Further up the valley charcoal burning operation is up and running. Maybe we could retire here and run the place one day?
The wood ended almost at the point that we walked up and out onto the Wadsworth Moor, an impeccably managed grouse moor with well-maintained tracks that joined us up again onto the Pennine Way, here part of the Walshaw and Lancashire Estate (briefly, therefore, into our fourteenth county, although South and West Yorkshire might be counted as separate counties).
Unfortunately because it is the Pennine Way our footpath was thoroughly paved with those enormous and very hard stone slabs that, frankly, do not make for particularly pleasant walking. Added to this, the atmosphere was unaccountably spooky until we realised the reason: the birdsong had ceased completely. There were no sheep. No trees. Where were the curlews and skylarks? Where, if it came to that, were the grouse?
I was unsurprised to hear as we came over the top that it was the village of Haworth nestling below us in the valley: these were the moors that inspired Wuthering Heights. We passed High Withins, a farmhouse which over the years has been claimed to have been inspiration for Wuthering Heights. Although now widely discredited as a theory, the ruined house still bears a plaque to this effect. We were clearly in Brontë country. Footpath signposts were in English and Japanese, and we passed a steady stream of tourists in ones and twos and in guided groups heading up into the wild but silent landscape of heather, peat and yellowed grasses. It was annoying to see some dogs running free despite the many signs reminding that in the nesting season all dogs should be on short leads.
Our path dipped down by Ponden reservoir and a chain of farms strangely well-stocked with peacocks, then climbed again away from the literary pilgrims onto Oakworth and Ickornshaw Moors. This was a far more obviously living landscape, at least in terms of butterflies. Masses of green hairstreak butterflies blended in with the bilberry bushes, unassuming rust-brown upper wings hiding startlingly bright lime-green underwings.
Coming off the last moor was something of a relief. They were all so very dry, and the Pennine Way slabs were getting quite monotonous. And we were a little spooked by the lack of birdlife. Perhaps the dryness is responsible for a lack of insects.
Ickornshaw was a charming village, buried in a dale and surrounded by buttercup meadows. We walked a little way with an energetic and enthusiastic young woman called Emma, who is planning to run the Pennine Way race self-supported for five days in January. Sounds far more gruelling than walking from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Props to you, Emma!
After Ickornshaw Lothersdale took a long time to reach. Roads and paths were steep, and my heels were getting sore and I was worried about my heel blisters worsening, the ones which I got when we walked the extra 5k in the evening along the towpath in Little Haywood and I hadn’t paid proper attention to how I laced up my boots. I think the Compeed is doing a good job of protecting them it but what they really need to actually heal properly is a week of air and flipflops. No chance of that! To take my mind off them I concentrated on the honesty in flower in the shadier verges.
We stopped for water to get us up the exceptionally steep hill into Earby. If the hill was steep, the views from the top were well worth it northwards into limestone country, and all the way over to Pen-y-ghent. Some tiresome farm tracks made with the rubbliest stone was the only aspect to mar an otherwise super 32km walk. It had been quite hilly: a total of 2300m ascent and descent, comparable to one of the big Cornish coastal days. It seemed easier though. We must be walking fit!
The final approach down to Earby took us through meadowland with grasses in full flower, red clover, buttercups, eyebright and daisies.
Another sign that summer is approaching fast was yellow rattle, an interesting meadow flower which parasitises grass. We won’t be walking when the seedpods have formed, the rattles which give the plant its name.
Stats for Today
Number of marital arguments provoked by the unsociable atmos on the wuthering heights above Hawarth: 0
Number of badly-composed carcasses of rabbits discovered on the path probably killed by Heathcliff in a murderous rage: 1
Number of farms keeping noisy peacocks as farmyard birds: 4