There is something uniquely charming about the petrol-powered Northern Rail trains that pootle out of Leeds station around Yorkshire and beyond. Led by an infamous flock of pacers in their fourth decade, these much maligned ‘buses on rails’ have become an oddly essential part of northern England’s fabric.
The early morning journeys from Harrogate, Bradford, Wakefield and the rest may mumble and grumble into Leeds, but these longstanding stalwarts are vital to the movement of the city and the lives of its people. Besides shuffling folk to work and back, this fleet of ancient trains also provide a happier outlet for a fine day out at many of Leeds’ super surroundings. One such idyllic piece of Yorkshire to choo-choo into is the glorious Hebden Bridge.
A three-quarters-of-an-hour tour through Bramley, Pudsey, Bradford and Halifax will land you in a village unlike any other, full of quirks and eccentricities, in its people and its places. The vision and feel is at once traditionally local and quaintly ethereal. Whilst keeping true to itself, Hebden Bridge has gained quite the reputation for numerous reasons, from the magnificent to the catastrophic.
Indeed, despite the area’s positive outlook, it often hits the headlines for less desirable happenings. Due to its location at the confluence of the River Calder and the Hebden Water, part of what makes up the scenic beauty of Hebden Bridge also makes it a risk for frequent floods, such as those which devastated parts of the town on Boxing Day 2015. Perhaps more representative of the spirit here is the coming together of community when waters have overflown, as the whole town heartwarmingly rallies around affected businesses and residents with fundraising and volunteering to repair and renew as one.
It is this human kindness which epitomises Hebden Bridge, evident in its accepting mix of diverse people. The town has become known as a creative hub for independent minds, with writers, musicians and artists flocking here. The place is also heralded as the lesbian capital of the country, with the relatively high percentage of LGBTQ+ residents surely an acknowledgement of the welcoming and equality-championing nature of the place.
This all leads to a high street filled not with the identikit outlets of everywhere else, but one which promotes independence and intrigue. There are shops of expertise and excellence, service and passion; search out literature at The Book Case, scour records at The Spacebar, delve home goods at Spirals, find knitwear at Makepeace, and acquire bespoke jewellery from The Workshop. These and plenty more splendid specialists in wonderfully wonky spaces make for a beautifully alternative experience to Leeds’ modern city centre.
The cafes, bars and restaurants too offer delights that are both comfortingly familiar and adventurously otherworldly. For a coffee, breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea, head to Mooch, Solo, Muse or Lovegrows. For vegetarian heaven, Green’s is a cafe by day and pops up as a restaurant on weekend evenings. Other eateries swing between Italian, Greek, Thai, and even Tibetan, in a fittingly eclectic selection, that of course also includes hearty fare in British boozers. As well as an array of great traditional pubs, Hebden Bridge is also home to the marvellous Vocation Brewery, whose own bar is stocked with their ample ales.
The entertainment continues into the night, especially at a couple of venues in keeping with the timeless feel of the town. Hebden Bridge Picture House is an independent arthouse cinema with all the ornate loveliness of its grade II listed building, and listings that mix modern movies with old classics and awesome oddities, plus the occasional live show. Nearby, more regular live performances excel at The Trades Club, a much loved venue that has gained quite the reputation for attracting musicians who should be too popular for this small capacity space, where an array of legendary names and rising stars are tempted to perform special intimate shows.
Even without the people making Hebden Bridge a hotbed of creativity and independence, the setting alone makes it a wonderful attraction. Glorious canal side walks in all directions satisfy, notably Heptonstall and the impressive woodlands and valleys of Hardcastle Crags. In this, Hebden Bridge is a picturesque piece of Yorkshire history, but one that continues to create its own modern character, and invites all good people to come and enjoy it too.