Best Foot Forward: Urban rambling

View over Dean Clough
View over Dean Clough

If, like me, you’re sat indoors, your peace punctuated by an occasional forlorn glance out of the window awaiting the passing of the latest storm, you might be wondering when, and more importantly, where you might next be able to walk.

Sure, winter conditions aren’t particularly welcoming or hospitable to the average rambler; however, winter walking does not always equate to the inevitability of soggy socks.

Calderdale parks feature. Peoples Park, Halifax.

Calderdale parks feature. Peoples Park, Halifax.

The combination of ‘urban’ and ‘rambling’ might strike you as mutually exclusive, however there are a great deal of walkers who specifically choose to walk the streets of our towns and cities. How many times have you walked the streets of Leeds, for example, your focus only on what is directly in your eyeline, and not looked above the shop fronts to appreciate the wonderful architecture? You might not get the dramatic colours of the natural landscape, but when walking in urban settlements, there are other intrigues to seek out.

In vast cities such as Manchester or London, you can come to appreciate them in a different manner by exploring on foot; no longer viewing them as a collection of isolated locations connected by bus or rail, you can join the dots and get a real sense of the size. Whilst in Calderdale we do not have cities of comparable size, you can still create routes of any length and could even explore multiple villages connected by the canal towpaths.

But what does urban walking offer? Well, as a starter, you can witness how abruptly a town changes its character; whether that’s in the style of architecture, or the population inhabiting the area, or simply whether one street is particularly clean, whereas the next perhaps less so. In Calderdale we are lucky that we have so much history still very much alive and available to experience. Take Halifax, for example. From the Dean Clough Mills to the Piece Hall; there are many grand buildings carefully conserved, with a wealth of information available to those who wish to know the history. There is also Shibden Hall and the Wainhouse Tower; no wonder John Betjeman [Poet Laureate 1972-84] described Halifax as a ‘town of hidden beauty.’ Taking part in a heritage walk can also uncover some of the lesser known facts of the towns and villages of the Calderdale District. It was on one such walk I learnt the history of the Halifax Gibbet; the forerunner of the guillotine. I learned of a man called Lacy, who escaped the gibbet by running the 460m to cross the district boundary, however he returned seven years later to his wife and was subsequently re-captured and executed in 1623.

Weavers’ cottages dating from the 17th and 18th are examples of the extent of the wool and textile trade that employed thousands. The Dean Clough Mills once housed the largest carpet manufacturer in the world throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries; John Crossley & Sons. Francis Crossley, one of the sons of the founder John, and who was responsible for the rapid growth of the business in the 19 th century and also known for paying equal wages to men and women, was a philanthropist whose gifts to the people, amongst many, included the People’s Park, opened in 1857 at a cost to Crossley of £41,300. In recent years the park has been fully restored.

The Piece Hall

The Piece Hall

With parks, canals, a myriad ginnels plus endless buildings of historical interest and meaning; Calderdale is a great district to explore on foot, be it in the wilds, or on tarmac. With countryside snuggling neatly next to many of the settlements; you could always combine an urban walk with a short detour into the countryside. Hebden Bridge is an excellent example, and I’m sure many other villages and towns offer the same delight; it’s simply that I’m not as

familiar with others as I am with Hebden.

With the daylight hours retreating; you could also entertain the idea of a ghost themed walk around the urban settlements. You only need to do a little research to uncover the tales of supernatural occurrences in the district, with Halifax itself hosting at least 10 purported ghost dwellings; including the Squire Chapel and Halifax Town Hall.

Urban walking can have a theme or specific purpose, to seek out buildings of interest, or spot certain types of stone carving on building surrounds, or indeed, ghosts, but it can also have no purpose whatsoever. It can be done on your lunch hour, to get some exercise and a change of scenery, or it might be done just to get more familiar with the town in which you live. It would be interesting to walk over the course of several decades; observing what has changed.

Calderdale tourism - Shibden Hall

Calderdale tourism - Shibden Hall

Sometimes I enjoy just sitting back with a good coffee by a window in a café and simply watching the world go by; I call it ‘people watching’. This, combined with overheard conversations can provide great inspiration for a short story; otherwise, it’s just nice to feel part of something – a community in which there is much activity, but by doing no more than sipping a good cappuccino. Well; why not enjoy this experience on foot?

With the advent of smartphones and the fact most of us have them, complete with built-in map apps; getting lost in a town or city is really no longer a problem. So, next time the weather looks grim, but you have that urge to stroll; why not take to the pavement? You might discover a new type of walking that is surprisingly enjoyable for you.