We managed one more walk before the end of October. I had suggested a trip to Hardcastle Crags which strangely, we had rarely visited in autumn. Following some route-finding, we embarked on what we hoped would be less of a slog to get to Gibson Mill. This entailed catching the 596. Due to roadworks, the bus shelter had disappeared to be replaced by a temporary sign. As we waited, a chilly wind made me cold and I worried I might not be warm enough.
We rode up enjoying the scenery in the beautiful sunshine. We got off at Slack Top, immediately crossed and began walking up Widdop Road. To our left, a different aspect of Popples Common revealed its true size. A cobbled lane suggested an old packhorse trail. To the right, large gardens housed annoying yappy dogs. Farmhouses revealed ancient horse steps, auxiliary servant’s quarters. multiple chimneys and peafowl – the latter populating the grounds of Greenwood Lea (a historic Yeoman’s house dating from circa 1712). A few sheep and ridiculously cute Shetland ponies grazed in the fields. Across the valley, trees displayed a plethora of colours with emerald evergreens interspersing a variety of deciduous hues.
The road dipped slightly and after a small bend we espied Clough Holes carpark. As work was underway, a sign announced ‘footpath closed’. “Oh no!” I exclaimed, then realised it meant the path to the carpark. Alongside, a tiny step stile led down to a picturesque path following the line of a small brook, punctuated with idyllic cascades. A second stepped stile marked meadows giving way to woodland.
Looking back, sunlight glinted on leaves of orange, yellow and green with branches stretching towards a pale blue sky. The path became a mix of rough cobble and hardcore as it continued to wind down. Just before the stone bridge, a tree stump resembled a teddy bear.
A couple of families had followed us down; a reminder it was half-term. I hoped we would not be overwhelmed with school kids at Gibson Mill. In spite of the family-friendly activities and several groups making use of the café facilities, I managed to find a vacant table. We had brought our own butties. Phil wanted a brew to go with them and disappeared inside the Weaving Shed for what seemed like an age! Eventually emerging, he said it had taken so long because of the umpteen variations on offer including flake in coffee – is that a thing now?
Both the walk down and lunch had taken considerably longer than anticipated. Having originally planned to go quite a bit further up, we figured there was insufficient daylight remaining. We agreed to at least walk a little way beyond the mill.
Among the mill ponds, impressive fungi were the size of dinner plates. The brook we had walked alongside on our descent culminated in a torrent teeming down the rocks. A large party of elderly hikers came towards us, necessitating a precarious step off the path at the water’s edge.
A few ducks pootled about on the pond surface amidst floating oak leaves. Below the water line, bare branches created black reflections while frondy pond weeds of bright green swayed gently. At the actual crags, I remarked that I had only recently realised that this exact spot had been the focus of Victorian jaunts. Lovely as they are, I was somewhat bemused by its specific popularity; the whole Calder Valley is characterised by such features.
We continued a little further where the scene took on a more forested aspect. Assorted mushrooms brought renewed life to dead wood. Soft russets reflected in the silvery steam. I lingered on the edge of Hebden Water to take in the gorgeous symphony of colours and sounds.
Returning, we took the top track for a faster walk home, edged with fading ferns, spindly saplings and older majestic trees marching up the slope. On the last stretch of the riverside path, we stayed on the left side to laugh anew at the swamp.
At the end of Valley Road, Phil detoured to the shop while I headed home, stopping briefly to chat with a friend. I slumped on the sofa, recovered slightly with a drink of water but felt in need of a proper lie down.
More photos at: https://1drv.ms/u/s!AjkK19zVvfQti9RkfZatqiLCPQD4XQ?e=3ctubM