A Heritage open day offered the rare opportunity of gaining access to parts of the Birchcliffe Centre normally out-of-bounds. On the cusp of autumn but still summery, we avoided a steep climb in the heat by walking via Hangingroyd, Foster Lane and Eiffel Street. On reaching Birchcliffe, we first investigated Chapel Avenue. Lines of washing extended across the small cul-de-sac. A wall plaque on the side wall of the centre commemorated transfer of school activities to the chapel building in the 19th century. A stone gateway at the end of the street led to a dark path. I wondered if it would descend to Nutclough.
Entering the building via the impressive front entrance complete with granite pillars, the walls of the reception area displayed newly printed photos by Alice Longstaff. A fellow photographer responsible for the collection explained the context of the never-before seen images and related stories of some of the people shown. It felt a real privilege and I was fascinated to note the differences between Alice’s commercial work and shots taken for personal reasons or just for the hell of it.
On the corridor running the length of the centre a young woman accosted me, asking if I would like to join a pilates class. “No thanks. Tried it once. Hated it”. I said, politely. Right at the back, the old Baptists pool was specially uncovered for the open day. A guide approached from the opposite direction with a family group. We stopped to listen as she explained how it was used. In the boardroom we took part in a consultation on the future of the centre (ran by a neighbour of ours as it turned out). From the ground plans we learnt that the path at the back did indeed lead to Nutclough and the centre actually owned that section of the clough.
Intrigued by the discovery of yet another path in the tiny but endlessly fascinating Nutclough, we had to explore. We returned to the end of Chapel Avenue. Through the gateway, spindly silver birch strove for light. their trunks casting shadows like palimpsests criss-crossing the path.
Further down, leaf detritus blocked the weir. Speckled wood butterfly flitted about on the islands while dayflies danced like fairies. Mainly shady now in the late afternoon sun, we stepped over the shallow stream to the firepit, bathed in a patch of sunlight. Birch replaced by beech, nuts and shells littered the ground. I had fun arranging them artily on the hewn benches.
We walked back in full sun down Keighley Road, in search of lunch. The town centre was absolutely rammed as people spilled out of the pub on the square; a last gasp on the last proper end-of-summer day. We scanned cafes on Bridge Gate and at the other end of the square but all were full or about to shut. We spotted a couple of friends and stopped to say hello. They both had sorry tales of redundancy to tell and conversations went on quite a long time . By then, Phil appeared about to fall over for want of food. I suggested we go home to eat. He did not sound keen. We started homeward past more populous pubs, until discovering that Tibetan Kitchen was an oasis of calm. Friendly staff guided us through the choice of mouth-watering dishes and served us chai while we waited for our food. I heard a guy say the food was better than the Manchester branch. I made a mental note to take a friend who knows the original place well so she can compare.
It seemed as though winter arrived early in November. Often elusive, the sun appeared intermittently on a late Wednesday. Although lifting the temperature slightly, it was still cold. We discussed a few ideas involving a short walk to somewhere offering lunch. I suggested Heptonstall, Mytholmroyd and Stubbings. As we stepped out, a chilly wind made it feel even colder. We decided to stay near town with a short trip to Nutclough.
Taking the picturesque route via The Buttress and Hangingroyd Lane to Foster Lane, we remarked it had been a long time since we climbed the ginnel up to Unity Street. Always evocative of the Victorian industrial heydays, parked cars hampered efforts to capture the mood on camera. We scanned the rooftops of the town centre below, noticing for the first time how many turrets there are.
At the end of the street, we crossed the main road and headed into Nutclough. In spite of recent assaults by wind, rain and frost, autumnal colours still bedecked the trees. Fallen leaves scattered the paths. Jade-like lichen covered large grey boulders, resembling textured wallpaper. Glistening moss swathed drystone walls. Speckled brown oak leaves contrasted with the bright emerald.
On reaching the ‘islands’ I noticed some of the stepping-stones had been washed away by heavy downpours. Phil strode over the shimmying stream regardless but I deemed it impassable. I casted around for replacement stones and threw a promising square lump into the water. It settled in the right place but was insufficient to breach the gap. I had no luck finding the right shape and size to improve the situation. He tried to help by lobbing a stones from the other side but it was useless. I gave up and backtracked to the steps near the weir. At the top, different varieties of moss adorned rocks. Delicate red stalks supported their tiny blooms.
Finding ourselves on the path belonging to the Birchcliffe Centre, copper beech, dark green in September, now lived up to their name. We took the straight-forward route down into town. This time, we had lunch options aplenty, with only a smattering of punters in the fading light of mid-afternoon. Rendezvous supplied us with tasty, warming and filling meals. I nipped outside for a smoke. A juvenile jackdaw perched on the back of the adjacent chair to mine. He kept looking towards the café window as though waiting for something. When I returned back inside, one of the staff told her colleague “Scruffy’s here.” Consequently, a young woman appeared with a crust of bread. “Ah! I wondered why he was hanging around.” “Yes,” she told me, “he comes every day to be fed.” Crafty!
More photos at: https://1drv.ms/u/s!AjkK19zVvfQti9VYfw4vAup5Tzqjsw?e=OYna4j