Since we moved to this part of the world, we have only visited Cragg Vale three times. In 2015, we met our friends M&M at the Hinchcliffe Arms for a birthday lunch. With time to kill before they arrived, we explored the churchyard backlit by the watery yellow winter sun. Amongst the jumble of rusting vehicles in the adjacent junkyard, a collection of discarded Christmas paraphernalia added pathos to the scene.
The following year, I had a terrible summer involving the loss of a brother. Over the August bank Holiday weekend, I struggled with deep depression but forced myself to get out of the house. We heard of a food and drink festival in Cragg Vale, and rode the bus up. A few stalls inhabited the pub car park. It did not take long to exhaust their offerings, although we discovered the best sausages ever!
We parked ourselves outside the Hinchcliffe to eat them hot with a pint of beer. We then noticed that the superbly named church of St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness was open to visitors. Exploring the interior we noted that this gem, built in 1815 amongst the textile mills, is now badly in need of restoration. Dedicated volunteers endeavour to keep it going.
On the 2nd of January this year, M&M planned a traditional birthday walk to Cragg Vale. Having just fought off yet another dose of sinusitis, I did not feel strong enough to accompany them and instead, we arranged to meet them there for lunch. It took a lot of effort to be up and ready to leave the house on time to catch the bus at 12.38. Travelling up the steep incline of Cragg Road, I hoped we would know where to alight, when I spotted the sign pointing down to the Hinchcliffe Arms.
A short upward walk took us to the junction of Church Bank Lane. With time to spare, we dallied to look down on the compact village centre nestled in a dip – consisting mainly of a couple of farms, a church and a pub. Cushiony greens adorned stone walls edging the lane all the way down to the brook. I had never seen so many different lichens and moss in one place.
Finding the church locked, we contented ourselves with circumnavigating the churchyard and the junkyard where the accumulated old tractors and vans still stood rusting. The pile of Christmas decorations were sadly absent. Arriving at the Hinchliffe Arms, a sign in the window informed declared ‘no food available’.
As we hung around near the door, staff emerged on a break and apologised for the kitchen closure (for a deep clean during which the chef was taking a break). I mentioned that I had seen him featured on ‘Back in Time for Tea’ serving up Yorkshire Goujons, which led to reminiscing about eating tripe and offal as kids. They invited us in for a cuppa by the fireside. Preferring to await M&M outside, we perused planters at the car park entrance where melting ice left structural drops atop oval leaves.
When our friends appeared at the end of their walk over the tops, we entered the bar to spend an hour supping beer, chatting and exchanging amusing anecdotes. We then walked past the junkyard, turned left, immediately right and through a gate onto a path alongside the brook. Worn round cobbles marked the route as we past weirs and twisty trees. Marisa spotted a dipper but as usual, it flitted about too fast to be caught on camera.
We passed through a second gate and soon after, ascended steps amongst mill ponds. Clumps of bright green algae dotted the surface. Wintery black trees reflected into the depths. As we climbed back up, we espied crumbling walls marking the site of an old paper mill, making a mental note to come back and explore in summer.
Ascending yet more steps we came to a gap in the wall and headed up to the road. Just before we reached the top, I was amused by a sign consisting of an angry-looking black cat in a red triangle. ‘Watch Out’ was written in large letters underneath. We emerged onto Cragg Road opposite the Robin Hood Inn which was of course shut. I had mentioned that according to google, there would not be a bus until after 4 o’clock.
The timetable at the nearby bus stop confirmed this. There was no option but to continue walking down to Mytholmroyd.
As we neared the end of the long road, we spotted a mutual friend coming towards us and stopped to exchange new year greetings. One of the two children accompanying him jabbered onto me in an incomprehensible manner. I nodded and smiled. We entered the Shoulder of Mutton (now recently fully re-opened by a celebrity comic) but as predicted, they stopped serving food at 3 p.m.; we had missed it by 10 minutes! Luckily, as we continued down to Burnley Road we spotted a bus and caught it just in time. Back in Hebden, we went to The Oldgate and said hello to a group of friends. Table and drinks secured, we were able to order food at last – three hours later than planned! After eating, I started falling asleep so said goodbye and returned home before fatigue set in.
More photos at: https://1drv.ms/f/s!AjkK19zVvfQti5gWWa2i7APXI4OXWw