Sunday 1 September 2019

Hardcastle Crags

Hardcastle Crags is home to the northern hairy wood ant. I didn't actually realise this until I got home and I was quite pleased about that, as they don't sound like my cup of tea at all. But after five minutes of reading, I found out that the National Trust has managed to catch some of the ants and put 1 millimetre radio transmitters on them. As you do. The National Trust will never not surprise me.

ANYWAY. Let's put the tagged-hairy-ants-that-aren't-actually-hairy to one side and I can tell you more about what I DID see at Hardcastle Crags, which is just outside Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire.

Gibson Mill

There are five highlights at Hardcastle Crags (six if you count the ants):

Gibson Mill - one of the first cotton mills!
Gibson Mill was built in 1800 and was one of the very first cotton mills to be built during the Industrial Revolution. It continued to produce cloth until 1890.

Gibson Mill and Millpond

It then became an 'entertainment emporium' for local people. I will admit that when I first heard this I immediately assumed it was a euphemism for something dodgy; the West Yorkshire mob running an illegal gambling joint or hairy ant racing or something. But no, it contained a dance hall and a roller-skating rink as well as restaurants.

The roller-skating rink is a story all in itself. A man called Arnold Binns from Hebden Bridge was a world record holder for roller-skating; in 1930 at the age of 47 he skated for 40 hours non-stop and then apparently skated from Land's End to John O'Groats. He gave skating lessons at the mill:

If Gibson Mill started life as a pioneer of modern energy use, it's quite fitting that today it is the National Trust's flagship sustainable building. It isn't on the national grid - the place is entirely self-sufficient for gas, electricity, water, and waste treatment. 

The actual Hardcastle crags
I'm afraid I can't tell you much about the actual crags themselves. They're quite imposing even though they're a bit off the beaten track:

Hardcastle Crags

15 miles of footpaths!
I was slightly apprehensive about going to Hardcastle Crags with my friends Sarah-Jane and Steph. They're both excellent walkers and cyclists - they think nothing of getting on their bikes and covering loads of miles, whereas I would think very carefully about doing that (and then I wouldn't do it). 

But we covered a lot of footpath - maybe not all 15 miles of it, but certainly about 1000% more than I'd usually cover - following the trail along Hebden Water. It's a truly beautiful place for a walk.

Hebden Bridge is a must-visit town
I had been to Hebden Bridge once before, when I was 18. I had turned up at university in Nottingham and had the spectacular good fortune to immediately make friends with a girl who invited me to tag along when she went back home there for the weekend. It's the folly of youth; at the time I thought it was a brilliant place because it provided me with a pubful of interesting strangers-who-weren't-really-strangers-because-they-were-exactly-like-my-own-friends.

This time I could truly appreciate what a unique and characterful place it really is. It prides itself on having no chain stores on the high street, but it's a very practical Yorkshire town that has a very creative edge to it. I highly recommend a visit.

The Hardcastle Crags scone
The Weaving Shed Cafe by the mill is a nice little place. The scone itself wasn't home-made - I'm not sure if this was a temporary thing or if the kitchen isn't equipped to provide them (either in space or power) but anyway; it gave me the energy to keep up with SJ and Steph on our walk.

Hardcastle Crags scone

We'll overlook the fact that one of us isn't eating a scone
Hardcastle Crags provided the fourth scone of the weekend, following our trip to the Lake District for visits to Fell Foot, where we had a world-class scone, Wray Castle, and Sticklebarn. All great places but if it's woodland walks, roller-skates and ants you're after, Hardcastle is the place for you.

Hardcastle Crags: 5 out of 5
Scone: 3 out of 5
Roller-skating in a flat-cap: 5 out of 5

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