I’ve just learnt a valuable lesson; you can live somewhere for a long time and still discover little corners that you never knew existed. I imagine the Queen experiences this delight all the time, wandering around one of her palaces and deciding, on a whim, to turn left not right or open a door that she never previously had good reason to enter. Mere mortals such as you and I don’t live in palaces, so we tend to be familiar with every nook and cranny of our houses. Yet the same can’t be said about what we find outside our front doors. And today was a wonderful example of me finding something out there in my little corner of Yorkshire that I never knew existed. It was a real delight, if a bit steep.
This discovery has been somewhat aided by the current lockdown and the government’s justified instruction that we should only take exercise in our local areas. I feel for people who are currently confined to their city centre flats with just a few walls to distract their attention and a view that’s dominated by other flats and other people staring from their own windows. I do hope that the authorities don’t see fit to shut the urban parks as for many people they offer the only form of escape.
I’m lucky. Despite the fact that I only have a tiny garden, I do live in a beautiful valley that, although only a few kilometres from the larger towns of Halifax and Huddersfield and a short drive from Bradford and Leeds, is by most people’s definition, very rural. This is what it looks like:
It’s quite a busy little valley but only ‘busy’ with things that are rather nice additions; farms, isolated houses, small converted mills… You can just about see my house, beyond the electricity pylons. The valley is that of the Black Brook. By no means a raging torrent, just a stream of water that winds its way downhill until it arrives in West Vale and flows into the River Calder. I dare say that 50 years ago, the Black Brook was a little more significant in the great hierarchy of British waterways, but not by any great measure. Back in 1945 it looked like this:
Why’s that? I hear you mumble. Well, it was 50 years ago, or thereabouts, that 20th Century modernity arrived in the valley of the Black Brook in the form of Scammonden Water, Scammonden Dam and a rather significant road that runs along its top; the M62. And it’s for this reason that many of you will be familiar with the valley of the Black Brook, albeit fleetingly, as it is the one that you traverse shortly before travelling under the high bridge towards Rishworth Moor – where the motorway famously splits in order to accommodate a farmhouse – en route to Rochdale and all that is to be found beyond in Lancashire.
The motorway is a necessary evil. Everyone benefits from it being there and it would be hypocritical to decry its construction as driving to Manchester is now a commonplace formality. And as motorways go, viewed from one of the high bridges as it crosses the Pennines, it is a rather spectacular one. For those of us living in the Scammonden Valley, the main distraction is the noise that it generates, although from my position some 3km away, it is only ever a faint hum in the distance and even then, very much dependent upon the whims of the blowing wind.
But let’s get back to the lockdown cycling. I’ve been trying to make the most of my permitted local exercise and it has taken the shape of either a local walk or cycle, sometimes down the valley to Greetland and West Vale, sometimes in the other direction to Stainland Dean with a return home via Barkisland. If on the bike, I can combine the two walks and make it a Stainland-Barkisland-Greetland loop. This is the land of the lands. (For good measure we also have Norland, Soyland and Elland all within a few kilometres.) Here’s the bike version, as recorded on Strava, a modest 13km:
My Strava post of the ride was noticed by a friend who commented that he had taken a similar route himself on the very same day. And indeed he had, although his route extended as far as Scammonden Water. How did he get there?, I wondered, knowing alternative routes that would have allowed him to cycle as far as the western end of the dam, but not the eastern end without taking the high road over Pole Moor. Looking very closely at his recorded route – it was only a screenshot and lacked much detail – I noticed a small road that had enabled him to do just that.
Today, I followed that route…
Although not quite as green as depicted on Google Streetview, it turned out to be a beautiful – perhaps even bucolic in the spring sunshine – route about which – until yesterday afternoon – I knew nothing. Yet a route that is barely 2km from my front door. It even came complete with a set of waterfalls and was all but traffic-free. Even the noise of the approaching motorway was only audible in the final couple of hundred metres as the lane climbed and escaped the cover of the trees. Such is the geography of the upper reaches of the Scammonden Valley that despite it being home to one of the busiest roads in the country, if you find yourself hidden out of sight of the M62, the chances are the sound waves won’t find you either.
After a short cycle beside the motorway across the dam, it was an elongated descent along more familiar lanes and roads before the climb home through Stainland.
I’ve travelled across Europe several times on my bicycle, seeking out places of great beauty through which to cycle. Now, courtesy of the Coronavirus, I found one on my doorstep. That’s a silver lining if ever there was one.