by Matt Callard
The greatest walks are good for the body but better for the spirit. Just as the heart starts to beat faster and the body begins to work that little bit harder, so then the soul should be ascending.
So after you park in the pretty Dales village of Hebden (and whatever you do, don’t get the place mixed up with Calderdale’s freewheelin’ Hebden Bridge – unless you want to terrify some elderly relatives) and you negotiate the necessary uphill road climb that eventually leads to the ridge of a vast valley, your heart will be thumping but, crucially, there’s such a classically perfect Yorkshire vista to sample that you’ll hardly notice it. That’s exactly what a good slice of soul food will do for you.
Hebden prospered in the late 18th/early 19th century as a dormitory village to miners working in Grassington Moor’s nearby lead mines. Although the mines were mostly exhausted by 1865, the village is now a thriving tourist haven and quintessentially Dales-like. The derelict mines provide a perfect halfway destination point for this near two-hour circular.
“A sort of paradise”
So, from the village centre turn right at the main road towards Pateley Bridge and cross the bridge. Head upwards on the road for 10 minutes until you see a signpost marked Loss Gill pointing left. Follow this rubble road further upwards until, eventually (15 minutes), it opens out and you find yourself on the top ridge of a valley with Hebden Gill running through the valley below.
Cross the moor, keeping the wall to your left. If it’s still chick-rearing season, watch out for bombarding lapwings. Indeed, watch out for all manner of feathered-action. You’ll notice how, incredibly, the deep valley amplifies the birdsong contained within. It’s a sort of paradise for aural bird spotters (listeners?). Bill Oddie would explode with joy.
After 55 minutes, following a gentle decline, you’ll reach a ford – our halfway point. High up to your right you’ll spot the remnants of various old mine buildings, smelters and mine entrances.
At the mines’ peak, between 1821 and 1861, they produced nearly a thousand tons of lead per year and employed about 170 people. At the mine’s intensive peak the miners were given rights on their own ‘mineral veins’ (called ‘meers’ – measuring about 30 yards by 15 yards) in return for a share of the smelted lead being paid to the owner of the mineral rights.
A miner who discovered a new vein was granted two meers. To help mark out the extremities of these meers, stones were set in the ground. There are many of them scattered across Grassington Moor and it’s likely you’d pass them by without prior knowledge. Although the first meer granted on a vein is often marked with the word ‘founder’. Be careful if you do find one as they are, needless to say, protected and deserve respect.
By the early 1880s the mines were all but exhausted and there’s been little effort since to ever extract more lead. When you’re ready to continue, don’t cross Hebden Gill. Instead take a sharp left and note more derelict buildings on the ridge to your left. All that then remains is an achingly pretty flat trek back to the village (110 minutes) with the gill on your right guiding you all the way back home.
Hebden Walk: Need to know
- Distance: 4 miles
- Difficulty: Fairly easy
- Time: 110 minutes approx
- Where: Hebden is situated 1.5 miles from Grassington on the B6265 Pateley Bridge Road and can also be reached via a minor road from Burnsall.
- Refreshments: There’s one pub in the village, The Clarendon, serving good pub grub.
- What else?: There’s a very nice suspension bridge in Hebden – perfect for that attractive scenic shot!