Hebden Bridge

It was one of those promising ideas that turned out to be more than good. Concieved on Brockholes Railway Station whilst waiting for the Sheffield train and looking at the ‘Metro-Underground-Look-Alike’ poster – a map of W. Yorkshire rail designed like the London Tube.

‘I’ll take a day off work,’ said Pete.

‘We can do some Christmas shopping,’ and we did.

‘I’ll just check out the rail-rover, see how much it is.’  The ticket lady explained we couldn’t start until after 0930.  No problem since we’d come down on the nine o’clock bus from Honley.

‘That’ll be £6, for a family ticket.’

‘E’ll be me dad then,’ said Pete, ‘E’s old enough.’

No time to lose and we were off. A murky day and dirty carriage windows, so no views to speak of. We saw enough, after all what is there to see between Huddersfield and Bradford, via Brighouse and Halifax –  the M62 and the canal, and allotments.

‘My dad used to have a shed like that,’ said Pete, pointing to a particularly dismal allotment. ‘Where he kept his rabbits.’

‘Never looks good at this time of year.’

First stop Waterstones, skirting The Town Hall, strangely to drink coffee and gaze on shoppers hurrying past the many substantial Victorian commercial buildings that have changed their use, into book shops for example, and bistros. A quick visit to Virgin and HMV and back to the station.

‘Here’s the Argos. You can see all the paper for printing.’

‘I thought it was all photocopied and suchlike.’

‘No, they still print, without the number of blokes they used to have though. Bit like the firemen really.’ With St. George’s Hall to our left, Peter gave me a brief description of the printing process and a slightly longer opinion of our brave firefighters.

‘I saw Clannad here, be about ‘94.’

There was a lady conductor on the Hebden Bridge train, and some rather loud businessmen on their way to Manchester. The woman who sat in front of us wanted to go to Leeds. Now admittedly, the train was rocking and rolling a bit, but her seat got an extra buffetting when the lady conductor gently let her know she was going the wrong way. Out came the mobile and she got off at Halifax.

You can see The Town Hall from the train, and The Shay, ‘Was it you I took to watch ‘town’ play here at the beginning of last season?’

‘Aye, it were dire.’

‘They had a television programme comparing towns. Made it like a competition, building against building. Huddersfield had the station and Castle Hill, but Halifax won with The Piece Hall and The Town Hall. Our market were a death trap, especially at the bottom level. No one would have got out from a fire down there. Do you remember Dr. Dan’s famous health drink?’

‘Aye, until health and safety made it compulsory to list what it were made out of.’ We watched the outskirt of Halifax slip by. ‘My auntie ran a small hotel down from ‘The Drill Hall’. Used to keep a parrot outside.’

‘You need to write all that stuff down.’

The platforms at Hebden Bridge station are offset, ‘That’s unusual, I wonder if it’s always been like that?’ “So what” crosses my mind, but if I’m supposed to have taken over as his dad, I’d better be kind.

Its a five minute walk to the town centre, along the canal towpath if you choose. There’s not much boat activity, more on the quayside where a large crane is loading a lorry with a thirty foot or so long, short actually, barge.

‘There’s a bridge where we can cross, once we’ve got round these geese.’ Waddling and screeching, they seemed to follow me and it wasn’t very comfortable. I was distinctly within pecking distance. Peter giggled, a tad undignified I thought.

We strolled around the various pubs that advertised food, but nothing caught our eye, apart from the prices. That is except for ‘Romanza’, a rather fetching ladies lingerie shop which we noticed from a distance, over the road and up a bit. You can’t be done for it. After an abortive attempt to buy Christmas cards and a short excursion round the open market, we studied some of the pubs again.

‘There’s a wine bar.’

‘Good, let’s go and have a look?’

A happy discovery at the top of a flight of stairs. A charming young lady took our order – Pete had a ploughman’s and I had ‘Tuna Nicoise’, possibly pronounced knickers, but she looked far too nice so I didn’t. We still had ‘Romanza’. The proprietor came up with a perfectly acceptable house wine, £14 the lot, brilliant.

We retraced out route to the station, less anxious about the geese. The crane had gone.

‘We don’t go through the tunnel under the line, do we?’ Pete asked as I tripped gently down the ramp.

‘You’ll go back to Halifax otherwise.’

‘Are you sure?’ The blighter didn’t believe me. I should let him carry on, but I am supposed to be his dad.

‘We got off here so we have to get back on here if we want to go in the same direction.’  Pete sighed, mouth folding around beard in a way that betrayed how much he was unconvinced.

The train arrived and the waiting room emptied, mostly girls bent on shopping. We discovered this from the gay conductor who ran a commentary on passengers’ reasons for travelling, like Mrs. Merton at the supermarket checkout.

‘Ooo, I bet you’re going Christmas shopping. Underwear and handbags, mm.’ Hilarity from the girls, muffled titters from those who overheard, worried it was their turn next. We avoided this problem by asking for a conversion ticket from Walsden to Marsden, via Manchester – £3.90 apiece. Our metro railrover was at its limit.  Isn’t train ticket pricing weird?

We stop at places we’ve heard of – Todmorden, and places we haven’t – Smithy Bridge, and wonder how they came to be there?

‘Brian Close played for these just before he retired.’

‘Oh, did he?’

Pretty soon we’re in Manchester’s suburbs and then the centre, and thankful we don’t live here. Victoria Station has been renovated. A huge tile map of ‘The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway’, no line between Manchester and Huddersfield, clean wooden ticket offices, a covered frontage made of a wrought iron frame and stained-glass plaques displaying destinations, and an impressive curved four storey building. Was this ‘L&R’s’ headquarters, or just a hotel?

‘We always went to Southport by train. My dad used to struggle with all the luggage and get it into the guards van right at the last minute. He never travelled with us.  Liked a fag and a cal with the guard.’ I can’t compete with this legend.

Pete likes Chetams and The Cathedral. I manage some shopping. We avoid The Arndale Centre. I catch sight of a busy open market in front of the magnificent Town Hall. It’s Bavarian. Cold lager and German sausages. A contribution from S. Wales and Somerset. Pete buys something. A swift one in ‘The Chop House’, a long narrow bar beyond a door and a window. There’s a painting of an exploding building on the wall next to the counter where a resting thespian holds court. Hang on to your belongings.  Suddenly we imagine fellow drinkers to be dangerous, especially the guy with the shaved head dressed all in black leather. He’s just finished answering his mobile on the pavement outside when we leave. Pete stands back and lets him in.

We mooch back towards the station as the light starts to fade and wait in the bar for our train. It’s not as impressive as the rest of the station. Gaudy orange walls, a dome of windows decorated with fruit frescos, each individually painted. The dome’s impressive but the fruit is hideous.

We’ve arranged to meet up with wive’s in ‘The Head of Steam’ on platform one of Huddersfield’s mock Greek Temple station. We have a mixed grill too far at the end of a day of Town Halls and railway stations, large buildings that make grand civic statements. And smaller ones where lost women disembark, and middle aged men take wine and wonder which platform is for Manchester. It was a day when we were accompanied by Pete’s relatives, especially his dad, a much loved rogue who rode the guards van and kept rabbits.