So there I was on the Northern Rail train from Halifax to Preston heading back up to Scotland. Was I homeward bound or was I leaving home?
The train was almost empty and I had the whole carriage to myself and my thoughts. The journey on Sunday from Preston had been very different. On that train, there were two carriages only and enough people with suite cases to fill at least four carriages. Sweaty sardines would be an apt description.
This journey though was very peaceful. The train pulled away from Halifax station, leaving behind the large Nestle factory and the giant poster stating, “Quality Street, Proudly made in Halifax since 1936”. The view from the train is very limited at first with steep embankments on either side along the valley bottom to Sowerby Bridge (pronounced Sorby). Very quickly though the luscious hills of the Calder Valley start to appear. On the hillside on the right, like a knight guarding over Calderdale, stands Wainhouse Tower. This impressive tower was originally built in the 1800s as a chimney for the local dye works to meet the Smoke Abatement Act but was never actually used as a working chimney. Whatever the reason was that this tower was built, it is certainly impressive and has always been, and still is, my guiding beacon to tell me when I am reaching Halifax or leaving Halifax.
The train journey trundles gently along and very soon reaches Mytholmroyd. This area is one of my favourite cycling areas. Indeed the hills up from Mytholmroyd take you over Cragg Vale. This beautiful valley came into the national news with the Tour de France travelling up it in 2014. Cragg Vale from Mytholmroyd proudly claims to be the longest continual ascent in England with 968 feet of climbing in 5.5 miles. It is not a steep climb by anyone’s imagination but more a long, long drag. Some cyclists like short, steep climbs, some like long, long gradual hills. This is my type of hill and I am still in my element riding such routes.
Aged 14 or15 years old, I would often take myself off over Cragg Vale, to the reservoir at the top, turning right at Blackstone Edge, descending down the sweeping road to Littleborough, back along the Calder Valley to Halifax again. As a troubled teenager, the valleys and open moors were a safe haven for me and provided the solace and solitude I craved. I often wondered what my headmistress, teachers and school pupils would think if they knew about my cycling. This was an all girls’ grammar school where we were taught to be ladies and I was sent home for being indecently dressed for wearing sandals without socks! There was I clad in cycling gear (not quite lycra in those early days but still tight fitting), sweating from the effort, swigging water from my bottle and munching on mars bars from my back pocket in public!
Along the valley bottom, the train line follows the canal and the new flood defences now in place as you approach Hebden Bridge. This village has suffered with terrible floods over the years, especially in 2012 and 2015. All along the valley, the stone built houses are so obviously built from Yorkshire stone that I am sure if you were blindfolded and dropped in any area in Calderdale you could describe the stone buildings and everyone would say, “Oh you must be in Calderdale”.
Leaving Hebden Bridge the views start to subtly change. The moors come into view, the valley widens and the houses start to change. There are streets upon streets of terraced houses built on hillsides at what look like a totally impossible angle to be safe (but have been there for a life time). There are different trees, bushes and flowers along the train line with so many different greens reminding me of an artist’s paint palette. The valley closes in on the railway again. Hills climb up at either side. You can actually feel the slowing of the train as it climbs, almost crawling, up the valley.
Then it happens. The line levels, the Calder Valley is gone and the open moors of Lancashire await. There has always been a friendly rivalry between Yorkshire Folk and those from Lancashire (though it was not always friendly in the past!). Growing up I remember a TV advert aimed at getting youngsters to drink milk. Two young boys arrive home covered in mud and still in their football strips. One boy gets the glass milk bottle from the fridge and starts to drink it. He tells the other boy his dad says that if you don’t drink your milk you will end up playing football for Accrington Stanley.
So the sadness of once again leaving Halifax is gradually replaced with anticipation of the onward journey through the Lake District, the borders of Scotland and finally back home to Kirkintilloch. Of course, the pot of gold at the end of my rainbow journey is in the form of Beatrix (and Mr M of course).
The song that always comes into my head when I am travelling home is, of course…
Homeward Bound by Simon & Garfunkel