Hebden Bridge is one of those gems, tucked away in the English countryside, smack bang in between Leeds and Manchester in South Yorkshire. A gem that would not look out of place blanketed in snow, on a postcard or Christmas card and looking whimsical and enticing. A gem that took me by surprise so much so that during my two-day visit, it kept me thinking ‘why on earth didn’t anyone tell me about this place before?’ As it turns out, many other people do know about this little market town nestled along the Pennine Way. A once important wool-producing mill town, Hebden Bridge nowadays is a bustling bohemian valley which draws in the likes of musicians, poets and artists, those taking courses in alternative therapies and not mention avid walkers, hikers and cyclists.
Upon my arrival into the charming toy-train looking station, the first thing I noticed was the non-existence of internet signal on my phone. This meant that my usual reliance on Google maps to get me from A to B was out the window and instead I had to rely on the old fashioned way of asking locals for directions. Of course if Hebden Bridge were a big city this would be a challenge. However a quick signal for help directed at the local bus driver and one of his passengers and I was taking the rather long and winding scenic route, pleasingly by bus and not by legs, to my destination.
Hebden Bridge Hostel
HEBDEN BRIDGE HOSTEL is located about a ten minute walk from the centre of town (up a steep incline but wonderfully picturesque non the less) and is conveniently serviced by two locals buses if one chooses the easy option. Tucked behind an oldy worldy chapel and occupying the building of a former concert hall, this place has an instant calming effect and could relax even the most uptight city person. Em and Dave, the pair who have renovated and run the hostel (alongside Kipper the hostel cat), not only are proud environmentally friendly hosteliers but also are a valuable source of knowledge and information about Hebden Bridge and the surrounding areas.
To one side of the lobby (where a basic complimentary breakfast is served and where guests are asked to remove and keep outdoor shoes) is the spacious communal lounge and dining area. Guests can peruse the notice boards for activities, events and even the handy local dining guide (compiled by Em and Dave), while benefiting from a peaceful and un-complicated place to mingle with other guests or catch up on some reading. There is also an internet-ready computer available, free of charge but guests are asked not partake in any major file handling/sending. To the other side of the lobby is a well equipped kitchen, which guests can make full vegetarian and non-deep frying use of, two of the various house etiquettes being that guests do not bring meat onto the premises nor deep fry their food. It’s also worth noting that the lobby gets special mention, as it’s the only indoor area between the hours of 10am and 5pm that guests can utilise. Albeit with complimentary tea and coffee and a loo.
Beyond the restricted hours and therefore beyond the lobby, guests are welcomed by a timber interior and tastefully decorated walls featuring maps, posters and pictures collected by Em during her worldy travels. Throughout the upper level there are a variety of spotless self-contained bedrooms all with private toilet, shower, wash basin and central heating, which cater for solo travelers, groups of friends and families alike. A particular feature in a number of the bedrooms is the mezzanine ‘two up two down’ layout of the beds. Great for that extra bit of privacy and a rather unique way of living out one’s childhood fantasy of sleeping in a tree house.
All in all the humble Hebden Bridge Hostel, like it’s host town, deserves more attention than it outwardly demands. Not geared for the everyday backpacker – yet I doubt the pub crawl loving, threadbare types would make Hebden Bridge a destination of choice; this hostel offers more of a backpacker retreat (perhaps a retreat from being a backpacker rather than a retreat from normal regulated life) and an opportunity to get back to basics. Even if guests aren’t enlightened by the end of their stay, they will at the very least be more appreciative of the simple things often taken for granted, full of clean air and most definitely sleep-replenished.
Must do in Hebden Bridge
Talk to the locals. It’s the best way of getting knowledge and information about what’s on, where to go and what to do as well as the fact that they are just very nice people to talk to.
Discover on foot, two wheels or four hooves. The Pennine Way is a stunning part of Yorkshire and commands a thorough and hands-on exploration. Walkers, cyclists and horse riders are particularly catered for in these parts with ample trails, routes and ways mapped out. There are even bespoke services on offer such as Sherpa vans, which means outdoor lovers don’t have to carry their own baggage from one point to the next.
Talking of feet, women need leave their stilettos at home. This town is so hilly and steep, that even the most feminine and frill loving locals wear practical and tread-plenty footwear.
Eat your way around town. For such a small town there are a sensational variety of cafes, restaurants, delis and pubs to eat and drink at. Try the MilkBarHalifax for milkshakes and less naughty frozen yoghurt, Something Sweet sweet shop, Organic House Cafe and Rim Nam Thai restaurant but to name a few.
Do your Christmas and birthday shopping. As above, for such a small place, the number of thriving boutiques and independent retailers is quite noteworthy. Hebden Bridge is so community driven that the only High Street shops you will see is by way of one Co-Op supermarket and one Boots pharmacy. The locals have pleasingly rebelled against anything else that is potentially a threat to local business and local produce. I highly recommend The Yorkshire Soap (one of the most exquisite shops I have ever been to), Lucy-the-Caterpillar-Vintage-Boutique and The Greyhound Rescue charity shop.
Give it a miss:
The only thing in Hebden Bridge to avoid is a short-lived visit!