Wednesday 7 January 2009

A Magical New Year's Day In The Pennines

The Pennines hold echoes for me as it was in these moorland hills that I first went backpacking, following the Pennine Way north from the Peak District to the Cheviots. For the first time in many years I returned to the area for a Christmas and New Year holiday with family and friends in the little stone built village of Heptonstall, high above the old mill town of Hebden Bridge in the Calder Valley. A steep five hundred foot climb leads up cobbled streets and stone steps from Hebden to Heptonstall, an ascent that helped keep me fit amidst the mince pies, Christmas cake and whisky, especially when carrying a pack full of groceries – probably a heavier load than I’d ever carried backpacking in the previous year.

Heptonstall Moor stretches out beyond the stone houses of the village, an undulating heather plateau cut by deep valleys. The Pennine Way runs across the moor and I walked a short section for the first time in decades, so long in fact that I had no memory of the path here though the flat rolling moors felt familiar. The weather was cold and crisp with much frost though little sunshine. The highlight of the holiday came, appropriately, on New Year’s Day, when we walked across Popples Common and down narrow stone paths through rough pastures to the narrow, wooded Colden Valley. Frost and rime ice sparkled on every twig and edged every leaf, turning the trees into silvery mirages floating in the freezing air. The world was magical and perfect. Crossing little Colden Water on an ancient stone bridge we climbed steeply out of the valley then followed a narrow path between deep banks of ghostly white shimmering vegetation to emerge in a tiny hamlet right in front of a pub called the New Delight Inn that proved delightful indeed as it brewed its own excellent real ale. Warmed and refreshed we wandered back through the still shining land at the end of a wonderful start to 2009.

May the New Year continue as wonderfully for us all. Happy New Year everyone.

Photo info: Frost on the trees in the Colden Valley. Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS@27mm, f5.6@1/50, ISO 200, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.

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