A Walk from Halifax

Nov 17th, 2019

A picture story of a six-mile ‘circular’ walk from Halifax railway station, as a guest of Leeds University Walking Club and undertaken at a time when Yorkshire is being inundated with water. The forecast was for yet more persistent rain today, but it stopped as we were getting all our heavy weather gear adjusted outside the station. It never really returned. The route promised lots of history and muted autumn colours, which it duly delivered on, along with considerably more besides, mostly by courtesy of the canvas provided by the derelict Allen brickworks.

We set off up the Magna Via, a medieval and early-modern road eastwards out of Halifax. It was once the main route to Wakefield and came to be known as the ‘Wakefield Gate’. Later turnpike roads created to the north meant that this route fell into relative disuse and has ended up being well-preserved to this day.

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Shibden Hall is close by and it’s easy to imagine Anne Lister (of Gentleman Jack fame) walking and riding over these very setts.

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The old road leads up to Beacon Hill bank and a major crossroads.

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The way then continues along the top and then down what is known as Dark Lane, a holloway, sunken by the passage of people and horses over periods of hundreds of years. There was an encouragement to listen to the distant echoes of that past. A haiku.

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It is understood that the Holloway Road in London was originally one such holloway (road in a hollow), dating back to the 14th century when it had become the city’s main route to the north.

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The route then continued past Lower Place Farm, once part of the Lister estate, and into what used to be Sunny Vale Pleasure Gardens. It’s hard to imagine that this spot was once the Alton Towers of West Yorkshire. Originally opening as a garden in 1880, the addition of amusements a few years later led to it becoming a popular venue for day-trippers for miles around, all the way up until the 1950s. Its boating lakes, gardens, tearooms, train and fairground rides attracted over 100,000 visitors a year.

It’s actually possible to watch the scene in a film from 1901, made available here from the BFI. The quality of the footage is truly remarkable.

The site is now a fishery and outdoor centre catering for young people.

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At the far end of the Upper Lake, the footpath skirts the edge of the former Allen Fireclay Works. Situated in the Walterclough Valley, the original Halifax Glazed Brickworks was converted by Henry Victor Allen in 1905 to manufacture refractory bricks (glazed bricks able to withstand high temperatures, generally used to line kilns, furnaces and fireplaces etc). They became world-famous. Initially, horses took the bricks up to Hipperholme Station, until in 1919 a tramway was installed, powered by a steam-powered endless belt. It became a plastics factory before falling into ruin following some suspicious fires and then bankruptcy. The site is currently owned by a development company, failing at a number of attempts to get planning permission to build housing. As a result, there is free rein for vandals and graffiti artists alike. There’s a feeling of the Wild West about the place. More photos in a separate piece here.

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Once past the works, the scene is transformed as the path winds up the valley through beautiful beech woods. There is a natural amphitheatre beside a small waterfall, an excellent spot to stop for a snack.

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The path finally emerged on Walter Clough Road.

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From there we passed through fields to Marsh Lane, the route to which was suitably marshy. A series of tracks were then followed to reach a point with spectacular views west across Halifax.

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We returned to the town via the steeply setted, rather slippery Trooper Lane, past the Nestle Chocolate Factory (where they make Quality Street), next to one of the few remaining chimneys that have been preserved, from the hundreds that must have once dominated the skyline.

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Finally, a turn into Berry Lane took us under the railway line to retrace our steps from the start of our walk from the station. That was a lot of colourful history in just six miles.

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With thanks for the stimulating company of the walking club and to the walk’s leader, Emma Storr.

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