Route: 589/592, Burnley – Todmorden (589 carries on to Rochdale, 592 to Halifax)
Frequency: Combined every 30 mins (Mon-Sat); Hourly, 592-only (Sun)
Time: ~45 mins
Date Of Trip: 23/6/18
We’ve got around 20 minutes to fill in Burnley after our short trip over from Nelson, and as amazing as the sparkly purple chair covers are in the bus station cafe, that amazement only last for 30 seconds tops. It’s dinner time, so there’s only one thing for it…but somewhere else.
A busker with a golden voice croons her heart out on the other side of The Mall, Burnley’s main shopping street, and we head into Oddie’s Bakery for a medium pork pie. Well, I do, but Eleanor spies a local speciality called a Sad Cake.
It looks like an Eccles Cake which has been cranked through a pasta machine. It’s larger, flatter and crumblier. The flies/currants are mixed in throughout the pastry, rather than being all packed together in an internal fruit patty, while a light dusting of caster sugar finishes it off. Yeah, they’re pretty good.
We get to the station just as the 589 draws in, and seemingly in a hurry, we’re soon throttling it out of the town centre. It soon dawns on us, however, that the driver is just making sure that the bus has a decent run up so that it can get up the formidable hill on Brunshaw Road.
You always know a street is excessively steep when handrails are provided for pedestrians to haul themselves up on, and the bus shrieks in protest as the gruesome gradient kicks in for a short, sharp incline past a neat pebble-dashed estate on the left.
The World’s Cutest Bus Shelter
We’re swiftly out into the sticks and come to Cliviger, a place which doesn’t actually exist. It’s an area made up of a handful of villages, none of which are called Cliviger. It’s basically Stoke-on-Trent in miniature, albeit without a proliferation of oatcakes and pavements lined with pottery.
Burnley hazily trails away in the valley below as we come to Mereclough, while Overtown boasts the cutest bus shelter you’ll ever see. Covered in blooming hanging baskets and a fine paint job, a neighbouring fingerpost adds to the quaintness and points the way towards Cliviger’s main settlement, Holme Chapel.
Gently undulating hills give way to knolls that oscillate wildly, the tips of a couple of wind turbines just about peaking over the top of a ridge behind a whitewashed farmhouse. It’s a messy, unmade, green bed sheet, and caps are duly doffed to the responsible tectonic plates.
No longer a part of Cliviger, Portsmouth is now just across the border in West Yorkshire and has been for exactly 100 years. You’d have thought that Parliament would’ve been too busy with the final knockings of the Great War to be troubling itself with minor boundary changes at the time, but conscripts left for the front line as proud Lancashire folk and came home as slightly bemused Yorkshiremen. Luckily, thin dogs have always been common pets on both side of the demarcation, so at least they’d have fitted in fairly well.
British Rail weren’t concerned with such trifling issues as electoral districts, though, and the village’s train station was known as Portsmouth (Lancs) until it closed for business four decades later in July 1958.
What Goes Up…
We stop outside a detached house in the village with an extensive front yard that contains a shed which looks like an isolated border checkpoint hut, complete with an old-fashioned bell alarm clock next to a couple of mugs and bits of rag.
Alongside it is what looks like the remains of a jerry-built garage, cobbled together with bits of whatever materials were available; a bit of wood here, some breeze blocks there, and how about some windows and a bit of plasterwork to bind it all together? It was either never fully finished or has fallen into a state of such disrepair that the only feasible option would be to tear it down and start again. There’s no way it got planning permission.
It will probably have been a labour of love, with many happily frustrated hours trying to make sure that it didn’t blow over in a minor storm, and no doubt many more beavering away on whatever gadgets were being tinkered with inside its ramshackle walls.
I can barely change a light bulb, and embarrassingly, haven’t got a scooby how to fix a plug. I don’t have a set of paint-stained overalls or even enjoy getting my hands (literally) dirty, but I’ll happily watch anything with Guy Martin in, so I think that pretty much gets me off the hook.
The Last Bastion Of Bloomers
The traditional line between the two counties is the River Calder, which runs through our final destination for today, Todmorden. There’s a permanently peculiar atmosphere in Tod, with its garbled mixture of grafters and artsy types doing a great oil/water impersonation. The glue that seems to hold them all together is the colony of ex-ravers, whose dancing feet manage to straddle both camps.
There’s a mostly Dutch town called Baarle-Nassau, where the border is so haphazard that there are 22 separate pieces of land which are Belgian territory, with a further half dozen counter-exclaves within these small parcels of Belgium that belong to The Netherlands. Todmorden is basically the same.
Even the indoor market, the last bastion of bloomers and acrylic animal rugs, has an artisan coffee stall. Inventively bearded men and ladies in floaty dresses and massive sunglasses all sit atop barstools, either sipping black tar from thimbles or milkier brews in vessels as big as soup bowls.
The outdoor stalls show a similar contrast, packed one one side with rows of traders selling ancient DVDs and vaping equipment, facing off against makers of cutesy handmade trinkets and salted caramel falafel.
Just before we cross Halifax Road, Eleanor stops me in my tracks.
“Gingerface, don’t get upset.”
“Just close your eyes when we cross the road. I’ll be your guide dog.”
“Errrr, you’ll see.”
“With my eyes shut?”
“Just do it.”
For all her protective instincts, El couldn’t stop me from spotting the problem, as it was all the way down the street we were about to walk: yarn bombing.
For the uninitiated, it’s where well meaning hippies knit jumpers for street furniture, such as trees, benches and, in this case, a series of innocent bollards. My hatred of wool goes back to primary school, when I saw a lad in the year above gnawing on his black sweater, and the whole ‘someone walking over your grave’ shiver thing happened. I’d let sheep boil in their own woolly bags, to be honest.
It wouldn’t be so bad if this knitted graffiti had some kind of recognisable pattern or funny image on it, but there’s usually just a hodgepodge of whatever odds and sods the ‘artist’ has got left over at the bottom of their bag.
If you wouldn’t wear it yourself, you shouldn’t impose it on a bike rack.
We go past Sweeney’s Of Tod barbers and over the Rochdale Canal, which is guarded by a guillotine gate. As the name suggests, rather than a regular lock, this strange contraption raises up once the water has escaped, allowing boats to pass underneath.
All Hail The Golden Lion
Just across the road is The Golden Lion, hub of all things brilliant in Todmorden. You know it’s not a normal boozer when Whyte Horses are playing over the jukebox, and the first conversation you hear is about someone’s secret mushroom farm being found.
Its regular food line is authentic home made Thai, apart from on Wednesday’s when they invite local street food vendors in.
There’s an impressive bottle shop attached, while dangling from the ceiling above the bar are an array of thick-rimmed glasses. Of all the days we could’ve stumbled across it, we’ve somehow found it the day that Jarvis Cocker is playing a DJ set upstairs, and Andy Votel is doing a pub quiz. As it’s still only mid-afternoon, there’s no sign of Jarvis just yet, and obviously the gig has sold out, but Kev Rowland from Dexy’s is here next week if that’s your bag.
It’s probably the best pub on the planet. Needless to say, we make ourselves at home for a few pints before heading back to Manchester on the train.