Route: X58, Rochdale to Halifax
Operator: Yorkshire Tiger
Timetable: Every ~70 minutes (Mon-Sat), 4 per day (Sun)
Time: 60 minutes
Cost: Covered by a £5.80 SystemOne Day Ticket & £6.50 WY Metro Day Ticket
Date Of Trip: 7/3/19
On The Bus: Ian & Eleanor
“Can’t we just get a taxi, Burke?”
We’ve narrowly missed the bus to Ripponden and Eleanor is miffed about being marooned in Rochdale for the next hour.
“It’ll be fine.” I say, “We’ll get our dinner here and have a bit of an explore. Anyway, it’ll cost a fortune for a cab from here.”
We came through Rochdale on the very first day of Slower Travel last summer, but neither of us have ever really stretched our legs here before. After weighing up the pros and cons of jumping on one of the frequent buses to Littleborough, we decide that being stuck in a big town we don’t know for 60 minutes is better than being stranded in a smaller one that we do, so we head off in search of something to eat.
With no real idea of where to go, we follow our noses into an obscure-looking alley and find ourselves bathed in the pallid glow of Bull Brow. A brick-encased chute with ancient adverts for a long-lost brand of whisky painted onto its yellow-and-red walls, it was one of the final sights that cattle would clasp their eyes onto as they were being led to the nearby slaughterhouses.
To keep up the grimness, it also pointed the way to Rochdale’s bull-baiting arena. Hundreds would gather to watch as an unfortunate bull was shoved into the shallows of the River Roch, where it would be set upon by a snarling team of dogs. As entertaining as that sounds, people also thought that having the poor animal torn to shreds improved the quality of its meat.
The practice was banned in the town after the events of November 8th, 1820, when the assembled throng caused the parapet of a bridge to collapse, with seven people in the crowd plunging to their deaths. Bull-baiting was outlawed in the UK 15 years later, along with other grisly pursuits such as bear-baiting and dog and cock-fighting.
Instinct tempts us uphill, where we pass Leisuretime Amusements, which has inexplicably opted for a window display straight out of a funeral home, while just along Yorkshire Street is A1 Fashions. Rather than concentrating on haute couture, it specialises in selling hi-vis jackets and watches, and is surely mourning the demise of the Yellow Pages and its alphabetical listings. For clarification, Rochdale is nowhere near the A1.
We head into the Wheatsheaf Shopping Centre, which a plaque tells us was the winner of a prestigious Rochdale Civic Society award in 1991. Just next to this, an a-board outside a bath bomb shop insists that “I’ve got too many bath bombs…said no one EVER!!!!”. I hate to be a contrarian, but…
We flirt with the idea of heading into the cafe, but Uncle Albert’s burrito stall is calling us back outside.
It’s presided over by what we assume to be a mother and son team, with the star of the show being an ancient cooker. It is being used to keep spuds warm and looks like it has been converted from a previous life as a chest of drawers.
says the son, nodding at the contraption, “No, it’s an authentic Victorian
“That’s right,” mum interjects, “we’ve had it forever.”
“Yeah, since she was clubbing dinosaurs on the head.”
“Can I take a photo of it?” I ask, “My mate Swampy would be drooling all over it.”
“Oh, we’ve got a friend called Swampy as well.” The mum fires back, “He’s a Presbyterian.”
“Eh?” everyone else says at once.
“You know, he’ll eat fish.”
“Oh my god,” the son gasps, grabbing the front of his hair, “you mean ‘pescatarian’.”
As it’s thrashing it down, we find a bench inside another shopping centre called the Exchange, where we are serenaded by the collected works of Mark Knopfler as we demolish our dinner.
Bellies fully burdened, we head back to the bus station where I go for a quick pit stop and am startled by a soft “Yeeeeeaaauuuurgh” coming from one of the cubicles. It’s followed by a hissing sound and the occupant taking a deep breath: someone huffing gas, then. What a desperate situation to get into. It’s not anyone’s childhood dream to go tooting in a public convenience.
We were always warned as kids not to go near the canal at night because it was where all the glue sniffers hung out. Gangs of teenagers with spots around their mouths – something I’d later develop, but mainly because I went to the chippy every day – which is perhaps why it seems like such an old-fashioned thing to do. It’s still very much an issue, though, with more 10-15 year olds dying while abusing solvents than on all illegal drugs combined in the previous decade.
The X58 pulls into its stand. A Yorkshire Tiger bus, its seats have a literal take on the company’s name, with orange and black covers burrowing into your retinas in a gaudy re-imagining of Hull City’s notorious 1993/94 home shirt.
A man in his forties is the only other passenger as we pull away. The Gym’ll Fix It sign which caused so much consternation last time we were here has thankfully been removed, the studio now rebranding itself as Fitness Gym. It’s as though they really couldn’t be bothered to think of another name for it. I expect they also run Haircut Barbers, Hungry Restaurant and Eyesight Opticians.
An old-timer wheels his granddaughter onto the bus in her pram and immediately sets about doing Daft Grandad Things, such as blowing raspberries, gurning and taking his hat off to show his big shiny head. She enjoys it so much that she keeps kicking him in his knees, his howls of pretend pain only encouraging her to do it more vigorously until she actually does inflict a mischief on one of his patellae.
The A58 becomes Halifax Road as we approach Smallbridge, where a trampoline has been blown from its moorings and is resting against a wooden fence. Its legs are upturned and poking helplessly into the air. A similar incident happened during a storm a few days ago in Surrey, where a rogue trampoline was lifted from a back garden and dumped onto an adjoining railway line. Services were disrupted for hours between Horsham and Three Bridges while it was retrieved.
Our chariot dips down a hill and into a natural amphitheatre, with the Pennines acting as stalls. Lush green fields of arable land extend away to the right, while in front and to the left we are confronted by imposing slopes covered in swathes of yellowy moorland.
We press on towards the latter through Littleborough. Many of the houses have been turned as black as smoker’s lungs thanks to the decades of soot and choking particles embedding themselves into their brickwork, but it maintains a homely feel despite eating up the light.
I first came here completely by accident, when me and Effin’ Nicholls boarded the wrong rail replacement bus. Not being too familiar with the layout of Rochdale’s local geography, we first suspected something was amiss when the coach ignored signs for our intended destination, Castleton, and ploughed on through what we assumed must have been the scenic route.
The driver pulled over in Littleborough and indicated that we’d reached the end of the surrogate line.
lads, this is the last stop.”
“You’re not going to Castleton, then?” I enquired forlornly.
“No, you wanted the coach behind us for that,” conveniently forgetting that he’d checked our tickets when we boarded at Manchester Victoria. “You’ll have to go back to Rochdale and try from there.”
Back to the present day, the bus leaves Littleborough behind, rapidly gaining altitude up Stormer Hill and onto Blackstone Edge. It is completely desolate up here on an overcast day like this, with the turbines of Crook Hill Wind Farm being engulfed by huge clumps of cloud which drift across the landscape. It’s just us, endless tufts of hardy grass and a few lapwings spiralling above for company.
I love a bit of telly spotting, so when The White House pub came up in a scene during Happy Valley, I nearly leapt out of my seat. Funnily enough, that’s exactly what the driver does when we stop outside it. He opens his cab and strides purposefully down the aisle towards us.
“Your ticket only goes this far,” he booms in his best authoritative monotone voice. “You’ll have to buy another. You’ve reached ‘ boundary.”
“That’s alright,” I reply, half expecting that we’d have been pulled up for using our Greater Manchester day ticket back in Rochdale anyway. “Can we have two Metro tickets, please?”
At £6.50, the WY Metro ticket is a bargain for the day-tripper. As the name implies, it will take you on any bus in West Yorkshire and a bit beyond if the driver isn’t too fussy about county borders, and although it’s not as large an area as Lancashire, its network is much more intertwined and frequent than that back across the other side of the tops.
New tickets safely bagged, the X58 freewheels downhill from the summit towards Ripponden. We’ve covered this short stretch before on the 901 bus from Huddersfield to Hebden Bridge, but the views over the dam separating Baitings and Ryburn reservoirs are no less spectacular in the persistent drizzle.
It is mandatory that any visit to Ripponden includes a pint in The Old Bridge Inn. A hostelry dating back around 700 years, it has a pair of huge fireplaces, beautiful exposed beams everywhere you look, and a selection of beer which effortlessly blends traditional and modern styles.
Happy to be out of the rain, but with my glasses fully steamed up, it takes a few seconds to suss out that we’ve accidentally gate-crashed a funeral.
By time we realise what’s going on, we’re already at the bar and midway through our order. The reason we don’t twig immediately, even through misty goggles, is because the guests are mostly in high spirits, with plenty of laughter and tales being swapped, so much so that it could’ve passed for someone’s birthday drinks. It only occurs to us when we notice that the barman in in full black tie regalia.
“I’m really sorry,” I say in hushed tones to him, “what’s the best room for us to go to be out of your way?”
“Oh, no worries at all,” he replies, “just go into the bottom room down there and you’ll be right. The fire’s on.”
I guess they’re always going to get a steady stream of custom being right next door to a church, so we spend the next hour pensively nursing our pints, not wanting to intrude back at the bar for second helpings. Besides, we’ve got to have a clear head for the next leg of our journey towards Halifax.
Our next X58 is another single decker. One of the two other passengers is a young woman with her blonde hair tied up into a messy bun. She’s sat with her feet on the chair in front, her knees contorted up towards her ears and is wearing brightly coloured patchwork trousers. She’s just another victim of circus pants.
She gets off a couple of miles up the road in the middle of Triangle (the centroid?), the only place in Britain named after a shape. The next closest is the hamlet of Square Point near Dumfries, which I’m surprised to learn isn’t also a fielding position in cricket. On which note, The Oval doesn’t count.
The USA is never afraid of chipping in with the odd peculiar name, so while they don’t have a Parallelogram, Sphere or a Nonagon, there is a Triangle, Virginia. There’s also the village of Oblong in Illinois, whose town motto is ‘The Only Oblong Where Ideas Begin’. Now, far from me to cast aspersions on its founding fathers, but that’s a name which seriously lacks imagination, especially as the place was originally called Henpeck, after shop owner Henry Peck, and only changed to reflect its rectangular shape.
Maybe they were the brand consultants behind Fitness Gym, too.
Some of the buildings in Triangle are extraordinary. At first glance, they appear to be towering three-to-five story town houses, but if you look a little closer, you see that a few of them are actually two different homes constructed on top of each other. They’re similar to the council maisonette my dad grew up in, but are made of stone and lined up in proper terrace formation. Head-to-feets rather than back-to-backs.
It’s a short hop to Sowerby Bridge, a place that we looked at moving to a few years ago. We’d had a few good nights out over here, so a dank Wednesday afternoon was exactly what we needed to see the town in its truest light. It’s not the weather that put us off – we’re Mancunians after all, so know our way around the odd downpour – rather it’s the sheer steepness of the streets radiating off the main road.
We organised a self-guided sightseeing tour of half a dozen-or-so houses which were up for sale, and despite walking no more than a couple of miles, our calves were in such a state of disrepair that we both needed a trip to a masseuse and six months of intensive physiotherapy afterwards.
We’ve caught the first tranche of kids leaving school, but rather than hurling abuse and objects at each other, the group of girls opposite us are in deep conversation about this afternoon’s maths lesson. Specifically, ratios.
Back in Rochdale, the letter ‘a’ has a flat pronunciation, yet just this few miles to the east, the ante is upped significantly. ‘O’’s are also pancaked here, so that ‘so’ sounds like ‘saw’ and ‘saw’ is said how I’d pronounce ‘so’. It means that when the schoolgirls say ‘ratio’, it’s dragged out and extruded to at least twice the natural length it’d be anywhere else: ‘raaare-she-ooooorh’.
Sowerby Bridge and Halifax have crept steadily towards each other over the years and are now fully entwined. Halifax was the home of Mackintosh’s, the original manufacturers of Rolo and Quality Street (the latter apparently a favourite of Saddam Hussein), and as with Sheffield’s link up with Bochum, Halifax has teamed up with Aachen to name a stretch of tarmac after its Teutonic twin. Halifaxstraße is a thoroughfare in Germany’s westernmost city, while Aachen Way leads into the town which was once the hub of Yorkshire’s wool trade.
It takes us past the People’s Park. Commissioned in the 1850s by local carpet magnate, Sir Francis Crossley, it was designed by the renowned Joseph Paxton. He was fresh from overseeing the construction of The Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition in London, but also had enough spare time to cultivate the Cavendish banana, which is the most widely sold variety in the world. Not bad for a cultivar originally grown in a greenhouse at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire back in 1835, where Paxton was the head gardener.
In fact, it now accounts for 99% of bananas sold in Europe and North America, although its success is likely to bring about its downfall. A lack of genetic diversity has left the plant susceptible to illness, and just as the dominant Gros Michel banana was practically wiped out by Panama Disease shortly after World War II, the previously resistant Cavendish has now become susceptible to a new strain of the fungal infection.
Tens of thousands of hectares have already been cleared, mostly in Asia, and although most Cavendish bananas are produced in South America, it’s only a matter of time before that crop comes under serious threat, too.
Halifax has a completely unjust reputation for dourness. A medium-sized town straddling the middle ground between Bradford and Huddersfield, its very location leads to the assumption that it’s going to be somewhere that people only go to if they’re heading somewhere else. Any travellers accidentally finding themselves here certainly aren’t going to be disappointed.
BBC 6Music may have gone slightly overboard when it called it “the Shoreditch of the North” last year, but Halifax has certainly blossomed in the past decade.
The streets have the feel of a delicate spa town, that is until we see a young fella in a black Metallica t-shirt on the other side of the road. He’s blasting out some shrill J-Pop as loud as his portable speakers will allow, mouthing along and bobbing his head so that his cat ears headband comes loose and flops down onto his forehead.
The indoor market is stunning beneath its glass-domed roof, a standalone clock being its centrepiece and lording it directly above a fruit and veg stall.
We find our way to the Victorian Craft Beer Café, CAMRA’s reigning pub of the year in this part of the world, where we and the other patrons get licked half to death by a collie call Bob and his pal, Lola the chihuahua. We’ll be back, probably with wet wipes.