35: Withins Height, Bradford

Top Withens
The old farmhouse of Top Withens, lying just below the summit.

Date: 8th July 2021.

Weather conditions: Weather-wise, the third very good CT walk in a row. Mostly sunny and warm, with a cooling breeze when it was needed. More of this please.

County Top bagged: Withins Height, which is 1,499 feet/457m above sea level and is the highest point in the local authority of Bradford. The summit cannot be determined with certainty, but lies somewhere around grid reference SD979350. On the 1:25,000 OS map the label “Round Hill” appears at this point, but the 1:50,000 calls it “Withins Height” as does Christopher Goddard in his West Yorkshire Moors guidebook, which also confirms its status as a modern County Top.

Walker and Withins Height
A walker on the Pennine Way, with Withins Height (part of it, anyway) behind him.

Until 1986 this spot was in West Yorkshire, of which Black Hill is the Top, but when all the metropolitan counties were abolished and replaced by the present layer of local authorities, Withins Height attained its status as a CT.

It is one of the seven CTs that are on, or very close to, the Pennine Way; though there are no more of these north of here until one gets all the way to the Scottish border (specifically, Cairn Hill West Top, the summit of Roxburghshire).

By altitude this summit ranks 59th of the modern Tops and 77th on the full list.

The walk also takes in, as an optional extra, the separate and distinctive summit of Hardcastle Crags, at 774 feet/236m a.s.l.

Hardcastle Crags summit
The summit of Hardcastle Crags.

[ << Moel Famau, Flintshire (34) | (36) Ebrington Hill, Warwickshire >> ]

Start and end point of walk: Started at my house, because I live there. However, unless we know each other very well, you will more likely start at Hebden Bridge railway station. This is served by frequent trains from Leeds and Manchester Victoria, and hourly trains from Preston and Burnley.

Finished in Haworth. From here you can catch a bus back to Hebden Bridge, and this is worth doing as it’s a very picturesque route. Or, head in the other direction and get a bus (or steam train) to Keighley and go home from there.

The walk took me five hours, including a 25-minute lunch break at Gibson Mill.

Main Street, Haworth.

Pub at end: There are at least half-a-dozen pubs on the final stretch down through Haworth, and this is not even to mention its various cafés, tea rooms etc. I really did need a beer so stopped at the first one I passed, this being the Old Sun Hotel. This served some very good local fermented vegetable product (namely Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, a very fine beer brewed in nearby Keighley).

Distance walked: 11.5 miles/18.5km approximately.

Feet of ascent: 1,740 feet/530m approximately (this figure assumes you do take the detour up Hardcastle Crags).

View to Bradford
The first view over to Bradfordian territory. Turn left hereabouts for the summit, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Difficulty: ★★★. The gradients are relatively easy and — mostly — the paths are of good quality. But it is a relatively long walk, with a reasonably substantial amount of climbing, and the stretch up around the summit is a real pain in the butt (see below). I was pretty knackered by the time I reached Haworth.

Ease of access: ★★★★. Bearing in mind you can come in or leave from Keighley if necessary, and the walk would work just fine the other way around, there is plenty of flexibility here. If you have the choice, it’s better to come in from the Leeds (east) side rather than Manchester.

Scenic qualities: ★★★★. You might think me biased because I live in the area, but then again, I haven’t spent twenty years here for no reason. I love the local scenery. What with the beautiful woodland of Hardcastle Crags, the good-looking urban spaces of Haworth and Hebden Bridge at each end of the walk, the fine views… it has to be four stars today.

Penistone Hill, which sits above Haworth.

The area: Bradford is a city that belies its stereotype of a grimy industrial town. OK, there are some such places within the authority’s boundaries, but there are also places like Saltaire and Ilkley (see walk 29), Haworth (visited today) and, in the city centre, the National Media Museum. The the city has one of Britain’s largest populations of South Asian descent, and apart from anything else that means you can get some damn fine food here. And I like coming to non-league football in Bradford as it has a nicely multicultural vibe, much more so than nearby Leeds.

Having said all that, bear in mind this walk gets nowhere very near Bradford itself.

Map: OL21 South Pennines. On this summary map the walk proceeds from south to north.

Map of walk 35

Route: This is a very good walk. It feels quite long (and there are quicker ways to walk between Hebden Bridge and Haworth that are no less attractive), but my advice is just to take all day over it. It’s certainly worth it. This is a gorgeous part of the world and the walk is a good introduction to it. The only negative is that the actual summit of Withins Height is off piste, across a few hundred yards of quite dreadful ground. Otherwise it’s hard to find anything much to criticise about the day, though perhaps the final descent into Haworth is longer than you’d want.

Going on the number of shooting butts that line it, the path over Wadsworth Moor will most likely be closed on certain days in grouse season; there is a possible alternative but it will add a good two miles to what is already a fairly long walk.

The first part of the walk heads up the valley of the Hebden Dale, which is in the care of the National Trust and more commonly known as Hardcastle Crags, although that name strictly only applies to a rocky excresence in the valley, of which more shortly. To reach there from Hebden Bridge station can be done by walking up the Keighley then Midgehole roads, but here’s a better route.

Sign to Hardcastle Crags
Go this way, and take your extra G with you.

From the station, head through the park, then up the pedestrianised Bridge Gate. Cross the old bridge then turn right up Valley Road, which becomes Victoria Road. Keep going past the little industrial units, cross the Hebden Water at another old cobbled bridge, then follow the path upstream, along the river bank. Keep going until this comes out into an area of open meadows, and then zigzag up until you reach the narrow tarmac lane to Hebden Hey, which is a scout hut; as the sign shows [pictured above], this lane also leads to Hardcastle Crags.

You need to go up and around the scout hut itself (currently lying unused for about 18 months), then drop down a steep path to the stepping stones across the river. After, perhaps gingerly, crossing these, turn left upstream, and you will be at Gibson Mill not long after. There is a café here which would be a good spot for an early lunch.

Stepping stones
The stepping stones across the Hebden Water.

Continue past the mill up the main track through the woods. Rising on the left are the nodules of Hardcastle Crags, an unusual formation as while it is (or they are) a distinct summit, it protrudes out from the side of the valley, rather than rising above it on the rim. Attaining this top is an optional extra on the walk but is worth doing. To do so, turn off at a signpost on the left, saying “To the Crags”, and you will be on the summit a few minutes afterwards. The descent back to the main track has its tricky moments, however.

Whether you do this or not, keep going up the track through the woods, bearing right (and uphill) at the one significant junction. Carry on straight ahead when you come out to the lane at the top of the trees. At the complex of buildings that is Walshaw, turn right. The views really open up. Most of the South Pennines region is visible, from Emley Moor’s TV mast round to Blackstone Edge and Stoodley Pike, familiar from walk 24.

Walshaw Dean reservoirs
The Middle and Lower Walshaw Dean reservoirs.

After a while the path begins to descend, heading down to the shore of the Walshaw Dean Middle reservoir below. On reaching this, turn right (clambering over a pointlessly locked gate). You are now on the Pennine Way, and Withins Height is visible above, though don’t expect to see a prominent peak. Bear right before reaching the next dam, and ascend a good path up to the point at which the watershed is passed, which is where the view opens up ahead. This is also the point at which you cross from Calderdale into Bradford.

All has been decent walking thus far, but the summit of Withins Height now lies to the left of the reliable flagstones of the Pennine Way, over a few hundred yards of truly grim, pathless and treacherous ground. Non-purists may well take one or two steps in that direction, shrug their shoulders and just ignore it, and they would be justified in doing so. Those of us who feel more of an obligation have no choice but to brave the crap. All I can advise is care with every step, as the risk of twisting an ankle in the untrodden wastes is all too high. But at least there is a point where one does look around and think — no, there is no higher ground in the vicinity. Hence, the Top has been reached, and there is a half-decent view.

View from the summit
Part of the view from the summit — or, what passes as a summit.

Stumble your way back to the Pennine Way and, with relief, carry on the way you were going. The next landmark is the ruin of Top Withens, fabled as the inspiration for the house of “Wuthering Heights” in Emily Brontë’s novel. On any given day there will be pilgrims here, but just why this is has always escaped me. The place is blatantly fake, something that is maintained as a ruin (being neither fully restored, nor left to rot away) — it looks more like an old World War 2 bunker than an erstwhile farm, let alone some kind of palace of romance. But the view is good, and in the absence of anything on Withins Height itself, it’s a good place to sit and rest for a bit.

So closely is Top Withens associated with Haworth that you might think the town will be a short stroll away. Alas, there are still three and a half miles to go. Drop down the main path and then leave it (and the Pennine Way) to the right. This track heads down the valley of South Dean Beck, crossing it via a bridge in a dell which will inevitably be busy with day-trippers, then passing a ruined farmhouse (far more like the typical vision of Wuthering Heights than is the bunker above) before coming out at the Stanbury – Oxenhope road.

South Dean Beck
The valley of South Dean Beck. Withins Height is the unobtrusive rise to the left, on the horizon.

From this point one could get to Haworth via a signposted path up and over Penistone Hill, but there is a shorter and easier route along Cemetery Road, which brings you out in Haworth a mile or so later. The Old Sun Hotel is the first pub passed and there is a bus stop here if you want to finish your day in Keighley. Or, turn right up West Street and then drop down the famous cobbled Main Street, which just about avoids becoming twee, although it’s a close thing in recent years. At the bottom of this is the Old Hall Inn and, on the opposite side of the road, the bus stop for the service back to Hebden Bridge.

Freedom Commentary: After four days of rain this Thursday dawned bright and sunny. At about 10am I was sat inside, doing my e-mail (could, say, Isaac Newton have conceived of e-mail? Or Mozart? I’m not comparing myself to these geniuses but do you think they would have given quite so much to the world if they had had to trawl through swathes of spam and trivia for hours on end?), feeling anything resembling ‘inspiration’ flicker and die in the sunshine.

Walking the duck
Just a normal Thursday in Haworth.

Therefore, a walk it was. And this kind of thing proves why it is that, despite the best intentions, the more local Tops will not be spaced out throughout the duration of this project, for all that I might like to save some for later. This was the second — and last — CT (after Blackstone Edge) that can be realistically walked from my house. And so now, only one-sixth or so of the way through the lot, I have now already done four of the five former West Yorkshire Tops; the only one left is Calderdale (ironically, the local authority in which I live these days).

With all these, and the other authorities that I added to the list in January, it’s nice to have some confirmation that I have identified the Top correctly. In today’s case this came from the guidebook I mentioned earlier. The other day I received my monthly delivery of new OS maps, including the one that covers Wolverhampton and Dudley in the West Midlands, two authorities that I’d previously decided shared a Top (Cinder Hill at 781 feet/238m).

But, lo and behold, nestling in a housing estate called Cawney Hill in Dudley is a previously unnoticed spot height at 251m. There are plenty of others where I had to revise my initial assessment, but this one’s more annoying because it means there are now 173 modern Tops and 197 in total; one more than has been stated thus far on all these pages. I’m resisting the urge to go and change all the other 34 walk pages: but this explains the inconsistency. At least I spotted the mistake before actually setting out and bagging Cinder Hill.

View to Stoodley Pike
View to Stoodley Pike.

In the last few days, the government have finally acknowledged that, thanks to the success of its vaccination programme, we can be treated as free, informed adults again, at least from July 19th (though why not from yesterday morning, say?). Hallelujah. Yet still there are lockdown lovers clamoring for restrictions. Guys: if you don’t feel ‘safe’, then stay indoors. But if you have been vaccinated and are still living in fear — what hope is there for you?

Still, we are not yet in a state of true freedom: not when such a perfect pinch point as passport control still exists, and political capital can be gained from being beastly to foreigners, always a low-risk angle to take. It amuses me, though in a nice way, that the signs around Haworth are also given in Japanese, as so many come from that country to pay homage to the Brontë sisters. Let us hope that some day soon, they too come back, as free and welcome visitors to our beautiful country.

Sign in Japanese
Haworth welcomes its Japanese guests.

5 thoughts on “35: Withins Height, Bradford

  1. One of my favourite walks. If like me you are too decrepit to do the whole thing, then a bus from HB station to Pecket Well and a bus from Stanbury cuts about three miles off.

    1. Unfortunately the bus that used to run to the entrance to the Crags, at least at weekends, has been cut…

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