We Visit

Hebden Bridge and Todmorden

The rambling, colourful townscape of Yorkshire market town Hebden Bridge is punctuated by tall chimneys

These two Yorkshire market towns share an interest in food and fine dining that belies their industrial past.

Lying easy between tree-covered hills, its rows of yellow-brown houses spilling down to a heart gathered around the Rochdale Canal, Hebden Bridge brims with independent shops, bars and eateries.

The rambling, colourful townscape is punctuated by tall chimneys – reminders that this place was once a centre of the textile industry, its mills perfectly placed for transporting goods by rail or water.

Famed as ‘the lesbian capital of the UK’ since the 1980s, it remains warmly gay-friendly, with undertones of artsy hippiedom seen in the proliferation of homespun and vegetarian businesses, buskers and decent acoustic music on offer.

The town also contains some luxurious little boutiques, offering everything from artisan soaps to cool clothing brands, and whatever your food passions you’ll find something to sate your appetite here.

We started with a gutsy lunch at the White Lion, an atmospheric hotel and pub where the burgers come big and juicy. Dating from 1657, it is a great place to stay, with comfy, keenly priced rooms.

If a meat-free diet is your thing, most places offer better-than-average vegetarian options, with some restaurants focusing solely on this style of menu. We enjoyed simple but satisfying refried bean tortillas at Nelsons, a darkly atmospheric basement bar with flickering candles and a great selections of drinks.

On the subject of alcohol, you could happily spend an evening touring the town’s bars: if you love beer, make a beeline for Drink?, a beer shop and pub that brims with hard-to-find ales, many of them local. Also good is Calan’s Micropub – a pint-sized place with an appealingly cobbled-together look.

The Stubbing Wharf, the pub immortalised by local Ted Hughes in his poem of the same name, is another must, majoring on upmarket pub food in a lovely canalside location.

For a budget option, try Aya Sophia, a buzzy Greek restaurant where we ate a simple but great-value two-course meal for just £10.95 per person.

Your exploration of Hebden Bridge’s food need not wait until lunch or dinner. It’s worth eschewing the breakfast on offer in your accommodation to discover what the many local cafés can serve up. The quesadillas at Squeeze Food & Smoothie Bar come highly recommended.

While the town has plenty to entertain and refresh you, including picturesque walks along the canal, it would be a shame not to explore the beautiful surrounding area too.

A short drive to the hilltop village of Heptonstall will take you to the last resting place of poet Sylvia Plath, located in the secondary graveyard of St Thomas the Apostle Church, while a few miles west (and accessible in just a few minutes by train from Hebden Bridge) is the market town of Todmorden, which has a cluster of good restaurants, including The White Rabbit (for a warm welcome and idiosyncratic fine dining) and the Blackbird, a ‘continental-style bar and restaurant’ that majors on globally inspired tapas-sized dishes. Outstanding examples include plump crescent momo, juicy meatballs, chicken basquaise and halloumi chips.

Visit Todmorden by day, and you could also call into The Old Co-Op, a delightfully ancient shop that retains its original frontage and some original fixtures and fittings. These days the venerable shelves groan with deli goods and beautiful cookware. You can settle on a bench downstairs for decent coffee or head upstairs for vegetarian dishes in a fresh, airy atmosphere.

Back in Hebden Bridge, we shopped at Pennine Wine & Cheese, a welcoming, well-stocked deli whose owner Joe McGarraghy has a keen eye for the best local produce, including cheeses and fruit wines, plus some international delicacies. He sells excellent picnic provisions and sandwiches, so stock up here before heading off for a walk to nearby Hardcastle Crags, a beautiful Pennine valley with distinctive rock formations and the chocolate-box 19th-century Gibson Mill. If the weather is not obliging, the mill has a decent café and gift shop.

For further shopping pleasures, look out for the flea market, which takes place in Hebden Bridge on Wednesdays, or catch the same sellers in Todmorden on a Thursday. The latter town also hosts a general market on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. With so much to discover – not to mention eat – a visit to this beautiful corner of England will leave you hungry to return for more.