Walk 62 - Hebden Bridge to Ponden

Blackstone Edge to Hebden Bridge Back to Pennine Way index Ponden to Thornton-in-Craven

The Walk

The first half of this ten and a half mile hike is not actually on the official route of the Pennine Way. I made the decision to include a personal diversion via Hebden Bridge, for several reasons; it's a handsome little town, it has places to stay and it's a good public transport hub, but more to the point the diversion via Hebden results in a far less "bitty" route, particularly north of the Calder valley itself. You do miss out the lovely little dell of Colden Water, but in its place you get the glorious woodland scenery of Hebden Vale in its entirety, including the unusual rock outcrop of Hardcastle Crags. Wainwright, in his PW guide, mentions that coach trips used to run from his native Blackburn to Hebden Vale. I decided to explore it one Saturday in 1997, and thereafter decided to take my route through it in preference to the official PW. The full diversion via Hebden increases the distance tally of the PW by less than half a mile - not worth counting, in fact.

There's quite a multiplicity of routes available from Hebden into the vale itself; most of them are shown on the diagram above. Personally I favour the easternmost option, keeping hard by the river, as far as New Bridge; from then on the riverside path is preferable to the manicured driveway further up the bank.

From the watersmeet at Blake Dean there's just a kilometre of path alongside Alcomden Water to rejoin the Pennine Way proper at the Walshaw Dean reservoirs. If you wished you could cut this corner out by following the Haworth to Hebden trail over High Rakes. This alternative is not shown in the diagram above but you'll find it readily enough on the OS maps. I don't recommend it as it involves an additional ascent and descent. The official PW climbs up to the moors at Withins Height, where there is a real change of character; you cross from metropolitan borough of Calderdale into the rural edge of the City of Bradford, and from the birthplace of Methodism into the landscape of the Bronte sisters. Just below the watershed is the ruined farmhouse of Top Withins, by common consent reckoned to be the setting for Wuthering Heights. Haworth itself, where the Bronte sisters lived, is just a few miles to the east. Once you finish the day's walk at the dam of Ponden reservoir then the two mile walk into Haworth will reward you with both a cream tea and a trip on the steam railway into Keighley for your journey home.

Walk Statistics:
Length: 10.3 miles / 16.6 km
Total ascent: 1983 ft / 604 m
Total descent: 1520 ft / 463 m
Estimated time: 3 hrs 59 mins

Map:  OS 1:25000 Outdoor Leisure 21 (South Pennines)

Click on any thumbnail image in this gallery to display the corresponding full size image. The images are access protected through a cgi script to prevent hotlinking. If you encounter problems while trying to view the full size images, please read the
access advice page.

Hebden Bridge

Hebden Bridge canalside and park

Hebden Bridge lies on the main Leeds-Manchester railway line and is about 45 minutes' travel from either. I've already given a description of the town and its environs, as well as additional photos, on the Pennine Way walk 5 page.

Street scenes, Hebden Bridge

The route out of town depends largely on which of the many alternatives you intend to follow. For my favoured route, hoewever, make your way to the north end of the little cluster of shopping streets and then follow the road signs for Keighley; this road is initially Commercial St and then Keighley Road, and it goes pretty steeply uphill. The river is some way down to your left and you can fully appreciate the way that the town is laid out, as a series of terraces climbing up along the steep valley sides. At a complex junction on a left-hand bend, turn left into Foster Lane (first image below) and then follow it to the far end and continue into Spring Grove. A block of streets just to the south features back-to-back houses, once a staple of Northern industrial towns but now a rarity.

Steep streets and real back-to-backs

Follow Spring Grove, a street of handsome new houses, to its far end. A small bridge gives access to the riverside path; cross it and turn right.

Spring Grove and the riverside path

Lee Mill

The riverside path is varied; it leads variously through ribbons of woodland and areas of pasture and generally is pretty rural in character. After about half a mile the  path crosses a footbridge to the east bank. When you pass a weir (third image above) you've arrived at the vicinity of Lee Mill. Shortly afterwards the path turns right away from the riverbank (first picture below) and, after taking you through another patch of woodland, it arrives at a rough driveway. Cross this and find the flight of steps taking the path up a steep bank. Not far beyond the driveway the path emerges onto Midgehole Road. The road has to be followed for about half a mile, round a long left-hand bend, as far as New Bridge. Fortunately the setting is semi-rural.

Woodland path

Midgehole Road and the arrival at New Bridge

New Bridge

Hebden Water;  New Bridge

At New Bridge, the road crosses the side stream coming down from Crimson Dean and then turns sharp right. One variant of the Howarth - Hebden Bridge trail takes this route if you are following it in preference. If you ignore the main road off to the right, however, and choose the driveway straight on into the woods, then you enter the world of Hebden Vale.

Hebden Vale

Hebden Vale: main track and riverside path

Hebden Vale is lovely. It features a lively, winding river set in shallow ravine and is cloaked in deciduous woodland with a large variety of tree species. Initially the walking is on a wide, level driveway but you will soon find opportunities to escape down to a simpler path hard by the riverbank if you wish. The vale is alternatively known as Hardcastle Crags, though properly this description belongs to a particular rock feature about a mile and a half west of New Bridge. Some tourist literature also promotes the vale as "Britain's Little Switzerland", though the lack of any soaring, glacier-covered peaks on the horizon rather spoils such a rose-coloured view of the place. It doesn't need any such hype. It's beautiful on its own terms.

The riverside path in Hebden Vale

Hebden Vale near the mill

About three quarters of a mile out of New Bridge the main driveway and riverside path come close together in the vicinity of Gibson Mill. Once defunct, is is now within the ownership of the National Trust who are restoring it as a visitor and education centre.

Gibson Mill

  Gibson Mill information

Hardcastle Crags

Hebden vale;  Hardcastle Crags

Half a mile beyond the mill, with the vale pulling out of a long right-hand curve, the outcrop of Hardcastle Crags is seen between the main drive and the river. As far as I am aware the crag plunges fairly precipitously to the riverbank leaving no room for a separate riverside path. The crag is a spooky, complex affair with a number of paths reaching several minor tops. Finding the way to the true summit is a matter of trial and error, but rewarding.

Ascending the crag

The summit of Hardcastle Crags

From the top of Hardcastle Crags the nature of Hebden Vale is seen to full advantage - you get the best possible idea of the lie of the land, the dimensions of the ravine and the variety of tree cover from here. Not far north of the crag the track splits, the main route diverging to the right to climb out of the vale to the locality of Walshaw. From here the other leg of the Howarth - Hebden Trail leaves to climb over the moors to the north, while yet another alternative track runs parallel to the vale to the north, rejoining our route at Holme nearly two miles further ahead.

Scenes in Over Wood

Hebden Vale itself curves back to the left now, running northwest and then west through Over Wood. Once again there are two parallel routes; a track some way above the riverbank, and a simple riverside path which is barely discernible on the map amongst the wealth of detail. For about 400 metres the main (upper) track comes out into the open and passes a cottage before re-entering woodland. The path in this vicinity is poorly defined and becomes rather choked with undergrowth in high summer.

Blake Dean

The wood begins to thin, then peters out and you come out into open country.  Depending on which path you followed, you are either some way up the bank to the north of Hebden Water, or down in the ravine by the side of the stream itself. From the point of view of scenic value there really isn't much in it. Backpackers will be eyeing the patches of turf by the stream's edge for suitable pitches for an overnight stop - this really isn't a good idea as there is a motor road running along the lip of the southern bank of the ravine. This locality is marked on the map as Black Dean - confusingly, five hundred meters further west, where you're headed, is Blake Dean.

Hebden Water at Blake Dean

Black Dean / Blake Dean is obviously a well known local beauty spot, judging by the crowds of people who were present when I took these photos. The nearby motor road - an unclassified lane that crosses the Pennines by Widdop reservoir and heads for Burnley in Lancashire - ensures relatively easy access. If you like to avoid crowds and have scenery to yourself then you're going to be disappointed at Blake Dean.

Hebden Water at Blake Dean

Bake Dean's reputation as a beauty spot is well deserved, you have to admit, for the five hundred meters of open ravine packs in a surprising amount of scenery and you can use up an alarming amount of film or memory.

Approaching Blake Dean footbridge.

Blake Dean footbridge

At Blake Dean itself the high track and the riverside path converge. Two streams, Graining Water and Alcomden Water, meet here to form Hebden Water. A footbridge carries the track over Alcomden Water. The main track turns left but you should leave it and take the steep flight of steps a little to your right, which comes out onto a track running above the left bank of Alcomden Water.

Blake Dean and the track by Alcomden Water

Walshaw Dean

The track alongside Alcomden Water runs close by the riverside not far north of the car park, but you should soon leave the crowds of picnickers behind as you approach Holme Ends farm. Curiously, the right of wat leaves the track to run across the pasture almost down to the stream, but there seems little point to this diversion; my advice is to stick to the track throughout. A track bridging the river near this point is the one which diverged from Hebden Vale just north of Hardcastle Crags. The tracks converge just beyond the farm, a driveway now taking you up the slope to join the waterworks road serving the Walshaw Dean reservoirs a little further up the valley. At this point you rejoin the official Pennine Way.

The valley of Alcomden Water

The riverside diversion;  the farm track;  rejoining the Pennine Way

Turn right now, onto the waterworks road. The scenery changes quickly; trees and lush pastures fall very quickly behind, to be replaced by empty moorland, in which the Walshaw Dean reservoirs and the lodge seem rather incongruous. After about 500 metres you come level with the dam of Walshaw Dean lower reservoir, which stretches about a kilometre ahead to the northeast. The Pennine Way used to follow the track along the left (west) bank of the reservoir, past the lodge, but a recent change now takes it across the dam of the lower reservoir and along the east bank.

Walshaw Dean lower reservoir

Crossing the dam

Once across the dam turn left and follow the path way between the reservoir (to your left) and a drainage channel (to your right). In about a kilometre you reach the southern end of the dam of the middle reservoir.

The track alongside Walshaw Dean lower reservoir

In the unlikely event that you have been following the entire End-to-End route meticulously from Land's End, you may like to know that the middle reservoir dam is, as far as can be determined, half way to John O'Groats. The exact halfway point has varied somewhat as I've revised the route here and there; at one point  it was a few miles back at Gibson Mill. No doubt the exact point will change again. However, I have adopted it as the psychological halfway point. 696 miles down, about the same still to go. Feel like attempting the rest?


The path now continues alongside Warland Middle reservoir. The reservoir is longer than its lower neighbour but it curves to the left, hiding its upper reaches initially. The rest of the body of water now reveals itself as you progress.

The Pennine Way running beside Warland Middle reservoir

About 800 meters from the dam the waterworks road bridges Black Clough, at which point the reservoir bends round to the left. Some 200 meters further on, just after going through a gate in a drystone wall,  the Pennine Way leaves the waterworks road to climb the open moorland on an ENE bearing. You're heading for Withins Height.

Warland Middle reservoir

The PW climbing away from the reservoir for Withins Height

Withins Height

No ascent could ever be described as effortless, but the climb of Withins Height is reasonably benign. The Way climbs 400ft in about a mile. About halfway up the slope you pass another psychological milestone - the 50th mile of the Pennine Way. Like much of the PW on open moorland the path has been "improved" by flagstones to prevent erosion; this does make for faster progress but does detract from the otherwise "wild" feel of the moor.

Withins Height

At the watershed you pass from Calderdale borough into the City of Bradford. The top of Withins Height seems to catch most guidebook writers in a sombre mood. "A new and unattractive landscape is revealed ahead," writes Wainwright, "dreary moorlands descending gradually to the valley of the river Worth. The foreground is harsh and sour, without life and without beauty." The writer of the Dutch guide to the Pennine Way, Gerard de Waal, was just as dismissive: "...a vast wasteland of heather and peat...what stands out in my mind about this grim area was the dreadful wind and rain on this exposed moorland." Turning to Barry Pilton for light relief, we find him in a state of near terminal exhaustion with various bits of both body and kit malfunctioning, laying in a ditch waiting for the vultures to arrive. It just shows that the mood of any moorland locality depends to a large extent on the weather conditions under which you first experience it. For my part, sitting on a stone, gazing over the sun-dappled moors at distant vistas of trees, fields and far-off townships, I was entirely unable to reconcile this scene of peace and beauty with the torrid descriptions in the books.

The borough boundary on Withins Height

Top Withins

Top Withins

Not very far below the watershed is the roofless shell of a farmhouse once known as Top Withins. Public imagination has decreed that this house was the real-life model for Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights", even though there is neither documentary nor anecdotal evidence that there was any correlation, either intended or subconscious. It is almost certain, however, that Ms Bronte knew the place. "The buildings," reads a plaque on the ruin placed by the Bronte Society, "even when complete, bore no resemblance to the house she described, but the situation may have been in her mind when she wrote of the moorland setting of the heights."

Top Withins, and the Bronte Society plaque

Whether or not she ever based Wuthering Heights on this particular homestead, the association has stuck and the place receives streams of visitors. The track down to Haworth, rough though it is, is thronged at most times of the year with tourists of all nationalities, many inappropriately dressed, most waving Sony Handicams and wearing expressions of earnest intent. "Wuthering Heights must be the only novel ever to have attracted groupies," observes Barry Pilton.

If you stop for a food break here watch the local sheep - they can be very assertive and won't take no for an answer if they fancy your sandwich. A gentle but firm tap on the nose usually discourages them.

The Pennine Way follows the track east northeastwards off Withins Height, passing more ruined farmhouses on route.

Leaving Top Withins for Withins Height

A footpath sign with Japanese legend


From Withins there is a choice of tracks; if you wish to head direct to Haworth you have the choice of the Pennine Way itself (following the top of a spur of moorland known as the Height) or the Haworth to Hebden trail, coexisting here with the Bronte Way, running along a parallel route a few hundred meters to the south. The PW passes a marked campsite at Upper Heights as it comes alongside enclosure walls and intact, inhabited farmhouses just a mile below the famous ruin higher on the moor.

the view towards HowarthWithins Height

The Height

Approaching Upper Heights

There is a multiplicity of lanes and public footpaths hereabouts and the exact route you take is really a matter of personal choice, but the official Pennine Way turns left a little way down the spur , then kinks right into a lane, then turns sharp left again past another farmhouse, bends half right to head down a steepish lane past Buckley farm, and comes out at the south end of the dam of Ponden reservoir.

First view of Ponden reservoir

Pennine Way at Upper Heights

Descent from Upper Heights

Lower Heights

The lane passing Buckley farm

Pennine Way near Buckley farm


Ponden marks the end of the day's walk. The Pennine Way turns left, or west, here, to run along the south shore of the reservoir before turning north again to head out over the moors to Ickornshaw. We, however, turn right along the road towards Haworth. It's just over two miles, and you hit the terminus of a bus route halfway there at Stanbury.

The lane descending to Ponden Reservoir

    Route 664, Stanbury - Haworth- Keighley
    Route 663, Oxenhope - Haworth - Keighley
    Route 500, Keighley - Haworth - Hebden Bridge

Haworth itself, even though it has more than its fair share of tourist tat, is nevertheless a charming little place that rewards prolonged exploration. It's also more than useful both as a place to find food and drink after the day's hike, and as a public transport link back to Keighley and then on into Leeds, Bradford or Skipton.


    Eagle Intermedia's Bronte Country site

Blackstone Edge to Hebden Bridge Back to Pennine Way index Ponden to Thornton-in-Craven

This page last updated 9th June 2007