Our train steams past clusters of Staples superstores and mega bowling taverns, past TK Maxxes and derelict houses, moors and lakes, grids of post war houses and McDonalds, a town hides deep in a valley with houses tumbling down a semi-mountain then a long dark tunnel. Then Hebden.
You have probably heard of Hebden Bridge. Renowned for hippies, fair trade and an alternative culture. Well, this is what happens when alternative culture grows up, has babies and a disposable income. Well, it’s probably a recyclable income here. It is a beautiful place in a beautiful setting. A valley, canal, woods, steep looming houses and the occasional long chimney, a remnant of its mill town past, probably the only one apart from the occasional estate agent sign advertising penthouse living in a converted mill. The photographs of minimalist rooms with white leather sofas don’t seems so terribly hebden-and yes, hebden is an adjective.
Hebden is more wind chimes, cute kids in cutely clashing layers, Non Yorkshire accents, whole food, homeopathy and dogs. Lots of dogs. And white haired lesbians in Millets clothing. And natural fabric, which looks expensive. And cheerful confident bonhomie. It’s lovely. But does not seem sustainable (ironically) to this northerner on minimum wage. Where is the money sourcing from and where are the jobs? It is such an enchanted Nirvana in the midst of the more earthly neighbours such as Accrington and Blackburn, the places where the press go to take a stock shot of the impoverished north and its miles of back-to-back identikit terraces with washing fluttering in the alleys from the train windows.
Hebden Bridge started off as a commune, a place where the squatters fled, where they could afford a patch of land, a tiny terrace and from there grew a community of like minded souls. Now, there are still battered vans driving by, men with purple flowing capes and long hair wander the streets and are not mocked-narrow boats line the canal and hey, you get the message. But I wonder how the oasis gets its water.
House prices are reasonable-we lick the windows of estate agents where a lovely terrace can be purchased for a hundred grand and rent for a house can be less than four hundred quid a month (far more than neighbouring Halifax). But we wonder about jobs. So lovely to have independent shops and children’s homoeopathists. But this is a small town in the midst of Yorkshire and I suspect that jobs are hard to come by.
There are lovely places to eat and drink and they all seem to be full. On a Saturday. So many veggie cafes and the like, it is like manna from heaven from this veggie, saturated on the generic spicy bean burger option. It is not cheap. It is not that expensive. But in general recession bitten Northern terms, it’s a fucking miracle, never mind an oasis.
Three wheeled pushchairs, falafel, and non-local accents don’t define Hebden Bridge but certainly form a principle part. The charity shops are bustling, boutiques line the street and a parade err parades past, and enormous Green men swirl haphazardly in the heavy breeze. There appears to be a lot of people walking past carrying crates of Stella, which adds an weirdly unexpected aura of reality. Three drunken staggery girls in gold chains and short skirts totter past and dreadlocked people turn to stare at them