The National Trust not only cares for many historic properties but also manages huge areas of the British countryside and coast. One area locally that falls under its jurisdiction is Hardcastle Crags, a wooded valley very near to where my daughter lives in Hebden Bridge.
My granddaughter attends a Church of England primary school, and they were having a special Easter service in the adjoining parish church. She had a part in it, so I went along to watch. It was an early start for me, and then it was all over by 10.30am so I had the rest of the day to play with. Although it was a bit dull and drizzly, I decided I'd take a walk round the Crags. (There is no entrance fee to the NT's country areas but my newly acquired membership of the organisation does give me free parking. It would be rude not to use it!)
The valley has many way-marked trails of varying lengths and difficulty. I set off on the red route, scrambling up through woods and outcrops of millstone grit and returning along the riverside. Much of the walk was paved with old stone flags, which usually denote ancient packhorse routes. The local area was home to many handloom weavers in the 18th century, so there was a busy trade of goods criss-crossing the valley on horseback.
In 1805, Gibson Mill, a water-powered cotton mill, was built, harnessing the power of the river, Hebden Water, which runs through the valley to join the River Calder in Hebden Bridge. The mill forms the focal point of the Hardcastle Crags trails, and now has a café, gallery space and educational facilities.
Though the countryside still seemed held fast in the grip of winter, I saw quite a few birds as I walked through the woods, including a great spotted woodpecker, which didn't stay still long enough for me to photograph. Upstream from the mill, I saw a grey heron. They do stand still - sometimes for hours!
The path back to the carpark ran alongside Hebden Water, which tumbles over little cascades and has many points where you can cross by stepping stones or packhorse bridges, another sign of how busy this now quiet and peaceful valley once was.