As part of its We Are Northern campaign, which celebrates everything the north of England has to offer, the UK’s second largest train operator, Northern, has linked up with Manchester Literature Festival to champion the rich literary heritage round and about. The partnership has commissioned award-winning poet Helen Mort to create a brand-new sequence inspired by the rail journey from the UNESCO City of Literature to Hebden Bridge, and published two literary trails, one at each end of the route.
With its inspirational landscape and wildlife, the Calder Valley is steeped in literary heritage, and Hebden Bridge was once home to feminist writer and journalist Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, and Ted Hughes and his wife Sylvia Plath. Plath’s pen-adorned grave can be found in the churchyard at Heptonstall, a small village one mile away up a steep cobbled packhorse road – scramble there on foot, or hop on a 596 at the railway station and be whisked there in ten minutes. The new map, available to download in PDF form here, also points out centre of creative writing Lumb Bank, Hughes’s former house and now a base for the Arvon Foundation.
Independent bookshops and publishing houses are in plentiful supply, from The Book Case – providing regular reading events on the high street – to Blue Moose – publishers of Benjamin Myers’ acclaimed novel The Gallows Pole, based on the story of the coiners of Cragg Vale, which features on the illustrated map. The press is also a member of the Northern Fiction Alliance alongside the likes of Wrecking Ball, releasing Helen Mort’s first short story collection later this year.
Plenty of contemporary writers live in the area, from MLF 2017 poet Zaffar Kunial, who responded to Raqib Shaw’s Whitworth Art Gallery show with Layers, to Claire Shaw, who launches her third poetry collection, Flood (about the devastating inundation of 2015), at Hebden Bridge Town Hall on 30 June (more here).
To mark the unveiling of the first part of her bespoke poem as a mural at Manchester’s Victoria station, Helen Mort gave an exclusive live reading of there & back to invited guests and passengers on the special Northern Poetry Train to Hebden Bridge on Sunday 13 May. The well-known Sheffield-born poet (and a lecturer at the Manchester Writing School since September 2016) then joined a guided literature walk following part of the Northern and MLF trail through Hebden Bridge and down to the canalside Stubbing Wharf pub, which gave its name to one of Ted Hughes’s poems.
Helen’s own poem has verses about each of the stops on the Victoria to Hebden route, which she describes as “a series of miniatures … some written in the style of ‘Rush Hour Crush’ [from the Metro newspaper]; messages from the train to the landscape”. The relevant sections are to be displayed at all the stations, including Moston, Mills Hill, Castleton, Rochdale, Smithy Bridge, Littleborough, Walsden and Todmorden.
You can watch Helen read there & back, and download a PDF copy of the poem, here – the Hebden Bridge verse is published below. And if you’re keen to explore more literature in the Hebden Bridge environs, download the Calder Valley Literary Map here. The second itinerary is a tour of the bookish hotspots of Manchester city centre (think Elizabeth Gaskell and Anthony Burgess for starters), and will appear in coming weeks.
Now in its thirteenth year, Manchester Literature Festival will take place from 5 to 21 October 2018, and will see ii. & back, the second part of Helen’s poem, revealed at Victoria. Tickets for events go on sale in August.
‘Hebden Bridge’ – from there & back by Helen Mort
Come with me, Dee from Bradford
with your tiny silver nose stud,
walk with me from the bridge.
We’ll laugh at ourselves in the windows
of vegetarian cafés, our faces
tasteful bric-a-brac. There’s time
and we’ll run off with it,
find the hills you used to long for
from the carriage window as a child
the bleached, frost coloured flanks
above Heptonstall, like snow hares
patient, tentative, pausing
to test new air.