You may not immediately think of woodland when you think of West Yorkshire – indeed the county has only approximately 4% woodland cover, which is well below the national average. Yet there are many of its valleys where the rich woodland clinging to the steep slopes below the moors and developed hillsides forms one of the defining elements of the landscape. Often these are thin strips of woodland that barely show up on maps, but they have a striking visual impact. It is hard to ignore in places like Hebden Bridge or Copley in the Calder Valley, Bingley or Newlay on the Aire Valley, or Honley in the Holme Valley. I have begun with the Calder Valley for Part 1, as it is most local to me, but the pattern is repeated to a greater or lesser degree in the Aire, Holme and Wharfe Valleys. Further books in this series will cover these areas in the years to come.
For the purposes of The West Yorkshire Woods: Part 1, I have focused on the woods that line the River Calder and its tributaries between Brighouse and the county boundary beyond Todmorden. This is the borough now known as Calderdale, though I have occasionally gone over the borough border where it cuts off the head of Clifton Brook and Shibden Dale. The area contains several significant tributaries to the main river – Shibden Dale, Hebble Brook, Black Brook, the Ryburn Valley, Luddenden Dean, Cragg Vale, Hebden Dale, each following a similar landscape pattern. Large-scale industrial development along the streams has now either been converted into modern housing or industrial estates, or else abandoned to nature. A thick cloak of woodland then reaches up the steep valley sides and, where it levels out, fields, farms and older settlements take over, before finally the moorland wastes are reached. Although there is only 14km² of woodland in Calderdale, over half of it is considered ancient woodland in one form or another, meaning it has been continuously wooded since 1600. As well as water, wood was one of the great natural resources of the Upper Calder Valley – it was used for fuel (both as firewood and charcoal), and to build houses, furniture and machinery.
In this book, I have mapped nearly all of the woodlands in these valleys, as well as the often treeless areas in between. I hope to have captured the feel of these landscapes and the sense that, even in places with relatively little woodland, trees play a huge part in imbuing them with character. I decided to map the different trees with different symbols to give a better impression of the character of each area. Although I have not plotted every single tree, it has still taken plenty of time to record the dominant tree types in every corner of woodland, as well as along green lanes or around old farmsteads. Oak, birch, beech and sycamore are the most predominant trees, and there are enough ash, chestnut, willow, lime, holly and conifers to justify their inclusion.
There are also 21 suggested routes in this book. These routes are not wooded throughout – this in itself would be rather dull – but provide as full an exploration of the Calder Valley’s wooded landscape as possible. You may at times think I am stretching the woodland point a little, but they remain lovely walks and it is partly the variety of landscape that makes them so appealing. The natural distribution of trees gives distinctive character and identity to different places and, the closer you look at them, the more this character will reveal itself. I began this book with a passing layman’s interest in trees and have finished it with a completely new outlook on the endless variety of these familiar and reassuring embodiments of nature.