Baildon - step off the beaten track to discover the best of West Yorkshire
Step off the beaten track to discover the best of Baildon in West Yorkshire, says Chris Titley Photographs by Joan Russell
If it were located anywhere else, Baildon would be a lot better known. The village’s many attributes, including a lively history, bags of West Riding charm and wonderful walking country, could have turned it into a tourist honeypot. But Baildon has a lot of competition. The World Heritage Site of Saltaire is just down the road. It’s close to towns like Shipley and Keighley and only a hop away from the cities of Bradford and Leeds. Not far away are the moors of Ilkely and Haworth.
Because these more obvious attractions gain all the headlines, Baildon is too often bypassed by the day-tripping public. ‘I feel we often get overlooked as a place for people to visit, as a place of interest,’ said parish council chairman Joe Ashton. ‘It seems a shame that people are not always able to find out about us because we might get overlooked in favour of places in the vicinity like Ilkley or Haworth. Sometimes it’s good for people to step off the beaten track a bit.’
The next time you’re in this neck of the woods, take a detour and give Baildon a try. You won’t be disappointed. This is a large village – about 16,000 people live here – with a lot going for it.
One way to get to know Baildon is by following one of the new heritage trails produced by the parish council, with the local history society providing the words. These are available from the library or off the website baildonparishcouncil.gov.uk. They guide you around what Joe calls ‘lots of historic buildings and interesting little corners and quirks’.
Look out for the old stocks on Towngate, for example, and the 17th century Malt Shovel Inn with the Bubbling Well horse trough.
On Low Fold are cottages where spinners and staplers worked, reminders of a time when Baildon first developed a textile industry. Victorian mills provide further evidence.
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And you can’t miss one of the village’s monuments. ‘The most well-known landmark in Baildon is what we call “the Potted Meat Stick”,’ said Joe.‘It’s the fountain in the centre of the village. It’s not actually a working fountain but it was installed to provide clean water by the Victorians. It’s right at the heart and has become something of a symbol for the place.’
Joe was born and brought up in Baildon. He’s only 23, making him one of the youngest parish council chairmen in the country, but in fact he’s been involved in local affairs for 10 years since he first joined the old community association on behalf of his school.
Baildon was an excellent place to grow up. ‘As a child,’ he added, ‘it was particularly nice to have lots of places to play and explore. We’ve lots of countryside: we’ve got the bank, as they call it, the moor, lots of woodland, a village green, the river. We’re right on the edge of the countryside.’
There are many other attractions in Baildon. The recently restored Roberts Park, with its skate park and bandstand, is more often associated with Saltaire but is actually part of Baildon.
Open most Sunday afternoons, the Shipley Glen Cable Tramway is the oldest working cable tramway in the country. It dates from 1895 and it is still offering a wonderful ride through the woodland.
Baildon Moor is particularly special. Paul Marfell is often out there, taking photographs and enjoying the changing landscape through the seasons.‘I believe it’s one of the open spaces with the highest number of visitors for its size,’ he said.
‘It’s got a lot of history as well, going back 5,000 years.’
Bradford’s birdwatchers are regular visitors: not surprisingly really as the birdlife on the moor includes skylarks, lapwings, kestrels, meadow pippets and snipe.
Paul is a committee member of the Friends of Baildon Moor, a group which is concerned with both its conservation and promotion.
‘We want to promote it in a way that’s sustainable. To encourage people to use it but use it sensibly – so vehicles and motorbikes are most definitely not allowed on the moor.’
Star struck visitors could be kept busy tracking down the movements of some of Baildon’s more famous residents.
It has many sporting associations. Former England cricket captain Brian Close lives here, as does Matthew Hoggard, a stalwart of the 2005 Ashes winning team.
Top mountaineer Ian Clough was born in the village. After he died in an accident in the Himalayas, a meeting centre in Baildon was named Ian Clough Hall. Leading football manager Aidy Boothroyd also hails from the village, as does the TV football commentator John Helm.
And much-missed presenter Richard Whiteley grew up in Baildon. His media interests began in Ferncliffe Drive, where he lived: he delivered papers to his neighbours as a boy, and his family were the first in the street to get a television in November 1952. The following year they moved to a larger house in the next street.
If Richard Whiteley were still with us, he’d probably recognise the community spirit that still thrives in Baildon. ‘I’ve heard from a number of people that Baildon has a very high percentage of volunteers,’ said Paul Marfell. ‘A lot of people are prepared to put some of their time into supporting Baildon and various issues.’
The town regularly comes together for its major festivals such as the annual carnival in July, complete with stalls and a funfair ride; the Harley-Davidson rally in August, which sees a procession of bikers through the town; the Scarecrow Festival in September and the Christmas markets.With all this going on, it must be time for more people to discover bustling Baildon.
Baildon's Towngate Rooms celebrates 100 years of history
The iconic Towngate Rooms celebrates its 100th birthdayin March 2012, the landmark building in the centre of Baildon almost didn't make this milestone, as only five years ago it was condemned by the council and ready for demolition. Its new lease of life as a successful deli and tearooms is down to the passion and vision of new owner Louise Pickles.
With the support of locals, Louise waged a two year battle with the council to persuade them to let her renovate the building. She spent thousands restoring it to its former glory, and even got the iconic clock ticking again.
Since opening in March 2010, Pickles Delicatessen has become the go-to destination for foodies and yummy mummies, and is a symbol of the regeneration of this former mill town.
The Towngate Rooms was built in 1912 and served first as the Liberal Club, then became the base for Baildon Veterans. Over the years it was used for orchestra and choir practice, ballet, yoga and children's parties. When it fell into disrepair in 2007 the loss was keenly felt by the community.
Louise is planning birthday celebrations throughout the month of March, including a dinner for liberal councillors past and present and an afternoon tea to which the entire village is invited.
She's also asking villagers to provide thoughts and photos for a memory book which will celebrate Towngate's history over the past 100 years. Louise said: "I'm so glad I rescued this beautiful old building from ruin so it could celebrate its 100th birthday. The memory book will help us all appreciate the rich history of Towngate and hopefully save it for another 100 years at least!"
Getting there: Baildon is off the A6038, north of Bradford. The 626 bus service runs from Brighouse and Bradford to Baildon. Trains run on the Wharfedale Line from Shipley and Ilkley to Baildon
Where to park: The Ian Clough car park has pay and display spaces
What to do: Walk on Baildon Moor. Follow a guided trail round the village – they’re available from the library. Take a trip on the Shipley Glen Tramway