Heads for the hills on a trip to Rossendale

Martin Pilkington puts on his hiking boots and heads for the hills to explore this special area Photographs by John Cocks

Places to ShopThe curving, steep and cobbled main street – Bank Street – of Rawtenstall has some interesting independent shops like The East Lancs Curtain & Linen Company, and its conservation area status – flagged pavements to match those cobbles - makes a shopping trip doubly rewarding. Two outlets elsewhere associated with formerly key industries in Rossendale are Musbury Fabrics mill shop opposite Helmshore Textile Museum, and Lamberts Mill on Fallbarn Road on the outskirts of Rawtenstall for furniture, flooring and shoes – with a shoe museum too.

Crawshawbooth has Riley’s, a fabulous blend of traditional craft butcher’s and contemporary deli. ‘We make everything on site – black pudding, we cure our own bacon, smoke bacon, bake our own pies... we try and do it all here,’ says Geoff Riley who runs it with wife Paula.

Not to be missedHelmshore Textile Museum is a must. ‘Whitaker’s Mill here was built in the 1820s, a cotton spinning mill, in the 1920s it became a cotton-condenser spinning mill bringing in waste cotton to recycle, and Higher Mill was built in 1789 by six members of the Turner family as a woollen fulling mill,’ site supervisor Stephanie Smith tells me.

Rawtenstall is one of the termini of the brilliant East Lancashire Railway, with good service at weekends. A short train-ride to the halt at Irwell Vale lets you enjoy the old engines and this scenic mill village.

On a hill above Goodshaw is a Baptist chapel maintained by English Heritage: ‘It was built in 1760 when the medieval road beside it was the main route to Burnley,’ says Kathy Fishwick. ‘It was rebuilt in 1809, but virtually untouched since then.’ Access is by permission of Rossendale Civic Trust), but seeing the interior is recommended – stall pews straight from a Jane Austen film.

Notable PeopleStrangely, one of the most famous people associated with Rossendale was an Irishman, Michael Davitt, who came to Haslingden with his family in 1850. He lost an arm in a textile mill accident when just 11. Davitt became a major figure in the Irish Republican movement before renouncing force and eventually becoming a Westminster MP, his espousal of non-violence an inspiration to Gandhi. A memorial plaque can be seen in Wilkinson Street Haslingden.

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The most celebrated contemporary Rossendalian is probably actress Jane Horrocks, best-known as Bubble in Ab-Fab but also – thanks to her distinctive Rawtenstall twang – queen of the voiceovers.

Food and DrinkYou can’t visit Rawtenstall without seeing Fitzpatrick’s, the last surviving original temperance bar, a tiny treasure tucked away at the end of Bank Street. ‘It’s been around for about 150 years. The Fitzpatrick family were herbalists from Ireland, they had 28 shops like this,’ explains current owner Chris Law.

And you can’t talk about Rossendale food and not mention Andrew Holt of The Real Lancashire Black Pudding Company in Haslingden, Britain’s champion black pudding maker. The Ridings Restaurant at Sykeside Country House Hotel in Haslingden often makes creative use of that delicacy.

Places to Walk – and CycleFor the adventurous and fit, The Rossendale Way offers a 41-mile circular route taking in the best of the countryside here with highlights like the Healey Dell Nature Reserve. Less daunting are the trails around the three reservoirs off Grane Road west of Haslingden, with parking there and over the road at Clough Head where there’s a cafe too. Or you could just enjoy a stroll around the pretty village of Irwell Vale.

For the adrenaline junkie Lee Quarry between Waterfoot and Bacup has 4.3 miles of red (difficult) and half-a-mile of black (severe) mountain biking trails, with another facility at Cragg Quarry reachable via a moorland bridleway.

Rossendale, this upland corner of our county, has no shortage of surprises to reward the curious – and, thanks to its hills, the thrill-seeker!

In rough geographic terms it stretches along the valley of the River Irwell from Bacup to Haslingden via Rawtenstall, its unofficial capital, taking in villages like Goodshaw and Crawshawbooth northwards, Edenfield, Irwell Vale and Stubbins to the south. But don’t just think of the settlements – in Rossendale you’re never far from beautiful moorland.

The area’s architecture contains innumerable reminders of its industrial roots, zealously guarded by Rosendale Civic Trust. Kathy Fishwick, from the trust, cites as particularly noteworthy the remaining stone-built mills, the elegant Ilex Mill now converted to apartments, The Weaver’s Cottage where the trust is based, and religious buildings like the neo-classical St Mary’s Chambers – once the Free Methodist Chapel - the Wesleyan Rakefoot Chapel in Crawshawbooth, again converted to flats, and the Baptist Chapel hidden away above Goodshaw.

Families once attended two lengthy services every Sunday, some trekking miles across the moors to this fantastic Georgian structure that deserves greater fame. ‘It survived Victorian “improvements” because a new chapel was built mid-century lower down the hill,’ explains Kathy.

There are more accessible windows on the past here. ‘Helmshore Textile Museum is very impressive, and there’s the Rossendale Museum in Whitaker Park too,’ she says, ‘A sort of museum of museums with its different collections.’

During the Industrial Revolution Rossendale was a great textile centre, a past commemorated at the Helmshore site where some hefty machinery is preserved – and demonstrated. The Weaver’s Cottage, open on request at this time of the year, does likewise with smaller looms.

The towns and villages of Rosendale enjoyed, if that’s the word, the industrial boom because of the moorlands around them. Wool from their sheep and power from their racing waters the starting points for a major weaving district.

At Longholme Road in Rawtenstall the packhorse bridge over the Irwell provided a link between town and moor, present and past. A rather grander reminder can be found in Whitaker Park, where Rossendale Museum occupies the mansion built in 1840 by mill-owner George Hardman. His family’s lifestyle, brought to life by the objects in the genteel drawing room, was rather different from that of the residents of the Weaver’s Cottage whose Victorian kitchen offers a stark contrast.

Lives that centred on factory and chapel are long gone. The moorlands once tramped by the faithful bound for chapel are now a tourist resource – visitors should not forget their hiking boots. ‘The walks at the Grane Reservoirs are good, but the Rossendale Way could be a bit daunting!’ says Kathy, that latter route being 41 miles in length.

Above Whitaker Park is the chalet complex and dry slope of Ski Rossendale. Along the valley at Stacksteads, in a quarry that once yielded stone for mills, mountain bikers race and sometimes tumble. What would the Georgian worshippers have made of them?

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