Book Review - West Yorkshire’s Wild Side

The West Yorkshire Moors: a hand-drawn guide to walking and exploring the county’s open access moorland. Christopher Goddard 2014. Jeremy Mills Publishing Huddersfield. 224 pages softback. ISBN 978-1-906600-99-0 £12.99
The West Yorkshire Woods Part One: The Calder Valley. Christopher Goddard 2016. Published by the author. 208 pages softback. ISBN 978-0-9954502-0-2 £12.99

I have valued the comparative solitude of the moors and valleys of the South Pennines for many years and thought I knew them well, but two recent books by Chris Goddard have surprised me by their quality and the wealth of detail they reveal that I just wasn’t aware of. I grind no axe for the author, having met him trying to sell his books quite by chance. But, bluntly, they really are very good and I thought more people should know about them.

The Moors volume covers the West Yorkshire upland from Ilkley southward to Holmfirth, and west from the edges of Bradford and Halifax to Colne and Bacup just over the watershed in Lancashire. Chris begins by explaining his approach then provides helpful sections on geology, history and access. Each moor, defined around its highest point, is described with an illuminating commentary and there are twenty-eight well-chosen routes ranging from around six to twelve miles and graded easy, moderate and strenuous.

sample map

The hand-drawn, annotated maps, in classic Wainwright style, are a delight both to follow and simply to read by the fire. The moors-and-routes chapters are interspersed with pages covering flora and fauna, and particular aspects of the moors including fellrunning, the reservoirs, delving, starfish sites and – but I won’t spoil it for you, there’s a lot here! This isn’t just another collection of walks to follow but a resource to return to. The index and bibliography are impressive in their coverage and utility.

The remarkably numerous Calder valley woods extend from Todmorden east to Brighouse, and from the M62 to the hills north of Hebden Bridge. The book begins with an evocative account of the author’s most abiding encounters with his favourite wood setting the tone well. There is an explanation of how trees work – a complex and fascinating mechanism succinctly reduced here to something that can actually be understood and remembered. A section on the history of the woodland includes their development for hunting, coppicing, charcoal production, traditional crafts, industrial uses and folklore. This lucid and absorbing account of the stretches of trees that many will just drive past without a second thought provides a compelling insight into a wealth of detail there for the finding.

There are eleven geographic sections, and the woods within these are engagingly described and depicted with, again, meticulous annotated mapping, before suggested routes of around six to eight miles are provided. These chapters are separated by short essays on the various tree species – how they grow, past uses and what depends on them. Frankly I was taken aback at how much new information I found. As with the Moors book there is an excellent index and comprehensive bibliography.

These two volumes are clear evidence of a labour of love in progress and I can’t fault them, the author’s careful attention to detail really does work out on the ground. You might like to support the recently-flooded Bookcase in Hebden Bridge (www.bookcase.co.uk), or you could deal direct with Chris at www.christophergoddard.net. Get these books and put your boots on, you’ll be a better person for it. Highly recommended.

Review date - 18th November 2016 - Reviewed by David Shepherd

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