If you’ve read my previous post re the WRHW, you’ll be in the know as to the history behind this Urban Hike that I’ve had on my mind for the last 17 years – long before I even knew what an Urban Hike was! After collecting Sarah’s new car in Huddersfield in late January and walking a small section of the route that day, I decided that I just couldn’t put it off any longer and finally had to fulfill this long-held ambition. On 5th April, I walked from Huddersfield to the White Rose Shopping Centre in Leeds and below, I’ll take you on the Hike with me.
On Valentine’s Day 2019, after confirming with my parents that they were happy to have me, Sarah & Joseph visit for the weekend, I booked Friday 5th April away from the office and bought an advance one-way train ticket to the town where I spent 3 very special and memorable years of my life reading the subject that would later give me the base knowledge to ply my trade as a lawyer. As you well know at this point, I always like to get the best deal I can when spending my hard-earned cash and by buying the ticket in advance, I saved just over £24 – the cost of buying the ticket at the Station on the morning of travel would have been £37.60 with my advance ticket coming in at £12.80 plus a 75p booking fee. After dropping Joseph off at nursery that morning, I boarded the 08:46 train to Liverpool Lime Street, which I would depart at Huddersfield at 10:27. I like to travel light, so I packed my trusty Karrimor Urban 30 backpack (which I bought specifically for the Whitby Walk I wrote about in my 7th March post and which I now take on all my short trips – it carries my memories as well as my gear) with a couple of changes of clothes for the weekend (Ranger rolled so as to take up as little space as possible – it’s a great skill and you can learn how to do it on YouTube. I’ll never wait at an airport carousel again worrying if my luggage has made it safely and will travel only with a carry-on) together with toiletries (toothbrush, Nivea Sensitive Protect antiperspirant body spray and Fish Fingers hair wax), my iPhone and Klipsch earphones together with Lightning adapter (I listen to music whenever I travel on the train so that I don’t have to overhear other people’s conversations, plus it’s great to have Google Maps to hand on my iPhone if I’m unsure of my route. I don’t listen to music as I hike though, as I like to take in both the sights and sounds of my surroundings). I also packed my woodland camo Herschel Charlie card wallet with just my debit & credit cards in together with £20 in cash just in case. I wore my Karrimor grey convertible hiking trousers (which zip-off at the knee to convert to shorts – these are great for hiking but also for holiday travel. Karrimor is a dreaded Sports Direct owned brand, but their products are well priced and always seems to do the job), my eclipse navy Superdry Vintage Embroidered t-shirt (a staple of my wardrobe – I bought three of them to use as each one wears out and full price they were only £17), my Vans UltraRange sneakers and of course, my Big Red Hiking Hood, my berry red Superdry hoodie. Last, but by no means least, a re-usable plastic rain poncho which fits over both me and my backpack. It takes up virtually no space in my pack & has almost no weight and, given the likelihood of rain in Huddersfield, it’s a very useful thing to have with. It also keeps me much dryer than an umbrella and leaves both my hands free.
During March, I attended a legal training course in Leeds as part of my yearly Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements. It took place at the Royal Armouries at Clarence Dock and didn’t involve too much getting to and from but, having done a little walking that day and then taking the train home to Scarborough, I found myself a touch stiff and sore. This was of course concerning as I hadn’t walked anywhere near the 14 miles I’d be walking from Huddersfield to Leeds and made me realise just how out of shape I am at this point – I’d routinely walk at least 5 miles each day before I bought my car but now, I do little walking at all in the grand scheme of things. This was going to be much tougher than I thought, especially after plotting the route on Google Maps in advance and discovering that it was in actuality more than 17 miles in length with the additional “sightseeing” I was planning on doing! As a precaution, for a week or so in advance of the hike, I left the car at home and walked to work with Joseph in his pushchair in an attempt to limber up a little!
(Just a few photographs taken by me on the day – (clockwise from the top left) Huddersfield Train Station (reminiscent of the Hill Valley Clock Tower from Back to the Future don’t you think?), the view down Springdale Avenue, the Firth Street Building where I spent my 3 years reading Law, Calton Street where I lived with Rick, H & Gav in year 3, another shot of the Station and finally the Starfleet Academy section of the Campus which now houses the Architecture School).
The first order of business in Huddersfield was to stock up on hydration – I swung by the local Home Bargains in the Town centre to pick up my hiking drink of choice: Emerge Energy Drink. It tastes exactly the same as Red Bull, but is made in the UK and is a fraction of the price costing just 59p for a litre bottle. I call this “Rocket Fuel” because it’s full of sugar! I bought just one bottle as the planned route would take me past a variety of local shops where I could stop in to buy refreshments and, as I’ve said, I like to travel light.
Directly across the road from Home Bargains at the edge of the High Street (which is now far less populated since many of the chain stores relocated to the far more trendy Kingsgate Centre when it first opened in 2002) is the first road I venture down, the A62 Manchester Road leading to Springdale Avenue, where I lived in years 1 & 2 with Matt. At the top of that road, after pausing to take a picture, I turn left on to Rashcliffe Hill Road which leads me past a development of houses which has been erected in the years since I left Huddersfield (there used to be two multi-storey Local Authority managed blocks of flats on the site which have now been razed) and then briefly on to the A616 (walking past the site of Matt & my favourite curry house, The Far Pavilion, now seemingly long gone even after a name-change to Chutney Mahal) before turning right on to the B6432 Firth Street, which takes me past the Canalside Buildings at Huddersfield University to the Firth Street Building where I spent the majority of my three years (this was the part of the main campus known as Huddersfield University Business School or HUBS). This is essentially the route my walk to University took most mornings during years 1 & 2. The University Campus is much changed from my time there, due largely I suspect in no small part to the huge amount Universities now charge in tuition fees. Many of the older buildings have been replaced or augmented with large glass and steel edifices, replete with wind turbines and architectural flourishes. It reminds me now of Starfleet Academy, perhaps due to the fact that Sir Patrick Stewart was the Chancellor from 2004 to 2015. Typical that the man who portrayed Captain Jean-Luc Picard would become Chancellor at my University a couple of years after my graduation! I would have loved to accept my Law Degree from him – what a dream come true that would have been. I did meet him (albeit VERY briefly) in 2012 at a Star Trek Convention in London when I had my picture taken with him. He was very warm and pleasant but you get just a few seconds and barely any time to say more than a few words. The Buildings on Campus are now all named and on the whole it appears to be a far more up-market experience to be a student at the University in 2019. I also note that the University’s motto, “Trivium Quadrivium”, which was displayed on what was previously the Central Services building has been removed.
I cross Kingsgate and climb the steps adjoining the indoor market and after a brief mosey around the Packhorse Centre and a few other shops having traversed the Town centre High Street again (and past the now closed British Home Stores unit on Princess Street where we had many a breakfast after 9am lectures in year 3), I venture along the A62 past the Tesco Supermarket we used to frequent (and where Rick and Gav had an argument about who would pick up washing powder in our third year – something we were all able to laugh about at Rick’s Wedding reception in June 2018. They bickered about it for months at the time!) on to the A641 Northgate and underneath the Railway viaduct leading to Calton Street. This section of the route would essentially be my walk home from University after lectures etc. each day in year 3. I check that H’s Syphon Filter sticker is still in the window of our old student digs where he placed it more than 17 years ago as I pass by (and it is, although extremely faded owing to years of ultraviolet exposure but still readable). The street looks a little less decrepit and dilapidated than it did when last I visited a few years ago, but not too dissimilar to how it looked when we lived there between September 2001 and July 2002, except for a number of the houses on the streets which run perpendicular to Calton Street which have been retrofitted with large photo-voltaic solar arrays on the roofs. Whilst we lived in the house, during an argument with our Landlord at one point, H told him that the property was in such a poor state of repair that it should be condemned. We still joke about that meeting to this day. There were 4 of us living in the house but only three bedrooms; as usual I was left with the smallest room and H took the lounge as his bedroom. We did some work in the basement haphazardly plastering and painting the walls and covering the floor with cheap carpet roll-ends and the ceiling with camouflage netting. There was a sideboard we’d moved from the lounge on which we placed an old stereo and a lava lamp together with a few candles (by which Rick would once accidentally set his t-shirt alight during the year – he wasn’t injured!). We also had two old fabric couches. We referred to this room as “The Pit”. We were assisted in our efforts by Jack, Rick’s Dad who has since passed away; Jack was already in his 50’s when Rick was born and in his 70’s by the time I knew him – he was a lovely gentleman and an horologist by trade. The Pit’s crowning glory? It had a toilet in the corner (the Morgan – Cockney rhyming slang, which I’ll leave you to look up dear reader). Yes, a flushing toilet, which you could use – as long as you didn’t mind everyone else in the room watching. There was a shoddy wooden door next to the toilet which led up a small flight of stone steps to the rear yard, which we used only for hanging washing out to dry. It had a single light bulb (with no shade) and was always cold. It was also used as our makeshift film library, with stacks of VHS tapes of movies recorded from TV, on long-play, with at least 3 films to each tape, placed on the white wooden shelves which lined the walls. Although I bought my first DVD in 1999 (the 1986 film ‘The Wraith’ starring Charlie Sheen from the now long-defunct MVC – yikes, I’ve been collecting DVDs for 20 years?!) I wouldn’t be able to watch it on my own equipment (a PS2) until 2002. We had some very good times in that house; quite a few arguments too, but I’ll always look back on those 9 months fondly, even if they were extremely stressful at times with it being my and Rick’s final year of the LL.B.
Leaving behind my vivid memories of 2002, I take a couple of quick snaps of the gaff on my phone (and note the time is then 12:00) then venture right at Winlow Lane East, under the Railway Viaduct again and on to Hillhouse Lane (this was a notorious area for prostitutes when we lived on Calton Street – and before you ask, no, I never wanted “business!”) and then to Leeds Road, where I’d walk for several miles out of Huddersfield past the Odeon Cinema (where when it was a UCI, I’d first see such cinematic gems as ‘American Psycho’, ‘Dog Soldiers’ and ‘The 51st State’ to name just a few), the John Smiths Stadium (home of the Terriers, Huddersfield Town Football Club – I’m a Magpie myself and as I write they’ve just in the last few days been relegated from the English Premier League. I note with a little sadness as I pass that all the advertising of their Premier League status has already been removed from the entry to their training ground) and the ever enlarging retail park. After a few more minutes, I reach the dealership where we bought Sarah’s new car and as far as I’ve ever walked before on the WRHW route. From here, we’re into new territory. Well, on foot at least.
I stop briefly at the Land Rover dealership a couple of miles later, a short distance from the road bridge that crosses the River Calder to drool over their stock. I drive a Skoda CitiGo Monte Carlo, a tiny 59bhp 3 door city car in white with black checker foil decals, black alloy wheels, front splitter and rear spoiler, which I call Mirabeau, so named after a corner of the Monte Carlo Grand Prix of Monaco. She is in fact Mirabeau-A, as I had another almost identical car before her which I also called Mirabeau. The A is – you’ve guessed it – a Star Trek reference to the USS Enterprise NCC 1701-A, which looked almost identical to her predecessor. She’s not at all fast but she does what she’s designed to do well, which is potter around town taking Joseph and I where we need to go. It’s quite rare we ever exceed 30mph. She was cheap to buy, cheap to tax, insure and run. An ideal second car. Whilst I love Mirabeau (or Beau for short) I’ve always fancied a Land Rover Defender however, which they no longer build (and which they have no stock of) owing to EU emission regulations and which have sky-rocketed in value as a result. Rumours have it that a new model will soon be released, but it will be a far less utilitarian design, which I feel will detract from the charm of the original vehicle. After getting back underway and crossing the River, I pass under another Railway bridge (which we call the Gouranga Bridge after a sign which was plastered across it for many years) and turn right continuing on towards Dewsbury and what will be a little over the half-way point of this walk, but would of course have been the end destination had I walked it in 2001 / 2002. It’s taken just under an hour to reach this point.
The road is now Huddersfield Road (these people really know how to name highways) the A644 which will take me all the way to Dewsbury, 6 miles distant according to a signpost I pass. It’s not the most direct route I’m taking to the White Rose Centre, but it is the easiest route to reach that destination whilst making sure I pass through Dewsbury. The way is lined mostly with residential areas, although the footpaths are quite narrow in places making it disconcerting with large goods lorries passing by within a couple of feet of me at a good speed. I pass through the town of Mirfield on my route, the birthplace of one of my heroes, the aforementioned Sir Patrick Stewart. Not the most exciting of views (and not a patch on those I encountered on the Whitby Walk, even though Mirfield is quite picturesque in parts) but the clear benefit of an Urban Hike is that you’re never too far from civilisation if things go wrong or if you need supplies. I’ve also been somewhat sneaky as this is the main bus route from Huddersfield to Leeds and if I need to, I can jump on a 202 or 203 bus to my end destination, but only as a last resort if absolutely necessary.
I originally had in mind to stop to satiate my appetite in Dewsbury at lunch, but having had no breakfast that morning, by the time I reach Mirfield town centre at 2pm I decide to pick up a sandwich at the local Tesco Express, which I dispatch as I continue on. I also drain the remains of my Rocket Fuel but have managed to pick up a bottle of my current favourite soda, Raspberry Pepsi Max from Tesco.
The route now follows quite closely the path of the River Calder, which is never more than a few hundred meters away, and over which I’d not long since crossed. It takes a further hour or so to reach Dewsbury and I find the town centre far less vibrant and populated than it was at the turn of this Century when I’d be there frequently. There are a great number of empty shop units and the McDonald’s which was once at the corner of South and Church Streets (also the location of the bus station where I’d meet my ex-girlfriend to catch the bus to her house), which I’d visited on a few past occasions, appears a distant memory. It’s now a “Big Discount Store”, although the green paint which remains visible on parts of the facade hints at its former glory. The Blockbuster Store which was opposite is also no more, replaced with a Heron Frozen Foods store after the demise of the company globally within the last few years (at the time of writing, the last remaining Blockbuster in the World is in Bend, Oregon). It’s clear that the financial crisis of 2008 has had a deep impact here (as it also has in my hometown Scarborough) and I worry it’s unlikely to recover given the general decline of the high street nationally in recent years owing to the move towards online retail. I lament the loss of the McDonald’s and am glad I hadn’t counted on a Double Cheeseburger & Fries for lunch.
It’s now time to make the final push on to the White Rose Centre leaving Dewsbury in the rear view; this is the “new” part of the Hike, which wouldn’t have been necessary in 2002. By this point, my feet are hurting a little and I’m not ashamed to say I’m quite tired. Walking the 11 or so miles I’ve already covered on pavement has really taken its toll but having come this far, I’m determined to finish what I’ve started – as my University buddies would say, “Magnus Magnusson” (he was previously the presenter of TV game show University Challenge, where his catchphrase was “I’ve started, so I’ll finish” when a question was interrupted by the bell for the end of the round of questions). The approximately 6 or so mile route however takes me up a bloody big hill, Leeds Road A653. I’ve no idea what the gradient of the highway is and owing to the fact that there are several kinks in the road, you can’t see the top from the bottom (and vice versa) but I take it very steady and have a good pause & congratulatory swig of soda when I eventually make it to level ground. A steady supply of buses pass by me frequently and each time one does, the thought crosses my mind to halt at the next stop and wait for the next one. Nevertheless, I continue. Although the majority of the route is lined with residential properties, I’m not far from large parcels of open field land just out of view behind the houses. I note quite a few run-down and abandoned homes and a trend of large houses being converted to convenience stores. It’s not long before I make it to more built-up territory however in the form of Batley (and a familiar landmark of The Babes in the Wood pub, which unsurprisingly has also closed down) and shortly thereafter Tingley, which takes just a few hundred meters to traverse, although steadily uphill all the way.
Tingley Interchange is a very large and busy roundabout which links the adjoining suburban areas to the M62. By American standards it’s extremely tame but I’ll need to carefully navigate it to cross on to Dewsbury Road (still the A653) and the home-stretch (and, thank God, downhill) to the White Rose Centre. I specifically checked using Google Maps and Street View in advance that there were pedestrian crossings, but on arrival I find that Leeds City Council are digging them up and I have to dart across the M62 on-ramp to make it to the footpath on the alternate side of the road. Although the route to the White Rose via Birstall was shorter, I was concerned about crossing the roadways there which are far more congested given the nearby IKEA store and retail park and as it didn’t pass through Dewsbury, the way I took was far more ideal for me. Dewsbury Road is a mostly tree-lined affair with little to report on. Just a mile or two of highway to be necessarily trod.
Finally, I reach my Destination – the White Rose Shopping Centre where I worked during my Legal Practice Course at Leeds Metropolitan University in 2002 / 2003 and later in 2004, before returning back to Scarborough in April 2005 to complete my legal training. It’s been a long time coming and I am extremely pleased to have been able to complete the walk. I’ve watched quite a number of films and have read books about people who have walked long distances or made pilgrimages to help collect their thoughts and recover from difficult events in their lives, such as ‘Wild’ starring Reese Witherspoon based on the book of the same name by Cheryl Strayed, ‘Into the Wild’ starring Emile Hirsch and based on the book by John Krakauer about the life of Chris McCandless (also known as Alexander Supertramp) and ‘The Way’, a wonderful film written & directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father Martin Sheen about a father hiking the 500 mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail with the ashes of his only son (played by Emilio), who died on the first day of attempting the pilgrimage himself. I’m also a big fan of the David Lynch film ‘The Straight Story’ based on the journey of Alvin Straight (played by the amazing Richard Farnsworth), who travelled more than 240 miles over a 6 week period on his ride-on John Deere lawnmower from Laurens, Iowa to see his brother Henry (named Lyle in the film and played by the late great Harry Dean Stanton) who had recently suffered a stroke in Blue River, Wisconsin. The thought had crossed my mind that finally undertaking this walk might dredge up some unhappy memories but I can honestly say, much to my surprise, it didn’t. I very much enjoyed my trip down Memory Lane in Huddersfield (and I now regret not spending more of my day there!) revisiting my old homes & haunts but the walk between Huddersfield and Dewsbury was such a slog, I think I would likely have only done it the once back in the day and just stuck to the train or bus!
My parents met me at the White Rose Centre a little after 5:30pm and I treated them to dinner at TGI Friday’s as a thank you in advance for looking after us all for the next couple of days.
Being on the chunky side, the part of me that is the most sore after the Hike is my thighs where my boxer shorts have dug in and rubbed together as I walk. My trusty Vans UltraRange sneakers have prevented any blisters to my feet, but as always seems to happen with mesh sneakers, my big toes have already started to wear a hole in the interior lining of each shoe!
Part of this Hike has clearly been to fulfill one of the last remaining regrets of that part of my life, as well as reminiscing what was an extremely important time for me. Part of me will always remain in Huddersfield and it’s rare that Sarah & I don’t spend some time there in some capacity each year, but I’m glad that the WRHW ghost has finally, after 17 long years, been laid to rest.