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The inside guide to Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire's inclusive hotspot

Inclusivity reigns in this beautiful West Yorkshire town. From queer-friendly venues to female-focused discos, Hebden Bridge has long made its mark on the map for this community. 

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Hebden Bridge's Rochdale canal.

Photograph by Getty Images
By Ella Braidwood
Published 29 Mar 2022, 06:09 BST

Nestled in West Yorkshire’s Upper Calder Valley, Hebden Bridge is affectionately known as the 'lesbian capital of the UK'. While in many ways it’s a typical sleepy market town in this county — with its York-stone houses and old cotton mills — it’s also renowned as being home to a thriving community of lesbians, other LGBTQ+ people and creatives. Hebden Bridge’s inclusive reputation is believed to stem from the 1970s, when artists and activists were drawn to it by cheap property prices following the mass closure of its mills. Among its quirky cafes and independent shops, Hebden Bridge’s welcoming ethos is easy to see: from Pride-themed gifts in shop windows to Mrs & Mrs greetings cards.

A good place to start is with a quick stroll along the 32-mile Rochdale Canal, which runs through the town centre, before heading to the popular Hebden Bridge Market, open Thursday to Sunday. The stalls change daily, including food, arts and crafts, and second-hand goods. Afterwards, grab a coffee at Mooch, a cosy cafe with bohemian vibes, or a drink at the Old Gate, which gets rebranded as ‘Old Gay’ by the local Happy Valley Pride in the summer.

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View over Hebden Bridge.

Photograph by Getty Images

If you’re after some live music, try the queer-friendly Trades Club, a well-established music venue in the north of England, originally built by local trade unions in 1924, before being revived in the 1980s. The club regularly puts on LGBTQ+ artists and has a strict policy against homophobia, transphobia, misogyny and racism, showcased by anti-discrimination posters around the venue. Alternatively, catch a film at the Hebden Bridge Picture House, one of the last remaining council-owned cinemas in the country, or see what’s on at the Hebden Bridge Little Theatre.

For culinary explorations, try Tibetan Kitchen, for hearty Tibetan grub, or Nelsons Wine Bar, an essential LGBTQ+ dinner spot in Hebden Bridge with vegan wine and a plant-based menu, including dishes such as root vegetable tagine and tofu with Szechuan pepper. Rostini’s Indonesian Kitchen serves quality curries and noodles, including good vegan options, from a small kitchen inside The Trades Club.

Inclusivity prevails throughout Hebden Bridge: Jack’s Barber Shop, is a popular gender-neutral barber among locals, while Waterside Gym, is a queer-friendly fitness centre offering boxercise and Pilates classes.

For hiking enthusiasts, there are plenty of great walking trails starting in this town. Take a hike up cobblestoned paths to Heptonstall, an ancient Pennine village with great views over Hebden Bridge. Here, the gravestone of American poet Sylvia Plath can be found in the extension graveyard across the road from the Church of St Thomas the Apostle (it’s to the right as you go in, about three-quarters of the way down). While you’re there, check out Heptonstall Museum, housed in an old grammar school. Plath’s estranged husband Ted Hughes is also associated with Hebden Bridge: he was brought up in the Calder Valley and his poem ‘Stubbing Wharfe’ was set in The Stubbing Wharf, an 18th-century inn overlooking the canal in the town.

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Shibden Hall, the former home of Anne Lister, widely considered to be Britain’s ‘first modern lesbian’.

Photograph by Alamy

If you’re looking to extend your lesbian pilgrimage or learn more about this world, then head straight to the Grade II-listed Shibden Hall, the former home of Anne Lister, widely considered to be Britain’s ‘first modern lesbian’, who wrote extensively about her relationships with other women in her five-million-word diary. Lister, whose story was dramatised in the 2019 BBC series Gentleman Jack, lived in the timber-fronted hall from 1815 until her death in 1840. The hall is a 25-minute walk from Halifax station, which is a 10-minute train from Hebden Bridge, or a 20-minute drive away. Also worth a visit is the nearby Halifax Minster, where Lister used to worship, and The Piece Hall, where there is now a statue dedicated to her.

A 15-minute drive away in Todmorden, there’s the infamous Todmorden Women’s Disco for LGBTQ+ women and non-binary people, which runs on the second Saturday of the month. Other LGBTQ+ friendly drinking holes in Todmorden include The Golden Lion and Nan Moor’s.

Read more: How the travel industry is embracing LGBTQ+ travellers 

Other spots to explore in Hebden Bridge include National Trust site Hardcastle Crags, where you’ll find the 19th-century Gibson Mill among its 400 acres of woodlands. Hebden Bridge also lies within Brontë Country, a part of the South Pennines known for serving as the inspiration for the Brontë sisters’ books. Brontë fans can get a bus or hike to Haworth, where the sisters wrote most of their novels. The walking route to Haworth goes along the Pennine Way, which also has a loop that extends into Hebden Bridge, including Top Withens, said to be the inspiration for the farmstead in Wuthering Heights. The Calderdale Way is a 50-mile circular route, which skirts around Hebden Bridge. There’s plenty to offer for cyclists here, too, including the National Cycle Network Route 66, which passes through many of Calderdale’s towns.

A local’s guide to Hebden Bridge

Marisa Lancaster is the owner of Mabel & Luka, a vintage clothing store named after her two dogs. She lives in Hebden Bridge with her wife.

1. Tall Poppies
I love this gift shop. It was the first time I’d seen Mrs & Mrs and Mr & Mr gifts in a regular gift shop. It’s really nice to feel included as a standard: Tall Poppies sell gifts and, as part of that, some of those are for queer people. The owner is really friendly, too, and her husband runs the cafe next door (see below).

2. Good Time Charlies
This cafe is a great pitstop after a trip to Tall Poppies. It’s a nice, inclusive space where I like to meet people, and one that doesn’t revolve around alcohol. The coffee and music are good.

3. Happy Valley Pride
This annual queer arts festival celebrates LGBTQ+ life in Hebden Bridge and the surrounding areas. In particular, I love its Pink Picnic, a family-oriented and inclusive event with music and stalls. The organisers ran a Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil in November last year, too, a carefully organised and thoughtful tribute.

4. Totally Awesome
There are a lot of queer families in Hebden and this local toyshop is – as its name suggests – totally awesome. The owner makes friends with everyone who comes in.

5. Calders Holmes Park
The park, which runs along the canal, is one of my favourite places to be with my dogs. I recommend going to the cafe, called Park Life Cafe, and there’s no end of places to sit and take in the view. When the rest of the town gets hectic, it’s the perfect place to relax.

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