Yorkshire’s landscapes have long inspired artists and writers. Ted Hughes wrote poems about his early life in and around Mytholmroyd, the countryside around Haworth was beloved by the Brontë sisters, while Turner visited and painted more than 70 places in Yorkshire. However, poet Simon Armitage has also been able to shape the landscape that inspired him. With stonecarver Pip Hall, he was commissioned by the Ilkley Literature Festival to create the Stanza Stones: stones carved with poems and in six atmospheric locations, stretching from Marsden to Ilkley, the home of the Festival.
The walking trail that connects the Stones runs for 47 miles through the uplands of the South Pennines. Despite a population of more than a million, it’s an area that still feels remote and unspoiled, and the grit and peat that form the landscape make it a natural habitat for moorland flora and fauna, such as the rare Pennine Finch or Twite. The South Pennine uplands are often known as the Watershed Landscape; so called because here rainwater is channelled into the reservoirs that provide much of our water supply, and it was this that inspired Simon to base his poems on the theme of water. Each carved poem describes water in one of its many forms: a Beck Stone, a Puddle Stone, a Mist Stone, a Rain Stone and a Dew Stone. They are all, Simon says, ‘celebrating or paying their respects to the element which gave shape and form to this region, namely water.’ Simon writes in his introduction to the Trail Guide, ‘For many thousands of years people have been coming to moors around West Yorkshire to offer their prayers and express their desires in the form of carved stones.’ The poet’s hope for the Stanza Stones is that ‘they have a sort of pulling power, getting people out of armchairs and up here onto the moors.’
While the full 47 miles seems excessive for a winter’s day, the Trail Guide, which can be downloaded from www.ilkleyliteraturefestival.org.uk, suggests ways the Stanza Stones Trail can be broken down into more manageable walks, many incorporating places of interest along the way. The Trail passes close to Haworth and the Brontë parsonage, Ted Hughes’ Mytholmrod, and curiosities such as the monument at Stoodley Pike. The whole Trail can be tackled in three separate ‘legs’ – Marsden to Hebden Bridge (18.4 miles); Hebden to Bingley (14.5 miles) and Bingley to Ilkley (14.1 miles). The Family Walks to each Stone, however, are all under an hour. However, whether you plan to discover all the Stanza Stones at once, or individually as a series of short walks, you might like to know that there is a seventh, secret stone, in an unnamed location, also waiting to be found...
The Stanza Stones is not the first literary walk stonecarver Pip Hall has worked on. The Poetry Path in Kirkby Stephen, just across the border into Cumbria, was inspired by ‘a year in the life of a fellside farmer’. Poet Meg Peacocke wrote a series of twelve poems which reflect the farming calendar, from hay-making to harvest and lambing time, and Pip carved the poems into stones placed like milestones along the path, or incorporated into walls and stiles. Walkers can trace the course of a farmer’s year by following the circular walk from just outside Kirkby Stephen to Hartley and back, along the River Eden. The route can be downloaded from www.kirkby-stephen.com
Though strictly speaking it’s more a piece of public art than a walk, the vistas offered by the Coldstones Cut on a winter’s day make it well worth including as one of our winter walking destinations. Created by the artist Andrew Sabin as a sculptural response to the Coldstones Quarry at Pateley Bridge (one of the highest quarries in England), the sculpture features platforms from which visitors can view the spectacular quarry hole and limestone quarrying operation, and the landscape of the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Beauty and beyond. The design that Andrew Sabin came up with combines the aesthetics of a contemporary streetscape with imposing stone block constructions. Visitors can walk the ‘street’ and the winding paths, as the individual platforms expose extraordinary vistas.
There are many walks that trace Turner’s trail around Yorkshire, from dramatic waterfalls to historic castles, but the county has offered inspiration to artists more recently too. Watercolourist Ashley Jackson moved to Holmfirth in the 1970s and the area has provided a rich source of material for his paintings ever since. He’s created a fascinating walking guide to Holmfirth that’s ideal for anyone who has ever fancied following in an artist’s footsteps. Highlighting the hidden gems around the back streets and landscape surrounding Holmfirth, the walking guide, which is downloadable from his website www.ashley-jackson.co.uk, allows you to stop at exact locations along the two and a half mile walk to compare the artist’s watercolour interpretation with the view before you. Whether you’re exploring back streets or discovering secret streams in the open countryside, it’s fascinating to see firsthand how the landscape inspired the artist.
Finally, we couldn’t fail to mention Yorkshire’s most famous fusion of landscape and sculpture: Yorkshire Sculpture Park at West Bretton. Designed over 200 years ago as a private pleasure ground, much thought was given to the planting of thousands of imported exotic trees, to the modelling of hills and valleys, and the use of water and architectural features. With a 500 acre estate to explore, many works on display in the open air, and a constantly changing programme of major exhibitions, there’s plenty to see whatever the weather.
We hope we’ve given you plenty of inspiration for winter walks with a artistic slant. Whichever route you choose to take though, make sure you raise a glass at the end of a brisk walk on a frosty day, whether it’s a pint in the pub or a mug of hot chocolate in a cosy café – you’ll have earned it