JENNY GIBSON moved to Slaithwaite in 2007, when the much-celebrated village was a lot less trendy and has witnessed its gentrification since then. As it makes a national hit list of top places to live, she asks: “Why, exactly?”
Slaithwaite people have an unusually solid pride in their Pennine village, whether they were born and bred here, or were simply drawn in by the aroma of artisan bread.
When you ask them why this is, they say things like “The countryside!” and “The lovely walks!” as if no other West Yorkshire settlement is surrounded by hills and dales.
Cool cafes and craft beer are also mentioned – but plenty of other places have those and no-one goes on about it quite as much.
People like to state that Slaithwaite is apparently the only English village to have its canal alongside its main street, though this is only a particular benefit if you run your errands via narrowboat.
So what do we have that’s so special – and so worthy of attention from the wider world? For the people who live locally, the answer is simple. Biggles Dransfield says: “It’s the best village in the world.” Jonny Sykes adds: “No better place and no better people.”
Our placing in the Sunday Times Best Places to Live 2021 is just the latest of many glowing recommendations in the national media.
However, the newspaper’s summation of Slaithwaite – behind a paywall, sorry – paints a very one-sided picture, as if everyone here is an uber-stylee millennial running a carbon-neutral design studio.
Yes we have a few of those, but you won’t feel intimidated here if you don’t know a seeded spelt loaf from a New York rye with caraway seeds and molasses, because …
We’re mahoosively inclusive
Beetroot burgers and botanical brews aside, there is plenty of opportunity for chips with or without gravy and – in usual, non-Covid times – a pint of cold lager at one of our many pubs and clubs.
Slaithwaite caters for broad tastes, many of them very traditional, which is all part of our wonderful diversity, as resident Michaela Senior says, “from the old folks to the comer-inners, to the people who visit”.
And visit they do. At the weekend, Carr Lane and Britannia Road are increasingly thronged with people pottering around with takeout coffees and ice creams as if it’s a picturesque stop-off in the Yorkshire Dales. Which it’s not.
We have rugged good looks
Dales villages are known for their rolling, pastoral loveliness but, our looks are rugged – and, let’s admit, ragged in places.
Slaithwaite really hums with industry and the dark, satanic mills alongside Huddersfield Narrow Canal, underline our history and heritage. They point to our future too, in projects such as the grand redevelopment of Globe Mills as well as smaller-scale but widespread colonisation of post-industrial spaces.
We are not the sort of village in which there’d never be a stabbing or a massive drugs raid, and the prevalence of dog poo is always a talking point – uniting our community in constant outrage, though not it seems, enough to get everyone reliably picking up after their hounds.
So we’re not perfect, but clearly this is part of our charm.
We do fun things
Slaithwaite is bristling with community spirit, and part of that is a passion for a range of pursuits. Whether your thing is running, cricket, swimming, yoga, playing in a brass band or singing in a choir, there’s a group or a club or a venue for you, where you’ll be enveloped with enthusiasm by likeminded souls.
We’re well known for Slaithwaite Moonraking Festival, which has long involved processing through the village holding elaborate, wicker-framed lanterns. These are tricky and time-consuming to make, but families are happy to put in the hours at specially-held workshops in the run-up to the big biennial event.
During lockdown this February, Moonraking morphed into a beautiful, Covid-safe adaptation, Moonshine, during which hundreds of households displayed illuminated pictures to turn villagers’ distanced evening strolls into something very special.
We might not be the only place to tell stories about smuggling booze in barrels, and hoodwinking authorities, but no one else has had the energy and vision to build a fantastic, family event upon this legend, that’s been creating magic and intrigue for three decades now.
We love eating and drinking
Talking of alcohol, yes we’re renowned for the ale trail – mixed feelings around that phenomenon are a whole other story – but since lockdown, there’s much more talk about our food.
Newbies such as Anello Pizza and the Northern Sole café have recently joined the longer established names like Rumpus and Om Is Where The Heart Is. The daddy of our dining scene, Monsoon Tandoori, has been around since the turn of the century, when the canal was first restored, and is still much loved, despite ever-growing competition.
Gourmet offerings don’t just extend to humans. As previously inferred, this is also a great place for dogs and you can treat your discerning pooch to a dried bull’s pizzle – don’t ask – or indeed a less scary natural treat from Dragonfly Products, as you pass by on your canal walk. Even chickens are catered for at The Henporium!
The shopping’s great
When Aldi arrived in Slaithwaite in 2014, many predicted the death of independent shops but in many ways the store had the opposite effect, providing a handy, central, short-stay car park – and another reason to shop local.
Retailers like the co-operative Green Valley Grocer – heroic during lockdown, delivering fruit and veg to those in need – survive and thrive alongside Aldi because they are super-friendly and helpful, and sell lovely stuff.
If you run low on spotty Polish crockery, you can pop out and stock up at Polka Dot Lane, and if you need a new bike, or bike bits, there’s no need to resort to the retail park when you can just freewheel down to Velofondista.
Claire Parish, of The Bridal Box Boutique, another recent addition, said: “The people here are lovely and being surrounded by other independent retailers is fantastic. It’s great seeing a high street full of innovation and fresh ideas.”
And if I haven’t name-checked your favourite place, by the way, that’s because there’s way too much going on to fit all of it in here.
Location, location, location
Transport links are always important for commuters and it helps Slaithwaite’s fortunes that – theoretically – you could get to Manchester in 35 minutes and Leeds in 20 minutes. But why would you want to do that, when thanks to Covid, homeworking options are greater than ever before?
For many, everything you could want or need is in the village. Samantha Lunn explains: “You have the buzz of the centre yet it’s only a ten-minute walk away to complete silence and perfect scenery.” Christine Netherwood adds: “Nice people, lots of characters, and a buzz like nowhere else.”
‘Buzz’ is a word that people use a lot when describing our village – and that buzz has definitely been heightened by all the attention we’ve been getting.
However, Ian Lockwood sounds a note of caution: “Yes, we have excellent rail connections, great places to eat and drink and lovely countryside … but don’t tell anyone or they’ll all want to come.”
Jenny Gibson is an account manager for Scriba PR and a teacher of journalism and PR at the University of Huddersfield.