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Ben Mercato was the pen name of George Dalton (pictured), a local journalist who celebrated his 70th birthday in 1916. In the suburbs of Shipley may be found an excellence of choice in delightful rambles, within the compass of an afternoon’s stroll or a Sabbath day’s journey, not beyond the capacity of the sauntering pedestrian, his good wife and his children who can, one and all, commune with nature and observe its adornment in landscape or woodland or water-courses, and enjoy the invigorating influences of the brilliant sunshine, tempered by pure, health-giving breezes of the open air in summer time, with ease and comfort. Such a jaunt the writer made the other day with pleasure and advantage. Our starting point was the tram terminus at Saltaire and our course lay by way of Hirst Lane to the swing bridge near the locks. The valley of the Aire is seen to great advantage from this lane. Upon this present occasion we were favoured with particularly bright sunshine and a specially clear atmosphere, bringing into definite view every feature of the landscape in its true proportion and displaying to the uttermost its remarkable beauties and merits. It hath many charms of rural scenery. There is no lack of the human element and its interests, so essential for a well-proportioned landscape. Hay harvest We are now in the midst of the hay harvest; groups of workers are busy gathering the crops in due season. Other crops in the cultivated fields are in healthy and promising condition on their progress towards the root harvest or corn harvest, as may be, so that man and beast shall in due time have their sustenance and sufficient seed reserved for sowing the following year. Our present itinerary brings us over the Hirst swing bridge to the towing path on the left, upon the north side of the canal and we enter the most attractive portion of our journey. Here is found a unique picture, on a limited scale of few colours, which combine and blend in such an artistic manner as to form a very gem of rustic scenery with green in various tints as its dominant hue. For a short distance the path is flanked on both sides by noble trees, forming a delightfully cool avenue. Then follows an open space on the left, where the timber has been removed for some distance; but the grass has already asserted its vitality and shrubs and
undergrowth are gradually taking possession of what seemed to be barren land. Aspiring A border of fine trees by the canal side also assists in giving an occupied character until it cumulates into a wood proper – the Hirst Wood. On our right- hand side trees of larger growth, even aspiring to forest rank and varied foliage obtain, each in the maturity of their full summer depth of green, complete the avenue for a mile or so, following the windings of the canal. This reach of the canal divides the two woods and its shimmering under the sunlight co- operates with the olive tones of the timber in adding brilliance to its surroundings. Water is always attractive, even when placid, in lakes or waterways; but more especially in summertime when it ripples in a breeze and reflects silvery rays from the sun. Further to our right in this section, across a strip of woodland, runs the River Aire, almost parallel with the canal. Would that I could say that this river shone brilliantly under the sun’s rays! Generations – centuries ago – it must have been an enchanting watercourse winding its romantic way down the hills from Malham, through the forests, meadows and cultivated tracts of country right away to Airmyn, where it joined the Yorkshire Ouse – one continuous valley. A pure stream where throughout its length choice fish could live and thrive. Alas! How far it has fallen from its high estate! Boating Club Along the far side of the Aire hereabouts is an ancient footpath from the seven arches past Hirst Mill and following the beck to the carriage drive. Through the openings between the trees we get occasional glimpses of parties of hay-makers on the rising ground towards Milner Field, the estate of which is liberally timbered for some distance upon that side around the mansion. Quite a number of people are met with upon the border walks, taking the air, viewing the Aire, or watching members
of the Boating Club exercising on the river. Anglers, too, of both sexes, are found in plenty; perhaps more prolific in numbers than catches of the elusive fish, as they follow the cult of Isaac Walton. One always feels that fishing is a hobby which calls for a vast amount of patience. Seven Arches The next feature in our landscape is what is known as the Seven Arches, where the canal is carried by means of a viaduct over the River Aire. Here, troops of boy scouts were having a high time after the manner of their kind. A fine, healthy lot of youngsters they were, quite typical of this excellent organisation, which is so pre-eminently calculated to train in discipline and manly character the boys of Great Britain for duties of future citizenship. We must look to such boys as these to make our most useful men. This terrible war is cutting off the flower of our manhood; and there will be room in this country for all the scouts we can possibly train for a generation to come. Three cottages Past the viaduct we come to a stone bridge by which we cross the canal, bearing round to the left past two or three cottages, an old warehouse, a mill with a water-wheel and stepping stones over the river by the weir. A footpath here carries us over the arches to the edge of Hirst Wood where we find a choice of several paths according to the directions desired. One leads to the right by the banks of the Aire, near the railway bridge and continues past the cemetery and along the riverside to Cottingley Bridge. For our purpose we select a path upon the edge of the ridge, bearing near the railway. Now we appear to be surrounded by woods. The plantation is not too closely timbered but is provided with an overhead shield of foliage. There is a deliciously cool and refreshing atmosphere quite a shelter from the piercing rays of the sun upon a hot day. Through the openings in the foliage we get charming views of the country upon the Bingley side. For instance, the mansion at the waterside is a gem for a vignette, with its grey
towers and gables clustering as it were in a fine bank of rich olive green foliage which hides the lower half of the structure. Cottingley, Bingley and St Ives Woods each in their way add to the volume of woodland views upon a larger scale. This Hirst Wood becomes a delicious retreat in fine weather for anyone who desires for a few hours, to withdraw from the busy haunts of men, to refresh his weary mind, raise his soul from sordid thoughts and commune with nature – and through nature to come into closer contact and communion with the God of nature and of mankind. Our footpath leads us across the railway and we enter imperceptibly into the domain of Nab Wood adjoining. This lies upon our right and on this side dominates the view, down in the hollow below it grows freshly and luxuriously, filling the groundwork with greenery; and not only so, but practically crowds the slopes on three sides of the little valley in one mass of timber land, now in the zenith of its fruitful or seedful harvest of summertime; and here and there bright spots of complimentary colouring but adorn the landscape. Many pleasant, shady footpaths run in various directions in this wood, forming an excellent promenade under cover of the trees. Engineering works On the other side of this roadway active commercial interests have been at work in recent years. Already several acres of this plain have been taken from agriculture for application to manufacturing industries. Engineering works with specialities are housed in one extensive structure built for the purpose. Another equally large building is devoted to cycle, motor and automobile manufacture. As a natural consequence, cottage houses are springing up all around. The Shipley Council also have in consideration a large scheme for building workmen’s residences upon this site. From this point of view we observe the remaining portion of Hirst Wood, in that part in which a large area has been denuded of a quantity of its timber and the outline of the wood has changed. However, avenues and clusters of trees have been preserved and the vigorous grass is making strenuous efforts to fill the void and is likely to hide the scar in a year or two. Grass hath charms and a lush covering of this verdant growth makes a pleasant carpet for any plain or hillside. Thus we have accomplished the circuit of our objective around Hirst Wood.
A walk around Hirst Wood by Ben Mercato
This Hirst Wood becomes a delicious retreat in fine weather for anyone who desires for a few hours, to withdraw from the busy haunts of men
Shipley Times & Express 4 August 1916