Slaithwaite often gets a mention in my rambles. It’s a neighbouring village which nestles at the bottom of the Colne Valley. The name Slaithwaite is old Norse meaning a timber fell clearing. The village itself lies across the Rover Colne and the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, the Huddersfield line of the Huddersfield to Manchester Victoria runs just up the north side of the valley and Slaithwaite has its own station approximately four miles west of Huddersfield.
We need to get the name sorted now. If a local hears someone trying to pronounce the name as the spelling would indicate (slaythwait) this would be an indication of a ‘cummersin’ and they would possibly receive a silent but polite tut and moan (if such a thing is possible – but I think you get the idea). Locals pronounce it Slawit and posh locals Slathwait. Now this very important point is cleared up we can move on.
Once bustling with dozens of black mills and their equally black chimneys, where greenery struggled to achieve any sort of toehold on life, the only patch of green would be the local cricket, rugby, crown green bowling or kickerball pitches, much of that would be sad and muddy, and a devil of a job for the groundsman to keep in decent nick.
All that changed in the 1950s and 1960s with the Clean Air Act of 1956, and the reduction of textile production. The benefit of this is that we now have a beautiful green valley, with many varieties of trees and shrubs not seen previously for going on two hundred years. The small downside is that algae now grows on the Yorkshire stone flags meaning that falling on your arse is a distinct possibility!
Everything you need in one place
Within its borders, the village has everything most people would want: shops, bakery, coffee roasters, a micro-brewery and other small businesses. There are schools, surgeries, restaurants, six cafés, pubs, clubs and sporting facilities. They even proudly boast their own Slaithwaite silver brass band, the renowned Colne Valley Male Voice Choir and its own combined fire and police station (not that the police are expected to put fires out, or vice versa, they just share the same building).
There are more walks and footpaths than one can shake a stick at, anything from river and canal sides, through ginnels to open fields, up the steep sided valley onto the open and often wild moors.
Another advantage to Slawit is that there are no nightclubs. Anyone needing that sort of malarkey can take a short train journey into Manchester, Leeds or Huddersfield. However, it is a stop-off village on The Trans Pennine Real Ale Trail. A pub crawl on a train – what could possibly go wrong? Eight station stops to eight different pubs, starting in Batley and finishing in Staleybridge, or the other way round (or both if you are brave enough).
Nicknames are given to many people and places in the Colne valley. People who live in Slaithwaite are called ‘Slawit Moonrakes’. The story goes that during one clear night in 1800 a group of smugglers were trying to retrieve their contraband hidden in the canal under a full moon using rakes and grappling hooks, when they were approached by excise men, pretending to be drunk the men said they were trying to rake the reflection of the moon out of the canal and put it back into the sky, according to legend it worked, the excise men left them alone to retrieve their ill-gotten gains and put the moon back safely in the sky.
I recently attended the Slaithwaite Moonraking Festival, whereby throughout the week families and groups are invited into workshops to construct lanterns, and the following weekend the road is closed through the centre of Slawit for everyone to show off their handiwork in a parade around the village.
There were an estimated 300 lanterns of different quality and construction, mostly using cane and tissue paper covered in some waterproofing, which was a good job as the weather was a bit damp. Most of the lanterns were modest examples held aloft on a stick illuminated by small tea lights, but the very elaborate lanterns in the photos were lit by battery LED lighting. In spite of the inclement weather (or perhaps in defiance) thousands of people who turned up had a great time, again re-establishing and celebrating just one of the activities enjoyed before lockdown.
They now remove the moon from the canal by crane. The imposing five-storey Globe mill overlooked proceedings is now in the final stages of being converted into accommodation, like so many other mills in the valley, if they have survived at all.
Another claim to fame Slawit can boast (as mentioned recently in another ramble) is that is where the beginnings of the Labour Party took place. Furthermore, if all this isn’t enough, DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) analysis has suggested that the surname Sykes, (from the old Norse syke meaning a small watercourse or marshy gully) may have originated in Slawit – it’s certainly one of the main contenders, and I’m sure our neighbours and the good people of Slawit are happy to claim it as their very own.
The best place to live in the North and North East
In 2022, the Sunday Times voted Slaithwaite the best place to live in the North and North East in their annual guide. Quotes included “a fantastic place to live” and “[a] near perfect place to pursue post-pandemic happiness”.
Locals and near locals like myself were a little surprised by this prominent position – I suppose it could be something to do with familiarity breeding contempt. Although we know it is lovely and has featured on many of the WARTS (Walkers And Ramblers Tenacious Stalwarts) walks, the whole of the north of England is a big place, and that’s not just in Yorkshire which as we all know, is the best place to live anyway.
Someone is driving along the M62 when they receive a phone call from their spouse saying, “Be careful, I’ve just heard on the radio that there’s someone driving the wrong way on the motorway!” the driver replied, “Someone? there’s bloody hundreds of em!”.