Travel by train through the South Pennines Park (Walking in the Footsteps of Pioneers Itinerary)

Do you fancy exploring the stunning South Pennines Park? We’ve got the perfect itinerary for a weekend getaway – or a cheeky midweek trip.
Our series of car-free itineraries will help you get lost in spectacular landscapes, discover hidden gems, and learn more about local heritage across the region…all whilst leaving the car at home.

With 53 railway stations in the South Pennines Park, the region is very well connected. The Calder Valley trainline runs right through the Park and connects the major cities of Manchester, Bradford and Leeds. Along the route is an abundance of things to do and see – including stunning heather moorlands, beautiful canals and cute market towns. So, take your pick of the itineraries below and jump aboard!

Heritage Itinerary: Walking in the footsteps of Pioneers (2 days)
People and their work are a huge part of the history of the South Pennines Park. The South Pennines was right at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, and the impact of human occupation and industry has shaped our landscape and the way we live today. As well as leaving a visible mark in the form of canals and railways, reservoirs and packhorse trails; it has also provided us with a proud heritage, and a pioneering, enterprising spirit, which still prevails today.

Come along on this two-day itinerary to learn more about the human story of the South Pennines – one of ordinary people, who helped to forge a revolution that changed the entire world.

Day one, morning: Walking in the footsteps of Anne Lister
Hop on the train to Halifax – a thriving market town which boasts stunning architecture and a strong industrial heritage. Your first stop is Halifax Minster, a 900-year-old parish church which boasts a beautiful interior, stained glass windows and painted wooden ceiling panels. It is also the ‘spiritual home’ of the famous Anne Lister, recently portrayed in the popular BBC drama ‘Gentleman Jack’. Anne Lister is sometimes known as ‘the first modern lesbian’, and broke societal norms and boundaries by living life on her own terms, whilst keeping a strong and unwavering Christian faith.

Anne Lister was a successful entrepreneur and landowner, and acquired a level of independence unusual for women in the 19th century. From the Halifax Minister, you can follow the Anne Lister pilgrimage walk which takes you to her most visited sites in Halifax; allowing you to, quite literally, walk in the footsteps of this pioneering woman. As part of the walk, you will visit the wonderful Shibden Hall – home of the Lister family for over 300 years. At Shibden Hall, you can explore the room where Anne Lister wrote her diaries, venture through the Victorian gardens, as well as learning about the features of this historic house, and stories of people who lived there, from expert guides.

Day one, afternoon: The gritty and the grand – Halifax’s industrial heritage
It’s now time to head over to the Piece Hall – this Grade I listed building is the jewel in Halifax’s crown, and the only remaining Georgian cloth hall in the world. The Piece Hall was built in 1779 for trading ‘pieces’ of cloth and was once the centre of the UK’s entire woollen trade. Its stunning neo-classical architecture was a symbol of the wealth, pride and ambition of the cloth manufacturers in the North, and it still stands proudly today as a place for businesses, arts and people to meet and thrive. Take your time to browse the independent and boutique shops that make up the Piece Hall, or relax at one of the cafés, bars or restaurants and simply soak up your surroundings.

You’ll know by now that Calderdale was once a hotbed for industry and invention, and there’s nowhere better to delve into this history more deeply than at Calderdale Industrial Museum. Situated close to the Piece Hall, in Halifax’s growing cultural quarter, the Calderdale Industrial Museum is run by volunteers and is open on Saturdays and half term holidays. Discover the story of power generation within the region, experience a 19th century Mytholm coal mine, and see the only surviving examples of industrial machinery in the country…and so much more!

Day two, morning: People helping People in Rochdale
It’s day two, and time to jump back on the train again – to visit Rochdale, a town at the foot of the Pennine Hills, and the birthplace of the Co-operative movement.

From the station, take a 15-minute walk to Rochdale Pioneers Museum to hear all about the inspiring story of working class people coming together to start the Cooperative movement, and in doing so, creating a fairer way to live and to benefit their community. In 1844, at a time of great deprivation and austerity, these Rochdale Pioneers started a revolution in retailing by providing good quality food at fair prices, and returning any profits back to members in the form of a ‘dividend’.

If you’ve got time, you could also take a detour to Littleborough (just hop back on the train!), and walk one of their Co-operative heritage trails. The trails will take you to the Cooperative society’s main buildings and sites, and tell the stories of the local people who spearheaded this social movement. You might also want to grab a spot of lunch in Littleborough, before heading back to Rochdale for your final hit of local heritage.

Day two, afternoon: An afternoon of Art and History

In the afternoon, take a walk over to ‘Touchstones Rochdale’ – an art gallery housed in a historic Grade II listed building, with an impressive programme of changing exhibitions. Touchstones has always led the way in cultural inclusion, by providing a platform to by a generation of seldom represented artists, many of whom were women, young, working class and Black. They continue to shine a light on diversity and gender equality to this day. Please note that Touchstone is closed until 2025 for refurbishment. An alternative location to visit is the Pioneer Museum, home of the cooperative movement – you can find out about their opening times and collection here.

Your final stop of the day is a visit to Rochdale Fire Station Museum, which explores the fascinating history of firefighting in Greater Manchester. Learn about how the area was an important centre of manufacture for fire engines and equipment, and hear about the impact pioneering chief officers, such as John Eccles of Rochdale, had through their revolutionary measures and technical skills.

Once you’re done there, you’re just around the corner from the train station…time to hop back aboard and make your way home, hopefully feeling more inspired than when you left!

For more inspiration and information on places to see and things to do along the Calder Valley train route, check out: the South Pennines Park news page, the Calder Valley CRP, Visit Calderdale, and Visit Rochdale.