Toxic Chickens

Mytholmroyd is an unassuming little village nestled in the Calder valley with four modes of transport running through it…river, rail, road and canal.

The village’s main claim to any kind of fame is that the poet, Ted Hughes, was born here. He moved away with his parents when he was seven but the memories of the place must have made a deep impression. One of his books, Elmet, (originally published as The Remains of Elmet in 1979) is still in print with the combination of his evocative poetry and the stunning photographs of the landscape and the people captured by Fay Godwin.

Elmet was the old name for this part of West Yorkshire, described in the book’s introduction as “the last independent Celtic kingdom in England”. And before the road, railway and canal were built, the valley had a reputation as a “badlands”; ideal terrain for lawbreakers’ hideouts.

On page 53 of the book, there is a photograph of Scout Rock. This is a tree covered cliff formation, which I can see across the valley from my kitchen window. So, where do the “toxic chickens come in”?

The 2015 Boxing Day flood caused a landslide, which damaged part of the road and everyone living in the houses nearby were evacuated and the primary school closed. It’s long been known that asbestos was dumped in this area and that a landslip like this was likely to happen at some point.


The cleared trees – just above the white strip

However, there’s a story going around that a local poultry business buried their dead chickens on the hillside sometime in the middle of the last century and the floods in December, uprooted not only some trees, but also the graves of these chickens. The problem is that the chickens had a high level of toxins in them.

Some days we see workers wearing biohazard suits working on the hillside. The cleared area is growing but progress seems to be slow. The road and the school are still closed.

I don’t know if the story of the chickens is true but I think it would make a great movie…forget your zombie apocalypse…we have The Toxic Chickens of Elmet.


Not chickens – flock of Canada geese roosting in a field by the canal (and not toxic, as far as we know)


Where to buy these books:

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/ Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Flood thoughts

I haven’t said much about the flooding that affected the whole of our valley and others. On Christmas Day 2015 the rain started to fall and it continued through the day into the evening, the night and the following day – and will now be forever remembered as ‘the Boxing Day floods’.

The village of Mytholmroyd, little known to the outside world, was suddenly headline news.


The water on the left is usually a small brook flowing peacefully a good ten feet below the level of the road, on the right is the road.

We were away at the time, ironically, in the ‘Lake District’. They’d already suffered from heavy flooding with ancient bridges being swept away; people having to make big detours for what had once been short journeys. Watching the waters rising on the news reports, we knew that our house would be safe, but so many just a few hundred yards away, were inundated with floodwaters of biblical proportions.

Mytholmroyd, the name – according to one of my sources – means ‘the meeting of the waters’. It is, in fact, where the Turvin River (now called Elphin or Calder Brook) meets the bigger Calder River that runs through the valley. Through the course of the valley there is also the canal that runs between Manchester and Sowerby Bridge. Too little, too late perhaps – dredging operations are now taking place in the canal. The river is also heavily silted up.


Some businesses have recovered well. The local independent bookstore in Hebden Bridge, The Bookcase, had their grand re-opening last week. They had no insurance, having been completely flooded out in the summer flood event of 2012. Through the help of their landlord, friends, the community, and generous book donations from well-known authors, they are now back in business. Others haven’t fared so well. There are many shop premises and houses still empty, stripped back to the brickwork, under floor cavities exposed.



Time stands still

The church tower in Mytholmroyd is symbolic, I feel, of the extent of the catastrophe. The clock stopped at 11:30. And it hasn’t been fixed yet. The congregation of St Michael’s church has to meet in the local cricket club’s pavilion for their services.


One of the public houses in the village, the Shoulder of Mutton, isn’t likely to re-open until the summer. The collapsed wall behind the car park has yet to be repaired.


The main street through the town has a gap, like a missing front tooth, where one of the buildings fell into the river. Fortunately those premises had been vacant for some time.

The valley will recover. It will take time but the surrounding hills have a timeless quality that permeates not just the landscape but also the consciousness of the inhabitants. We will endure!


If you want a flavour of the area, before the floods, take a look at my latest romance, The Circle Dance – set very much in the heart of the Calder Valley in Hebden Bridge.

Ebook links for The Circle Dance:  Affinity eBooks/Amazon US / Amazon UK / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Chapter One of The Circle Dance is available to read on the Affinity eBook Press website.

Ebook links for The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting Over: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Arc Over Time: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Carved in Stone: Amazon US / Amazon UK

(All three books are available on Kindle Unlimited)