Wednesday 16 September 2015

Dog Hill - a short walk in two parts

Part One:

Booth Wood Reservoir.
These two jaunts around Rishworth Moor, above Ripponden, started out as a short stroll on the moors for a summer's evening. That had been deliberately planned to come in at around the five mile mark for our elderly German Shepherd, who can't manage the full day walks or stiff climbs any longer. The idea was to head up to Blackwood Edge and follow the old Roman road to the west, with a yomp up to the trig point on Dog Hill, before circling back past Green Withens Reservoir to the car. 

We parked in one of the many lay-bys along that stretch of road, opposite the ominously named Hell Bank at the western end of Booth Wood Reservoir, and headed up a clear track into London Pasture. Aside from manoeuvring the dog over a stepped wall-stile into the pasture, this was a straightforward walk across the field into an attractive copse of trees. At the far side, a gate took us out onto a lane that led up onto Rishworth Moor.

The wall-stile.
When we arrived at Boan Cottage, however, the field we had to cross next contained cows with quite young-looking calves. Rich stayed back with Lotte while I approached the stile to judge the situation. The closest cow to the wall turned and ran at the mere sight of me, closely followed by her two calves, but there were other cattle in the field and after some debate we decided not to risk going through. It hadn't taken too long to get to this point from the car so we figured we could head back the way we came and find an alternative route up from the road, the moor being access land.

This plan was scuppered when we glanced to the right as we headed back down the lane - a whole herd of what I assume were bullocks were charging excitedly down the hillside into London Pasture and were waiting for us in the copse when we got back to the gate. I'm they bore us no malice - they were clearly young and probably merely curious - but I certainly wasn't going to try and wade through several tons of inquisitive and boisterous cattle with a dog in tow. In the absence of any other footpaths we headed down the lane in the opposite direction to where we wanted to go until we eventually got back to Oldham Road.

By the time we returned to the car we'd already walked just over two miles so, for the sake of Lotte, we decided to call it a day and head home. We were frustrated but also relieved we hadn't been halfway across the pasture when the cattle came charging over the brow of the hill.

A welcoming committee.

Part Two:

Oxygrains Old Bridge
Never one to admit defeat, we determined to go back and conquer Dog Hill, small and unremarkable though it might be. So it was, having woken late last Sunday and faffed around for several hours achieving not very much at all, the half day we had remaining seemed like the ideal time to do it.

This time there would be no farmland involved, as we decided to do the second half of our previous route as a there-and-back walk. We parked on Oldham Road again, this time above Oxgrains Old Bridge, a packhorse bridge that once bore the feet of merchants trading between Lancashire and Yorkshire. A registered ancient monument, the bridge has been repaired in recent years and a covering of earth and grass added to it to protect it from further damage. It stands over Oxygrains Beck, which flows down from Green Withens Reservoir. On its way to Ripponden, the road crosses the same stream over Oxgrains New Bridge, a Victorian construction that is really quite handsome.

Oxygrains New Bridge
It was the course of the beck that we were to follow for the start of our walk up to the reservoir. The clear footpath runs along the side of Green Withens Clough, which cuts deep into the moor. Looking at landscape paintings I'm always curious about what could be around the cliff face or behind the trees, fancifully wishing I could step into the canvas to explore. This massive fold in the hillside has always evoked the same reaction in me when I've seen it from the road, particularly as the path soon twists around out of sight. 

And this little valley didn't disappoint - the stream was quite lively below us, fed by several sources up on the moorland, and the sides were lush with bracken. In fact, the bracken was the only drawback during this part of the walk, growing to shoulder height in some places and leaving us caked in bits of leaf and bugs as we forced our way through it along the path. It wasn't long before we came to the Castle Dean Rocks, a series of outcrops that added some drama to the landscape. There were some good views to be had from the top of the hill later but I think this part of the walk was my favourite bit, a real hidden gem tucked away in the moorland.

The entrance to Green Withens Clough.
Castle Dean Rocks
Looking back to Castle Dean Rocks.
The dam of Green Withens Reservoir ahead of us.

The guardians of the reservoir.
It was a relief to finally clear the bracken when the clough widened out on the approach to the reservoir dam. Prior to this I'd only seen Green Withens Reservoir from a distance and it had always looked deserted so I was surprised to find that there was a watersports centre on the far side and people sailing on the water. Apparently the facility is maintained by the West Yorkshire Scouts.

I was surprised too to find the water levels so low, as it certainly doesn't seem like the British weather has stinted on the rain this past few months. We hung around here for a bit, watching the boats and admiring the engineering of the dam itself, from both a structural and an aesthetic point of view. You really get the feeling that the people who designed and built these reservoirs had pride in their work and a sensitivity to the land they were building on.

Reservoir overflow.
Looking along the dam wall.
The watersports centre (far left).

Our route up.
We joined the path that runs alongside the reservoir catchwater now, heading east across Green Withens Moss. Looking down across the moor at the extensive views (including the Windy Hill Radio Transmitter and the back of Blackstone Edge), we were quite taken aback to see how far we'd journeyed from the car. It didn't feel like we'd done that much walking. Perhaps it's a sign we are getting a bit fitter. I hadn't planned anywhere in particular to head up onto the higher shelf of the moor but as we walked along, several possible routes became apparent on the other side of the catchwater. Whether it was the feet of walkers or of sheep that had etched them on the hillside we didn't know. It was a short climb and we found ourselves somewhere to the west of the summit. Luckily, the peat was solid and springy underfoot most of the time so - a couple of boggy patches aside - it was fairly easy walking up to Dog Hill trig point.

The Windy Hill transmitter (l) and the reservoir.
The hill itself has little to distinguish it, as it's really just an elevated patch of moorland but there were some fine views to be had from the trig pillar - to the west, the back of Blackstone Edge loomed over Green Withens Reservoir; to the north of that, the top of the Stoodley Pike monument put in an appearance, peeping out over the moorland.

Although not on the map, four reasonably well-trodden paths very neatly converged on the trig pillar and one of them looked as though it would lead us directly back to the A672 across the moorland - which it did for a while before petering out. Somewhere around this point we must have passed the Joiner Stones: I only noticed them on the map afterwards and they can't have been particularly prominent on the ground, as my eyes are normally naturally drawn to such outcrops. Definitely something to look out for on a return visit.

Dog Hill.
Green Withens Reservoir with the back of Blackstone Edge above.
The Stoodley Pike Monument puts in an appearance.
Back at the catchwater.

Back at Oldham Road.
At the end of the catchwater, however, we could see a fence leading down to the road and this we followed down the hillside. It was fairly straightforward walking apart from the point where I suddenly found myself disappearing down a three feet deep hole in the ground that had been hidden in the undergrowth. 

There was a gate in the fence alongside the road and here we exited the moor and walked back down the road to the Oxygrain Bridges. This wasn't a strenuous walk by any means but it did make for a nice afternoon out in an area I'd quite happily visit again to stretch my legs, perhaps when there's a dusting of snow on the moors, which I imagine would transform the views quite magically. 

Date: September 2015

Walk length: 5.5 km *

Total ascent: 207 metres *

* Distance/ascent provided for "Part Two" only.



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