Thursday, 7 January 2016

Hadfield to Marsden via Black Hill

When I walked from Marsden to Hebden Bridge in April 2015 I followed the Pennine Way in a meandering journey north for a large part of the hike, which made me curious about the course of the trail before I had joined it at Haigh Gutter. I was looking to do a similar length walk (around the 15 mile mark) and settled on Hadfield as a handy starting point. The map revealed an alluring mix of moorland and reservoirs, deep-cut cloughs and crowded contour lines between that Derbyshire village and Marsden and I plotted a route that mostly followed the Pennine Way, only deviating slightly at beginning and end.

It was around 7:30 in the morning when I alighted at Hadfield station. The trains to Glossop enter and then reverse out of Hadfield to continue their journey and what was once the continuation of the line from Manchester beyond Hadfield to Sheffield is now the Longdendale Trail. It's just a short walk around the corner from the station to join this managed footpath eastwards, following the route along which trains used to thunder several times a day. 

The blues skies that greeted me in Hadfield had already made for an auspicious start to the hike and, as I started out along the path, signs of spring in full spate were all around - the trees that lined sections of the trail were decked in blossom and the bright green of young leaves, while cowslips and other flowers brightened up the edges of the footpath. 

When you first join the Longdendale Trail, it is closely lined on either side with trees and bushes, which makes for a pretty understated start to the walk. Before long, however, you begin to get impressive views along and across the valley, which contains a series of reservoirs known as the Longdendale Chain. They were designed and built in the nineteenth century to furnish Manchester and Salford with drinking water while also maintaining a sufficient flow of water to power the mills of nearby industrial towns such as Glossop (see here for the six reservoirs shown on a map). On the southern side of the reservoirs, pasture lines their edges, dotted with sheep and their young.

Out of the trees, looking north east along Longdendale, Tintwistle Low Moor and Tintwistle Knarr rise up from the left.
Looking back across Bottoms Reservoir towards Hadfield and Tintwistle.
More signs of spring.

The moorland to the north of Longdendale.
I saw few people as I walked along, just the occasional dog walker and a man with binoculars around his neck, who asked me if I'd seen anything yet - confused, I just answered that I hadn't really seen much to speak of. It was only further along the trail when I exchanged a few words with another passer-by that I realised he'd taken me for a fellow birdwatcher. 

The valley was becoming steeper-sided now as moorland plateaux rose up on either side of it. I was passing the moors that form the western edges of Bleaklow's vast bulk on my right now but my proximity to their lower farmed slopes and the hedges and trees that lined the trail meant I got little sense of their scale. Looking north to the far side of the valley was a different story though - here the gentle rise of Tintwistle  Low Moor had levelled out past Tintwistle Knarr and the edges of this bog-strewn upland were riven by cloughs and studded with outcrops of rock.

My route was to take me north over exactly that sort of terrain and this entailed a sharp change of direction. I abandoned the Longdendale Trail at Torside Reservoir and joined the Pennine Way to cross its dam. In contrast to Rhodeswood Reservoir, immediately below it, Torside was well stocked and its unusual overflow was a striking sight as the waters poured over its sweeping sides. I lingered here for a while trying to get the best angle for photos of it and had some much needed water. It was shaping up to be a hot day, even though it was still morning the direct sun packed some heat. Refreshed, I then followed a path uphill through a small bank of trees to cross the A628, beneath Highstone Rocks.

The overflow at Torside Reservoir.
Heading up to the road.

On the other side of the road, I headed up an access road and was soon making my way north through farmland, stared at with intense vacancy by the chewing sheep all the while. The Pennine Way resumes its northward course here and in front of me was Bareholme Moss, a huge spur isolated from the moors that surround it by two steep-sided folds in the landscape. 

Bareholme Moss

The Pennine Way takes Crowden Great Clough on the left as its route and I was glad of this as it looked far more interesting terrain - that said, with these vast twisting cloughs you never know what is around the next turn in their course and I wouldn't mind returning to explore the other side at some point. A glance back across the reservoir underlined that point and, looking at Torside Clough (where the Pennine Way descends Bleaklow), I could now see the scale of the moorland beneath which I'd been walking earlier on.

Bursting with the energy of spring...
Looking back to Torside Reservoir and Torside Clough, where the Pennine Way descends from Bleaklow.
Further on, Laddow Rocks (l) look down on the Crowden Great Brook.

The path was climbing steadily now, past a small copse of trees that contained a memorial, and smooth,worn grass was giving way to earth and rock underfoot; above me was Black Tor and, ahead, Rakes Rocks and Laddow Rocks, all three impressive crags that overlooked Crowden Great Brook as it weaved a course down from the moors.

Lush vegetation below Black Tor.

This was terrain of many contrasts - lush vegetation, deepening in colour as the year was warming up, dark gritstone, and the coarse, pale grasses that are a familiar feature of our northern uplands.

Numerous streams tumbled down from the moorland above me to join the brook on its voyage to the reservoirs back in Longdendale - some were barely discernible in the grass save for the trickling sound they made, others made more of an adventure of it as they formed brightly foaming cascades over the rocks.

A warning for those travelling south only...

Fording these rills and pools, I followed a ridge upwards towards Laddow Rocks. At one point I saw the back of a small wooden sign ahead of me. As I passed by I glanced down to find it was a warning sign, advising people going the opposite way to me to stay on the path because of dangerously deep bogs. Looking back down at my route, I could clearly see the extent of the mire I'd now passed but I'm still curious as to why there was no warning for walkers such as myself, heading south-to-north, from which viewpoint the bogs are far less apparent as you approach them.

The climb was steeper now, the path narrowing as it reached the edge of Rakes Moss and Laddow Moss via Oaken Clough, down which Oakenclough Brook spilled in the most impressive waterfall yet. I had just made the path along the top when  a runner, who had been a mere speck in the distance not long before, arrived behind me  - I stepped aside to let him pass and he paused to say hello and told me about some of the plane crash sites that dot these moors, much as they do Bleaklow. He was, he said, having a run up from Torside to the summit of Black Hill and back; we said our farewells and he soon shrank into the distance, leaving me wondering how close I'd be to Black Hill by the time I met him on his return leg.

Looking down Oakenclough Brook.
Looking up Oakenclough Brook.
Nearing the top of Laddow Rocks
The start of the exhilarating walk along Laddow Rocks.

The walk along the top of Laddow Rocks is an exhilarating one. The path is narrow and runs close to the edge, a peek over which reminds you of the height you've gained; to the west Laddow Moss is rich in heather as far as the eye can see (it must look glorious in late summer, clothed in purple blossom), to the south Bleaklow rises up on the far side of Longdendale and Crowden Great Brook gleams as it emerges from a deep gorge and wends it way down the valley you've just walked up; far beyond both, even the westernmost tip of Kinder, hazy in outline, can just be made out on the horizon.

Looking over the edge of Laddow Rocks.
Below, Crowden Great Brook emerges from the gorge it's carved into the clough.
Looking back from Laddow Rocks to Bleaklow, looming above Torside Reservoir.
The edge of Kinder and Mill Hill are just discernible on the horizon (r).

Once I left the gritstone edge behind, the path gently began to head into the moors between Laddow Moss and Black Hill. Crowden Great Brook was visible again but here it cascaded gently, in a series of step-like falls, giving no hint of the power that had gouged out the chasm in the hillside below it. Descending was no great hardship on the legs, the incline being a fairly gentle one and the loss of height overall not particularly drastic. 

The upper reaches of Crowden Great Brook

I continued to follow the course of the brook but the channel it had made for itself was increasingly shallow compared to the dramatic crags I'd passed earlier and eventually I was walking on a level with it and had to cross its waters. I was in the heart of moorland proper now - expanses of grass and moss that looked much the same in all directions and which bore names such as North Grain and Grains Moss, typical nomenclature for the peat-blanketed highlands of northern England. Parts of the Pennine Way were flagged along here and I was grateful for it, given the terrain.



Eventually, I began to climb again as I approached Black Hill. The path took me over Dun Hill, which the name on the map makes sound a more distinct feature than it actually is. Here I met the fell runner I had passed earlier, on his way back down, though this time our greetings were exchanged without him slowing his pace or me altering my plod.

The summit of Black Hill is marked by a man-made mound called Soldiers' Lump, the name a reference to the early days of the Ordnance Survey, which was undertaken as a military/security project: the featureless table that is Black Hill was so boggy and insecure underfoot that the army personnel had to build the "lump" as a footing for their theodolite. The exposed peat that was such a feature of the summit even until fairly recently - see this photo, uploaded to Wikipedia in 2005, for an example - has now been protected by the paving of the Pennine Way and it was clear from my visit there that important restoration work had been done on the flora of the area too. In fact, although wet and boggy, there was scarcely any exposed peat to be seen around Soldiers' Lump, the scene that greeted me being a far cry from that in the Wikipedia photo mentioned above:

Approaching Soldiers' Lump, exposed peat now covered with a renewed ecosystem of grasses and mosses.

Yours truly.
After taking the obligatory selfie by the trig column and narrowly avoiding crouching in a pool of vomit at the base of its plinth while doing so, I suddenly stopped feeling hungry for some unaccountable reason and decided to defer my lunch until a bit later in the walk. Black Hill is too broad and flat to command spectacular views in the foreground but the prospect over South Yorkshire is an impressive one as you begin to descend on the Pennine Way. The eastern flank of Black Hill is the site of Holme Moss transmitting station, a landmark that had been a constant presence to the east as I walked along Laddow Rocks but an even more striking tower could now be seen from here too: this was the Emley Moor transmitting station, a grade II listed building some ten miles to the north east that is the tallest free-standing structure in the United Kingdom. 

Looking north east towards Emley Moor.
Zoom in on Emley Moor transmitting station.

The paving continued for much of the walk down hill towards Wessenden Head, making it quick going. Before I reached the road, however, I had to cross Dean Clough - a steep climb down and then up to the moor again but I was so taken aback by how lovely the spot was I ended up climbing along the bank to find a rock to sit on and have lunch. This series of cascades and pools, framed by lush rock-studded slopes, is a real gem and on a sunny day like the one I was enjoying, the beauty of the surroundings was as nourishing to the spirit as my butties were to the body. I could happily have sat there longer but I was conscious that I still had a fair way to go to Marsden so I forced myself to resume my journey.

Dean Clough.
A last look back at Black Hill - Holme Moss transmitter is on the left.

On the OS Maps website the Pennine Way shows as continuing in a straight line across the Holmfirth Road (A635) and through an enclosure before crossing open land to join the Kirklees Way underneath the charmingly-named Pudding Real Moss. This was the route I had plotted and I struck out through the collapsed walls of the enclosure without a thought - until I realised I couldn't find a semblance of a path anywhere. 

Stubbornly - also partly because I realised my aimless wanderings were being watched by a couple having a brew by the roadside and I didn't want to be proved wrong in front of them - I continued to hop around the tussocky wasteland for about fifteen minutes before grumpily conceding defeat and heading back to the road. By the time I'd got there the couple had wandered off up Wessenden Head Road, which mollified my wounded pride somewhat, and I followed in that direction myself before joining the Kirklees Way.

Wessenden Head Reservoir.
I had started out my day with a series of reservoirs and now I was ending it with another set of them - four of them to be precise but I was making slow progress down the cobbled path alongside them. The day was baking hot now and the uneven stone surface was punishing on the feet. I was too hot with hat on and too hot from the sun's direct rays when I took it off, so - continuously doffing my my hat like a vicar at a busy W.I. garden party - I alternated between the two.

Eventually I bade farewell to the Pennine Way where it separates from the Kirklees Way and heads up to Butterly Hill via one of the cloughs between Wessenden and Blakely Reservoirs. There were several interesting cloughs feeding into the water systems here, all of which looked worth exploring, but I was glad now - in the heat - to be going downhill and not particularly tempted to climb back up onto the moors - and the presence of a "Danger Area" on the moors above me to the east didn't exactly encourage me to explore either.

Wessenden Reservoir with Pule Hill behind it.
The path down from Wessenden Head.
Blakeley Reservoir.

Once I was past the attractive dam of Blakeley Reservoir, I was on familiar ground as we had taken a turn around Butterley Reservoir the previous year - I say "a turn around" but actually heavy rain had rendered the path on the south western side impassable so at my instigation we'd tried to go down and walk along the shore to rejoin the path further on; during the course of the journey downhill I'd gone into a puddle of liquid mud above the knee and impaled my hand on barbed wire as I reached out to save myself... Then we realised we couldn't really scale the huge walls and buttresses further along the side of the reservoir with the dog in tow and had to walk back to the head of the reservoir below Blakeley Dam, ford the shallow water there before climbing back up to the Kirklees Way near where we'd started. Ah, happy memories!

Looking across Butterley Reservoir to Butterly Clough.

The threatened spillway at Butterley Reservoir.
Butterley Reservoir boasts some fine structural detail and you can find a detailed history of it here - sadly, the spillway (a feat of Victorian engineering and the only one of its kind in the UK) was under threat of being replaced with concrete by Yorkshire Water. Legal challenges have come to naught and it looks now like the proposed works by Yorkshire Water are to go ahead with a revised plan that will incorporate some stone within their concrete ramp.

I paused to take some photos here before I made my way between the disused mill and factories that separate it from Marsden itself. There's something quite atmospheric about these derelict buildings, I think, and the sight of washing on a line outside the cottages by one of the deserted factories made for a curious juxtaposition, as though you were looking back through a window into the industrial past and seeing it alongside the present.

The relics of Marsden's industrial past.
Life goes on in the mill cottages though the mills are silent.
The River Colne in Marsden.

It was mid-afternoon now and I made my way across Marsden to the railway - or rather The Railway, the pub conveniently located right next to the station, where I had a well-earned shandy or two. This was one of my favourite walks of 2015, on account of the variety it contained, both natural and man-made and one I'd happily repeat at a different time of year.

Date: May 2015

Walk length: 14 miles

Duration: 7.5 hours, including breaks

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