Thursday 23 November 2017

Howden Moors - Cut Gate, Margery Hill and Howden Edge

When I did my second walk on Howden Moors a couple of months ago, I was so taken with the area I plotted a third walk there soon after I got home. This took in another clough on the eastern side of the Upper Derwent Valley, followed by Margery Hill and Howden Edge. I'd walked these two summits last year as part of a longer trip but Rich hadn't, and I thought the terrain and views would appeal to him. Taking a punt on the forecast - 20% chance of rain - proved to be a mistake, though, and we spent most of the walk in drizzle and mist. Even during the dry intervals there was little to see or photograph and it became clear that we'd need to return on a better day to do the route justice.

At the summit of Margery Hill in September.

Other walks and other commitments have intervened in the meantime but we finally found ourselves with a free Sunday last weekend. The weather was set to be fair all day but especially so in the morning so we resolved to get out early and - miraculously - we actually managed to do so.

It was frosty when we arrived at Fairholmes at 7.30, the sun's warmth felt only on the very tops of the trees. There was a bit of faffing about once we parked up, when we realised we didn't have enough loose change between us for the parking meter. Even after some concerted scrabbling around the car's nooks and crannies, we still ended up one penny short of the charge. Thanks are due to the generous stranger who very kindly gave us a 20 pence piece, saving us a drive in search of change to the nearest garage, which wasn't in fact very near at all.

Eager to get onto the moors, I wasn't especially looking forward to the four-and-a-half mile walk along the reservoirs to get to Cranberry Clough. I've  walked this access road several times over the past few months and I suppose I'd begun to take its charms for granted. On that still, cold Sunday morning however, once we'd climbed to the top of Derwent Dam, I was re-awoken to what a beautiful and rewarding landscape it can be.

I've felt like this autumn has been a poor one for colour. Leaves seem to have been blown from the trees before they even had chance to change but the sun on this chilly morning transformed the woodland beside the reservoir in a way I hadn't expected and the still waters redoubled the glow of the foliage.

Howden Dam.

With these views it didn't feel like that much effort walking up the reservoirs and we soon passed Howden Dam. From hereon, we only glimpsed the water below us through tree trunks due to the plantation that lines the shore. By the time we broke cover another mile or so along the trail, the body of water below us was the River Derwent, though we couldn't see it from our vantage point.

There were few people around this early, just a handful of cyclists and the odd jogger. A robin tracked us along the path for a good while, fluttering ahead and watching us from the leafless branches, probably deciding that our pace marked us out as the best bet for dropped crumbs. Unfortunately for him, we'd had breakfast before leaving home and lunch was a way off yet.

We were walking along Cold Side now, below Long Edge, and we noted that a host of saplings had been planted both along the hillside and between the track and the water. This is presumably to mitigate erosion and flooding, and to increase biodiversity. Long Edge isn't the most impressive escarpment in the Dark Peak admittedly but if you want to see its gritstone or Ox Hey on the far side of the valley without climbing up to them, it's probably worth making the effort to visit soon before they're hidden behind the new plantations.

Cold Side - note the newly-planted saplings on either side of the trail.
Ox Hey on the western side of the valley.
Crow Stones Edge (l) and Little Moor Top (r).

As the valley tapers towards its head, it branches out into a number of cloughs, the streams of which feed into the infant River Derwent. An old packhorse bridge straddles the river here at Slippery Stones, a handsome structure that actually originally stood near to Derwent Hall several miles south of its current location. We're lucky that someone had the sense to dismantle and preserve it for posterity; Derwent Hall was not so fortunate - it was demolished and its foundations disappeared below the waters of Ladybower Reservoir.

Cranberry Clough, with Bull Clough on the left.
The ford at Slippery Stones was a judicious choice of relocation for the bridge as there is a traditional packhorse and drovers' trail that heads over the moors from here towards the South Yorkshire market town of Penistone.

This so-called Cut Gate path was to be our route up onto the moors and we joined it by heading into the mouth of Cranberry Clough and then following the track along the side of its tributary, Bull Clough.

There are long-disused quarries here and last time we passed by the area was full of rabbits. It'd been nigh on impossible to get any pictures because of the rain so I was looking forward to revisiting this little bunny metropolis. There were far fewer to be seen on this occasion, but I did manage to get a couple of shots that weren't of bob-tailed backsides disappearing into the undergrowth.

Bull Clough.

The path follows the edge of Bull Clough closely to begin with before it takes a turn across the broad hillside. It's easy to follow and the steep initial ascent at the start of the clough even has several rough-cut steps in the rock to give a helping hand.

Looking south east along Cranberry Clough to Howden Edge in the distance.
Bull Clough and the Bull Stones.

Once on the open hillside this old route climbs more gently, making the walk even less arduous. I'm sure the pack horses were as grateful for this as we were and we made good time walking up this section. Or we would have done had I not dawdled so much, stopping to admire the views and take photos. The exceptional panorama of the Derwent Valley skyline is well worth pausing to admire though.

Phone pic, looking west: Ronksley Moor, Horse Stone Naze, Crow Stones Edge and the Bull Stones.
Mam Tor puts in an appearance to the south west.
The transmitting station on Holme Moss, around 8 miles to the north west.
Looking across the Upper Derwent Valley, Kinder Scout lies across the horizon.

We were still below the crest of the hill, so our view ahead was dominated by the heather and heath around us and by Howden Edge, which we would cross on our way back to the reservoirs. Our first summit, Margery Hill, lies low amid the groughs and bogs of the moors so we couldn't see it from this point on the path.

Howden Edge.
A curious grouse watches our progress.
When we arrived on the edge of the moor we met a series of cairns. The third of these marks a junction of paths on the map, Cut Gate End, although really the only significant track was the Cut Gate path we'd just walked up - this carries on into South Yorkshire, weaving its way across the moor to Mickleden Edge and thence down to the top of Langsett Reservoir.

From a previous visit, a fairly representative section of
the terrain around Cut Gate End.
The footpaths that bisect the packhorse trail here are barely worthy of the name and only eroded peat and boot marks provide some indication of where people have walked: to the north west, you have Outer Edge and you'd be exceptionally lucky (or soaking wet and covered in peat) if you managed to follow the mapped route directly to it across the bogs; to the south, any number of slippery ribbons of peat offer a precarious clamber up from Cut Gate End onto open moorland - from here after poor weather it's a sodden and treacherous line you have to follow southwards to reach Margery Hill.

Having tried both the options offered by the map for getting to the summit, I stuck with the one that had previously worked best for me. That runs to a point just above Sandy Lee Clough on the map, from where you can take a sharp turn and follow the fence line right to the edge of the summit area. This is flat, relatively dry and studded with rocks. It has a strange, otherworldly quality to it I always think, whether in mist or sunlight, and I have a lot of affection for Margery Hill despite its lack of prominence or significant views.

Margery Hill trig.
Looking south from the summit.

After taking a few pictures by the trig, we headed for the Margery Stones to find a sheltered spot to have a break. Avoiding the boggier ground here, I walked next to it through the heather and lost one leg in a cunningly-concealed hole. Covered in foul-smelling slime, I used our spare water bottle to rinse most of it off, before sitting down with my butties, a waterlogged boot and a very wet right trouser leg.

After cleaning most of the gunk off my leg.
Some of the Margery Stones.
Some of the Margery Stones.

Lunch over, we picked a careful course across the moor to get back to the path that runs along Wilfred and Howden Edges. Once on it, the ground was much drier and we began to make good progress again. My rather cold toes began to warm up in my squelchy boot with the increased activity too, which was a bonus. It was still quite parky along this section nonetheless, with ice on some of the rocks and even the surface of the small tarn here was frozen over.

The walk up Howden Edge is always an agreeable one - good terrain underfoot, a steady but gradual incline and fine views of the moorland below. I don't think I'll ever tire of looking on that landscape beneath the ridge, the deep folds emanating from the valley and the sea-like swell of the uplands - for me, it's a really magical location.

The view below the ridge.
Looking back along our route,  Margery Hill on the right.

It's a quite an isolated spot as well - we only saw a couple of other walkers once we left the reservoir behind and they were in the distance. We did encounter a microlight pilot, however, who passed directly over our heads, and we gave them a wave. Where they'd come from and where they were heading to in their noisy and improbable-looking aircraft we couldn't begin to guess. It'd surely be no easy thing to lug up onto the hills with the weight of its noisy little engine, so we assumed they have a greater range than their appearance suggests.

Soon the High Stones came into view, a relatively modest tor just by the summit, and then the comically small cairn that represents the highest point of Howden Edge. There was little reason to linger here, as we'd been taking in the views as we walked along the ridge, and we carried on past the tiny heap of rocks to begin a rather damp walk down the other side.

Nearing the summit cairn on Howden Edge.
Heading down from the summit of Howden Edge.
Abbey Brook Clough.

When you descend the southern end of Howden Edge, you come to a rough track and this meanders towards Nether Hey, a minor hill above Howden Reservoir. Only one track over the hill is shown on the map but the track actually splits into two. The one not shown traces a course around the side of the hill, only climbing after it passes through an access gate by Cogman Clough - this is the route I usually take.

Today, though, we decided to take the route on the OS map, which climbs over the hill. The two merge together again above New Close Wood. It felt like a bit a slog climbing over Nether Hey, mainly because of the dried, tussocky grass that had been crushed down to form the track, but it did provide a nice perspective on Upper Hey and Howden Edge that I hadn't seen before.

Looking across Upper Hey.
Howden Edge.

After the tracks merged back together, we walked down through autumnal trees above Abbey Brook to bring us back to Upper Derwent Reservoir just below Howden Dam.

There was a couple of miles walk back to Fairholmes Visitor Centre from here. It was startling to pass so many people after the solitude of the moors above but we were diverted from the crowds by a trio of biplanes that flew down the reservoir, circling around several times to repeat the journey. Two of them appeared to be military but the third one clearly wasn't and flew some distance away at the side, which led us to think that it was being used to film the first two.

Back at Fairholmes, it was time for a debrief - a technical term for the consumption of pasties and hot chocolate from the snack bar - and then the journey home.

Date: November 2017

Walk length: 17.75 km

Total ascent: 619 metres


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