Pennine Way, December 2017

Photos :- here

Working in a University means that work oscillates with a termly frequency, and the end of each term usually arrives with a crescendo of stressful proportions which needs to be dissipated as soon as possible. My cure … run to the hills!

I love coming up with new routes and prefer to use public transport to facilitate them. I particularly fancied a long bog-trot to start the holiday season and where better than the Pennines?

Having recently covered Kinder and Bleaklow I decided to start with Black Hill and work my way Northwards – a decent run would see me finish somewhere North of Blackstone Edge. I set myself a minimum target of Littleborough and an optimistic finish of Hebden Bridge (34 miles). Plenty of exit routes should things not work out.

A really handy access point to the Pennine Way is Torside, serviced by train at Padiham. A couple of miles of the Trans-Pennine Trail takes you to where the PW leaves Torside Clough.

The forecast was for mild weather with foggy tops but as I left Padiham at 9am the reservoirs were hung with mist and visibility was down to a few hundred meters. Everywhere was grey. As usual, I took too many photos, but this morning was particularly photogenic; Torside was placid, almost mirror like; the spill-way almost alien in shape.

Suddenly the sun burst through; the woods came alive with colour and the climb to where the Laddow Rocks path begins was warm and delightful. Needless to say conditions underfoot soon deteriorated as I left the tarmac driveway and began the steady ascent, but I was feeling really good and the day felt warm and sunny. The climb always seems to go on longer than expected but the mist was playing with the escarpment and the rocks were adding their usual stately presence. Along the plateau edge the mist filled the view across to the Holme Moss transmitter, and Crowdon Great Brook lay glistening ahead, pointing the way to Black Hill.

The Brook itself was full and deep and the several crossings had to be waded through; still, a chance to clean my shoes! Though my trail shoes were new they had a tendency to slip on the paving stones, which I found frustrating and trimmed my pace a little. By the time the gentle climb to Black Hill arrived the mist had come down and enveloped the landscape. This time it stayed down and I saw little of my surroundings for the next 25 miles.

Black Hill is so tame compared to the days of old when its crossing used to be a nightmare of black ooze. However, the paved footpath still gave me problems and both cloughs were full and flowing furiously – more wading. I was pleased to reach the A635!

A lovely stretch of downhill running along the Marsden track followed until the exit point at Blakely Clough. The crossing to Standedge was completely enclosed in mist, no breeze and eerily silent – wonderful and deeply enjoyable. Black Moss reservoir was heard rather than seen.

The usual vista from Millstone Edge was absent – just a wall of mist. I imagined the shopping centres in Manchester and the valleys bustling and noisy with Christmas pop songs being pumped out; here there was silence… and gratitude.

On reaching the M62 you could not see the end of the footbridge at the other side! Below, the traffic was moving quickly and purposefully. The path to Blackstone Edge has improved over the years and this particular paving suited by shoes much better. The black boulders make progress tricky as between them is deep black mud, but eventually the Aiggin stone was reached and soon thereafter the White House pub.

It was now approaching dark. Over Blackstone Edge I’d been working out my options; should I crack on through the reservoirs to Hebden Bridge (a late finish)?; should I descend to Littleborough (easy way out); should I stop for a drink and nibbles at the pub?

Well, the last option was out as it was shut! I stopped at the pub’s stone bench, unpacked my headtorch, chocolate and an SIS expresso gel (marvellous!), and marched on by the reservoirs that lined the next 3 or 4 miles.

I had not yet turned on my headtorch; there was a diffuse light coming through the mist which was just enough the see the broad track by. As I passed noiselessly by Light Hazzles Reservoir I could see bright lights ahead. Stationary. What could they be? Cars? A checkpoint for some other event?  As I came closer I could see fencing across the road, arclights beyond and heavy digging equipment. To the right of the gates was a diversion sign, pointing walkers to a footbridge over the leet and announcing major reservoir works. There is a right of way around the Eastern side of Warland Reservoir shown on the map but I had never taken it before, the main track is just so easy and quick.  But after an initial spell of good track the path degenerated into a quagmire and remained as such until it rejoined the main track at the North end of Warland Resevoir. This really was hard work in thick mist and many difficult stretches of bog; I lost quite a bit of time here.

Route planners on the Calderdale Hike know of the delights of the Stoodley Pike ridge – so many routes! And rocks and dips and deviations. In mist and darkness and the light of a single headtorch I had to resort to my GPS to guide me to the tower itself. The mist had lifted a little and I could see the lights of the towns in the valley below. My memory had told me it was a short descent to Hebden Bridge, but it’s not really. 3 miles of track and road followed before I emerged into the main street, full of wonderful ideas for food. I found café and had a marvellous slice of cake and a strong coffee. Trains to Manchester are frequent and I boarded the 2011 (late!) and was in Manchester Victoria in no time.

Needless to say, three days before Christmas and the city was buzzing. Stores still open at 9pm, streets still very busy. I made my connection to Chester and dreamt of a long hot shower.

I was delighted that I’d seen the whole route through to Hebden Bridge and, as always, remembering the atmosphere and solitude rather than the conditions underfoot. My wife had been out on our local hill, Moel Famau, and had a wonderful day too – long boggy moorland tramps are not her cup of tea! We drifted into sleep counting our blessings.

(34 miles, 4000 ft)

Photos :- here

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