West Pennine Moors, May 31st 2020

Winter Hill. Almost winter raiment.

As the restrictions around Coronavirus continued to be eased, it became possible to go further afield to start a run, and to aim for hiller and wilder ground. Given the amazing weather, a  search for areas that would not be too popular was always going to be difficult. I chose the West Pennine Moors since whilst they may be popular on the fringes, the moors themselves provide plenty of wild walking.

The West Pennine moors were a favourite stamping ground when I was based in Formby, and I undertook many events based around Rivington, Tottington, and Delph. Some of these events, such as the Anglezarke Amble, and the Two Crosses Circuit are still very popular, but a scout-run one – the Delph Hill Challenge – has disappeared. I continued entering the first two after moving to Chester, though the winter setting always made the going arduous, and eventually the area became less visited by Helen and I.

I designed a route that kept away from the honey pots, inevitably taking in less-used paths, and a few villages where I could buy water if needed. I also routed through Darwen if more facilities, or potentially transport, were needed. I loaded the GPX file into my watch , a Garmin 6x Pro Solar, only recently acquired and not yet been tested fully, due to the Lockdown. A Talky Toaster map also downloaded onto the watch, after being impressed with it on my Garmin 32x, during Spine trials.

I was up early and drove out along the M56/M60/M61 network – most of which was still reduced to 50 mph (frustrating when so empty!) – to the new car park at Walker Fold, a Woodland Trust facility NW of Bolton. It was already warm at 7:40 am, with bright blue skies, as I set off through woods and up onto the moors towards Winter Hill. I’m finding the whole Lockdown situation depressing from many perspectives, and the working hours are long and tiring – so I’m hoping a good day on the hill will lift my spirits.

Cotton grass in profusion made the hill look as if it had a light dusting of snow. I encountered a few runners during the early hours, all mindfully keeping the necessary distance as we passed, and all very cheery and delighted to be out on this glorious day, away from the confinement of Lockdown

Beyond Winter Hill I took the path North over Spitler’s Edge, Redmond’s Edge and on to Great Hill. A delightful path, paved for half its length.  Just a couple of walkers having a break at the shelter.

Spitler’s Edge & Redmond’s Edge, from Winter Hill

I wanted to continue my journey north, and had noticed a path heading in that direction from the ruins of Drinkwaters Farm, Grid Ref. 636191, just a short distance West of Great Hill. Keeping to the GPS track, I noticed a thin trod just above Joe’s Cup – a fascinating memorial to local fellrunner, Joe Whitter (1939-1991). (See this obituary in Fellrunner magazine for more information on Joe… https://www.fellrunner.org.uk/fellrunner/1992_February.pdf)

Drinkwater’s Farm
Joe’s Cup is hidden in these stones.

The thin path quickly reached the edge of the heather, which looked as if it had been burned relatively recently, perhaps last year? There was no sign of the continuation of the path ahead, over Wheelton Moor, and nothing in either direction that I could see. The heather was dry and brittle, not too high, the peat bone dry and cracked, so I decided to press on, rather than take the path to the West which I knew would now be busy.  I kept to the GPS line and the going wasn’t too bad, but after a while the moor lost height and the heather became deeper, with numerous drainage ditches. I spotted a fence over to my right – there’s bound to be a path there! And there was. I need to revisit this area one day, and trace the path backwards towards Great Hill.

Going was easy now, down and through Brinscall, Withnell and Abbey Village – all very sleepy, with just a few dog-walkers out. By St. Paul’s Church in Withnell a collection of painted stones had been laid beside the path, in a very pretty ‘Thank You’ to NHS Staff and key workers. It was a good reminder that we still live in strange times and need to exercise caution when near other people. Two-metre separation is difficult on some paths, but usually one party will defer and stand away. Another difficulty arises with stiles and gate latches: I carry a pack of disinfectant wipes and give my hands a good clean periodically, especially before food.

Sunnyhurst Park was pretty, but Legs were tiring by the time of the climb out of the park: but soon I was onto the descent into Darwen.  The striking Spitfire Memorial in the centre of Darwen was made and donated in 2012 by Darwen-based WEC Group Ltd, which also supplied the replacement for the top of Darwen Tower which blew off in a storm in November 2010.

Spitfire memorial, Darwen

The only shop I could see open in Darwen was a large Sainsbury’s, but I knew that the shop in Hoddlesden was open – or failing that, the Londis just down the hill (Google Maps is a useful tool when looking for local amenities) – so I decided to press on, up the long climb passed the impressive Darwen Aldridge Community Academy and, after a long warm slog, arrived at the green in Hoddlesden, and the local Deli. Here I bought water and some chocolate from the cold cabinet. A short way further along my route brought me to a green surrounded by woods, with picnic tables. I paused here to eat my sandwiches and plan the next stage.

Hoddlesden Deli

As I finished and got myself ready for departure, I noticed my waist cord in my Ron Hill Tracksters needed tightening. However, it had actually snapped and I now had no way of keeping my tights up! Walking was fine, but running saw them gradually inch their way down. When this happened to Mick Jagger once, he teased the crowd with “You wouldn’t want my trousers to fall down, would you?” I suspect the Lancashire Constabulary wouldn’t be so sporting, so I walked from then on: the day was now very warm, the scenery delightful, so why rush?

This change of pace meant changing my route. I decided to aim for the Edgworth Road and then more or less make straight across the hills back to Walker Fold. I had paper and electronic maps with me, but I decided to see just how much I could use my watch in this change scenario. As soon as I changed direction, my watch warned me that I was off-route. I zoomed-in on the map, so I could see the paths ahead more clearly – after a few seconds the map started to revert back to its original scale, which was unhelpful. A distance figure at the the foot of the watch face was, at that point, showing 0.5miles – but I couldn’t, at first, work out what this referred to. It then dawned on me that the map was zooming automatically to show me how far off-route I was, and the figure was the distance to the nearest joining point – very clever. I exited Navigation mode, which meant I could zoom the map without the subsequent shrinking.

I passed the delightful Scotland Reservoir before eventually picking up the lane near the 324m trig. I left the lane at Whittlestone Head, making my way through some rather creepy woods towards Entwistle station and the (closed) Strawbery Duck. A pint of coke would have really gone down well here!

My original plan had me avoiding Turton and Entwistle Reservoir, but it was now on my direct route back to Walker Fold. Ordinarily I would be delighted to see so many people enjoying the countryside on a perfect day, but in the age of Coronavirus and the requirement for Social Distancing of 2m, the scene was more worrying. It was clear that many were not following Government guidelines. It only took a few minutes to pass through this bacchanalian scene and before long I was knee deep in boggy grass climbing up to Cheetham Close – I had deviated slightly from the path on the O.S. map by aiming straight up to a gate/stile. The last half mile or so were easier and I had the summit – and it’s brilliant white trig point, briefly, to myself. This is a lovely spot on such a day.

Looking NNW I could see the smoke from the fires still billowing into the sky. On the way down to Egerton I chatted to a middle-aged couple who believed the fire had been started by people using a tray-barbecue on Friday evening – something the local paper confirmed … https://www.lancs.live/news/lancashire-news/darwen-moorland-fire-continues-burn-18340644

I crossed the main road through Egerton hoping a shop may been at hand for an ice-cream, but none in sight, so I pressed on across the golf course and up to Scout Road, passing a busy Horrocks Hill park, and on to the car park – and a very warm, but very welcome, car.

A wonderful day on which the West Penning Moors more than compensated for the many boggy, and sometimes icy, miles I’d covered in previous years.

(27 miles, 4000ft ascent)

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