The Pennine Way

Walked in August - September 2007

Day 3 – Monday 27th August (Bank Holiday)

Crowden – Blake Dean
Pennine Way Distance: 30 miles. Cumulative: 45 miles


You will question your own sanity.
- Alfred Wainwright

I woke at around five thirty thanks to the annoying alarm on my watch, then slowly dressed and started packing away my sleeping bag and Thermarest sleeping mat. The Sun was just about rising when I poked my head out of the tent, and by the time I’d returned from visiting the toilet block, Darryl was getting breakfast started. We ate a tin of ‘All Day Breakfast’ and beans, which wasn’t exactly haute cuisine but it did the trick for us, then made coffee.

Early morning at Crowden campsite
Early morning at Crowden campsite

By about six thirty we had packed all our equipment away and were heading off, the sky brightening all the while. I had noticed before we left that the walker with the same tent as me was also up and about, and wondered if he too was doing the Pennine Way. We walked casually out of the campsite, over the small brook and back up the steep lane to rejoin the Pennine Way via a right turn through a gate.

The rocky paths of the previous day’s route had been bad enough, but they were nothing compared to the torment of the path leading from Crowden to Oaken Clough.

Walking up Oaken Clough toward Laddow Rocks
Walking up Oaken Clough toward Laddow Rocks

My boots were working overtime trying to save me from serious injury, and I think I’d rather have walked over hot coals than have to tackle that path a minute longer. The scenery however, was great, and by the time we got high up onto Laddow Rocks, the view back down the valley was simply gorgeous. All around us were patches of purple heather, almost luminous in the early morning sun, and it was so quiet and peaceful that we felt privileged to be there. The stark contrast between walking somewhere like this and going for a walk in a city park, couldn’t have been more vast, and it wasn’t the first time on the journey that I felt so free and unfettered by modern society and commitments.

Looking back down Oaken Clough to Crowden from Laddow Rocks
Looking back down Oaken Clough to Crowden from Laddow Rocks

The red-coated walker we’d seen packing up when we left the campsite had been getting closer and closer as we walked, and not long after finishing our short coffee break on Laddow Rocks, he overtook us and pushed on very speedily toward Black Hill. We continued on along the mountain path that grew quite precarious in places, passing mountain streams that on some occasions had to be leaped over and pushed on toward a vast stretch of marshland where we were once more given the luxury of a flagstone path to follow all the way up to Black Hill. In some sections the bogs were horrendous, even after the dry weather we’d had, and we could only imagine how difficult the going would be without the flagstones. As we headed up Black Hill we could see in the distance, the mast of the Holme Moss TV station, and once we reached the summit and the large stone column known as Soldier’s Lump, which was built to commemorate the Royal Engineers who surveyed the area in the 19th Century, we met the walker again who was checking his map. It had grown quite cold now as we were very high up, but we stopped for a few minutes to chat. The walker wasn’t doing the Pennine Way as I had suspected, he was just spending the Bank Holiday weekend walking around the area, not really following any set route, just whatever he fancied, which actually made a kind of sense to me. He asked me about my tent, having noticed the night before that we had the same one, and he seemed to have a rather knowing smile on his face, as though he’d noticed that I hadn’t quite learned how to erect it properly. We compared notes just to make sure we all knew where we were, then Darryl and I set off, leaving the walker to continue studying his map and the surrounding countryside, as though he were trying to get all the information possible into his head before setting off again. I turned back a few minutes later to see that he was still standing by Soldier’s Lump looking at his map. Maybe he had in fact been lost and was just too ashamed to admit it.

We took a few photographs of the cairn on Black Hill and of the views which encompassed not only the huge Holme Moss TV mast, the most powerful transmitter when built in 1951, but also the small town of Holmefirth which has been used since 1973 as the location for the long-running British comedy series The Last of the Summer Wine. We took a moment to scan our environs for signs of men hurtling down hillsides in bath tubs or navigating rivers in homemade submarines, but sadly we saw nothing of the kind.

On the summit of Black Hill
On the summit of Black Hill

Leaving Black Hill summit, we rejoined the flagstone path that twisted down the hillside toward the A635, but not before navigating a couple of deep cloughs that involved steep downward then upward climbs, giving us some hardly needed climbing experience. We met several people on the way to the main road who assumed we were doing the Pennine Way, one of which was quite surprised to learn that we were heading to Hebden Bridge that day. Standedge he said, was a reasonable target, but beyond that was going to be tough. We took his words on board, but proceeded on with no intention of altering our route, since we had no choice but to stick to the day’s schedule if we wanted to avoid falling behind. Soon after leaving the treacherous cloughs, we were walking straight up to the road and our hopes soared when we saw what appeared to be a small roadside van. Please, we prayed, please be selling fried food and coffee. Our prayers were answered as we emerged onto the roadside, seeing motorists tucking into large sandwiches that dripped sweet grease. We then bumped into the Geordie couple, who had again walked on ahead of us the day before and wild-camped for the night. They recommended the food at the small roadside café, then pressed on, wishing us luck. We weren’t to meet them again during the trip, but we did hear news of them a couple of times later on.

We bought two T-Cakes (as they are known to all around) which were essentially large bread rolls, containing sausages, bacon, eggs and tomato, with a couple of mugs of tea, and a couple of large scones which we saved for later. We sat down on plastic patio chairs and admired the scenery while we ate like Popeye and Bluto, without a care in the world until we had to get up, sling the bags back over our shoulders and rejoin the Pennine Way, lumbering on like the pack animals we were but feeling better now that we had some good, unhealthy food in our stomachs, gurgling away. We walked along the road a little way, then crossed over, went up a slope, then through a gate that put us onto a rock-strewn path that wound its way around Wessenden Head Reservoir, Wessenden Brook, then Wessenden Reservoir, where we nearly took a wrong turn. We had to leave the path on a steep track going down the side of the clough to the stream at the bottom, then over to the other side where we were faced with a ridiculously steep climb that overshadowed all the climbs we’d done so far. We had to use our hands as well as feet in several places, and had no choice but to stop for a rest at the top. There was some kind of radio mast at the top, so we sat on its concrete base to have a coffee and take pictures of the nearby Blakeley Reservoir.

By the radio mast near Blakeley Reservoir
By the radio mast near Blakeley Reservoir

As we were packing up to move on, two men who’d been jogging around the reservoirs, approached from the edge of the hill we’d just climbed and after a quick chat we were assured by them that we could make it to Hebden Bridge in the time we had, provided we kept a good pace. One of them also said that after this point the ground along the way was pretty much level and that we’d done all the hard climbing we’d need to do until Pen-y-ghent. We would however, be proving him wrong even before the day was out.

Pressing on over the grouse butts of Black Moss we saw and heard several more of the appallingly non-aerodynamic creatures but, being unarmed, we were unable to get properly acquainted with him. After a fairly long slog we reached the Black Moss and Swellands Reservoirs, the former having sandy beaches that belied its height of around four hundred and twenty metres above sea level. We headed over more rough grassland, the flagstones quite patchy and uneven in places until, in the distance we saw Standedge and the Redbrook Reservoir. When we reached the A62 road we saw there was a pub not far down to our right, but we ignored this for the moment, intending to walk down into the town of Diggle to buy supplies. We were by this point very tired, worn out and a little demoralised, so we didn’t want to have to go too far to get food and drink. An elderly couple out cycling assured us that it was nearly two miles into town, which meant a round trip of four to get back to the Pennine Way. This was too far to go, so we turned around and walked back up the road to the pub which, to our disappointment, wasn’t open.

It was about eleven fifty on a Bank Holiday Monday, so we weren’t entirely sure that the pub would be opening at twelve, as specified on the window, but we waited anyway, needing the excuse to sit down and rest again. No one seemed to be moving around inside the building, and no one else had arrived by twelve o’clock, so we gave up and walked further down the road to another pub by Redbrook Reservoir which was thankfully open. Darryl went in first to see if they allowed backpackers in the main bar, which they did thankfully, so I followed and we had chips and two pints of cola each (beyond heaven). Even as we were leaving the pub we were feeling better, the cola converting itself to energy almost immediately, and once we’d found a small footpath that took us back up to the Way, our spirits were high again and we felt better than we had all day.

We pushed on with renewed vigour along Standedge Ridge, meeting a number of other people out walking and before we headed on to Millstone Edge we stopped to take some pictures of the rocks and boulders that had been blackened over time by pollution, and of the lovely views of Castleshaw Reservoir and its surroundings.

Millstone Edge
Millstone Edge

Once we’d navigated the black rocks we followed the path that merged both the Pennine and Oldham ways until we got to the A640 where we met a man out walking his dog, and a number of speeding motorcyclists. The sky had been cloudy all day, but the Sun occasionally made its presence known, and when it did it was gratefully received. I’d read a number of internet diaries by people who seemed to have spent most of their Pennine Way trips enshrouded in fog or rain, so the fact that we had been blessed with such good weather and visibility so far (excluding of course our little caper on Kinder Scout), meant we were very fortunate. The ground beneath us was dry and sandy, although it can get very waterlogged, so again we were lucky. Passing along Axletree Edge we could now see the Windy Hill radio mast, and although we couldn’t see it yet, we could hear the busy M62 motorway beyond it.

When we reached the motorway bridge we were surprised to find a quite impressive structure. Built in the sixties, the bridge’s express purpose was to carry Pennine Way walkers across the busy trans-Pennine motorway, above the endless roar of the traffic far below. We turned left and climbed up a steep hill to find another impressive boulder field at Blackstone Edge and more beautiful views of West Yorkshire, Rochdale and Bolton. We were now keen to make time so we pressed on through the field of rocks that would have made a great set for an episode of Star Trek, until we came to an old Roman road that led downwards and to the West. There is some debate as to whether some sections of this road are really Roman or of Medieval origin. Whoever was responsible, they must have been crying out for someone to invent tarmac, as walking or riding on the surface could never be comfortable. We walked on over a small footbridge, through a gate and soon found ourselves by the busy A58 road. Opposite us was the White House Inn. Another break and a drink was a very welcome idea at that point, but we both knew how much ground we had to cover before we called it a day, so we crossed the road, tried to ignore the pub as we passed, and turned left onto a path that followed Blackstone Edge Reservoir. A short way along we bumped into a cyclist who was spending the day riding along the Pennine Bridleway. He assumed we were walking the Pennine Way and we realised now that our clothing, gear, and possibly our pace were giving us away too easily. The cyclist thought he recognized Darryl, but as he wasn’t into triathlons or ironmans like my brother, they couldn’t quite work out where they might have met or seen each other. Who knows? Maybe a previous life. I was more amused by the fact that the cyclist was almost a dead ringer for the Doctor Who actor David Tennant. He told us that we should make it to Hebden Bridge without any problems, but that there would be few (if any) opportunities to buy food. Oh dear. Despite this he wished us luck before he rode off to meet up with his family not far from Hebden Bridge. Happy trails Doctor!

We plodded on along the track, the afternoon sun now blazing proudly in the clouds, and we felt really positive and privileged to be where we were. There were few people about now and it was like having the beautiful scenery and silence all to ourselves. We passed White Holme Reservoir and stopped beside Light Hazzles Reservoir to have a break. We could hear the very loud crackling of the nearby electricity pylons, not a very encouraging sound to be honest, as we cooked a couple of Pot Noodles we’d bought from Crowden campsite the day before. We ate the scones we’d bought earlier too, and made some coffee to go with them, wondering about the potential exciting consequences of placing electricity pylons so close to such a large stretch of water. When we’d finished our repast we got up and walked on along the path, going wrong at one point and having to climb up the surprisingly steep, grassy side of Warland Reservoir to rejoin the correct route.

It wasn’t long before the thirty-eight metre high Stoodley Pike monument came into view on a ridge overlooking the Calder Valley. It looked like it was on the ridge opposite us, and we were hoping to get there in about twenty to thirty minutes to keep a good schedule, but in actual fact it was about three ridges away. Every time we circled around to where we thought it would be, it would suddenly, almost magically be on the next ridge, then the next, then the next, like some cruel optical illusion. It was just another example of the geological sadism that was an all too common occurrence along the Pennine Way, and we just had to put our heads down and soldier on until we eventually reached the monument. We took it in turns to walk up inside the tower, while the other stayed at the base to look after the bags. I had to use my small torch to find my way up the stairs as it was pitch black inside, but once I was out on the terrace I took some photos of the Calder Valley, then walked back down and handed the torch to Darryl while I had a drink. I was running low on water now and hoped that we would find somewhere to stay the night before it got too late.

The Calder Valley from the balcony of the Stoodley Pike Monument
The Calder Valley from the balcony of the Stoodley Pike Monument

When Darryl had returned from inside the dark, weather-beaten monument, we set off back along the track which took us east toward a plantation and through a very tight stile (murder when you’re carrying large packs). I noticed two large, identical tents pitched next to a wall to our right. I pointed them out to Darryl. To the two of us at that point, it seemed an odd place to camp, but on reflection, there was nothing odd about it, in fact it seems quite sensible now, and although it could well have added to our problems with keeping to our schedule later on, it would still have been better for us to have camped somewhere thereabouts, than to have carried on like we did.
We walked on down the hill, heading for Hebden Bridge, passing through a couple of farms and first one wooded area, then a larger one, the path twisting downhill until it reached the Rochdale Canal and the River Calder. I was looking all around the wood, wondering if there was anywhere we could pitch a tent, the thought of just collapsing into my sleeping bag a very enticing one at that point. And to be fair, the wood was very pretty and very green with moss covering almost everything, but the sloping, uneven ground was wholly unsuitable for pitching anything. My thirst was becoming quite a factor now, and though it was getting quite late, and it was a bank holiday, I was still holding out hope that there might be a shop open nearby where we might be able to buy something to eat and drink. The cyclist we’d met earlier had mentioned a garage nearby that might sell snacks, so we intended to look for that, before pressing on toward the campsite marked in the guidebook, which was a few miles further along the way, and over a rather steep hill that would lead us out of Hebden Bridge.

We reached the A646 over a small bridge and took a look around. There were a few houses in view, but nothing that looked like a garage or a shop, so we turned left and walked down the road toward a cluster of buildings that looked like they might be the start of a town. Darryl had the guidebook, as he did for practically the whole walk, but now that I have a chance to look at the dirty, weather-beaten thing (the guidebook, not Darryl), I can see that Hebden Bridge itself was to the right, and in the opposite direction to the one we took. It was a considerable distance away though, and would have taken us too far off our route, so it was sadly never an option anyway, unless we could have found somewhere there to stay the night. We managed to find the small garage, but it was obviously closed, and if it did sell food or drink of any description, there would have been a limited selection, as the office seemed to amount to nothing more than a shack. My mouth was now paper dry, and I dread to think what I might have been prepared to do for just one sip of water at that point. Thankfully, across the road we spied an elderly woman on walking sticks with her dog, walking back the way we had come, so we crossed over and asked her about places to buy food and drink. We could tell from her initial expression that we were out of luck. Everything was closed, as we had expected, except for a supermarket, but that was two or three miles down the road, and we would need a bus to get there, which wouldn’t be forthcoming for some time. She asked us what we needed, and we said that water was the priority, so she then said that we were welcome to help ourselves to the hose in her back garden. As she was using walking sticks and moving slowly, she insisted we go on ahead to her house which, as luck would have it was on the Pennine Way, just as it turns off the road and begins to go up the steep hill. She told us to look for a green car parked nearby and a garden with a hose pipe left attached to the outside tap. We thanked her and made our way back down the road, keen to quench our thirst and fill our water bottles.

A few minutes after leaving the generous stranger behind, we passed a house on our left and saw a large length of hose-pipe coiled in the garden. Turning off the road we saw a green car parked near some sycamore trees and thought that this had to be the woman’s house. We could see dirty plates on a table through the front window, evidence of a recent meal, and thought it best to ring the doorbell in case there were relatives of the woman inside, who’d no doubt be surprised to see two bedraggled walkers just helping themselves, unannounced to their water supply. There was no answer from inside, so we opened the gate and went around the side of the house to the back garden where we drank very deeply from the tap, then filled up first our water bottles, then a few empty drinks bottles that we’d been keeping to carry spare water. Once loaded up and feeling refreshed, we walked back around to the front of the house where we saw the elderly woman walking straight past the house, and up the path toward another building, where another green car was parked nearby. Darryl and I looked at each other, then back at the woman, then back at the property we’d just trespassed on. There was a second or two of uncertainty, before we headed briskly on up the path, thanking the woman for her help, and asking if she wouldn’t mind apologising to her neighbours for us the next time she saw them.

Looking back to Stoodley Pike from the lane above Underbank Avenue
Looking back to Stoodley Pike from the lane above Underbank Avenue

We were then confronted with what may well have been the steepest lane in the world. I’d seen photographs of it before, but they couldn’t possibly have prepared me for it. Jacob’s Ladder had been bad enough, but it had nothing on this. Large stones embedded in the ground formed a path up the side of the hill, walled on both sides, and as we passed a number of cottages to the left and right, we wondered how on Earth people survived living here on a daily basis when going down to the town and back involved such a gruelling feat of strength. We passed a derelict building and soon came to a ruined chapel and small, overgrown graveyard which looked quite spooky as the day began to darken. There was a choice of routes here. We could have taken the alternative Alfred Wainwright route which led around the graveyard and went quite steeply up the hill, but decided to play it safe and stick to the guidebook route, so we turned left, through some serious undergrowth, mainly thistles and ragwort, where we found a few blackberries to keep us going as we trudged along. The vegetation soon thinned out and we came to some railings that guarded a small waterfall, flowing over a smooth, orange-brown rock. Reading the guidebook, there does seem to be an obvious reason for the rock’s colour, but you don’t want to know!

We continued on, glancing up at the sky occasionally with worried expressions, and wishing that the Sun would slow down for us, and stick around long enough for us to get to our destination. We still had a lot of distance to cover before we got to the campsite near High Greenwood Farm, and there was certainly no time for leisurely walking and enjoying our surroundings, so we had to concentrate on making miles.

We passed several farms, all of which seemed eerily silent, until we found a road, and not far along it, a gap in the wall, which we passed through and into a field. After pushing on through more fields, we started to head downwards through the Colden Valley on narrow, awkward paths that often threatened to pull the packs from our shoulders. Only a mile away from us at this point was Heptonstall Church where the poet Sylvia Plath is buried. This was just another interesting place we had no time to visit on our walk, though one which I would like to detour to if I’m ever that way again. The sky was getting darker and darker, and we resigned ourselves to the fact that we would be pitching our tents in the dark. We opened a gate and walked through someone’s back garden, which sounds odd, but is in fact quite common as the Pennine Way passes through quite a number of properties, thanks to an agreement between the National Trust and the multitude of landowners whose properties lie along the route. We had a bit of trouble negotiating our way out of one field, first heading up one side, then the other, then finally recognizing the acorn symbol that marked the route, and passing through a very small, awkward gate into a driveway. We now found a road, and saw several rows of houses and people waiting at a bus stop. The streetlights were on, and it was almost night now. We had heard of a place called ‘May’s Farm’ from an experienced backpacker at the campsite in Crowden, and I wish I had asked one of the people at the bus stop if they knew of it, because we found out later that we were very close at that point, and it would have cost us little money to stay there, and we could have bought food. Instead, we walked on down the road toward a very full looking moon, feeling tired, hungry and dejected and having covered nearly thirty miles in the past thirteen or so hours.

With moorland all around us, it really was impossible not to have been reminded, once again, of the movie An American Werewolf in London, although, unlike the characters in that film, we didn’t need the incentive of monstrous, bloodcurdling howls to make us increase our pace. We reached a junction and saw a sign for a campsite pointing down the road to the left which coincided with the symbol on the map in the guidebook, though it was almost off the page. We walked for a few minutes until we saw a man standing outside his house waiting for his daughter to arrive back home from walking their dogs. We asked him about the campsite further on and he gave us the dispiriting news that it was no longer there. We asked him if there was anywhere else to camp, but he couldn’t think of any official campsites. Just then his daughter arrived, so he asked her about our chances of camping. She said that ‘May’s Farm’ was a possibility, but it was back down the road, and that if we didn’t want to accumulate more extra distance it would be better to press on down the road we were currently on to a place called Blake Dean, a sort of unofficial campsite near the convergence of two streams, Graining and Alcomden Water. We thanked the woman and her father, then continued on down the road in the dark, knowing that we had a couple of miles of more walking and hoping that Blake Dean wouldn’t be too hard to find. I had images of a wilderness, where we’d have to camp between trees in damp undergrowth, and of armed farmers waking us in the middle of the night and demanding that we get off their land. We passed a few farms along the road, and a couple of spots where we could have camped but which looked a bit too obvious. My tent was green so would have been difficult to spot in the dark near trees or hedges, but Darryl’s was white and would stick out like a sore thumb. At one point we passed a large scout hut/hostel, and according to the guide this was roughly where the campsite should have been. It was infuriating that not only did the guidebook say there was a campsite here, but the road-sign we’d seen earlier did too. This was, sadly, not the only occasion where we would be let down by out of date information, although it has to be said that inaccuracies in our guidebook and along the route were rare, and in general we had all the information we needed.

Eventually the road started to slope downwards toward Blake Dean and the two streams, and we could see through the hedge to our right, and down the hill, a large campfire with several figures gathered around it. This was both encouraging and worrying. It was good that the presence of other campers meant that the ground was indeed suitable for camping, but this was practically the wilderness, and we had no idea who these people were. We reached the bottom of the hill and passed over a stile, using my torch to find our way over the rocks and stream to the area of grass beyond. We found a large circle of ash and burned soil that had been a fire recently (there were smouldering embers here and there) and chose two spots nearby that weren’t ideal but would suffice for us to pitch our tents. We could see the other campers over the stream in a tree-lined clearing. They seemed to be chatting quietly around the fire near their large family-sized tent, and didn’t look like they’d be a threat. Darryl put on his head torch and helped with illumination while I pitched my tent, then I did the same for him, and after we’d taken some vitamin pills (the closest thing to food that we had) and some water, we got into our sleeping bags and got to sleep. I used what remained of my water to take some Paracetamol and a herbal sleeping tablet. This, combined with how tired and drained I was helped me get to sleep pretty quickly, despite the sound of the two raging streams around me. Before I drifted off I thought about how far we’d walked that day and tried to get my head around it. Surely with all that distance we’d covered, we’d soon get ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, by the end of the next day’s traipse through Bronte country, we’d be several miles behind…

 

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