19th January 2013 – West Pennine Moors (Winter Hill)

The walk today was a bit of a last minute arrangement. We knew we were going out walking on Saturday, we just had not decided on where we were going to go. There was no inspiration this week at all, just nothing appearing that seemed to grab me. Although no route had been decided, the soup and sandwiches were made on the Friday evening and packed ready. The soup was a vegetable and chicken, home-made as usual, and the sandwiches were roast beef and horseradish. As I was making the soup I also roasted a beef joint whilst I made the bread for the sandwiches. It was sensible to do this, the AGA was on for the soup to cook, so the oven was hot and was just asking to be utilised. After the beef was cooked, it was cooled and sliced into wafer thin cuts on the electric slicer, piled on the sliced bread with dollops of hot horseradish to give some bite and hopefully momentarily take the chill out of the cold air we would experience on the walk.

As we live in the West Pennine Moors we decided to stay quite local today and save on the driving time. One of the more prominent landmarks in the area is Winter Hill, which can be seen for miles around due to it being the location of a large TV transmitter. Winter Hill has also been the location of daylight murders and night time air disasters too in its past.

The route was a circuit around (and over) Winter Hill, with an approximate half way point being formed by The Black Dog Inn at Belmont. The obvious point for the start and finish of the walk was Rivington Barn. Parking here is very easy and there are numerous paths radiating out from “The Barn” that provide for an easy start. 

Total Distance – 8.9 mi
Total Ascent    – 1536ft

The route around Winter Hill
3D View looking from south west
3D View looking from the north
Elevation Profile

We parked up on the main approach road to Rivington Barn and Rivington Hall. The start of the walk would be relatively flat which I prefer as it gives me some time to get warmed up and have the blood pumping around. I once did a walk from Kettlewell and it appeared that no sooner had I got out of the car that I was walking up a very steep hill which caused me to curse and swear not to do ever again. This time we had approximately a one mile walk-in which should give us time to acclimatise and warm up. We walked through Lever Park and headed towards Knowle House with the walk being through a deciduous woodland landscape, after just passing Knowle we turned left up to Brown Hill. This gave a climb of approximately 400 ft and was a steady pull up a winding tarmac road. Left foot up. Right foot up. Left foot again. Heart pounding. Lungs wheezing. Head down. Keep going. We crossed a cattle grid and took the opportunity at this point to have a breather and look behind us at the view that was revealing itself as we ascended.

Looking West from the flanks of Winter Hill

We left the tarmac road which lead to Higher Knoll farm and continued climbing up the grassy, but very wet, bridle path to the old Belmont Road. On approaching the top we passed the ruins of Prospect Farm and then went through a kissing gate to arrive on the old road. We paused for a while, taking in the view before turning right and walking along to George’s Lane, (which is just a continuation of the old Belmont Road). The road is well built, but poorly surfaced and is composed of a random surface of jagged rocks. I have driven up here in the past and it nearly shook my fillings out! When we got to Pike Cottage on our left (the sign indicated it was a dog hotel – “room for two, Mr & Mrs Fido” ) we took the footpath through another kissing gate to the right side of Pike Cottage that climbed up and headed towards Crooked Edge Hill. 

We took the opportunity of stopping at the gate for a bite to eat and to have some hot soup. The sandwiches were great, the soup was even better and the view westwards was excellent. We could see as far as the Welsh mountains and the sky was quite dramatic in its shading and colour. After 10 minutes and a quick bite, we packed away the plastic food container and steel flask and proceeded to ascend Crooked Edge Hill. As we climbed higher the sky beyond, to the east, was turning a very dark grey and we were anticipating having to get the waterproofs out. Luckily as we approached the summit of Crooked Edge Hill the strong wind had blown the dark clouds past us, and we were now getting open views all around us.

We got to the summit and continued on to the tarmac access road that leads to the radio transmitters on the summit plateau of Winter Hill. The smooth surface made for good walking after the boggy, muddy and rutted moorland path. We did expect to make some good progress along the access road, however we didn’t anticipate just how much ascent there is along it to the mast, we thought it would be flat and it was quite deceiving.

The approach to Winter Hill summit
The whole 1015ft of Winter Hill TV mast

We continued to plod up the road until we got to the offices and equipment buildings at the base of the mast. There wasn’t any vehicles here, but it was a Saturday. There were lights on in the offices. I would have thought with the technology available today, all the engineers would have been replaced with remote access computers, nevertheless, I was still amazed that the buildings and huge mast were constructed here in such an exposed and remote location. It just couldn’t be done today, environmental groups would prevent it happening.

Close up of the mast
Memorial plaque for the 1958 air crash
The Winter Hill air disaster occurred on the morning of 27th February 1958 when the Silver City Airways Bristol 170 Freighter travelling from the Isle of Man to Manchester, crashed into Winter Hill several hundred yards away from the Independent Television Authority’s Winter Hill transmitting station. Thirty-five people died and seven were injured. The storm that morning was so severe that none of the engineers working in the transmitting station were aware of the crash. Several feet of snow hampered the rescue efforts, and a snow cat vehicle had to be diverted from the A6 road to cut a path for emergency vehicles, though the track had been cleared by people using spades by the time it arrived on the scene.
Just in case you didn’t know where we were!

We pushed on past the TV transmitter and continued towards the eastern edge of Winter Hill. On the route just beyond the offices and on the opposite side of the road we passed the “Scotsmans Stump”.

The Scotsmans Stump

On 9 November 1838 George Henderson, a Scottish merchant walking over the hill from Bolton to Blackburn, was murdered by gunshot along the road directly opposite where the television station now stands. James Whittle, a 22-year-old collier from Belmont, was brought to court and found guilty of murder. However, he was found not guilty at a second trial in Lancaster. There is an iron post with a plaque on the hill in memory of the victim erected in 1912, replacing a tree that was earlier planted opposite the television station. This is known as Scotsman’s Stump.

On approaching the edge of the plateau we left the transmission masts behind and started to descend down to Grange Brow. We crossed through the timber gate at the top of the slope and started to descend from the summit. The path here was well worn, extremely eroded and was a mix of muddy puddles and stony ground. Careful footing was needed to avoid falling over. This descent was slow going. We eventually got down to an old track that lead to Grange Lodge – (could be a house, or could be a mill pond, I really don’t know!) We crossed the track and went through the boggy, waterlogged field passing the end of Spring Reservoir and this lead us down to a stile in the corner of a field. We crossed into a small wooded ravine area and followed the path down to the main road. 

The last 100 metres to the main road were bloody awful, with ankle deep mud, tree roots and dislodged stone steps providing some of the hazards we had to negotiate. We got to the A675 through a narrow gap in a stone wall. I was surprised at this point as I have never come across such a dangerous stile. There were three stone steps descending through the wall and down onto the edge of the main road – there was no footpath here at all – just the busy main road with cars whizzing past as they approached the  bottom of a large hill – on a blind bend also – what could make for a better introduction to a busy ‘A’ road for a walker with tired legs? It was a very quick prayer before an even quicker dash to get to the other side of the road and safely onto the paved footpath. We walked up the A675 heading towards Belmont village slowly climbing uphill to the brightly illuminated Black Dog with its promise of warmth and liquid refreshment.

The Black Dog, Belmont

We checked our boots as we entered the Black Dog as we didn’t want to leave muddy prints throughout the pub and upset the Landlord. Fortunately, the trek up the road and the intervening puddles had managed to wash the worst of the mud off so we actually looked quite presentable as we approached the door. In we went. 

The pub was moderately busy with a couple of people stood at the bar and others sat in the various rooms about the place. I ordered the drinks and decided that for myself I would try a pint of Holt’s Bitter. It is a long time since I had a pint of “Joey Holt’s” as it is known locally, and its reputation seemed to go before it in my mind. An old timer once said to me, many years ago, and it has stayed in my mind since, that he always ordered a plate of chips to go with Holt’s beer, as it was useful to have something that appreciated vinegar! A little unfair I thought as Holt’s is a traditional brewer in Manchester and wouldn’t have survived as long as they have if their brew was under par. As our drinks were being poured I spied a couple of empty seats next to the fire in the ‘snug’ opposite the bar. There was already one walker sat in this small area and he was finishing his lunch. Lying on the floor by his feet with his head between his front paws was a large, but obedient, collie dog who looked rather despondent at their walk being interrupted. As I waited at the bar I noticed that everytime the walker shifted position in his seat, the dog at his feet twitched his ears, raised his head, glanced excitedly around in anticipation of their walk continuing and then sighed and resignedly resumed his previous position as the walker remained seated. In no time our drinks were placed upon the bar counter and we then took our seats in the corner between the window and the fireplace and removed our coats and fleeces so we would get “the benefit” when we put them back to go back outside. I took a long, slow draught of the cold bitter and to my surprise it was excellent; quite dark amber hue, not overly hoppy but quite light, refreshing and very quaffable. It was nothing like what the old timer had once told me. I would have no hesitation of ordering more in future and I am pleased to report that my long held view had been completely demolished.

The time came where we had finished our drinks and the usual questions were asked: “shall we have another?“… “hmmm, should we?“…”errmmm??!? uhhhmmm“… This indecision was then followed with a firm “We really need to get moving as it is going dark“. Our coats reluctantly went back on and our empty glasses were deposited on the bar as we departed. 

We got outside, and immediately got “the benefit”, and started to walk up along Rivington Road leaving the warmth of the pub behind. We passed St Peter’s church which looked impressively illuminated although it isn’t a huge building, and headed along the road towards the “Blue Lagoon”. At this point I should pause to explain something for those readers that are not from Bolton or the surrounding area. The “Blue Lagoon” name is a bit of a misnomer; had it been named as such in the current legislative climate someone would no doubt be doing ‘time’ under the “Trades Descriptions Act 1979”. For the avoidance of doubt, there are no white sands, no palm fringed shorelines, no azure waves lapping at the beach, no elevated temperatures, no steamer chairs with exotic chilled cocktails waiting to be consumed… forget all of that, it is a man made reservoir that is officially known as Ward’s Reservoir and was built in the 19th Century to supply water to a local mill. So there you go, an illusion shattered. What did you really expect in the West Pennine Moors? Sydney Opera House? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of… sorry, going into the realms of Fawlty Towers there.

As we approached the Blue Lagoon we walked along the path to the back edge of the water and sat on a small stone wall at the outfall of the reservoir and got our sandwiches and soup out. We considered it bad form to do so in the pub. The light was quickly fading and we would soon be walking in the dark and there wasn’t really anywhere else along the route we could stop, so took this opportunity. The soup was still hot and the remaining sandwiches were quickly finished as we looked across the chilly, choppy water over to the dark silhouette of Sharples Higher End. The bag of sweets also came out and several went into the pocket of my fleece to keep me going until we got to the back of the car. The rucksack was soon re-packed and on my back again and we continued along the shores of the reservoir and headed back on to the road. 

Winter Hill from the shore of the Blue Lagoon

As we got closer to the road we could look up at the transmitter mast high on Winter Hill. The red warning lights on the mast were illuminating the clouds as they scudded past the tower. As our eyes had become accustomed to the dark, the red warning lights scattering their vivid illumination through the misty cloud cover provided the whole mast with an eerie red glow. It looked quite alien. We reluctantly got back onto the tarmac of Rivington Road. The road here is not what you would call a ‘main road’, however it is busy, fast and unlit with no footpaths. We had anticipated this situation of course by wearing black! It was a case of keeping your eyes peeled for cars and then leaping quickly onto the grass at the roadside to avoid being hit by oncoming traffic. I now know how a hedgehog feels. I made a mental note to ensure that I carried a Hi-Vis reflective vest in my rucksack next time, and to remember to put my headtorch in the bag too. The traffic could have been worse, and would have been if we had done this walk on Sunday. As it was Saturday tea time many people were busy doing other stuff. There was no other option but to continue along here for 3/4 of a mile until we could get back onto the ‘old’ Belmont Road. It seemed to take forever and as the road undulates, we kept approach false summits where we expected our turning to be ‘over the next hill’. Eventually we did arrive at the ‘old’ road. I say ‘old’, but from checking historic maps it was only constructed around the turn of the 20th Century and most likely to service Lord Leverhulme’s summer residence on the slopes of Winter Hill. 

We were grateful to get onto this quiet track, however the surface, as noted at the beginning of this entry was very poor underfoot. This was made more difficult by the fact that you couldn’t see where you were placing your feet either. The easy gradients made for good going, but the surface did slow down our advancement a bit. We struggled along here for a mile and a half and we did get more used to the difficult going underfoot. To come from smooth tarmac onto this jagged surface was a disappointment but we just plodded on.

Our spirits picked up as we approached the Pigeon Tower on the edge of Lord Levers’ old estate gardens, and we turned off into the trees to descend back down to Rivington Barn through the woodland paths. We hadn’t really thought about this bit and we ended up doing this maze of tracks in the dark. We made the route up as we went along, and just guessed taking the obvious route downhill. It wasn’t even an educated guess due to the darkness all around us. The paths through the gardens can be muddy at the best of times and today they were like a quagmire after heavy rain we had been having. The close proximity of the trees made the whole route back down appear like something out of The Blair Witch Project. It was hard going and frustrating too, but eventually we found the main path that lead us down to the rear of Rivington Hall Barn. It was a relief to exit the woods and cross the open meadow adjacent to the terraced gardens and leave them behind. We could see lights in the distance which were from the windows of Rivington Hall, and we knew that we were almost at the end of the walk. We quickly strolled past the rear of the Hall and down the track that runs along its flanks until we passed onto the main driveway leading to the Hall and Barn. Although the road was unlit, there was enough light to see the outline of the car parked up on the gravel area at the sides. We were elated to have got back without a twisted ankle and it was reassuring to open the car door, turn the ignition key and hear the engine roar into life. I put the heater on maximum as we changed our footwear outside the car, and carefully packed the muddy, damp boots into a large blue Ikea shopping bag for drying and cleaning when we got home. I closed the boot, got in the car and slowly drove back home.

With hindsight, not my most favourite of walks, but I would put that down to the time of year. It would be more enjoyable on a warm, dry summer day. The views from Winter Hill on a clear day are extensive and stunning. You can easily see the Irish Sea, Blackpool Tower, Isle of Man and up to Cumbria. The going underfoot was varied, and did make for hard going in places. I would do it again, however I would start and finish at the Black Dog as a pint on completion would have been a more fitting end.
 

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