“Right, we need to find a flat area of the Peak District”, begins no sane walking discussion ever.
After three consecutive hilly walks, we decided to try and give our legs a rest by finding a relatively flat area that wasn’t too far of a drive to reach. The weather looked best in the north of the Peak District and when I think of a moor, I generally think ‘flat-ish’. That was before I moved to Yorkshire. Pawing through my many OS maps, the name Saddleworth jumped out, although I wasn’t entirely sure why until I was reminded of the infamous Moors Murders of the 1960s. I won’t dwell on that this time, as despite heading there, we actually planned a route that took us away from the carpark on the A635 and across neighbouring Wessenden Moor. I carefully studied the contour lines of the map and was happy that despite a bit of undulation, the paths were on fairly gentle slopes that would rise a couple of hundred metres, but over a reasonable distance. The only problem was that the OS map in question cut off the top of our route, and as such we weren’t entirely sure how far the ‘off map’ section would be, nor how steep the climbs were.
The walk was eventful from the get-go. I read the information sign telling of the restoration work being undertaken on the moor, and of how deep some of the peat bogs could be. I tested one early on the route with my walking pole and found that I couldn’t reach the bottom. When our tiny dog unwittingly went plunging into such a bog shortly after it thankfully was not quite as deep, but still deep enough to almost submerge him. With flailing paws and flinging mud, Herbie was in no state to pull his struggling miniature frame from the mess, so in after him I charged, sinking around knee deep in muck, much to the (extremely protracted, in my opinion) amusement of Sammy behind us.
With drenched muddy legs, squelching boots, a dog covered in filth, and a continually giggling Sammy, we continued along the moor. The stone paving disappeared, and until we reached Black Moss Reservoir some time later, the route required constant bog dodging and puddle leaping. As we approached the reservoir the view to our left was glorious, the green and brown valley in the foreground, and – defying its reputation – the sun shining down on the high-rise buildings of Manchester is the far-off distance. Past the reservoir and up onto our old friend the Pennine Way we went, with views over Redbrook Reservoir before us and Great Butterly Hill to our right, we walked until we joined the Standedge Trail and branched off towards the town of Marsden. Here is where our OS map ran out, so we referred to directions found on a walking blog somewhere, ominously pointing us in the direction of ‘Hades’ Farm. This path diverts you from the direct track down into the village and up along a ridge that rewards you with much improved views over Marsden below, dominated by a huge industrial mill formally at the heart of the Yorkshire textile and child labour industries. Once a large employer in the region and manufacturer of wartime military uniforms, the mill eventually closed its doors in 2003 with the loss of hundreds of jobs, and now stands as an imposing reminder of the former glory days of textile manufacture and unscrupulous nineteenth century factory owners in this region.
Although our stay in the village was brief, we did get the sense that it was a pleasant place. It has been granted the ‘Walkers are Welcome’ status due to the well kept paths and information available – I found some handy guide leaflets in the library foyer as we sneaked in to use the loo – and I’m sure with more time on our hands and less detritus on our bodies, it would be an enjoyable place to visit.
We left the village up the agonisingly steep Binn Road which leads to Butterly Reservoir, the water level of which seemed particularly low, which I assumed to be due to the ongoing alteration work to its impressive slipway. There is currently a campaign to save the slipway’s original features, which are threatened by the need to comply with modern day safety regulations. Blame Europe; Brexiters probably will.
Our time ‘off map’ ended so we celebrated with lunch, before the steady ascent from Butterley towards Wessenden Head began. At this point we were presented with two options; stay on the Kirklees Way as planned like sensible people, or dip down alongside Blakely Reservoir and then onto Wessenden Brook. The brook was too beautiful not to walk along, so we took the latter option and enjoyed the serene surroundings, interrupted only by the honking of geese. As our disregarded choice of path sloped gently into the distance, our chosen one crossed the brook then abruptly hit a steep bank, at the top of which I realised we were on the wrong side of a gorge for the second time in as many weeks.
Undeterred by this (and the subsidence warning signs), we took a narrow path that leads along near shear drops, which brought us to one of the highlights of the day, a tranquil and secluded waterfall. I could have stayed there all day, pondering life, dreaming of jacking it all in and spending my days… well, next to a waterfall pondering life… but we still had some distance to go and a youth on a bike arrived, so we snapped out of it and marched on. I love using the word ‘youth’. Makes me feel like Alan Partridge.
After crossing the Wessenden Reservoir embankment we re-joined the Pennine Way once again, which would lead us steadily climbing alongside the brook to Wessenden Head. We had planned to continue on this track for a few more miles by crossing the A635 and heading up to a place that could only exist in the country that brought you the Carry On films, ‘Soldier’s Lump’, then looping back round across Dean Head Moss. The aches in our legs must have shot to our heads, as we made the incredibly foolish decision to cut the walk short by tramping along the busy roadside towards the carpark. It was much further than we thought, and the passing onslaught of vehicles, roadside debris, and fear of being killed, rather marred the peacefulness of the walk that preceded it. Nevertheless, after depositing girlfriend and dog on a rock, and limping achingly alone the remaining mile or so to fetch the car, calmness was resumed and we went home with the resolve of gaining a better understanding of contour lines and distance on OS maps. All of which we completely forgot on our trip to the North York Moors the following week. Please come back for that one.