On Thursday afternoon I found myself with a sudden urge to visit the Peak District the following day. Now seeing that Friday is my day off and the weather forecast was pretty good, it would be a waste to spend the day in bed. My eyes have been finding themselves falling on the far north-western part of the Dark Peak map recently. Here the open access moors fall down to the outskirts of Manchester in a tangle of tight contours, suggesting steep escarpments and deep narrow cloughs. This is an area that I rarely visit, seeing as it is just that bit further to drive. With two full days of the weekend to follow I found myself getting in the Bongo just a little bit later than I originally planned.
9.9 miles with 620 metres ascent
It was close to 1.00pm when I finally put my rucksack on and left the Bongo at the car park just off the A635. Now I either looked really odd or that car park is used for other purposes than to park a vehicle. There was a bloke in a very posh Range rover staring very intently from the moment I arrived to the moment I set off (he parked next to me when I got there). When I left he went and parked next to someone else in the car park. I suppose we all have our hobbies.
I got my first glimpse of the escarpment that I would be walking later on that afternoon, rearing dramatically on the other side of the valley. I dropped down through the woods which led me to the surfaced track that runs round the reservoirs.
This quickly led to Greenfield reservoir which was pretty empty considering how wet it has been the last month or so. The track continuing along the side of the reservoir disappearing into the deep valley of Greenfield brook.
The deep valleys or cloughs as they are known in this part of the world are the hidden gems of the dark Peak. The high moorland and edges may give expansive views but it is the hidden solitude of these secret places that I enjoy the most. Away from the popular spots you can scramble up rocky watercourses through deep clefts in the hillsides, emerging from their claustrophobic confines into a bleak open world. GreenField brook starts off pretty pedestrian with a wide track up its length. And then the character of these hills change.
The track ends where the valley splits into two, to the right there is Birchen Clough and to the left is Holme clough. Birchen clough is steep and rocky and has a reasonably sized waterfall in its upper reaches, there is also a path up the valley. Holme clough is much longer and takes its time to reach the moorland heights, there is also no discernible path to follow. I went the pathless route and immediately got a boot full of water as I slipped my way across Birchen Clough to reach Holme Clough! The start of the valley involved crossing and recrossing the stream several times which was not as easy as I would have liked due to the water in the stream being pretty lively. My old Salomon mids and green slippery rocks were not the best combination. However the terrain eased a little just before the junction of Rimmon Pit Clough and there was even a feint path through the grass.
Sitting below a small waterfall I pondered my surroundings for a while, a spot about as wild as you can get in the Peaks. I also eyed up the waterfall and the slippery rock that surrounded it. I was keen to avoid taking to the hillsides already but was also aware that no one knew where I was, I had simply told my partner that I was off to the peaks and would be back after dark!
A couple of moves later and I was on top of the waterfall and looking back down the valley.
Further up and it becomes very narrow with only room for the river at the bottom, there was some pretty slow going on steep boulder strewn slopes which soon got tiring.
Less than a kilometre above the waterfall I gave up and climbed the steep wet grassy slopes up onto the moor above with a view of the clough snaking off into the distance.
A wet trudge across Middle edge moor and I was faced with a short sharp descent into Birchen Clough which provided me with a perfect boulder just above the river to lounge upon for a while. A sharp ascent and I was contouring the clough to the sharp prow of Raven stones. This gave me a superb sunlit view straight up Holme clough.
From here on the way was pretty straight forward, simply stick to the steep edge and walk!
Suddenly as I reached Ashway rocks the view really opened up with a string up reservoirs glinting in the afternoon sun, a place to linger if the wind had not been so cold.
I hurried along the edge looking for shelter for a coffee and food break. I found this at Bramley’s cot, a ruined shooting hut just below some rocks along the edge. With its remaining substantial walls it proved a perfect place for a break and to take in the surrounding views.
Which included Manchester and it’s tower blocks not that far away.
The edge then becomes less pronounced and the moor boggier as Chew reservoir is reached, a strange bleak appealing sort of place. Although not somewhere to enjoy in the wind and rain I would imagine.
My original plan had been to continue high up and follow the edge on the other side of Chew Brook until it terminated at Alphin Pike. However it was getting late and I really could not be arsed. Instead I took to the tarmaced Chew road and made quick progress down the valley. Half way down the Oldham way takes up the line of an old tramway which now makes one of those perfect level contouring paths. In fact it was so perfect and the scenery so good in the evening light that all of a sudden I found myself face down in a puddle. I have yet to master the art of walking whilst not looking at my feet, I need to go an a multitasking course. Only my pride was hurt and the mud that covered me would easily wash off, luckily no holes in my favourite hiking clothes!
Reaching the main car park by the Dovestone dam it was evident that this area is an important local resource. There were loads of families out for a stroll and dog walkers and cyclists about just before dark on a Friday evening. I wish I had somewhere like this on my doorstep.