Hidden cloughs and frozen bogs on Bleaklow

by backpackingbongos

The busy A628 is not the most pleasant of places to start a wild walk, with a steady procession of traffic thundering over the Pennines.  However it does lay in the middle of some superb walking country, with Bleaklow to the south and Black hill to the north.  I was glad to find a layby close to an access point onto the moor because to walk along the busy road with a dog would be close to suicidal.

10.8 miles with 730 metres ascent

As we descended towards the river Etherow the steady hum of the traffic dissipated.  Deep in the shadows it was cold, the puddles from the previous days rain frozen over.  Reuben keen to get going chose to walk across each puddle, surprised when the ice could not hold his weight.  I was thankful for dry weather when we got to the ford across Near Black Clough as it would not have been ideal to get wet feet so early in the day.  Some of the boulders had a glaze of ice and it was a treacherous arm flailing affair getting across.  Reuben simply waded without a care in the world, he is shaping up to be a fine mountain dog.

Out of the shadows and climbing the track alongside Far Black Clough, the warmth of the sun could be felt.  The sky above was deep blue winter perfection.  The busy road was once again in view but of much less significance, swallowed up by the surrounding moors, vehicles moving along as tiny specks.  The Holmes Moss radio transmitter punctured the sky on the moor opposite, at 750ft high it is visible from miles away.

The landrover track soon came to an end, being replaced by a narrow peaty path through the heather.  The security of the path was quickly left behind for some heather bashing in an easterly direction.  Reuben as usual in such terrain showed off his mountain dog prowess as I stumbled and lurched ahead.  More by luck than navigational skill a peat grough was located which took me with ease across the watershed.  It was magnificent in its grimness, a maze of peat at least ten foot deep, unique to Bleaklow and Kinder.

We were deposited in a remote moorland bowl, a spot that I imagine gets few human visitors.  The boggy watercourses flowing into the infant River Derwent full of vibrant patches of sphagnum, huge sponges full of water and traps for the unwary.

More lurching was required until the river became more defined and its banks could be followed.  For a while a mini gorge made progress slow, the ground much steeper than the map suggests.  The terrain became much easier near Barrow clough and we picked up speed.  Unfortunately with that easier ground I let my concentration slip which resulted in me becoming soaked up to the thighs.  Reedy ground is usually a warning sign but I ploughed on regardless.  I saw the pool of open water too late and was already sinking as I tried to extricate myself.  I cursed as I ended up on my hands and knees, feeling cold water flow down my gaiters and into my previously nice warm boots.  I resigned myself to that damp squelchy feeling for the rest of the day.

Thankfully the scenery downstream on the way to Upper Small Clough was enough to take my mind off the initial discomfort.

The stream was followed upwards across pathless terrain, the views towards the Howden moors opening up with every step.

I have to admit that laziness and a small amount of apathy then took over the days proceedings.  The plan had been to cross the watershed and descend towards the River Westend which I would follow upstream to Bleaklow Stones.  However once I had managed to gain height the thought of losing it again suddenly no longer appealed.  Reuben to be honest was not fussed either way so we simply turned right and climbed the path up Round Hill.  On the way we passed a couple who did their very best to be as rude as possible.  Perhaps I was feeling too uncharacteristically cheery and this came across in my greeting.  I was met by silence and what could only be described as a ‘look’.

The view from the summit cairn made up for this, the open moors spread out beneath my feet.  Reuben however did not appear to be as impressed with the view as I was, although this could probably be put down to the rather cutting wind.  He has now developed an effective nesting technique for when on heather moorland and was soon ensconced in the protective folds of a bed of heather.

I tried to sneak off but as soon as I turned around he was right there behind me, his nose doing the hoover technique on the moor.  A short climb and the Barrow Stones loomed up ahead, framed by the blue sky.

The Grinah Stones are on a bit of a limb but worth the small detour.  They stick out like the prow of a ship over Ridgewalk moor, the eye being drawn down the River Westend.  There are numerous outcrops to explore, a place to linger on a warm summers evening but not in February.

Reuben as ever obliged by staying still long enough for me to photograph one of his poses.

One boulder in particular fascinated me and it made me ponder how the erosion took place.  I had visions of a small bit of grit being blown round and round by the wind, slowly creating a perfect bowl.  In my opinion better than any man-made sculpture in a gallery.

It was good fortune that I had chosen to visit Grinah Stones as I spotted a well-worn path heading directly to Bleaklow Stones.  This was a bit of a relief as the last time I walked there I had to cross tiring peat hagged ground.  Progress was swift and I watched a pair of helicopters as they ferried bags of heather cuttings onto the moor, dropping them whilst in flight.  I found myself instinctively ducking every time they flew overhead. Bleaklow Stones are another natural sculpture park, my favourite being one shaped like an anvil or whale’s tail.

However move round to the side and I thought that it looked like something prehistoric emerging from the ground.

I suddenly became aware that the afternoon was drawing on and that it would soon get dark.  A cold breeze was blowing and I checked the wind chill on my Kestrel, it had already fallen to minus six, time to get moving.  Spotting Near Bleaklow Stones in the distance I did not need to take a bearing and headed directly across difficult ground.  I was aware of just how confusing it would be navigating on the Bleaklow plateau in mist.

As dusk progressed the air became exceptionally clear and it felt that visibility was hindered only by the curvature of the earth.  The whole of the Pennines spreading off into the distance.  The wind turbines on Scout moor above Rochdale were clearly visible, roughly 25 miles away as the crow flies (scientifically measured by a bit of string on a map).  Three coal-fired power stations complimented the view to the north east, their huge plumes of steam sitting like clouds over the flat lands.  Only the view to the north was unblemished with layer upon layer of hills rising and falling all the way to what looked like Pendle in the far distance.  Simply lovely.

My revery was soon broken by the setting sun and the realisation that it would become dark whilst I was still on the hill.

More rough ground was crossed as I headed towards Near Black Clough, hoping that the path marked on the map actually existed.  Thankfully it did and I made my way down resisting putting on my head torch until the last moment.  It turned out that the battery was pretty much dead and I was glad I packed a spare set.  They were changed in the dark by touch, a delicate and important procedure.

High above the main road the tail lights of vehicles snaking their way across the moor look surreal, a silent blur of red in the darkness.  The final trudge in the dark felt endless.  Back at the car the contrast from high silent moor to busy main road was complete.

48 Comments to “Hidden cloughs and frozen bogs on Bleaklow”

  1. Super area isn’t it and looked like fantastic weather for a walk! Love the picture of Reuben nesting in the heather. The last time I was up there on a very similar but slightly longer route, there were no views at all as I was out overnight. The temperatures were very similar though, about -7C, and my mate Bernie and I ended up spending a couple of hours trying to get some sleep around midnight in a bothy bag. I couldn’t sleep a wink for Bernie snoring…

    • The weather was flawless Chrissie, perfect for a daunder on Bleaklow with the ‘mostly’ frozen bogs. Not sure about a night walk though, did you do the navigation?

      • You’re going to have to see me with a map in my hand aren’t you……! Seem to remember it might have been a bit of joint effort with us both checking up on each other!

    • I look forward to seeing you with a map in your hand Chrissie!

  2. I was there with you for a moment – great post, sir.

    Particularly “..vibrant patches of sphagnum, huge sponges..” I almost didn’t need the photo. Glad you included it though.

  3. Nice one Reuben, keeping a beady eye on your master, as he tries to sneek off.

    Seriously, nice blog and super photos.

    I must get back up to the Dark Peak again, verty soon.

    • There is no fooling Reuben he is constantly on the ball. Thanks for you kind words. The Dark Peak is a fantastic place, some lovely wild bits tucked away with loads to explore.

  4. Cripes, I’m trying to remember if I was absorbed by my thoughts and did not really notice a chap with a dog whilst up there…My missus was probably in the same pensive mood and my mate had gone ahead, so we were all spread out. You would have recognised me, I’m a video-star after all…? 😉

    Anyhow, it was a great day, as mentionned on Twitter we were in that area too, stopped for lunch at the huts and went pitch hunting (which reminds me to remind you about FB…)

  5. A couple of guesses –

    1) The couple was in the middle of a fight and hated each other at the time that you happened upon them
    2) the rock with the carved out bowl was at the bottom of a waterfall at one time… hard to imagine with it being on top of a hill but it’s just a guess. Have you ever been to Arches National Park in the states? Lots and lots of that kind of thing, it’s gorgeous.

    Lovely post!

    • Hi Cali. The couple did not appear to be talking to each other, so you may be right there. I have not been to the States, there are so many National Parks that I would love to visit over there. One day I will visit and do a long long walk! As to the waterfall idea, I don’t know, maybe someone with geology knowlege will enlighten us.

  6. Are you sure that rock sculpture isn’t infact by Henry Moor…
    While on the subject, i thought the upper right-hand side of the Grinah Stones in your pic looks rather canine, more lab than staffy though, I reckon.
    Another entertaining, well-written post, Jim-Bob – you make it look easy. Are your characteristically excellent pics now being snapped on your new-fangled G3 thingumy?

    • I knocked on the rock sculpture to test to see if it was by Henry Moor, the best way of telling as many get nicked by scroates and have to be replaced by fibreglass! The writing lark aint easy, it can take hours to get my jumbled thoughts onto the blog but occassionally they are evacuated in one messy lump. Yep the new pics are being taken on the new G3 thingy, what you don’t see however are the several hundred duff ones for a couple of good’ns……

  7. A cracking day out there. Reuben is perfectly camouflaged for the heather at this time of year.

    I often wonder If I am mistaken fro a grumpy old git at times when out walking on my own – often lost in thought and shocked to hear people say “hello”.

    Never put down to malice what could be etc etc..

    • Reuben often merges into the background, when the light is poor he wears a red light on the hill so I can see him.

      I don’t think that I suprised the couple on the hill, we spent about ten minutes walking closer and closer to each other whilst weaving in and out of the bogs. It was that look that got me! My trousers were zipped up and everything!

  8. An excellent post, as per usual. Another area I need to visit, despite having been brought up less than 40 miles away!

  9. Great pictures and write up, much clearer than on my backpack in that quarter a few years back. Superbly wild and, as you say, many traps for the unwary. The stretch from Barrow Stones / Grinah Stones / Bleaklow Stones I think is one of the best in the Peak for remoteness and views over moorland landscapes.

    • A great wild area Geoff, especially around Grinah Stones and Bleaklow Stones. I’m glad that I found that path between the two as otherwise the going would have been tough. It’s an area that I would not be keen to visit in thick mist, always best saved for a clear day to take advantage of the views and not get lost!

    • Spotted a lovely pitch up at Grinah Stones Yuri, that would be a great spot to spend an evening.

      • Well, we were talking about a date up in the hills old chap… 😉

        Great contrast of views up there, turne one side and you stare at dark moors, turn around and you got Sheffield urban lights. So near yet so far away from civilisation…

      • Yep that date in the hills does still need to be organised Yuri. I was hoping to hit the Peaks this weekend and was going to get in contact but have been full of cold all week and fancy a lazy one instead!

  10. Amazing what nature throws up, some very interesting pieces of sculptor on your outing.
    Surprising what you can see in the stones, just takes a bit of imagination.

    Great read again James.


    • You can spend hours among the rocks Paul just staring at them to see what your brain conjours up. Thanks for the comment.

  11. Great write up of an area I’ve not walked – yet! Cracking day to be out on the moors with the long distance view (even of the power stations and wind factory!) At least the near views of the natural rock ‘sculptures’ are more pleasing to the eye.

    • It’s not often that the air is that clear Sheila, the views were almost limitless. I can’t blame you for not visiting the Pennines when you have the Highlands straight out of your backdoor.

  12. I love this area, especially the hidden bogs.
    Of course I might not be completely normal!!!

    Will be up there this weekend during the Snaker Pass reunion.
    Sadly the forecast is for cloud mist and a bit of drizzle.

    Reuben is looking well happy!

    • Enjoy the TGO reunion Andy, sure that you will have a blast. Loads of great walking straight from the Inn, hopefully the clouds will be above the tops.

  13. great as ever. You and mssr rye are my guides to this area which I’ve never walked in. nice new shots too

  14. Thanks you sir.

    I am going up extra early tomorrow, so I can get a few extra hours in the hills.
    Then 14miler on Sat and maybe a fell run before I come back on Sunday.
    Have to be back for the Rugby though.

    I will be posting the adventure on my blog early next week

  15. I was bogtrotting on bleaklow on Monday, lovely stuff. It looks like you found a perfectly sculpted stone toilet there.

  16. Cracking day out – one of those days to savour when everything that’s good about a day in the hills comes together. Last time I was up there we saw my mate walking towards us wondering why he had one trouser leg rolled down – he’d fallen into a crotch deep bog one-legged. Never underestimate Dark Peak bog

    Inexcusable rudeness on the hills – it’s an outdoor code of practice to bid a cheery greeting to everyone you meet as far as I’m concerned

    • Maybe your mate was trying to hide the fact that he had been to meet the masons before bumping into you, hence the rolled up trouser leg?

      Rudeness will not be tolerated on the hill!

  17. An excellent post as ever Mr Boulter. It’s been 8 months scince I was last on Bleaklow. Something that needs rectifying sharpish I think.

    • Thanks Charlie. A great hill to return to again and again during all of the seasons I think. Hope that you get to go back soon.

  18. James, I never tire of this area and have been up Bleaklow many times but actually not this route. One of my favorites is up WildBoar Clough. The starting point a few miles up the road from where you started.

    • Years and years since I have been up Wildboar clough Mark, if I remember right there is a good scramble along the stream bed? I may have to use that route next time I visit.

  19. Brilliant area, brilliant pictures, brilliant post.

    Nothing more needs adding!

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