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.