Winter Hill wanderings…and another three summits!

It was a gorgeous-looking bank holiday Monday (7/5/12), so there was every chance that there would be rain. That wasn’t going to put me off heading for my old home town’s (Bolton) mighty plateau of Winter Hill and my intent was to also scale Noon Hill, Two Lads and Rivington Pike. I had been planning a walk which would incorporate Noon hill and Winter hill since last summer when a walk of mine had to be cut short owing to my boots falling apart! My brother in law had reliably informed me that although there was a path up to Noon hill from Belmont Road the path from Noon hill onto Winter hill was sketchy at best and prone to flooding. I took his advice to heart.

I arrived at the long car park at Rivington Barn at around 9:40 and by roughly ten to ten was en route up the bumpy path on the left hand side of the Barn. This is a cobbled and in-organic path which was obviously built for a purpose but is slightly uncomfortable upon which to walk. At the head of the path where there is a fork I took the left hand track, went uphill for a few yards and then veered off to the right in order to go through a gate and then cross a wooded paddock which is sometimes very muddy.

A wooden board spans a small bog hole, there is a slight rise and then a bit more mud as one crosses to another gate. Through this then there is a multitude of tarmac and stone paths at which one could become lost. On my walk I aim to walk up towards the Pigeon (or Dovecote) Tower then turn back on myself somewhat by heading over towards the Belmont Road/path around the west face of Winter Hill to locate the style that will lead me over to the Noon hill climb. Sound complicated? Well it really wasn’t on foot but describing it is really challenging!

Once upon the stony track which leads up to Belmont Road (west, we’ll call it so as to avoid confusion with the Belmont Road around the other side of the hill also known as the A675!) ignoring the multitude of turn-offs on either side of the track until the track appears to merge with another coming in from the right and then splits again – I took the left hand one. After no more than a hundred yards I passed through an opening flanked by two huge round ornate coping stones upon which a frustrated cairn builder had begun to adorn with mini cairns! Another 3-4 minutes down this path and I turned left onto a well defined step path that lead uphill crossed another path and continued to lead uphill some more.

At this junction of yet more paths I headed on into the gloom along these very shallow steps that did appear to aid progress effectively. At the head of the stepped path I turned first right and then left to bring me out within spitting distance of the toilet block (which is never in use if you are planning on walking this route) and beyond that one of a number of “Belmont Road”s.

Once on “Belmont Road” I turned left – in effect going back on myself but this was always my plan, heading towards the Pigeon Tower (Dovecote). A matter of not fifty yards later I veered right onto (you’ve guessed it) another Belmont Road (Seriously not every road in an area has to have the same name!). It was at this point in the walk that the views began to open up but all of my camera equipment was beginning to act up! The Samsung Galaxy Smartphone I had been using at Pendle on the Saturday crashed twice and my old reliable Kodak 5MP appeared to be suffering from a random fogginess of the digital viewfinder which made taking a photograph of anything a hit or miss affair.

This Belmont Road is a long bumpy slog, not unpleasant and the views changed quickly enough to keep anyone entertained but you wouldn’t want to spend the rest of your life walking down this kind of road. I passed a couple of styles on my right hand side before reaching the rickety one which I needed after roughly a mile or so down the road. This was the path up to Noon Hill – my first summit of the day. The angle was certainly steeper that I had hoped and the track although obvious on the ground was beginning to broaden out – never a good thing as it A: causes hillside scarring and B: erodes clarity for the walker with not much sense of direction (yours truly).

The slog up Noon Hill was neither the hardest or easiest thing that I had ever walked – certainly nothing compared to Saturday’s Barley Steps but the ever-present wind here was in no way aiding process and by the time that I had reached the impressive summit cairn, I was out of breath. The fantastic view across to the northern face of Winter hill certainly made up for the wind. I had previously gained knowledge from my brother in law Karl, that although technically there was a path from Noon to Winter hill – you wouldn’t want to use it if you wanted to keep your feet, legs and thighs dry! I scoured the landscape for a feasible path and saw nothing but a few vague footprints which could have been a day or a year old! Taking on-board my lesson learned the hard way at Spence Moor last January I then had to do what all walkers hate doing, turn 180 degrees and head back down the hill the same way that I had ascended it, admittedly at three times the ascension speed!

So once more now I was on Belmont Road and now heading for a style that would lead me to a footbridge, another style and the start of the climb up the north face of Winter Hill via the north-western path! Having climbed up the northern path last April and discovered the north western path later last summer I knew that it would be a tough proposition. I decided to spend a few minutes resting on the footbridge before plucking up the strength to ascend this slope. It took along the lines of thirty one minutes to ascend the north western path which highlights just how steep this path is. I congratulated myself on the decision not to ascend via the even steeper northern path.

Now I was on course for the big one, the apex of the walk, Winter Hill ordnance survey column which is surprisingly easily missed, only being visible from a hundred yards or so in but a few angles. What I had anticipated would happen, did happen the heavens opened up! I had been putting off hill-walking for most of the year because of a fear of being rained upon, but now here, in essentially the middle of nowhere, three miles and a couple of hundred metres in altitude away from my car I pulled up the hood of my coat and took in the atmosphere. The rain’s only impact upon the walk was that it forced me to put all of my cameras and phones away as I didn’t want them to get wet and brake!

Progress over the next section seemed to take forever, although I had managed to keep fatigue at bay by having plenty of short rests, I could do nothing about the wind which was pushing me sideways. Previously I have walked from Winter Hill to Two Lads in less than twenty minutes today it was seeming to take an eternity. I did spot another walker ahead – the first one for about three miles, and by the time that I reached the mighty cairns at Two Lads (currently three lads and counting!) I had caught him up but we never exchanged pleasantries. The wind and rain lent a certain urgency to my visit to the cairns, I didn’t hang about and was sound heading downhill towards the final peak of the day – Rivington Pike.

I have ascended this proud little lump of an hill more times than any other. Until last spring I had only ever used the southern facing steps to get to the “Pike”, now I have used all three approach paths and can say without doubt that the run up from the north east (oh yeah Belmont Road, argh!) is without doubt the hardest on the leg muscles. I have never been up at the Pike and the wind not been howling, the two go hand in hand so it was no surprise to find just six people all cowering from the wind and driving rain at the tower atop the Pike. I had a few minutes rest and half of my sugar free ginger beer – wishing that I had the full sugar version (after all I had just burned off at least five hundred calories), talked to some people whom had inquired about a way up to Winter hill and generally let my feet recover from the day’s events thus far.

Back down the steps I went as the rain had backed off notably now and I was once again on Belmont Road, I then took the nice gentle steps once more but at their termination took a left hand turn down a bit of an open slope and onto another tarmac road on the north eastern edge of Hall Wood. This way once again brought me out at the place where I had started the walk with the added advantage of bypassing the (by now) muddy field to which I referred in the third or fourth paragraph. Some moments later I was back at the car having been walking (with the occasional respite) for three hours and forty minutes (roughly) over several hundred feet in altitude and 6.7 miles and loved every minute of it!

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