Sunday 21st October 2012 Winter and Great Hills

This one had been on the cards for some time now…since at least the 22nd of July when an Ironman event caused this walk to be cancelled owing to the road upon which I had planned the whole walk being closed to cars!  Four of us from the Walking Forum: Sue, Warren, Karl and myself met up at Crookfield Road car park to take part in the walk. The aim was to stroll south passing Belmont Reservoir / Boating lake on our right hand side and keeping the remnants of Darwen Moor on our left. It has to be said that the weather simply could not have been any better – at any point this year. The sun was out, there was the most gentle of all breezes and not a hint of moisture in the air – it was a bit like that season we used to have in between Spring and Autumn…can anyone remember its’ name?

Four humans and Ellie the dog headed due south from the car park  passing Higher Pasture House, Lower Pasture House and Stake Moss before taking a right hand turn at Higher Whittaker and passing by Lower Whittaker – the last stretch was all down hill and was lovely country walking – through a field where all evidence suggested that the farmer didn’t mind the odd walker and had done nothing to impeach their progress…rare in these parts!

Next we were onto the tarmac road at Egerton Road where one of our party – the lovely Ellie (whom I believe is a springer spaniel but am prepared to be corrected on that) collided with a mountain bike rider. The incident  which caused him (the cyclist), some pain meant that as sentient beings we had to stop and stay with him until he showed obvious signs of recovery – the intake of a cup of Sue’s coffee and her chocolate flapjack visibly accelerated this!  My concern was mainly for the dog if the truth be known and although a little bit jittery and shaken up at first Ellie managed to soldier on and do the rest of the walk. The incident being over we set off up the tarmac hill towards the Sunday race track that is the A675 Belmont Road.

Some walkers hate roads! My background of urban walking in my earlier years excludes me from this category but my co-walkers did appear to be of this mindset as we cut short our stretch alongside the road in favour of squelching our way up a quagmire instead! I would rather have stayed on the road for the next few hundred yards (AS PLANNED) until meeting up with the dry path which would have led us (mud free!) up the north east face of Winter Hill. As referenced to previously we opted not for dryness; instead taking the spring-laden route via Grange Lodge (clue in the name perhaps!) and Grange Brow. Yes, I did lose half a leg twice to the mud as we raced through the marshy and muddy (path – seriously???) that joined up with my dry one!

The slope was not as steep as I had been lead to believe – watching You Tube videos of moderately sane mountain bikers insanely flying down the track had given me the impression that this would be a path to rival the slope at Boar Clough, Pendle, but not so. Instead as the mud slowly began to dry on my left boot/leg we reached the apex of the hill and made our way gently up towards and passed the trig point and down into a peaceful hollow to have our lunch with extensive views towards Darwen Hill, Longridge Fell, Pendle Hill and a very distant Pen-y-ghent in front of us.

My original walk plan had incorporated the traverse and descent of Noon Hill. Given its’ tendency to be  somewhat on the slippery side in normal conditions (let alone after two weeks of on and off rain) I opted for the executive decision of not risking the breaking of everyone’s necks / limbs instead I pointed us in the direction of the north west path (which it has to be said is one of my favourites) that would steadily bring us down to Rivington Road / Belmont Road (don’t get me started on this…!). We crossed the next none-variation of the same named street (although this also had turned into something of a race track – for motorcyclists) and so after passing what I shall now lovingly refer to as “Yarrow head” – the start of the River Yarrow (okay humour us there…it’s a big thing to river walkers!), we began (once again) our muddy ascent – this time up Will Narr / Hordern Pasture. The views across the moors in all directions were pretty much unhindered, the day being only slightly hazy and the blue sky sporting only fluffy white cumulus and stratus clouds which were actually lining up quite nicely against some of the larger surrounding summits like Pendle Hill.

The escarpment that covers both of the “Edge”s – Spitlers and Redmonds, is usually a pretty bloody miserable place to be for most of the year as it is battered by the near omnipresent howling wind coming down off neighbouring Darwen Hill. Today however, the wind was just not an issue and my time wandering over first Spitlers and then Redmonds Edge was only marred by my constant desire to avoid more mud – Spitlers Edge is infamously muddy but this has been improved in recent times by the near-total removal of the vast stone wall that used to run alongside the hill – only the bottom course of stones now remain and for the greatest part of its coarse it does make an excellent path. This is improved upon even further at Redmonds Edge where the stone wall path is abandoned in favour of a long serpentine stretch of flags reclaimed from mill demolitions; which snakes its meandering way right up to the summit of Great Hill. The path at times was a little waterlogged but the views of the substance which we were avoiding walking through was of great comfort. Pausing only for breath at the one  and only en-route stile we then romped our way to the peak of the whale-back that is Great Hill where we took some time out – I was pretty much shattered by this time having stumbled atop Redmonds Edge and jarred both my right knee and ankle. I was concerned that the most slippery and troublesome stretch of the walk was yet to be tackled – the dreaded drop off Great Hill via Pimms towards Piccadily.

Described (by myself) as a slanting quagmire, the drop down was far worse than I had anticipated – my co-walkers seemed to be on “full steam ahead” and with my being down to one good leg and the other thing (although heart-felt appreciation to Sue for lending me her walking pole without which I might still be pondering on the slant) this made for some tumultuous, if a little lamentable, progress. Finally at the bottom of the beast we crossed the A675 once more and headed up the roadside for a hundred yards or thereabouts before taking a left hand turn through a wooded track then passed the ruins that were Hollinshead Hall – the sort of place where one doesn’t want to be at dusk – unless one is seeking a self-induced spooky thrill!

I was promised that the rest of the route back to the car park would be an easy stroll and it has to be said that this was true. We headed west then south west across the start of the climb up Cartridge Hill (on my “to-do” list) without the actual climbing of the hill (thank God/Allah/Buddha/whoever) and finally just west of Turn Lowe we crossed onto Crookfield Road once more and returned (with joy) to our cars. We had taken something in the region of six hours (I admit to having slowed us down a bit and the cyclist incident didn’t help) to walk(?) ten and a quarter miles over 1,400 feet incorporating four hills and so much mud! I had been looking forward to this walk since July and would want to do the route again – perhaps in reverse – but omitting the marshy parts at Grange Lodge – even during a dry spell. For me the highlights were atop Great Hill with that memorable view over the two edges and onto Winter Hill whilst having the tempting view of Pendle Hill backdropped by blue skies behind me. It was important to me that I was able to tick off yet another Winter Hill summit approach – the north eastern; which now leaves me with the hardest two:

  1. The slog up the Dean Ditch (the South East approach)
  2. The marshy path across the western flank due east of Rivington Pike and heading north east – the wettest approach of all!

Great views, great company and Great Hill. All in all …Great Day!

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