Those who know anything about my walking ambitions may recall that for a few months now I have wanted to tick off the last two compass points for routes of access to the summit of Winter Hill.
I had posted a Walking Forum meet-up way back in January, no interest had been shown and to be honest the weather at the time had taken a turn for the wet, subsequently it never happened. Last week, after Sunday night’s snowfall it became apparent that my walk up England’s highest, Scafell Pike might just have to be moved to a warmer date also…I mentally looked around for a walk that I could do on Sunday. The Winter Hill Western route came to mind and I returned to the post on the forum to indicate that I would be going on Sunday. I had just the one positive respondent – Sheenah and at 10:50 on Sunday morning we set off from the upper car park at the Rivington Hall Barn. En route to the walk, roughly five miles from Southport I was astounded to see just how much snow was atop the Winter Hill massif, I had assumed that the rain we had been subjected to for the last 48 hours would have melted any residual snow, but how wrong I was.
The car park itself was virtually free of snow but the rest of the area had a decidedly wintry feel to it. We first headed up the bridleway to the left of the barn – which has been my normal route for every visit in the last four years, however I decided today to not head across the usual sheep-filled paddock near the northern car park akin to Moses Cocker believing it to be probably like a cattle wade given the recent weather. Instead we swung right just skirting the mixed tree plantations and made our way up a very newly laid gravel path. Ordinarily this route is a calf-warming, slippery and non-enjoyable quick bolt up the side of the hill where something in the region of 5 metres in height is gained in about 30 metres in length. The gravel really facilitated progress and before long we were on the main tourist path up to the terraced Gardens – I had promised to show Sheena the lake at the Japanese Gardens.
The gardens were looking more lovely than usual today – snow helps like that! We didn’t spend very long at the lake – it is very easy to loiter here and instead made fairly rapid progress up to Belmont Road (don’t get me started) and our first view of the day of Rivington Pike – having been warned by another walker that although the steps were clear the rest of the path up to the Pike was a bit treacherous. In actuality I didn’t find the path any harder than usual, I was surprised at the amount of people that were enjoying the morning. It was heart-warming once more to see the great British public out and about enjoying the environment.
The way up to the Pike via the steps seemed slightly easier for me on this day – compared to normal, at its’ apex I was not the usual hyperventilating mess and I did wonder if this had been in any part thanks to the ascension of Pendle two weeks prior to this… was I getting fitter? I think that we spent around five or maybe ten minutes atop Rivington Pike admiring the views to everywhere and naming every reservoir in the area – there are lots around here. Soon enough the time came to set off on what I knew was going to be without doubt the hardest section – the long haul over the ankle twisting, tussock-filled western path to Winter Hill. At the start of the path we encountered another duo of walkers whom I believed would be taking our route…at the last moment they shunned the entrance preferring to take the more easy route to Winter Hill via Crooked Edge Hill.
My last attempt at this route was in September 2009 and was not successful, I capitulated to the never ending grassy tussocks and the ever-present springs which seemed to appear under every footstep. I had previously stated that I wanted really cold weather for my next attempt, nature had obliged so I had no option but to put my very best effort into the traversal. Our views behind to Rivington Pike were just fantastic…with just one drawback – we couldn’t see the screens on our camera/phones owing to the dazzling white of the snow and the weird but captivating light from above. The cloud formations were at one and the same time threatening but tremendous, awesome and exciting. We saw others gathering at the top of the Pike but none descended the northern route to join us, they must have thought that we were mad, brave or a special combination of the two…but we made it and without much incident, the snow had taken away that element which threatens every walker, every walk – doubt! When one cannot see the obstacles – in this case mud and many tussocks, they somehow lose their power to impede progress (within reason), we fall, trip, fail because we see what will make us fall, trip and fail. The snow had played the part of a natural equalizer here and I was very grateful and practically joyous when our feet finally met with Terra-tarmac at Winter Hill road.
Within five minutes we were at the ordnance survey column and the highest part of the route. As could be expected, the views across to Belmont and Great Hill with the Pennines behind, were brilliant. Pendle Hill looked simply stunning shrouded in a thick layer of snow. Alas, my camera chose not to process the photos that I had taken at this point so I will just have to wait to show this beautiful spectacle.We agreed to postpone our lunch until such time as that we were in a slightly warmer environment, in actuality this was some time later as on our descent of Smithills Moor we were so occupied by the desire not to fall over on this very uneven path that we simply forgot about food! It was with such relief we found the shooting hut formerly belonging to Colonel Ainsworth
A long trek back to Winter Hill is in store for us.
All the time whilst we were dropping down the moor I was concerned as to whether I would be able to get back up it again, I consoled myself with the alternate thought of the embarrassment of the prospect of a mountain rescue – there was an helicopter circling above for the entire walk, this did the job of spurring me on! After our lunch stop we headed south east and up a short slope that would lead us to the picturesque Dean Brook Reservoir, the last time I was here the temperature would have been close to twenty five degrees, today I reckoned it was probably closer to three! Winter Hill mast, although still a difficult object to ignore, was now appearing less imposing than before. I guessed that we now had over a mile and an half worth of ascent through snow and not for the first time my heart sank a little…
The trek back up Counting hill was a long trudge, there was much stumbling from yours truly as the snow seemed to be a little deeper on this face of the massif and the terrain was decidedly bumpier. I had no doubts that if the snow were to be washed instantly away the full pock-marked landscape would be revealed to us in all its’ acne-like glory. We soldiered on. Our immediate target was a ridge of peat hags that even when I look at the ordnance survey map today – is not highlighted as being the summit, the apex of Counting Hill. It’s summit is like others that I have encountered, unmarked, without cairn or column and pretty much indistinguishable. Nobody but a peak bagger would make Counting Hill their day’s prime objective. I was just short of euphoric when Sheena pointed our the not so distant road at Winter Hill – we had made it up the hill, dragging (what felt like) half of it with us!
Our descent off Winter Hill was fast, really fast! I don’t know if this was we could now move freely unencumbered by the combination of snow and peat or because by now it was 16:00 which left us just two hours to get back to our cars – or maybe it’s just that I walk slowly compared to others! Whatever, we opted not to go over Crooked Edge Hill and Two Lads – we’d had more than our fair share of peaty, bumpy terrain and speaking from experience it’s quite easy to lose one’s footing on the descent from Crooked Edge Hill. Instead we stuck with the road (having first taken a couple of photos of an illuminated Manchester) and deployed guesswork as to which path would lead us back to Belmont Road. At this point my right leg began to feel like the knee might never function as an independent joint as I now went stiff-legged and this was frightfully painful. The thought of a hot cup of coffee whether imminently or at home spurred me on, clumsily. I was still enjoying the walk but realised that when I would eventually get home; painkillers would be consumed!
Ultimately we merged with the Belmont Road sand and stone path and from there pretty much retraced our footsteps back into the terraced gardens, down the new gravel path, passed the mixed tree plantation and onto the lovely bridleway which we had ascended some six hours earlier. My feet were killing me by now but Sheena was coping admirably – she has a lot more distant walking experience (Yorkshire 3 Peaks, Hadrian’s Wall etc), that’s my reasoning and I’m sticking to it. At 16:50 (ish) I arrived back at my car having walked for six hours over roughly nine and an half miles and how many feet/metres I cannot yet report, but it was all definitely worth it.