A West Pennines expedition

The Edges, Winter Hill, Rivington Pike and Great Hill.

High on the moors overlooking the sprawling urbanisation of Bolton lies the sheer bulk of Winter Hill. Having lived in its’ vast shadow for thirty something years I feel honour-bound to quite blatantly state my preference for this above most other hills that I have ascended and am yet to ascend. Put quite frankly, it’s in my blood as a Boltonian.

This is now an extension of the original walk that did start at Rivington Great Barn, over the pike around the back of some moorland, up Crooked Edge Hill, past Two Lads along the lane to the summit of Winter Hill then back down over Rivington Moor, over “The Pike” once more before limping back to the Great Hall. In itself this was not necessarily a difficult walk, it was however one that was somewhat weather dependent (the clue being in the name of the highest summit – Winter Hill!) and one whereby you could guarantee that your boots were going to get caked in mud.

The extension has come about since my ascent of Great Hill a few miles north of our original start, next to the A675 near to Belmont and Abbey villages.

If you’re thinking of going to this via public transport – think again, although there is a bus service to Abbey Village – it aint frequent and as for on Sunday (when most people do their walking) yeah… ahem, take a book to read whilst you wait. I’m sure that there could be a train to Darwen but do you really want to walk the distance from the station to the start point and thus include your total milage for the day? Then it’s the car for us then and I would recommend the best place to park it at:

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First Steps: Come out of the car park and turn right. Within a matter of less than a hundred yards you should be at the junction of Crookfield Road and Belmont Road (the A675). Take extreme care to cross the A-ROAD as cars tend to be travelling at a minimum of fifty m.p.h. on this stretch and then go to the far side (left) of the main road keeping distant Darwen Tower on your right hand side and heading north. After a couple of minutes walking you should see a gate and style on your left hand side:

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Here is the biggest terrain change of the entire walk as we leave behind solid paving and tread now on what is usually damp grass underpinned by a nice thick layer of soil; for a number of miles. The path we take becomes steadily less apparent, eventually once a steady climb has been started the path is then more or less indiscernible as the heather, grass and mud, mud, glorious mud are in the ascendancy. Here one must focus on the distant remains of a dry stone wall (that from a distance are somewhat similar to a neolithic stone circle!) as this marks the summit of the first of our “Edges” – Redmond’s Edge. From this angle and from it’s eastern approach in general; Redmond’s Edge appears fairly indistinct, nothing more that a minor lump on the run up to the much larger massif of Winter Hill. However, seen from a couple of miles further south on the A675 at Belmont Village the summit is presented as a far more impressive and shapely challenge. Keeping the tumbling-down dry-stone wall in sight soon a path of slabs sprawling across the moors will come into view and for a number of miles although the terrain gets notably steeper the going is much better than the previous half a mile have been. We now turn left, heading north with Winter hill as a guide marker. The indiscernible summit of Redmond’s Edge is reached with an hundred yards.

Taking in the scenery for a moment or two at the top of our first and easiest climb one can observe the ubiquitous Jubilee Tower perched atop Darwen Hill a couple of miles to the north east. The distant summits of the neolithic burial ground of Round Loaf to the west, Rivington Pike and Noon Hill are detectable and an handful of reservoirs may all be observed in clear conditions as is the biggest challenge of the day – the north face of Winter Hill seemingly far more threatening when viewed from close up than from a distance.

We now continue to head south, downhill for a few yards on our slab-path which then gives way to the grass for a little distance before the duty of the path ahead being handed to that of the remnants of another dry-stone wall. This path leads us to the second highest summit of the day:

Spitlers Edge.
Along with it’s sister(?) peak Redmond’s Edge; Spitlers Edge is not an hill of outstanding natural beauty. From our start point it looms slightly over the lesser peak and affords no real outline. Like its’ sibling, from a few miles south down the A675, the view presented is much more acceptable – but still not as visually pleasing as many other hills in even this vicinity (the quaintness of Rivington Pike and the sheer enormity of Winter Hill and its’ somewhat irregular shape!). The views from Spitlers Edge summit are perhaps unsurprisingly almost exactly the same as those from atop Redmond’s Edge – given that the two summits are but a lazy ten minutes walk apart this would not come as a shock. The added elevation (Spitlers is roughly thirty feet higher than Redmond’s) does not really have any noticeable effect on the range of views, aside from the fact that Horden Stoops (the bottom of the northern face of Winter Hill) is now menacingly close. From here we drop or quite possibly skid down the slope and at some point cross over the Yarrow Head – the beginning of one of the more picturesque rivers of the area. This is not shown on maps so is a pleasant surprise – there’s even a plaque stone for it.

Hordern Pastures and Horden Stoops

The pasture peaks at a not-almighty 358 metres and the descent from here is nothing but brief, but beware this is quite a wet terrain, even some weeks after rain the short cottongrass slopes can be embarrassingly slippery. Over a style and we are into Hordern Stoops. This is a very steady moorland plod which takes one to the beginning of the monster climb which will engulf us for the next ninety eight metres – yes metres…that’s 328 feet in less than a quarter of a mile! For the first part of the now inescapable slog up the side of the hill we will be walking upon the remnants of a large drystone wall which has sucumb to the ravishes of time. After a few minutes this becomes a potentially ankle twisting stumble so depart the wall and take to the very slim path that has now formed immediately to your left. The way ahead is painfully obvious, though fairly free of all obstacles other than gravity, full steam ahead for the next fifty yards or so!

Winter Hill

That’s the hardest part of the walk over and done with – in terms of strenuous slopes. Upon cresting the slope the trig point beckons some hundred feet away, go on, tap it – the little micro-paddock which surrounds it holds water like a teabag ‘tho so be careful not to temporarily lose a foot! Don’t be afraid of using the gray tarmac path which heads north passing much ironworks – your feet will forgive you because for the next thousand yards or so – it’s all downhill (and we’re talking actual nice downhill here not like when you drop off a Lakeland giant and have to monitor every single footstep!). We’re now heading towards Two Lads – that’s the name which was given to two enormous cairns which were erected over an hundred years ago in memorial of two lads who became lost on the moors in this local – to be honest I think that’s bordering on cruel but hey ho! These days there are multiple lads simply because people like to build cairns everywhere out on the moors, even if they aren’t needed – the ‘two lads’ never had mobile phones, gps devices, maps etc…Whilst bounding down the road with the wind coming up the tarmac path and hitting you full in the face, head south west (along the Rotary Way no less) until a very obvious turn-off on your right will lead you onto an equally very obvious peaty field – field implies that is flat and in the grand scheme of things it may be, personally I wouldn’t want to run across it in Wellies!

Two Lads or Crooked Edge Hill

This is one of those peaks which you probably wouldn’t want to visit solely for its’ own sake. The hill barely shoves its’ nose above the immediate environment and other than the steadily increasing cairn count; there isn’t a whole lot more going on, even the summit is somewhat indistinct in that it could be any particular inch of peaty earth. All the afore mentioned does not sell Crooked Edge Hill well…and if that were all which the mini peak had to offer then it would receive no visitors…in truth this hill does not do badly at all for footfall – relatively speaking. Of all this hills on this walk Rivington Pike is by far and away the most visited, closely followed by Winter Hill itself, I fancy that third place would definitely go to Crooked Edge Hill for the following reasons:

  1. It’s the hill in-between Rivington Pike and Winter Hill.
  2. The views across to the south and east are all-encompassing.

Spend time here, I would not recommend leaning or attempting to perch upon any of the growing cairn collection as the stones can move, often quite quickly and as the two original cairns commemorated the deaths of two people…it’s probably for the best if you don’t have a great cairn falling onto you, if nothing else you’ll miss the next part of the walk down to Belmont Road.

Rivington Pike

As you tumble down Crooked Edge Hill towards the kennels – Rivington Dog Hotel (seriously!) keep looking over to your right for the terrific view over to the ‘Pike’, it’s lovely and somewhat ubiquitous in this vicinity. The path down the side of this hill is quite easy to follow and it even features a nice section of steps and handrail – you probably won’t need this but it’s nice to hold onto on an icy day. Ultimately you will have to turn right onto Belmont Road / Rivington Lane (don’t get me started!) at Pike Cottage – the not-kennel. Here lies a bumpy stone-strewn road that would tear the shock absorbers of most vehicles. This road nearly always has two minor annoyances:

  1. Puddles in abundance – no matter how much rain there has or hasn’t been recently.
  2. Mountain bike cyclists which have just come off the top of Rivington Pike and are still a bit wired and full of adrenaline so they don’t necessarily recognise the fact that they are about to run straight into you!

Obstacles avoided, keep on the bumpy road and as it crosses over the infant River Douglas bear a sort of rightish direction, yes that’s correct, I am leading you up the southern aspect of Rivington Pike – the steepest one. You’ll know when to bear left as the track up the Pike gets considerably wider, it isn’t Lord’s Rake in its’ incline, it isn’t even as steep as the path over which I led you up Winter Hill…but you’ll appreciate a breather at the end of it. You must treat Rivington Pike summit as a natural half-way point, technically it might not be the real half way but it’s certainly the end of the ascensions for a number of miles and the views all around are brilliant (normally). From the summit one can see the following (on a clear day)

  1. The Cheshire plains.
  2. Liverpool Anglican cathedral.
  3. The Irish sea (I’m told)
  4. Pendle Hill.
  5. Longridge Fell.
  6. Parbold and Harrock Hills.
  7. The joint conurbations of Manchester and Salford
  8. Lots of water in the form of the Rivington and Anglezarke Reservoirs.

The way onward

So now you have spent some quality time at the tiny but wonderful summit of Rivington Pike gazing at all things everywhere, apologies if it was crowded but then …you were there as well! and if you can go to the high places etc why cannot others? Watching people struggle up those steps is fun isn’t it? Moving on, for now you have a long stretch of no ascensions for the best side of five miles…alas there is much road-walking to be done. I make no apologies for the road-walking sections, I do realise that some walkers are almosts phobic of them…before I moved to Southport I used to walk all over Bolton’s roads (okay pavements then!). The most direct route forward is to descend the steps from Rivington Pike and keep on dropping down until you are back on to the main thoroughfare that is  Belmont Road / Rivington Lane (still don’t get me started!).  The lovely wide track down the hill starts off smoothly enough but as you descen


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