I first ascended little Rivington Pike back in 2002, I think it was Good Friday or Easter Monday. Chris and I got into a habit of going up there on bank holiday Mondays or the occasional Sunday. amazingly enough, it wasn’t until January 2010 that I ascended the parent peak, and highest in the area, Winter Hill. After that I have to admit to becoming a little bit obsessed. I began to explore the surrounding summits – Winter Hill does have a lot of foothills and combining the ascents made for some enormous days out. My walking friend Karl told me of his plans to one day traverse a route which took in most of the range of the West Pennines. The Three Towers walk which incorporates: Rivington Pike, Darwen Hill and Peel Tower (at the top of a hill in Ramsbottom that for the life of me I can never remember!). This weighs in at around 35 miles – an epic of a day’s walk. I may try it one year…
I heard of a long distance path (an LDP) named “Anglezarke Amble” and was intrigued as it didn’t show up on any maps that I had (unlike the Pennine Way and Ribble Way etc) and the LDWA’s (Long Distance Walkers Association) useless guide to all of their paths shed no more light on the route of this than a cursory guide to their website! In 2014 I decided to have a search on Google and happened to chance upon a video uploaded by Adam Gallimore – The Great Galleymo, entitled “The Anglezarke Amble 2013”. Since first watching this bit of cinematic history, I reckon I’ve gone to watch it another hundred or so times. Obsessed much? A little.
I knew that there was no way I was fit enough to do the 2015 version (this was now the Winter of 2014) so I resolved to do it in 2016. Incidentally, I was wrong, as I successfully completed (along with Mark Carson) the Yorkshire Three Peaks in the Summer of 2015. That being said, the Amble is a different kettle of fish than the Yorkshire Three Peaks although they both weigh in at similar distance of around 24.5 miles.
Enough waffle! Tell us about the Amble.
The Great Galleymo – uses hyperbole to describe this walk as ‘probably the hardest challenge on Planet Earth’. Obviously Adam has never tried getting the last but one Polo out of the packet one-handed, but he may have a point. For one, you can’t do the ‘Amble’ and have clean footwear – it’s one or the other! The implication being that this is a somewhat ‘sticky’ route, notably around Greenhill Farm and the opening venture onto the cursed Longworth Moor. But fear not, if you’re doing the longer version the eastern half of Longworth Moor is so wet that it’ll give your mud-encased boots a lovely dowsing…and then the last stretches of the slog up Darwen Moor to Darwen Hill and the phallic symbol at its top will muddy them up again!
- It’s Tough on the Legs.This route has pretty varied terrain. Yes there is some lovely walking on grass, tarmac and sandstone paths. But, there is also some ‘ambling’ across sticky peat patches on Crooked Edge Hill, it’s possible to submerge one’s feet / shins/thighs to quite some depth if you’re not careful and if there has been snow which has thawed this is made exponentially worse.
- It’s Tough on the Nerves. If you’re not the fastest of all walkers (ahem!) then you’ll be delighted to hear that this is a timed challenge. You get ten hours to do all 24.5 miles. In addition to this, if you are not halfway across Longworth Moor at the checkpoint known as Charlie’s Pole by 10:30 (having set off at 8:00) then you’re disqualified from the longer route and must do the shorter (16 miles) version instead. Granted, after sliding around near Greenhill farm and getting all sloshed in this locale, this may come to some as a relief!
- It’s Tough on the Joints. After Longworth Moor and the arduous crossing of the racetrack which is Blackburn Road (the A666!) comes the haphazard, stumble-zone of Turton Heights. I’ve been up this little mound of a hill and can honestly say that it has no redeeming features. Its slopes (which we traverse on the Amble) are horrid, sticky, bumpy hell-holes whose’ sole intention is to make you fall or do ‘the splits’ or both, preferably both. Thankfully this stage is not very long. However, the equivalent distance on a nice path (Moses Trod or Catherine Edge) would probably only take half the time taken to traverse this pig of a section!
Okay, we’re getting the impression. What is the route?
- I’ll cover both in one go here. We leave the church hall in Rivington (Horrobin Lane) and head on to Rivington Lane. After passing the strange section where no cars have access (yet there is always at least one car parked) we turn left on to the path which leads us to the top car park next to Rivington Great Barn. This path is so lovely that it borders on deceptive. At this point some people will be bounding along like the Andrex Puppy on speed, the climb up to the terraced gardens will slow them down as that’s next after taking the right hand turn after the rear of the barn. Seventy five yards on a very well well maintained path has us then at a stile on the left – take this.
To the Pike from the start via the Terraced Gardens
The climb up to the gardens is pretty, but you won’t have time to stand taking photos as we’re on a clock remember. Ultimately we amble our way up to Belmont Road (the path) and set off up the Pike from the steps beginning opposite the disused toilet block. (Nice landmark!) From here we head downhill towards Georges Lane (still known as Belmont Road on O.S. maps) and take a left hand turn at the side of the Rivington Dog Hotel. So, just in case charging up the steps at the Pike didn’t take all of your energy here is our first outing onto true moorland in the shape of Wilder’s Moor. the going is generally good, a top tip would be to avoid the steps if you can as some are a bit steep and at this point we won’t have done two miles yet. The gradient is a little steep in places but think more Latrigg than Great Gable! After a few hundred lateral feet we veer left at a sign post indicating the path up to Winter Hill. If you’re supremely fit you can sneak in a quick bagging of Two Lads / Crooked Edge Hill at this point if you want…Meanwhile the rest of us are heading due east, across sticky peat hags towards Winter Hill (the tarmac road) and our first checkpoint.
Dropping down Winter Hill to Greenhill Farm
It sounds a big deal, checkpoint, but it really isn’t – you essentially give your number (which you got at registration way back in that lovely warm church hall) to a man and he ticks you off a list. But it’s still your first checkpoint so if you want to get all excited feel free…And next it’s the fall down Winter Hill. This is the Amble in its finest. From the checkpoint head along the road and at the meeting of the paths and the turning of the road turn (not bear – that’ll have you wandering around Counting Hill) right and march down the very obvious path which mountain bikers have done their best to make somewhat ridged. You just can’t yomp too fast down this express highway of a path – unless it’s icy, and before long you’ll be reaching a one-sided glade (really small wood or forest). Even on a Saturday morning in Winter you’ll still be able to hear the traffic as the road some distance in front of you is Belmont Road (the A675) and it has varying speed limits from 20 to 60 mph! Cross with extreme caution please. Once you have done so, turn right and at the next tarmac driveway turn left. You’re in for a treat…
Greenhill farm to Charlie’s Pole
What a lovely, level and clean surface upon which to walk. Hold on to that thought as you take the first stile on your left (before the house). This is Greenhill farm. Here comes the mud! The assault of the slime begins as soon as one puts down one’s supporting foot which then begins to slide away from the rest of one’s body! The first tenth of this section (Belmont Road to Blackburn Road) is basically downhill. Mud and hills go together in much the same way as do nitro and glycerine and about as predictably. We do have to cross a river via a nice wooden bridge and then pass by an ornamental reservoir. Then the uphill work begins in earnest. We are heading towards Longworth Moor via a couple of fields, the first one has no real path but one can simply follow the footprints. A left turn on to Egerton Road then a right turn through an area known as Lower Whittaker (or 53.640140, -2.485363 if you’re reading this with Bing maps in another tab!). This is a short uphill stretch with a falling down wall on one side and a nice wire fence on the other. At the top of this little climb turn left on to Longworth Road North then head downhill (with the mast of Great Robert Hill behind you). Just before the plantation (trees) take a right hand turn into the delightful Higher Whittaker. The path is a virtual one! It’s a theoretical path whereby you’re just down to hopping from one dry patch to another. There are very well hidden streams in this field and the occasional ankle twisting tussock. I’m trying to find something endearing to say about this stretch of the Amble…
Charlie’s Pole to Blackburn Road
So, after traversing the first marsh, keep a look out to your right hand side for the distant ‘Charlie’s Pole’ which actually is a pole (with some kind of salient number on it!). This is the second checkpoint (if it hasn’t been relocated) and acts as the dividing point for the longer and shorter routes. If you are not here by 10.30 then you are not doing the longer route! Personally, I think this is harsh. This is six miles into the walk and for at least two of them you could be being held up by mud or snow depending on the weather. In previous years the deadline was 11:00 so why it was changed is beyond me! So, having passed by checkpoint to the directions tell us to head 60 degrees north. Or, head towards the distant conifer plantation (Charters Moss) if you have a map with you and visibility is not an issue, the trees make a great landmark. More mud awaits you on the way to crossing Holden’s Brook, beware that the bridge is more sturdy than it looks. Once over the short sharp ascent at the other side of the brook – mud and lots of it as you head west and meet up with a nicer track that leads you to Blackburn Road. Wave farewell to Longworth Moor, put two fingers up at it and tell it to F-Off! We’re off to Turton!
Blackburn Road to Turton & Entwistle Reservoir
Crossing Blackburn Road carries with it the same danger as crossing Belmont Road. The traffic tends to be a bit more spread out here but is doing at least sixty mph. The hill that you see directly in front of you is the minor summit of Turton Heights, relax, you’re not going up it! Instead you have to traverse its north eastern face by heading South (it’s a funny shaped lump of nothingness!). The terrain is awful. Here is mud in superabundance and many a bump awaiting to trip us up. If there is one section of the Amble to be removed it should be this. Eventually you will approach a stile on the left, take it and then head diagonally right across the field – the path disappears and you may end up having to clamber over a barb wire fence! Then you are on Greens Arms Road. Relax again, for most of the hard work is done…for a couple of miles.
The reservoir to Cadshaw Farm
Take any turn that you want into Turton and Entwistle reservoir – you’ll see checkpoint three as you drop onto the road which leads to the damn – the only place to cross the reservoir. They serve coffee and cakes to ‘Amblers’ here, do yourself a favour; take some as you’ll need the sugar to get you up the next section. On any other day Edge Lane from the damn to Blackburn Road (A666) is a breeze, a lovely walk with fantastic views of the neighbouring hills, valleys and fields. On the day of the Amble, it’s just another long slog up a hill which doesn’t even look like a hill from a distance as it’s an eroded road. Even O.S. maps give no indication of the climb, for example Entwistle rail station lies at an approximate elevation of 215 metres above sea level, the start of the next section (the end of this climb and start of a new one) lies at 275 metres…just 60 metres or 196 feet! Yet try it and see for yourself it’s a good climb. Anyway, having done this we now get to stroll across the A666 in order to get to Cadshaw Farm, so turn left at the end of Edge Lane onto Blackburn Road.
Cadshaw to Darwen tower
And so, begins definitely the longest climb of the entire walk, the slog up Darwen hill via just about every other hill on this massif. Luckily we don’t have to climb them all, just to stick to the path, the obvious path, for a couple of miles. Then all sorts of paths merge with our path making everything a bit less clear. In addition to this Darwen Moor can be a right misty old thing – there is a chance you will need a compass here as parts of the path get a bit vague. Ignore the cairns on your left (we thought they were Darwen Tower in the distance!) Sooner or later (as long as you haven’t turned left), Darwen Tower will come into view and if you haven’t been a slow coach there should be a checkpoint here. If you have been a slow coach then it’s probably at this point that Jackie and Nigel – the sweepers will have caught up to you and will help you on with the rest of the walk and they are lovely company.
Dropping off Darwen Hill to Slipper Lowe
The next section from the tower to Slipper Lowe is a fantastic one, possibly my favourite. The views are amazing, the path is really easy to follow and for the most part…it’s downhill. When I next do the Amble this is the point where I plan on going hell for leather, watch this space…After many a twist and turn we drop down to Slipper Lowe and having crossed the road drop into the woods for a drink and a cake. Again, take the cake – Great Hill is next and by this time you will have walked around seventeen and a half miles. Thank the refreshment staff for their drinks (well you try standing around for hours being tormented by cakes galore in front of you!) and make your way south and then south-west passing Hollinshead Hall and back towards Belmont Road (A675 again). Cross carefully, it’s later in the day by now and traffic will be flying! We’re on route to that Great Hill.
Great Hill gets a paragraph on its own simply because it is such a turning point in the walk. There are far steeper hills, the Pike’s onslaught a few hours ago was far more challenging but that had steps…Great Hill offers no such amenities! The beginning has mud to such a degree that you might wonder if there is an alternative route. Bear with it, as the incline steepens the mud reduces. Beware, there is a truly pointless stile which can be a bit slippery after a couple of hundred wet boots have stomped all over it. Watch out for the group of three trees – if only to know that you haven’t gone off track and just because they’re quite spectacular on an otherwise fairly bleak moor. One false summit lies around 7/8 of the way up, sorry but it will catch you out but then it’s only another hundred yards or so and you’ll be at the cross shelter of Great Hill. Have a sit down for a minute, then be prepared for some serious descending, there is a fifty foot section where you have to climb slightly but otherwise it’s great walking and if you have time, spend a moment or two admiring the locale around the ruins of Drinkwater Farm.
The long last section – White Coppice to the Yarrow
Eventually we say a fond farewell to this lovely little hill (can you tell it’s one of my favourites?) and take in Lancashire’s most picturesque cricket ground at White Coppice – our final checkpoint. More coffee, more cakes but be careful of those two treacherous steps emerging from the pavilion – they collect mud from boots and then push you down the steps! After this feeding distraction return to the main path and then get ready for a long yomp southwards to meet with Moor Road. Just in case you were thinking ‘I’ll just bolt up Moor Road now, I know my way and it’ll be quicker…forget it, Moor Road has some surprisingly steep corners, no lighting and it’s getting dusky by now…off to the woods for us. So take the left hand turn at the gate, cross the road and turn right taking note of the sign warning not to fish (the sign is courtesy of Southport Angling Association!). This is the easiest section of the walk, there are some minor ascents and a couple of sets of steps, a steep downhill tarmac section and the world’s most narrow path. On route we’ll pass the Anglezarke Reservoir (it’s huge!) and then the picturesque High Bullough Reservoir before arriving at a road – Moor Road (see what you’ve avoided slogging up and down?). We turn right here onto the footpath on Knowsley Lane and after around ten minutes and just before a sharp corner to the right cross the road and head off into the woods again. Those still moderately alert will notice the large water chute to the left, this takes in the water from the Yarrow reservoir which we will encounter in around five minutes of moderately easy uphill walking.
The final zone!
At the apex of the climb bear slightly right to join with a broad track, with the embankment of the Yarrow reservoir on your left. After a few hundred yards go through the gate then take an immediate left, through another gate and bear right over the stream on a really small bridge. The walking here is easy, beware of missing sections of the path that have been lost to erosion (because at least one of you will still be recording your progress on your phone). Just when you thought the going was almost too easy a flight of steps jumps out of the blue – twenty seconds’ worth of climbing should have you over this last hurdle. Listen! You can hear the road, the end is in earshot. At the end of the field, surrounded by trees there is a kissing gate – a narrow one at that! Go through this and avoid falling onto the road, bear right – do you recognise the vicinity? It’s the start / end / nirvana / Valhalla / Mecca – you’ve made it around the Anglezarke Amble.
Okay I should add that you now have to go back to the Church Hall (where you registered this morning) and sign in (otherwise they’ll think you are lost). And you have to take your boots off – but you probably want to do this as they are loaded with mud. There are food and drinks at the end (yayy) and it smells divine. Even the coffee is wonderful. Take it all in, you don’t get treated this well when you’re doing other challenge walks such as the Yorkshire Three Peaks. You’ve earned it. See you again next year?