Seen from one direction, Winter Hill rises up above the tiny Lancashire (Greater Manchester) town of Horwich in much the same way that our old friend Pendle Hill dominates the villages of Downham and Barley. This particular land mass has an extremely steep northern face and a more gentle and approachable southern aspect.The hill is a magnet for walkers from all over the country, its’ 900′ television antenna and various other pieces of ironwork at the summit seemingly not distracting from it’s charm but drawing-in walkers to any one of its’ handful of purpose-built and organic pathways.
Winter Hill is the highest summit and lies at the southern fringe of the West Pennines – a chain of lesser hills, typically less than five hundred metres in height which also include Darwen Hill and further to the east close to Ramsbottom; Bull Hill on Holcolmbe Moor. Given that a river (the Douglas) rises on its slopes and another begins just a few hundred yards to the north (the Yarrow), it will not be a surprise to anyone that this is a rather wet hill. The soil is a thick cross of shale and peat overlaying a millstone-grit base.
This hill has many approaches, of which, all but two routes converge on the tarmac road known as “Winter Hill”. Only the North Western and Northern routes make their own way to the summit.
The Western approach. From a walkers’ perspective is a perilous, ankle-twisting crawl over marshy and muddy terrain. What is important to remember here is that less then one hundred metres to the west of this very broad and at times indistinct path, lie the springs which contribute to the rising of the River Douglas.There are but a few days in each year when a walk across the great western face in a east north east direction is not a soggy experience. Numerous tussocks lie in wait for an opportunity to twist the ankles of even experienced walkers. Steps have been taken; including the constructing of a wooden footbridge in an attempt to offer some respite from the ever-present wetness but until some eccentric millionaire decides to dig deeply into his pockets in order to fund the construction of a path strong enough to withstand the trampling of a few thousand pairs of feet each year we shall just have to learn to love the mud or find a better route. This approach is most commonly taken as part of a two-summit walk that includes the lesser summit of Rivington Pike (and its’ notorious steps) but can be extended to take in another lesser summit at Noon Hill to the west. Upon reaching this peak it would be a simple task to drop down the side of the hill to meet with Belmont / Rivington Road and to wind one’s way down the lane back towards the approach to the pike whilst taking in stunning views towards Blackpool, the Forest of Bowland and the Southern Lake district.
The Eastern Approach. As with its diametrically opposite counterpart, the Western Approach, this route is not often dry. Moreover, the route essentially starts way back at Scout Road, passes Lomax Wifes farm and takes us up and over Counting Hill before hitting the Winter Hill Road just yards away from the North Eastern Approach. This is truly a slog, best left for droughts and snowbound conditions. This is a walk for the solitary walker and is probably the least frequented route. However, it is not without its attractions for there is the relaxing beauty of the Dean Brook Reservoir and the expansive views over Bolton and most of the West Pennines range of hills. On a clear day two of Yorkshire’s ‘big three’, Pen y Ghent and Ingleborough can be seen from this locale as can the seemingly ubiquitous; Pendle Hill and Longridge Fell. Most of the Southern Pennines also can be seen from here.
The South Western Approach. This can be a challenge as it involves (unless you really do like making life difficult for yourself and going off piste!) a crossing of Crooked Edge Hill (known incorrectly as Two Lads Hill – see below) as part of the walk up to Winter Hill – the road. Although the road itself is not particularly steep, it is a bit of a trudge and at times can seem never-ending. This is the way favoured in the epic walk / challenge event: The Anglezarke Amble. If you have time to stop off at Two Lads as the views across to the east are really quite spectacular.
The South Eastern approach is probably the kindest way to reach the summit of Winter Hill both on the calf muscles and on the feet for this is along a path made-up mostly of the remnants of dry stone walls, old farmsteads and the odd measure of grit-stone mixed in with a lot of soil and grass. The path is taken from Coal Pit Road – the crossroads of Scout Road and Smithhills Dean Road spawns this road and it is a good distance along the road before the path appears on the right hand side. The path is famed for being home to the memorial stone that commemorates the mass trespass of 1896 when eight thousand locals defied local land-owner Lord Ainsworth and staked their claim to walk on these moors! The path terminates at the end of the flagged section on the road which is known as Winter Hill; more or less opposite the building that is home to the mighty television mast.
The Northern approach, is probably the most difficult…in Lancashire! After turning West off the A675 (Belmont) road within a mile or so is a lay-by at which five or six cars could be comfortably parked. SD 65522 15788 Either side of the separating road are Hordern Stoops and Hordern Pasture, further north lie the three summits of Spitlers Edge, Redmond’s Edge and Great Hill which are usually combined as part of a great Belmont Moor traverse. The northern face of Winter Hill offers a simply straight-up route alongside a stone wall that must surely have been repaired many times over the centuries which it has stood. Approximately three quarters of the way into the ascent the paths split into two; the deviant left hand of these tackles the rest of the climb at a slightly less acute angle than the right hand one but neither are easy to mere mortals! Once atop the climb turn east then after approximately two hundred metres the ordnance survey column should be on your left hand side. Extensions to this rather exhausting walk could include the drop down into Belmont via Grange Brow and Grange Lodge but be warned this is a steep descent. Turn north onto the A675 for a few hundred metres then take the left hand turn onto Belmont Road once more. Now begins slowly winding but gently increasing climb back to Hordern Stoops. Quite stunning views are to be had in all directions now as Spitlers Edge is shown in it’s best angle, Noon Hill appears to the west of Winter Hill and distant views to White Coppice and the Anglezarke reservoirs come into range.
The North Western approach, is somewhat less severe in steepness but a far more elongated slog up the side of the hill. Using the meeting of the Horderns (as above) as a start off point one must cross the sometime-racetrack Belmont Road once more but this time turn right – head westerly until a track and wide gate appear on the left hand side. Within a further three hundred metres a footbridge is clearly visible on the left hand side (maybe someone would like to inform the Ordnance Survey Cartographers of this!). The continuation of the path is clearly visible all the way to the apex of the north-western face of the hill. The ordnance survey column is found by joining the sandstone and then tarmac path, after several hundred metres the column is on the left hand side, but in mist this can be a pig to find!
The North Eastern approach, is the connoisseur’s route up this hill for the scenery is spectacular! Of the two ways of getting onto the path the more scenic is at its’ start back on Belmont Road – the A675, however a shorter and more severe and far wetter route to the path can be taken that indeed does cut out a lot of the leg work and bumps but at the cost of dryness as one tussock after another gives way under each footstep and reveals its’ own micro-reservoir. The route terminates adjacent to the South Eastern “Smithils Moor” route at the crest of the hill just a couple of hundred metres distance away from the ordnance survey column. This route is the one often featured on you tube where an extreme cyclist has recorded themself heading down the hill at a rate of knotts trying to hold on for dear life – this route is not without bumps! The route starts at the A675 either to the north or south of Spring Reservoir to the east of Grange Lodge. A picture will be published when I have one for the one and only time that I completed this route I was accompanied by speedy walkers!
The Southern approach. Starting at Coal Pit Road, effectively the continuation of the ridiculously steep Smithhills Dean Road, this is a bumpy and interesting, isolated and often exposed route that takes the walker from a busy road (summer only) to the quietness and tranquillity of Smithhills Moor. On route Colonel Ainsworth’s former shooting hut is passed, but otherwise the attraction is the moor itself The ascent is gentle…if on-going, but does eventually flatten out once the stone slabs are encountered. The slabs expedite process an area of land that could be a walker’s nightmare to cross, thick and unfathomable peat lies to either side of the path. From here along this paved express-way the way forward is easily observed…walk towards the 900′ television mast and this will bring you out onto Winter Hill – the road.
Winter Hill has gained for itself a certain notoriety:
- On the 9th of November 1838, George Henderson, a Scottish merchant walking over the hill from Bolton to Blackburn, was murdered along the road directly opposite to where the television station now stands.
- On the 27th of February 1958, a Silver City Bristol 170 Freighter (G-AICS) travelling from the Isle of Man to Manchester crashed into Winter Hill several hundred yards away from the transmitter. Thirty-five people died and seven were injured.
- UFOs have been reported on Winter Hill. In 1950, a witness described a “dark flat iron shaped object hovering close to the ground” and an encounter with a being that returned to a craft before disappearing. In 1999, in what became known as the “Murphy Incident”, a farmer said he saw an object hovering over his cattle field. On investigation, the object moved away and the farmer reported the incident to the police. The farmer returned to the field and discovered the object had reappeared. He reported the incident to the Manchester Aerial Phenomena Investigation Team (MAPIT), who investigated it. While MAPIT was conducting its investigation, they alleged they were being followed by a man in a vehicle. The farmer reported that he was warned by officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food but has not been traced since the incident, and the current owner has not spoken about it.The UK government released previously classified information on UFO sightings in May 2006, one picture appeared to show an unidentified object over Winter Hill.
The Summits of Winter Hill
Winter Hill 456 metres (1,496 ft)
Two Lads Hill 389 metres (1,276 ft) / Crooked Edge Hill 375 metres (1,230 ft)
Noon Hill 380 metres (1,247 ft)
Adam Hill 360 metres (1,181 ft)
White Brow 358 metres (1,175 ft)
Whimberry Hill 340 metres (1,115 ft)
Egg Hillock 328 metres (1,076 ft)
Brown Hill 325 metres (1,066 ft)
Brown Lowe 325 metres (1,066 ft)
Burnt Edge 325 metres (1,066 ft)