Wednesday, 15 January 2014

An early morning stroll over Black Hill

Photo by Ray Green. All rights reserved.
Recently I was asked to write a regular walking column in the Saddleworth Independent newspaper. The following article appeared in the January edition.
Start: Wessenden Head, A635
Distance: 7.5km (Approx)

With the season making its change from the rich golden colours of autumn to the dark blanket of winter, todays early morning walk onto Black Hill revealed the first snowfall of the season.

Setting out from Wessenden Head on the Greenfield/Holmfirth Road, I headed along the Kirkless Way towards Goodbent Lodge. This section of the route is often wet under foot, however, today the ground was firm after a night of hard frost. Upon reaching Nether Lane the route turns south, over a stile, prior to reaching the former Victorian hunting lodge. Descending the fields I heard the familiar sound of a heavy-lift helicopter drifting up the valley on the wind. Scanning eastwards, the double rota-blades of a military Chinook helicopter came into view above the trees that surround Digley Reservoir. This beast of burden flew slow and steady above the moor before disappearing from view behind Black Hill.

Continuing my descent I soon reached Black Pool Bridge, which spans Marsden Clough just below the convergence of Reap Hill Clough and Dean Clough. This picturesque spot marks the start of the climb over Good Bent, along a prominent track which leads to Stopes Moor. The numerous shooting butts which line the track are a clear indication that this is prime Grouse shooting land.

After crossing Issues Clough, I headed due south and made the slow lung-busting climb directly up Hart Hill before turning west along Issues Edge. Looking back down the valley, a wonderful vista unfolded across to Digley Reservoir as the early morning mist began to rise from the valley floor. Continuing south-west, my feet broke through the outer frozen layer of peat that was covered in a thin layer of fresh snow. After a short while, the summit trig point on Black Hill came into view and soon after I reached the white concrete pillar known as Soldiers Lump. It was from this point that, in the eighteenth century, a Royal Engineers party took triangulation measurements whilst conducting the first full mapping survey of Great Britain, which began in 1783.

Taking shelter behind the trig point, I savoured the warming contents of my flask whilst reminiscing about a previous journey across this peaty plateau when completing the Pennine Way. Unlike today, there was no stone flagged path providing an easy navigable route across what was a desolate black quagmire. Alfred Wainwright said of Black Hill, "It is not the only fell with a summit of peat, but no other shows such a desolate and hopeless quagmire to the sky”.

Continuing on along the Pennine Way, the stone path was slippery underfoot, beyond Black Dike Head, and care had to be taken on the long descent after the previous night’s frost. Beyond Dean Clough the short climb back to Wessenden Head marked the end of what had been a delightful early morning outing.

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