Saturday, 8 March 2014

Navigating Saddleworth’s Historic Landmarks

The following article was written for the March 2014 edition of my monthly column, in the Saddleworth Independent.

A navigation session near Pule Hill
With the wind howling across the moors, I arrived at the Rams Head Inn, Denshaw, to meet a small group of local fell-runners who I was taking on a navigation training session. Sheltering from the wild weather in the protective cocoon of their cars, I could see the group studying the maps I had instructed them to bring.
Extracting themselves from their heated vehicles, and wrapped in layers of warm clothing, the enthusiastic group took shelter behind a stone wall for the first lesson in mountain navigation.

After issuing a six figure grid reference, the first checkpoint was identified and the first enthusiastic member of the party successfully took the group to our intended destination. As we arrived, the silent ghostly figure of an owl swept down in front of us and stealthily soared across the moor in search of its prey.

Hunkered down in the protection of the small quarry, we discussed measuring distance and the use of 'pacing'. With a new checkpoint identified, one of the group jumped at the opportunity of trying out the pacing system and led us to a footbridge at the northern end of Crook Gate Reservoir. Officially opened in 1883, the reservoir is one of four in the area originally operated by the Denshaw Waterworks Company to provide drinking water for the growing industrial population of Oldham.
Night navigation practice fine-tunes essential skills
After discussing more principles of navigation, someone else took the lead and successfully navigated the group to a small re-entrant on the eastern shores of Dowry Reservoir. With everyone now gaining in confidence, the group began to apply a combination of navigation techniques, such as handrailing, tick-off features, pacing and catchment points to locate the old remains of Dowry Castle, where we explored this once former Victorian dwelling. Built by John Gartside, who made his fortunes in the brewing business, it was sadly demolished in 1897, after being purchased by Oldham Corporation.

The next part of the session was spent looking at taking grid and magnetic bearings, route planning and how to effectively 'march on a bearing', using a variety of tried and tested techniques. With visibility low, spot height 429 (Lurden Top) was our next destination. Using the principles discussed, the whole group individually navigated themselves to the right point.

With the icy wind increasing its speed, we took in a couple more check points on Denshaw Moor, before returning to the Rams Head. Happy to have learnt new skills and improving on their existing knowledge, we retired to the warmth and comfort of the bar for a well deserved pint.
Effective map reading and navigation are essential skills when venturing out onto the hills. Local courses are available for anyone interested in learning or developing their mountain navigation abilities. For further information on courses in the area email

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