Expeditions, Navigation, Guided Walks and Trekking
I first heard of this walk when looking through Gladys Sellers’ old 1978 guide to Walks on the West Pennine Moors. This book has been in my library from well before we moved to the area and since living in Bolton we have walked and biked over many of the areas, including of course, climbing up to the peaks and their towers.
This route is the great classic walk of the area, starting from Rivington, across to Darwen Tower and then a long trek across country to Peel Tower, finishing at Holcombe.
This walk was on my list of things to do before my operation, so I took the opportunity of the settled weather to head off up Winter Hill. The day didn’t start well, first they had closed the road up to the parking spot below Rivington Pike, then I realised I had left my mobile at home. So after a great u-Turn in Horwich town centre, I changed my start point to just up the road from home, at the top of Coal Pit Lane. This added a couple of kms onto the route, but saved time and made it easy to pick up the car at the end.
As they were on the way, I went over the top of Two Lads ( a strange name for three cairns) before dropping down to Georges Lane and up to the familiar Rivington Pike. There was no-one else about apart from a Unicycle Mountain Biker. He descended the steep south face of the pike, amazing talent, I can’t do it on two wheels with suspension!
As I turned a corner along Belmont Road heading off the Pike, I surprised a couple of kestrels on the ground. They flew into the air in surprise and returned to hunting along the track edge, making their warning cries as I walked past. This road has lost much of its surface and is now a rough rocky trail, even a bit of a trial for mountain bikes. It feels a lonely place as it winds around below the edge of Winter Hill, away from the park and above the narrow road below. Belmont Road track joins Rivington Road close to its summit, with tarmac covered in messages written onto the tarmac, presumably to encourage cyclists racing up the hill. At the summit there is a choice of my route; either drop down into Belmont, cross the reservoir and skirt around the moor, or keep height by following the path to Great Hill and down to Hollingshead Hall.
I chose the latter, it had been a while since I was over Great Hill and as it was dry after the couple of weeks of sunshine, the going would be better. The dry moors were covered in splendid swathes of bog cotton and fleeing curlews crying off into the distance. My first stop of the day was at the shelter on Great Hill, with nice views over Preston to the Bowland Fells and the Lake District.
It was straight forward and familiar paths down to Hollingshead and up the path up to Darwen Tower for a spot of lunch. According to Gladys, now comes the hard part! Since her guide was published many of the paths around here have been developed as part of the Witton Weavers Way. This waymarked route forms the path I took around the east side of Darwen Moor, dropping down to the main road at Cadshaw.
Unfortunately, the path disappeared in a field full of frisky cows and their bull. Once I realised I was off route, it wasn’t worth retracing, so I kept on through the farm and across the road to Cranberry Moss. Approaching Toms Barn, I was passed by a smart blue Morgan sports car. There must be a theme here, as last week, I parked next to a red Morgan at our B&B at Whinlatter.
Picking up the Witton Weavers Way again, I had the difficulty of walking past the Strawberry Duck at Entwhistle, but time was getting short and I had a bus to catch. Approaching Edgworth I walked through a biological heritage site, where Edgworth Quarries Traditional species-rich grassland has been restored and developed. This is one of the rarest grassland types left in the UK, restricted to upland valleys in the Pennines and Dales. Passing some rather nice cottages in the village I also had to miss at least two pubs to keep to my time plan. My track passed next to the Rose and Crown, where a sign announced that late afternoon drinkers were apparently enjoying the “New Management”.
Route finding became tricky here, the path losing itself in an overgrown field ending up in the garden of a stables and cattery, me being chased by angry Canada Goose parents. But the correct path was soon picked up approaching Holcombe Hey and the MoD firing range. A gap in a wall next to Holcombe Hey farm, had an inscription in the wall asking “Visitors are requested to respect the sanctity of this place”. This was of course intriguing, so I slipped through the gap to find a couple of gravestones, one of Roger Worthington – a Baptist preacher in the area in 1709. He needed special permission to be buried next to his farm where he lived with his wife and children. Holcombe Hey was now mainly a group of expensive barn conversions, up against the fence of the firing range. Firing that day was due to finish at 3:00pm and as it was approaching 4:00, I should been fine, as long as they had finished picking up the unexploded bombs. Arriving at the stile into the range, there was no sound of firing and no flags flying. So with Holcombe Moor looming up in front of me, I hobbled across the range to the steep side up to the last tower. My heels had started to hurt, perhaps the 30km I had just walked was wearing through my socks, but I should have recognised the sign of blisters. By now it was touch and go whether I could get over the moor, touch the tower and get down to Holcombe for the 5:00 bus to Bolton. My regretful decision to pass the pubs seemed to have been a good one. I tried hard to make up time pushing hard up the almost vertical edge of the moor. But it took too long and I arrived at the Tower just as the bus was due to pass below. So I called my wife Alison and she kindly offered to come and pick me up. One final photo of the tower, a look over Manchester city centre and I headed down to the last pub I didn’t have time to visit, finding Alison already there for me.
It took just over 7 hours, not a bad rate, 34.5 km and 684m climb, the latter helped by starting up on Winter Hill. I will remember the curlews and bog cotton on all the moors crossed. A good day for walking, not hot and apart from a short shower not needing to resort to a second layer.