Pennine Way 2007

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 2 - Edale to Diggle

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Day 1 - Monday 4th June - 15 miles on Pennine Way + 1.5 miles from Youth Hostel - 2,400 ft ascent

N.B. The calculation of mileage is a somewhat inexact science and that of ascent is even more so; different figures tend to come out depending what methods are used. The figures I have given are based on my own measurements and my own counting of contour lines, but should only be used as a rough guide. Where accommodation has been used within about half a mile of the route I have included that in the main figures, but where longer detours have been required, those have been shown separately.
The GPS mileage figure is what I recorded from accommodation to accommodation, and includes any small detours, meandering around peat bogs, and errors in route finding. In general this is about 5% to 10% greater than the mileage calculated from the map, depending upon the type of terrain.

Edale to Torside - GPS 17.7 miles

After a good night’s sleep, I awoke to uncertain weather conditions outside. It was reasonably bright, but with cloud descending over the hilltops – at least the rain had not arrived, unless it had passed over in the night. I went down for breakfast at 8.00 and there was a fair choice of hot and cold items, the hot ones being already cooked and keeping warm, apart from the egg, which was cooked to order. None of the other hostellers looked like Pennine Way walkers, but I didn’t really get to know as they weren’t very talkative.

I set off at 9.00, having seen that the forecast was pretty good for the next five days. The peaks of Lose Hill and Mam Tor were still covered in cloud as I set off, but over Kinder there soon developed patches of blue sky, with the light cloud lifting all the time. For the first part of the walk I had to retrace my route from the hostel for about a mile and a half to the official start of the Pennine Way outside the Nag’s Head, which I reached at 9.35. The first part of the walk follows the valley, ascending gently on a well-made path to Upper Booth Farm, where it drops down for a little before a mile of gradual ascent towards Jacob’s Ladder for the ascent towards Kinder Low. The weather was improving all the time, with clear blue sky over Kinder, but still a little cloud further south.

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The Old Nag's Head, Edale - Start of the Pennine Way
Old Nag's Head, Edale
Towards Jacob's Ladder and Kinder Low from Edale
Kinder Low from Edale
Edale Rocks on Kinder Scout
Edale Rocks

The real climb started at Jacob’s Ladder, with a steep ascent up the head of the valley. I was feeling the extra weight of my pack a little at this early stage of the walk, especially up the steeper bits, but my training around the mountains of Snowdonia paid off well, and it was not long before I reached the top, where the path turns right towards Kinder Low. I passed a group of three walkers on the way, but two of them had small packs, so I assumed that they were just out for the day. Edale Rocks, with shelter from the cool wind, made a convenient place for a break, having done five miles and a large portion of the day’s ascent in two hours. A man and his dog were also resting there, but again, he only looked like someone out for the day.

Kinder Scout is renowned for its central area of peaty moors, with rocky outcrops of all sorts of shapes and sizes around the perimeter. The main route now follows a path round the edge of Kinder, which is much easier and has better scenery than the original route straight across the wild landscape of the moor, covered in peat bogs, and devoid of any landmarks. It was this and other boggy parts that put many people off the Pennine Way, especially after a period of wet weather when it was difficult to find a route that didn’t involve sinking up to the knees in oozing peat at one point or another. For anyone who has not experienced this part of Kinder, it is interesting to try it out when it fairly dry, just to see what it is really like. It is often described as a lunar landscape, covered in peat hags and deep groughs, some of which turn to liquid peat in the wet.

After my rest at Edale Rocks, it was just a short walk up to Kinder Low followed by a path along the edge of Kinder Scout to Kinder Downfall, which had just a trickle of water at the moment. The predominant view when walking along the edge of Kinder is of Kinder Reservoir down below, with a backdrop of hills, the angle of view gradually changing as the walk progresses. The path goes up and down a little and is stony in places, but is generally quite easy going, and there are many of Kinder’s rock formations to look at along the way. I was already starting to get used to the weight of my pack and everything was progressing well.

Before dropping down from the Kinder Plateau, I stopped for a lunch break overlooking the Kinder Reservoir at 12.30, having walked about 8 miles from the Youth Hostel. There were a few other walkers about, but I hadn’t come across anyone who looked as if they were walking the Pennine Way as yet, but I wasn’t particularly surprised, as Monday is not a day that many people choose for starting the walk. Another factor is that, although the Pennine Way was immensely popular some years ago, there are now many more national trails to choose from, as well as walks devised by local authorities and ones like Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk devised by individuals, and some of these have achieved more popularity in recent years. There is also a feeling that, at one time, any walker worth his or her salt, had to undertake the Pennine Way as a badge of honour. Having done the walk once, not many then choose to walk it again and move on to other walks instead.

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Rock Formations on Kinder Scout overlooking Kinder Reservoir
Overlooking Kinder Reservoir
Flagstone Path over the Peaty Bogs of Featherbed Moss
Path over Featherbed Moss

At 13.10 I set off again with the weather still fine, but with more cloud gathering. After the steep descent from Kinder, there is a small ascent up to Mill Hill. Here the landscape changes considerably to that of a large area of open moorland with only distant views towards Bleaklow ahead and the gradually diminishing Kinder Plateau being left behind. The whole way is paved with stone slabs which, in my opinion, was a bit of overkill. It is true that there was a definite need for them further on over Featherbed Moss, where it was very boggy, and there would have been benefit from putting a few slabs in places along the rest of the way, but only about a third of the total was really necessary. I commented on this at the time they were being laid, but the response was that they didn’t want to do part of it and then have to come back again to do some more. With the slabs, the walking was easy on the legs, but hard on the feet, and the whole stretch is rather tedious, with only a very gradual change in scenery.

After a while, the Snake Pass came into view and the feeling of wilderness was then lost, with a stream of cars only a few hundred yards away. Eventually I reached the road crossing, but it lacked the ice cream van that would have been there on a weekend, so I just continued onwards towards Bleaklow. The ascent is very gradual and easy, though most of the views are lost along Devil’s Dike, which is sunken below the level of the surrounding peat moor. There were a number of birds for company, including golden plovers, and there was quite a lot of cotton grass along the way. By Alport Low at the top of Devil’s Dyke, I stopped for another rest with about five miles left to go to my B&B at Torside.

Bleaklow has a large area of peaty moorland, covered in peat hags and groughs, which can make walking very difficult, but the route of the Pennine Way has been carefully chosen to find a relatively easy route through these. The deeper peat groughs have had the peat washed away by the elements, leaving a gritty bed, which makes a very good footpath. By waymarking a route through these, with a few sections of stone slabs where peat is still present, the route has been made very easy. It was interesting to see that, where some slabs had been laid, the surrounding peat had now been washed away leaving the slabs raised above the bed of the grough. Eventually, there were no more slabs and the rest of the route was left to its own devices, following a small stream bed, or grain. This was a little harder going, but it did at least give the feeling of walking the Pennine Way and not a pedestrian motorway. This path is fine in good weather, when most of the grains are dry, as was the case now, but no doubt there can be problems in heavy rain, when the water demands the right to flow down its natural course, regardless of whether it is footpath or not.

From the rounded and rather barren top of Bleaklow Head, Black Hill, part of tomorrow’s walk, came into view, easily identified by its television mast. The way off Bleaklow Head is not very clearly marked, and it is easy to get confused, as it does not head in the right direction at first, going in an arc to pick up an easier route down. I picked up a path that I thought was correct, but found it started leading me further away from the direction I needed to be going. At this point I decided to enter into my GPS the grid reference of a point on path I wanted and headed over the open moorland until I picked it up. Although this sort of thing is easier with a GPS, it is still possible to do it by conventional methods using a compass bearing. The good thing about using the GPS is that it also shows how much further there is to go to the waymark that has been entered. One thing I always find is that, as soon as I feel lost, time seems to go much more slowly, and I think I have walked a lot further than I actually have. Thus, if I have say half a mile to walk over open moors, I keep thinking I should be there after a few hundred yards, which all helps to compound the feeling of being lost.

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Bleaklow from Hope Woodland Moor
An Empty Torside Reservoir, Crowden and Black Hill
Torside Reservoir

Once I had regained the proper path, it was fairly easy going, though there were some rather stony and uneven stretches for part of the way, which made things a bit more difficult at times. The weather by now was rather cloudy with just a few patches of sunshine here and there, as I made my way along Clough Edge with views over Torside Reservoir to Crowden. I was surprised to see the reservoir completely empty, but then I realised that it was undergoing maintenance and the water from the reservoir above was being diverted along a channel to the reservoir below. The view didn’t look quite the same with a bed of mud and sand rather than water, but some patches of sunshine lit up Black Hill and Crowden from time to time, which improved the outlook.

I noticed a couple of walkers ahead of me and, as I got closer, they looked like two of the three that I had passed by Jacob’s Ladder, so I wondered what had happened to the third one. Before I had chance to catch them up, I stopped to phone home whilst I was able to get a good signal, not being sure whether I would have any reception lower down. I continued on to join the road towards my B&B for the night, past a lovely show of rhododendrons at the bottom of the hill, and noticed that the two walkers were heading along the road as well, turning down to the same B&B as me. I got in just after them and started chatting with them and the owner Mr Crook. It turned out that one of them, Pete, was walking the Pennine Way as part of his length and breadth of Britain walk for various cancer charities in memory of his wife who had died the previous year. He had already raised £4,500 of sponsorship money and had started by walking the Coast to Coast in March. He was doing the Land’s End to John O’Groats part in a number of sections with a break back at home between each. This section was taking him from Edale to Edinburgh, and the others two walkers were friends who had joined him for the day. One friend lived in Edale, so did part of the walk to Kinder Downfall, then looped back towards home. The other friend was waiting for his son to collect Pete and him and take them to the pub for a meal before returning home, leaving Pete back at the B&B.

Mr Crook was recounting tales of Pennine Way walkers who turned right instead of left at Kinder Downfall and ended up back in Edale, from where they rang in the middle of the afternoon to say what had happened. He also had a number of stories of walkers who were ill prepared for a walk like the Pennine Way, and various other amusing anecdotes. The son then arrived to take the others to the pub whilst I went to have a shower and get changed. I had the choice of either eating at the B&B or having a lift to the pub, but as I was the only one left wanting a meal, it seemed better all round to have a lift to the pub. I had agreed to a lift at 19.00, and went outside into the lovely evening sunshine to find Mr Crook harnessing up his pony and trap, so it made me wonderer whether that was the transport to the pub, but a little while later, Mrs Crook pulled round in her car and took me to the Peels Arms in Padfield, about two miles away. She offered to pick me up later but, as it was such a lovely evening, I declined and said I would walk back.

When I went inside the pub, I saw the other three sitting at a table. They had already had their meals, so I joined them to have mine and we had a good chat. I had steak and kidney pudding with boiled potatoes and vegetables and a couple of pints of Theakston’s bitter. The other three also offered me a lift back, but I stuck to my plan and walked back along the disused railway that is now a foot and cycle track and part of the Trans Pennine Trail, which brought me back to just below the B&B.

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Day 2 - Tuesday 5th June - 12.2 miles on Pennine Way + 1.5 miles to Diggle - 1,950 ft ascent

Torside to Diggle - GPS 15.6 miles

I had a good breakfast at 8.00 chatting to Pete about his walk and also to Mrs Crook. It turned out that they have a new bunkhouse, with four beds in each room, which is a great help when Crowden Youth Hostel is full with school parties. Crowden was due to be closed by the Youth Hostel Association, and was very run down, but a new hostel had been built, financed partly, I believe, by Rotherham Council, who now have first priority for school parties. As with most hostels, when school parties are booked, even if the hostel is only half full, other members are turned away. The excuse given is health and safety or something similar, but I suspect it is more likely to be the worry about paedophiles amongst other hostellers.

Pete and I started out together at 9.00, taking a path down the field to a tunnel under the old railway, then on to the dam of Torside Reservoir to rejoin the Pennine Way. This avoided the busy road that we had walked along last night. Just past the dam, I had a panic call from home to say that all the landing lights had gone off in our hotel, so I had to talk my wife though finding the circuit breaker panel and switching back on the breaker that had tripped. As I suspected, one of the lights failed to come on indicating that it had caused a surge as it had broken. By the time this was sorted out, Pete had already gone some way ahead, but I would be seeing him again, as he had a similar schedule to mine for the next few days.

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Rhodeswood Reservoir from Dam of Torside Reservoir
Rhodeswood Reservoir
Laddow Rocks
Laddow Rocks

All the way to Laddow Rocks I could see Pete up ahead, and I could see the new hostel in Crowden as I went past up the hillside. As expected, I was a little less energetic today, but there were fewer miles to walk, so I had plenty of time to take things easy. For about nine months now I had been having problems with my left heel because of a fairly common condition called plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of hard tissue on the base of the foot. This results in pain when putting weight on the heel first thing in the morning and after periods of rest. The pain tends to go away after a while, but the condition can still be aggravated by too much weight on the affected area. I had not been suffering badly, but was worried that it could get a lot worse throughout the walk, so had been trying to lessen the pressure on my heel by taking more of the weight on the ball of my foot. This was all well and good as far as my heel was concerned, but had the effect of making the ball of my foot rather sore. Things were not too bad this morning, but I decided that I would be better off walking more normally and just try to avoid walking too heavily on it.

The weather, which had been sunny at first, started to cloud over and there was a fresh easterly wind making it feel quite cool, which was fine for walking, but not so good for taking a break without shelter. By Laddow Rocks, I found a little hollow beside some of the rocks and was able to have a rest there with some protection from the wind. The scenery was now looking rather drab and gloomy, with thickening cloud and a general murkiness all around.

On previous long distance walks, I have always had a problem finding something to give a bit of taste to my drinking water without being too heavy to carry. When water is cold it is not unpleasant to drink, but if it warms up on a hot day it can taste disgusting and is certainly not at all refreshing. Fruit squash is alright, but comes in litre bottles so the unused part adds extra weight that has to be carried. It can also taste too sweet, particularly when drunk in large quantities. I found a product called Kool-Aid, which comes in small sachets, each of which makes about two litres of drink. The only problem is that the instructions say “add one cupful of sugar, more or less to taste” (it is from America). There is no way that I would want to add that amount of sugar, but it still needs quite a bit to offset the bitterness of the drink. I was trying this out now for the first time, not that my drink was getting warm, but just because I wanted something I could use all the time. I had only put in a fairly small amount of sugar, about eight teaspoonfuls in two litres, but it certainly made a far more refreshing drink than plain water, even if it were somewhat on the bitter side.

After my rest break, Pete was now a long way ahead, and I could just see him in the distance, almost at the top of Black Hill, so I doubted that I would see him for the rest of the day as he had booked a B&B in Marsden, whereas mine was in Diggle. Today’s walk had had little work done to the footpaths so far, except for a few of the steeper parts, so it was not so good for making rapid progress, but more in keeping with an area of wilderness. I met a chap coming the other way and he was bemoaning the inaccuracy of the weather forecast, saying it was like the middle of winter on Black Hill rather than the fine, sunny day that was promised. In fact, the main landmark on Black Hill, the Holme Moss transmitting mast was barely visible as all but a very small section at the bottom was lost in the low clouds, which were only just clear of the summit.

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Paved Path over Summit of Black Hill
Summit of Black Hill

The path up to the summit used to be quite boggy, but now it is paved with flagstones for most of the way. About half way up, I passed a chap with camping gear having a rest and assumed he was a Pennine Way walker, though I didn’t stop to ask. At the top, the path levels out onto the flat summit plateau and I was amazed at what a difference there was from the last time I was up here. A meandering path of flagstones goes right up to and around the trig point which was previously often inaccessible in the middle of a sea of liquid peat. The trig point is elevated about four or five feet above the ground with a neat stone cairn built around its base, but at one time this trig point was at ground level. Over the years the peat has been eroded away leaving the trig point sitting high above the ground. The other noticeable thing is that there is more vegetation growing back on what still remains of the peat. When there was no proper path, everyone used to wander around the summit area trying to find the best way across the peat, but now there is a clear and easy stone pathway, few people venture off, giving some chance of recovery. Not all of the erosion is caused by walkers, however, as the wind and rain cause a considerable amount of erosion on their own without the help of man.

A little way past the summit, I came across Pete, who had been taking a rest. He normally likes to press on to get to his destination in good time, whereas I tend to spread my walking out to fill the whole day unless the weather is bad. After a brief chat, he was off again whilst I stopped for lunch. He is following a similar schedule to mine as far as Malham, so I expected to meet up with him again.

By this time, the weather had brightened up again with quite a lot of blue sky but still a cool NE wind. Years ago, it took a while to find the correct route off Black Hill, as there was no distinct path and everywhere looked the same with peat hags and pools of liquid peat, but now there was no possibility of mistaking the route, as the flagstones lead over the edge of the plateau to join the path going down. From there the view opened up to reveal the valley leading down to Holme Firth and the road running past the top of the Wessenden Reservoirs. There was still a distant haze, but it was just possible to see Huddersfield.

I had resorted to putting on my fleece to keep out the cold wind whilst I rested, but removed it to continue on my way, as it would tend to get warmer as I dropped into the shelter of the valleys below. On the way down I met up with a chap from Hyde who was out walking for the day and I walked with him for a while until we parted company by the dam of Wessenden Reservoir where he headed onwards to Marsden. He had done a lot of long distance walks including the Pennine Way, Coast to Coast and Offa’s Dyke Path so we had an interesting chat. The bright weather brought out the best of the scenery around Wessenden and, with more shelter from the wind, it was pleasantly warm for a change.

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Wessenden Reservoir
Wessenden Reservoir
Waterfall near Wessenden Reservoir
Waterfall near Wessenden Reservoir
Landslide on Path near Wessenden Reservoir
Landslide on Path

After crossing the Wessenden Reservoir dam, I headed round the hillside towards the little waterfall, but before very long I came to a sign saying “Footpath Closed”. I hadn’t been paying much attention earlier on whilst I was chatting, but I remembered an account of Phil Northall’s walk last year when he mentioned the closure and diversion. I had obviously missed the sign by the dam, but I didn’t want to turn back now, so decided to continue and find out the reason for the closure. The problem was caused by subsidence of the path in places, some of it having crumbled away down the steep side of the valley. However, it was easy enough to walk around this on stable ground, so I continued on my way. It was obvious from a number of boot prints that I was not the only one who had taken this option. By the waterfall, I stopped for a rest and some more of my packed lunch at about 14.45. I only had about four miles of fairly easy walking left go, so I had plenty of time.

Returning from the waterfall along the opposite side of the valley, I made my way further along with fine views of Blakely Reservoir below and Wessenden Reservoir above with its colourful show of rhododendrons. A steady climb brought me up to the moor-top reservoirs of Swellands and Black Moss. Swellands Reservoir was completely drained and a track of hard core had been laid right down into the reservoir itself, where there was a large digger and huge pile of straw bales. Black Moss was also having work done, but was only partially drained revealing rather incongruous sandy beaches. Two ladies with two girls arrived to take advantage of the little taste of seaside up on the moors. Apparently there is normally just a small patch of sand, on which the girls liked to play, but now there was much more. One of the ladies said that she had heard of putting barley straw in ponds to keep them clean, but had not heard of putting it in reservoirs, which is what appeared to be taking place now.

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Blakeley Reservoir
Blakeley Reservoir
Playing on the Beach at Black Moss Reservoir
Black Moss Reservoir
Redbrook Reservoir and Pule Hill
Redbrook Reservoir

Past Black Moss, the view opened up over Redbrook Reservoir with the main A62 road running past and a backdrop of gentle hills with the steeper and more distinctive Pule Hill to the right. Here it looked like the Pennine Way had had another change of route, as the flagstone path continued on down towards the reservoir, whilst the path marked in my guidebook was quite overgrown. However, I had had just about enough of flagstone paths, so I decided to take the original route instead, but first I had a break in the warm sunshine to admire the view and to rest my feet, which were feeling a little sore.

The way along the old route was not very easy, but it was good to walk on some soft, peaty ground for a change, as it was much easier on my feet, though harder on the leg muscles as there was a lot more hopping about to do and more ups and downs over the uneven ground. There is a big difference between the rough walking of the early Pennine Way and the sanitised footpaths of the present day. Of course, a lot of it came about through necessity when the number of walkers escalated, and erosion started to become a major problem. Drastic action was then taken on the assumption that numbers were going to rise even further, but in hindsight that proved not to be the case once other walks started to take over in popularity, and the measures that were taken now seem like overkill and are disliked by many walkers.

I rejoined the new route of the Pennine Way near the road and then found my way down to Diggle along part of the Oldham Way, also shared by the Pennine Bridleway. I wasn’t quite sure where my B&B was, so asked directions in the middle of the village, only to be directed round in a large loop approaching it from back up the main road and from the opposite direction. I found out from the landlady that there was a shortcut from where I first entered the village that could have saved me quite a bit of extra walking. She was also concerned that I would want breakfast early enough to catch the bus back up to the top of the hill, which is apparently what most people do, but I told her that once I was on foot I preferred to stay that way if I could. In any case, it was not going to be a very long walk the next day, so I didn’t mind the extra climb back up the Oldham Way.

After a welcome shower and washing out my walking clothes, I went down to the Diggle Hotel for a couple of pints of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord and a meal. It was a beautifully warm evening, so I sat outside in the sunshine to have a huge pork chop for £6.95. Diggle is one of the many small towns and villages on the fringes of Greater Manchester, but almost into the Pennine Moors so, although it has been heavily influenced by the Industrial Revolution, it still enjoys a lovely setting amongst the surrounding hills. I decided to have a little wander around, as I thought I had seen a canal on the way down, so I took a bridleway going in that general direction only to find that it was badly overgrown with nettles and part of the wall and fence had collapsed across it making it even more difficult. To add insult to injury, it appeared to come to a dead end at the bottom so I had to retrace my route back, though I did manage to see that there was a fishing pool across a stream, which is the water that I had seen from higher up.

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