Pennine Way 2014 – Day Two

Friday 15th August: Crowden to Mankinholes – 23 miles

My second day’s walking is, at 23-24 miles, on paper the longest and (maybe) the hardest of the lot. With an early start quite necessary, bang on eight o’clock I’m in the tea room in The Old House for breakfast, the first of many full English(s) on this trip. As I will get used to, each of these will take thirty minutes or so to eat; and a good forty-five minutes more to digest.

This bodily patience, along with the need to pack my kit (which has mostly dried well) mean I don’t set off until after nine o’clock, ambling down from the plateau of the Old House towards the Woodhead reservoir dam (via a slimy cattle tunnel under the railway). Crossing the dam, then the A628 and then climbing a farm road, I then head north towards Black Hill via the Crowden Great Brook.

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This initially threads through sheep pasture, clumps of bracken and patches of marsh, then there are two sharp climbs up the valley side to the top of the Laddow Rocks (giving a nice view back to Longdendale). A narrow but pacy path goes along the top of the rocks, following the course of and gradually descending to meet the brook at a marshy crossing.

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Black Hill

Here commences the long walk up to Black Hill, a three mile footslog along a ribbon of flagstones – prior to their installation twenty years ago heaven knows how tough this walk would have been, over a landscape of wet peat. I try to march along, as I have to, battling the clock, but it has been a long morning already (and this bit is only the first 20% or so) and carrying a heavy pack up an reasonable incline forces me to put down every half mile or so.

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I get to the trig point at Black Hill just after one o’clock and have 10 minutes rest, consuming a Mars bar (I haven’t walked far enough yet to justify having lunch). As with Bleaklow, a lot of grass has been planted on Black Hill; twenty years ago it would have presented dunes of bare peat.

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Ready for a break and my sandwiches, the walk down Dean Clough to the road seems interminable. Perhaps my impatience is caused by the stone wall bordering the A635 being well in sight but the path being slowed by a couple of brook crossings which appear from nowhere. Once at the A635, I stagger around the road to the top of the Wessenden Head Reservoir and stop by the gate for half an hour’s lunch, just before two o’clock; a few walkers, more mountain bikers pass by.

Wessenden to Standege

With its rhododendrons and wide footpath through the bracken, Wessenden Head isn’t the least attractive walk (certainly following the bleakness of Black Hill); shortly after the second reservoir, one leaves the perimeter track to climb down to a stream, cross over this and then climb up out of the valley, levelling out across Black Moss, a very exposed moor top with more man-made lakes and a pub shimmering away in the distance to the right. Veering away from this, the moor gives way to a track, which lasts so long that I begin to gloomily trudge. Finally I reach Standedge and the A62, stopping at the dusty car park. It’s 4.30 already (plenty of dog walkers milling around here) and I’m not even halfway yet.

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Blackstone Edge to the M62

I have a good fifteen minutes rest at Standedge, right on the northern edge of the national park . On resuming I come across my first fellow Pennine “Wayfarer”, a solo walker my age who is heading for Diggle: he tells me about the varied geology he’s noticed on his journey, and a fraught encounter he had with a falconer shortly before (the falconer was unjustifiably upset with him it seems). I share my apprehension about the remainder of my day.

I find Standedge a little too dour and spartan for my tastes, but the view back over towards Diggle is worthwhile. After a mile the edge looks to continue along, however this is signposted as the Oldham Way and my Pennine Way route cuts sharp right here, to follow a gravel path across a grassy moor.

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The 8 or 9 miles of moor between Standedge and the White House pub is split into thirds by the trunk roads that traverse across between Yorkshire and Lancashire. In my battle with the clock I have to tramp across, only stopping at the roads to rest. That the landscape to the A640 is resolutely unremarkable is a boon as I grit my teeth and push onwards – this road really is in the middle of nowhere. White Hill is more exposed but hardly more inspiring: this is really bleak country, even in August (the sheep look like they’re about to shiver, the trig pillar is weathered to distraction). The lay-by at the A672 is spectacular in its soiled fly-tipped shabbiness.

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It’s a short walk from there to the pedestrian bridge over the M62. I stop for 25 minutes tea, before setting off over Blackstone Edge. This is a really superb stretch of rock-strewn passage, splendid (with the view over to Littleborough) in the evening sun. The way leaves the edge by following down an (once-supposed Roman) old road,

before turning sharply right to go along a more modern drainage conduit to the A58 and the White Horse Pub.

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The Chase along the Reservoirs

50 yards uphill of here is the final part of the day, the start of the Reservoir roads that lead round to Calderdale. It’s now eight o’clock and I take a quick five minute sit down before moving on at double pace. The sun has long been descending, how much light will I have left? How long is it to the end of the reservoir and from there down off the top to Mankinholes? Two miles? Three?

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I’m finally at the end of the reservoirs at 9.10 and it’s almost dark. The reservoir track has changed to slabs: these run in a slow, long left hand curve over Warland Drain. I’m bounding over them in a aching stupor, increasingly desperate and worried about getting locked out of the hostel. The path straightens, by now the light has almost gone. Fortunately there is a single path of slabs so I need not navigate, just move as swiftly as my legs will carry me. My shoulders and sides are really hurting.

The Descent to the YHA

It goes dark – I sense (from their being a crossing path) that I’ve reached Withens Gate at 9.30, from which I have to descend to Mankinholes, preferably before 10, when the hostel reception will shut up. I can’t see anything around me – fortunately I have a headtorch which allows me to check the map and see my feet in front of me. Following along the old packhorse slabs down the side of the edge gets me to within a field of the village, I take a hunch that this is indeed Mankinholes; it turns out that it is and I walk up to the YHA to check in at 9.50 almost thirteen hours after starting. The pub (which I was told later was excellent) would have been shut for food, so I find myself using the super noodles in my rations.

A hell of a long day and I’m battered, the desperate chasing of the final two hours on top of the previous ten hours steady trekking has put my joints and flesh to trouble. But I’m in after a hard day and at least I’ve worked hard.

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