Phantom planes, occult activities and ghostly figures have been allegedly heard or spotted over the years around the saddleworth moor area. Perfect then for an eighteen mile hike across part of them, on Halloween, as devised by friends Jenny and Mac. And a chilli at Jenny’s had been planned for afterwards, making it even more of an event to look forward to.
As it turned out, we made it back to Marsden in the daylight (just). Without any spooky encounters whilst yomping / trudging / splodging (in parts) under non-frightening (and surprisingly warm) blue skies. And the day wasn’t as planned, in that Jenny had unfortunately picked up a flu bug, so couldn’t join the walk she had organised. Which also meant no chilli for the tired walkers afterwards. How inconsiderate of her. So we convened after the eighteen miles at our local pizzeria. Along with a rested Jenny and with other friends and partners: a social end to what was still a nicely sociable walk.
I hadn’t done the route we followed in its entirety before e.g I had walked sections along either end but note the full route that Mac had planned out. I did the hike with Mac, Taru and (an other) Jenny, the four of us meeting at Marsden train station, in time to get the 9.28 to Greenfield. We hadn’t all walked together before (in fact Jenny and Mac met for the first time), so some quick intros ensued before jumping on the train with Brodie and Scout dogs.
Mac was walk leader, having done this route a few times. Mac’s the most energised mountain-walking, wild-swimming, fiddle-playing 70 year old I know. Okay, the only one I know. I hope I have at least half of Mac’s energy when I’m his age. My ‘Butterley Booters’* mate Taru was also on the walk (*the nom de guerre for the challenge walks that Taru, Jenny and I do). And we were joined by (other) Jenny, who has moved fairly recently to Marsden – it was a bit of major intro to the moorlands for her!
The hike itself started at Greenfield train station where we had gotten the train to, from Marsden. One stop away but costing a ridiculous £5.90, one way. Thanks to nonsense cross-border / cross-operator charges or ticketing tables small print or some such. Anyway, enough of that.
I’ll explain the route we took via the photos. But the route was essentially as per the sketched route below..
From Greenfield we headed uphill and up to Alphin Pike and along Wimberry Moss with Dove Stone and Yeoman Hey reservoirs below us. The views were lovely from here.
We then followed the path that winds high above Chew Brook (and the wonderfully weathered Wimberry Rocks along the way) to Chew reservoir. The rocks all have names but not being a boulderer / climber I don’t know what they are and we only traversed the top of some of the many stacks, boulders, slabs etc.
We’d been hot on the walk up from Greenfield but it was surprising how quickly we cooled down when we stopped for a break, a reminder it was nearly November.
It got a bit boggy in places on the section around to Chew res. This was in contrast to what was a really warm day and reminded us that we had had a fair bit of rain: these couple or so days of almost spring-like weather was a bit of a fluke.
From Chew Reservoir we headed across to the edge of Laddow Rocks to pick up the Pennine Way that would take us north-east up to Black Hill. We’d done a fair bit of climb from Greenfield (it felt more of schlep than the contours suggest on the map), followed by some ad hoc peat bog dodging. Which meant by the time we got to the Pennine Way, clinging as it does to the edge of the steep Crowden Great Brook valley, we were ready for a sit down snack.
I was a tad anxious about spending too long resting: I wanted to get off the hills before it got dark and (frankly) I had an eye on that pizza and didn’t want to lose the table that we had reserved. Avoiding heading back in the darkness wasn’t about ghosts or tripping up on uneven ground (we all had head torches with us), it would have just made for a slow return leg.
Not that Black Hill and the surrounding moors don’t take on a different aspect in the dark: there is a sense of the numinous at dawn or dusk, in my experience. And you don’t need to be on evocatively named (though less black, since all the seeding of the peat) Black Hill or Raven Rocks to feel that either.
But my keenness to reach Black Hill and then wend our way down the Wessenden Valley wasn’t translated that well to my tired legs! We were about twelve miles in by now and with the peat trudging earlier, I was feeling it a bit.
After another hour or so we were at the top of the Wessenden Valley, looking beautiful in the late afternoon autumnal light.
At around eighteen miles (a bit less if we hadn’t skirted some boggier bits) this was a ‘proper’ walk along the top of two dramatic valleys and then down an equally dramatic and ruggedly beautiful third. The energy spent on those valleys, along with the great company during and after the hike, added to that pizza tasting great (Duck with hoisin sauce – yep, it’s a thing).