Getting back into walking

The grand walk around Smithills Moor on 24th April, 2021

I’d promised myself a ‘getting back into the swing of things’ type of walk for a week or two and with the onset of good weather, I couldn’t remember the last time we’d had rain, this weekend seemed like the perfect opportunity, whilst Chris stayed at home and did the gardening. I didn’t relish the idea of driving well over 90 minutes to get to Pendle and I also thought that given my current lack of fitness that to attempt Pendle Hill would have hospitalised me! A gentle stroll up to Rivington Pike and a meandering route down back to the car would have been just what the doctor ordered then…

Eventually, after some arguments between me and my iPhone cable splitter – which cuts out, I reached the start of the walk at around 9:25 and was on route by 9:30. I did toy with the idea of mapping this out via my Fitbits ( I had both on because I don’t trust them) in conjunction with the phone app but then decided this would zap my battery, or my data or more likely both!

The first port of call was the Pinetum, we don’t have many trees where I live now, so this afforded me the chance to see something more than Amelanchiers and Cherry trees and it is a nice flattish kind of start to the walk.  By 9:45 I had already decided that this would not just be a “Pike and back” route, having seen it from afar for the last few car outings, I wanted to nail Winter Hill summit but on my own terms – I would not be choosing any of the harder routes up to the top. I know  how boring this can sound but I wanted to bag the summit via the road route. This meant heading west and then south in order to get to the start of the Winter Hill road off George’s Lane – I had done this before, twice, so I was familiar enough with the route. I was surprised to see that the Dog Hotel that was, had now become a pop-up eatery, selling all sorts of drinks which were all neatly laid out, on a table, becoming increasingly warmer and less and less palatable! They also advertised that they sold Greenhalgh’s pies – I declined the chance to cart around with me – something as hot as Mercury’s core with heart attack potential, things like this were at least in part to blame for my current ‘rotund’ physique! Walking past was easy.

After some time I arrived at the turn-off for Winter Hill (the road) and began the gradual ascent. I had anticipated there being lots of folks out and about today, more so than normal given the freedoms now afforded to us in post lockdown…I had no idea they would be spread so far and wide, I saw people going the same way as me! Thankfully the three men that I did see decided to take a path which I had once considered, but decided against (which I believes leads all the way up to Crooked Edge Hill). I did get talking to a man who was walking down Winter Hill who had said that the Pike had appeared teeming with people since more or less first light this morning. That’s kind of a good and bad thing, good in that people are getting exercise and socialising and bad as I have now been possessed by the spirit of the late, great Alfred Wainwright and want all of the countryside to myself! Don’t get me wrong, I do like people, I do enjoy talking to them on route…but I don’t like having to wait for them at stiles and kissing gates and well most places to be honest! The distant views of the Pike were instilling in me the belief that towards that direction lay an awful lot of ‘waiting for people’.

Counting Hill in all its majesty.

I found myself to be coping so well with walking that the notion of extending the route to detour around Dean Mills Reservoir leapt into my mind and wouldn’t vacate. Hence I resolved to walk on past Two Lads and instead took the right hand turn onto yet more moorland – or at least the slabbed path which leads down and south-west, passing the former site of Smithills shooting hut. Progress was quite quick, given that I did occasionally stop to take the odd hazy photograph. Overhead – or at least all around me, were invisible sources of constant sound – Skylarks and by goodness were they on form today! I exchanged pleasantries with a couple who looked to have come from where I was heading and who were heading where I’d been. There was another friendly exchange between myself and a man who was a dead ringer for my one-time next door neighbour and then finally I was at the top of the little slope and in front of me was the small but perfectly azural Dean Mills reservoir.  To be honest you could possibly fit eight of these into the Lower Ogden Reservoir (my all-time favourite body of water) but that should not detract from this being in a lovely location and the shade of blue from a reservoir which has previously labelled as brown or peaty…well it was so worth the trek here.

I decided not to loiter as I was feeling a little bit hungry and thirsty and in need of a sit down. Although there was nothing wrong with the ground I fancied there might be somewhere nicer to sit further uphill and duly began the gentle ascent of this lesser visited of the West Pennines: Counting Hill. I think the last time that I was in this vicinity was in the winter of 2013 when I met up with a lady from the walking forum for a walk which turned out to be one of my favourites of the year – with snow, not normally my favourite weather condition. The terrain is essentially one giant peat sponge, soaking up every bit of water that falls on the twin plateaus of Counting and Winter hills, filtering it and conveying it on to the abundance of reservoirs situated to the south and west of the area. This is not the most arduous of climbs in fair weather, pardon the pun but it is a breeze! In inclement weather the organic path vanishes, in fact it is hardly visible at the start and end. Today I got lucky, so lucky in fact that I only saw one person on this hillside until I was within striking distance of where this path merges with the one which branches from Winter Hill road all the way down to Belmont Road. I found a very handily placed arrangement of rocks at which I sat and ate my lunch and tried to get some decent photographs but the haze was destroying clarity leaving everything looking a bit washed out on the monitor afterwards – you can’t have everything! Within seconds of my rising from my dolmen of a seat, a cute little bumble bee had landed and began foraging for whatever bumble bees forage. This would lead to one of the clearest photos of the day.

Who knew there was a tarn up here?
It’s yours truly trying to look enigmatic!

Winter Hill, the true summit of Winter Hill now beckoned and having not been to the top of this for close to three years I was up for the quite gentle task of traversing the remainder of Counting Hill and onto the col which is now gaining popularity at the top of Winter Hill (the road). I was almost sad to be leaving Counting Hill as this was a wonderfully tranquil and solitary place where I think  I could easily spend large amounts of time and only come away feeling good about myself.  I think I counted twelve people who’s path I crossed on route to the ordnance survey column – my only one of the day! Ordinarily, it’s rare to see more than one, I think this is the post pandemic phenomena – people are so bored of staying at home that even more are coming out into the countryside, well, as long as they don’t get in the way I suppose… It was a really welcome change to approach the column without my boots getting a liberal coating of mud, people can dress it up however they want but I do know the difference between peat and mud – mud stinks, peat does not! There was no spectacular view to the Yorkshire Icons to be had today so I quickly stood up and made my way back to the road, took a left and after a few metres took a right to begin the longest downhill section up to this part of the walk. Again I did encounter a lot of people on route, far more than normal, Winter Hill never used to attract the hordes but I have a feeling that’s transitional.  I was torn between wanting to wander across the great wide track across Rivington Moor to the Pike and bagging Crooked Edge Hill once more.

There’s nothing spectacular about this particular hill, yes there are two great mounds of stones and another budding ‘lad’ at “Two Lads” but it’s not like they offer a mobile phone charging station or vend a nice full-bodied merlot, they’re just two mounds of stones which people have taken to treating with a certain sentimentality which eludes me (and yet I actually love Pendle Hill!). All the same, it’s important to stick at one’s objectives for the day and the ascent of Crooked Edge Hill had been part of my itinerary for…a few hours. Having stumbled upon a path which seemed to have potential to escort me over towards the Pike track I made a deal with myself to bag Crooked Edge Hill and return to this path to achieve all relevant objectives. That being said, the possibility was denied me as I couldn’t find (or devote the time and patience) this path to the Pike and instead filtered off back down the bumpy and vertigo inducing drop down Crooked Edge Hill to the former dog hotel / pie shop! This is not my favourite part of the route and I was delighted to be back on terroir – almost firmer at the front of the shop. I was only slightly tempted by the sight of what had to be by now, bottled warm water and decided to have a seat at another large stone and with a large helping of fortune discovered I still had some energy gels with me, which were readily consumed. By this time Apple Weather app was reporting the local temperature as 17 Celsius – it felt a good deal hotter than that!

The reward for the slog uphill, the Tower atop the Pike.

I’m not a fan of the section from the Dog hotel of old; to the irrelevant lump which is Brown Hill, it’s boring and seems to go on forever. The highlight was watching two young lads leg it up the side of an extremely steep – I want to say ‘sheep trod’ but no sheep in its right mind would attempt that thing, in less than 17 seconds – the two lads from their party who had stayed on the ‘road’ were not subtle when it came to reporting the time taken. It was very impressive, I had looked at this slope in awe on my way past many hours earlier!

By now the sun was truly beating down on me as I turned off the main road and headed slowly up the track which would lead me to my turn-off for ‘The Pike’. There was no way in hell that I would attempt the southern ascent, which is fairly steep and obviously more exposed to the merciless sun. The path I took almost loops around the entire mound but then turns 180 opposite the path to Winter Hill. It’s more easily ascended, thankfully and far less exposed – there’s itself in the way if you get what I mean! Soon enough I had ascended my last ‘peak’ of the day. To be fair to the Pike it is the steepest one, just it also happens to be the summit with the least altitude, the views everywhere today were essentially crap so really with the Pike overlooking the activity just below it – dozens of people enjoying their day out in the sun whilst taking in scenery other than their own back gardens, had to be the summit with the best views of the day!

After very carefully descending the stone staircase and then the more eroded path I spent a moment talking to a couple of wags about their dog – a lovely Caucasian Shepherd (female) who looked only slightly smaller than your average pit pony! I did want to take a photo but figured that might be a bit:

  • Invasive – the woman has a right to walk her dog wherever she wants without people ‘papping’ her!
  • Dodgy – this could have been construed as me pretending to take a photo of her dog in order to get one of her
  • Daft as the woman who owned the dog was a bit on the attractive side and this would probably have got me in trouble with Chris.

So I moved on with best intentions intact. Which leads me nicely to the next section: the Rivington Pike Terraced Gardens. Oh my where do I start? Since 2016 when the Repairing Rivington project secured £3.4M  from the Heritage Lottery Fund  to essentially tidy the place up, things have been changing. Their website : https://www.rivingtonterracedgardens.org.uk/get-involved/the-restoration-project/ words it differently but we are both pointing at the same sun if you catch my drift! I appreciate the drive and efforts and intentions of the project. But, by God has it ever made things bloody confusing around here now as old paths (and now lakes >>> ) are unearthed. It’s quite possible to spend a lot more time here than what you might have originally intended and that would be mainly down to the fact that you are now essentially lost in a maze of paths, and castellated things! It’s lovely here, don’t get me wrong, but part of the attraction pre 2016 was the knowledge of ‘how it had been’, we’d become accustomed to it looking a certain way and now it’s looking a different way, not all together different, just more paths – you kind of see where I’m heading here (pardon the pun). Stop it with the incessant path unearthing…or I could just get over it and if I don’t like it, don’t bloody go here, hey they are leaving Great Hill alone!

Ultimately I ambled on over to the start of my walk on the long driveway having spent roughly five hours walking around in the sun – good job I’d put some factor 30 on hey?

Summary

I was over the moon to have got around this trek and delighted when I looked at my Fitbits (yes, I had then both on) to discover I had done 30K steps as I would really have been content with just the bagging of the Pike and Two Lads, so to have taken in the other two peaks was a real bonus. Counting hill, well more specifically the stones where I took my lunch stop was a little slice of heaven that I was lucky to find given that this was not part of my route when I set off this morning.  There is something rather special about the less frequented summits – even though there was evidence enough that many more people have traversed that hillside, that path didn’t lay itself! i wasn’t surprised to see so many people out and about, moreover, I’d expected Rivington to be teeming and by the time I finished it was. I am not against the Rivington renovation projects per se and it won’t put me off returning every once in a while, but for now my friend Great Hill beckons and I’ve really missed her!

To discover more about the Rivington Restoration project and other articles about Rivington and days out there, take a gander at their web site: https://www.rivingtonterracedgardens.org.uk/

Distance covered: roughly 12 miles (19km)

Ups and downs: Around 1800′  (540+metres)

Song stuck in my head: Harry Styles – Adore You

 

Here’s the route on plotaroute.com – with my fuckup included!