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Bleaklow & Snake / 2 days / 29 miles (47km)

OS Route Map → Map Route file →

Date: 29 Aug 2008
Start / Finish: Old Glossop.
Maps: Explorer OL1 - The Dark Peak.

Day 1Longdendale & Bleaklow Stones14.8 miles / 2980 feet (23.8km / 908m)
Day 2Bleaklow Head, Lady Clough & the Snake Path14.3 miles / 1260 feet (23km / 384m)

A criss-cross route climbing Bleaklow via the unusual approach of Near Black Clough, and descending through Lady Clough to regain high ground at Mill Hill via the Snake Path. The Pennine Way is used to cross the moor to Doctor's Gate and complete the circuit to Old Glossop.

The east held the greatest promise for some halfway decent weather and I made a solo trip to renew acquaintance with the old familiar peat and gritstone of Bleaklow. Old Glossop gave me several choices of approach route and I could decide on the day depending on the conditions: this was a trip I partially made up as I went along based on some ideas from the map.

Day 1 - Longdendale & Bleaklow Stones

Heading for Old Glossop on the M67, the thick cloud and the mizzle on the windscreen did nothing to lift the spirit and the forecast seemed optimistic if anything, with dank grey mist down to valley level. This was decisive and the choice of route was obvious: I took the longest approach via the Longdendale Trail, a low level line that would give the mist plenty of time to clear for the predicted better afternoon. Floundering on Bleaklow Hill in bad weather and thick clag is not a prospect to savour, unless you really relish the challenge!. I put on gaiters from the outset, a very rare event but these valley paths would likely see me wading through long wet grass.

Ascending past the church I took the road leading to the hospital, and just before the entrance to the grounds I forked R to join the surfaced footpath around Broom Hill towards Swineshaw reservoir. The fields on the right had an interesting menagerie including young ostriches, goats, sheep and many hens of every colour and size. Almost opposite here the unsigned footpath is easily missed: it leaves the track across a small bridge of stone slabs and ascends on the L of a small waterfall to the reservoir. The scene was depressingly gloomy and the seldom used field path was through long wet grass - the gaiters earned their keep for once.

I walked along the Woodhead Road and descended the signed footpath to the Longdendale Trail to start the 5-mile hike eastwards to the now closed Woodhead tunnel entrance, a pleasant enough walk with the mist showing signs of thinning, but there wasn't a breath of wind. There are information boards on the trail with a brief summary of the history of this trans-pennine route. Near the tunnel a track leads out to open country by the infant River Etherow.

River Etherow at Woodhead tunnel
River Etherow at Woodhead tunnel (29 Aug 2008__10:46:22)

Rounding the corner into the wooded lower reaches of Near Black Clough, the attractive cascades come into view, and I took the side path up through the trees that climbs above them to the open moor. The mist was thinning quickly now but there was still no air movement and the humidity felt appalling, I had sweat dripping from my hands and face and the midges were out, which made me try to move faster up the thin peaty path and I sweated even more... Eventually I was high enough to catch a breeze, cool down and dry out.

Near Black Clough
Near Black Clough (29 Aug 2008__11:27:24)

The walking was much better now in the cool breeze, and there is a great feeling of remoteness and solitude here as the vast spaciousness of the Bleaklow heartland begins to assert itself. The weakening line of the path arrives at a small fenced enclosure where a discernible path heads R towards Bleaklow Head, but I carried on weaving my way S to locate the ridge line on Bleaklow Hill, using the word ridge in a very loose sense (= the line of highest ground) for such a broad wilderness of wet peat hillocks, heather and rough grass sprinkled with patchy gritstone.

Gritstone and peat landscape on Bleaklow Hill
Gritstone and peat landscape on Bleaklow Hill (29 Aug 2008__13:51:47)
Peat hags on Bleaklow Hill
Peat hags on Bleaklow Hill (29 Aug 2008__13:58:40)

The cooling breeze on high ground made another decision for me: I would stay on the Bleaklow side today and pitch here, leaving the descent to the Snake Path for tomorrow when the forecast had predicted slightly higher windspeeds. I had my breeze today and I wasn't about to give it up!. What to do for the rest of today though?. There was no mini-circuit here that made natural sense so I decided to do an out-and-back to Bleaklow Stones and Grinah Stones, despite my natural aversion to walking the same line twice on the same trip.

The ridge line traversing Bleaklow Hill, i.e., the line of least resistance that has established itself over the years, is roughly indicated by a sparse line of wooden stakes that provides a good guide through the maze of peat mounds in clear weather. There is much side-to-side bog dodging involved after rain but there is always a reasonable line somewhere, and I weaved my way through to arrive at the gritty oasis of Bleaklow Stones, a superbly remote spot with distant views and an interesting assortment of oddly shaped gritstone boulders, including The Anvil.

I returned to Bleaklow Hill and looked around for a pitch. The peat mounds are remarkably effective at stopping the breeze but I found an elevated flat patch of rough moorland grass that was exposed enough to maintain an air throughput in the tent. On this trip I left the LaserComp pole hood at home: I still haven't got around to obtaining extra guy lines but I knew I wouldn't need them on this forecast.

Bleaklow Stones
Bleaklow Stones (29 Aug 2008__14:16:07)
Bleaklow Stones with The Anvil
Bleaklow Stones with The Anvil (29 Aug 2008__14:16:37)
Grinah Stones from Bleaklow Stones
Grinah Stones from Bleaklow Stones (29 Aug 2008__14:18:06)

Day 2 - Bleaklow Head, Lady Clough & the Snake Path

Why does the curlew sing in the middle of the night?. I was woken around 03:00 by one of his repertoire of very pure and very loud songs right outside the tent. The mist blotted out any views at dawn and I waited until it thinned before setting off towards Bleaklow Head, indicated by the most prominent stake on the skyline. The line of intermediate stakes suddenly swings R through a boggy area to the gritty plateau and large cairn, looking very gloomy and almost alien beneath the dark grey clouds. The Pennine Way heads S through Hern Clough and the whole landscape seemed to have a lurid yellowish cast that was confirmed in the photo.

Bleaklow Head
Bleaklow Head (30 Aug 2008__08:44:46)
Hern Clough
Hern Clough (30 Aug 2008__09:20:03)

Ascending out of Hern Clough I saw a line of cars parked at the summit of the A57 and met the first walkers of the day lower down, who looked surprised to see me coming the other way. I turned L at Doctor's Gate and followed it to emerge on the A57 lower down. Further down the road I hopped over the low wall and descended steeply to the path in Lady Clough that enters the forest and undulates along the L side of North Grain to a clearing, where a notice announced that the Blue Trail was closed due to failure of the footbridge. I didn't know the route of the Blue Trail so which footbridge?. It might have been the one I intended using at the bottom of the clough, so a short way beyond the notice I crossed the concrete vehicle bridge over the river and ascended the forest road. At the top of the rise I descended briefly on the White Trail to join the Snake Path a bit lower down, an alternative would be to continue on the road to the forest edge and slant down to join it.

Lady Clough
Lady Clough (30 Aug 2008__10:39:33)

Lady Clough is a pleasant walk but it was warm and still in the deep shelter of the valley, and the welcome breeze returned on the open Snake Path. This is a fine route, first with views of Ashop Clough and later the rock formations on the northern edge of Kinder Scout high above, yet I saw only one other walker here. Most of the heather bloom still retained some of its vibrance but was somewhat muted under the cloudy skies, some sunshine would have brought out its best. The last section of the path is paved, but in a couple of places the wilderness has fought back and some slabs are once again covered by bog.

Ashop Clough from the Snake Path
Ashop Clough from the Snake Path (30 Aug 2008__11:27:18)
Ashop Clough from the Snake Path
Ashop Clough from the Snake Path (30 Aug 2008__11:42:47)

The section of the Pennine Way from Mill Hill to the A57 is 2½ miles and is paved the whole way, a fast and easy but curious feeling walk across the wide expanse of boggy moor on a man-made pavement. I wonder if this is the longest continuous stretch of pitched path in our hills?. The one that traverses the Cheviot hills is pretty long.

At the A57 the sun forced its way through for a brief appearance and a short way further I rejoined Doctor's Gate for the descent. The weak sunlight made such a difference after so much dull landscape, the views across to Higher Shelf Stones and James's Thorn were refreshing indeed. The path crosses Shelf Brook at a footbridge and leads directly to the eastern end of Shepley Street and into Old Glossop.

Shelf Moor from Doctor’s Gate
Shelf Moor from Doctor’s Gate (30 Aug 2008__14:04:24)
Higher Shelf Stones from Doctor’s Gate
Higher Shelf Stones from Doctor’s Gate (30 Aug 2008__14:20:52)