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Longdendale & West Bleaklow 2 days / 19 miles (30km)

OS Route Map → Map GPX Route file →

Date: 02 Apr 2023
Start: Hadfield Station / Finish: Glossop Station.
Maps: Explorer 001 - The Dark Peak.

Day 1Longdendale Trail & Bleaklow Head9.8miles / 2016 feet (15.8km / 614m)
Day 2Hern Clough, Mill Hill & Chunal Moor8.8miles / 364 feet (14.2km / 111m)
Near Black Clough

An almost circular station-to-station route in the western Dark Peak, starting at Hadfield and ending at nearby Glossop.

The route takes the Longdendale Trail starting at Hadfield station and follows the course of the old Woodhead railway for 6½ miles (10½km) past several reservoirs to the closed Woodhead tunnel entrance where it crosses the bridge to enter the River Etherow valley and ascends to Bleaklow via Near Black Clough.

It then takes the very familiar section of the Pennine Way from Bleaklow Head across to Mill Hill and descends via a new line over Chunal Moor to Glossop.

Having reluctantly refrained from winter backpacking this season after medical issues last year, the forecast seemed benign for an early April first trip but we clearly misjudged it this time: despite many years of deep winter mountain camping experience with no difficulty, this pitch on Bleaklow Head will be forever remembered as the coldest we have ever been and a stark warning.

Day 1 - Longdendale Trail & Bleaklow Head

We left the station down the road a short way and turned sharp right to the Longdendale Trail head, fairly busy today on a sunny Sunday. It runs alongside five reservoirs to the closed Woodhead tunnel entrance where a bridge crosses to the western bank of the River Etherow and a track enters the valley. This spot was particularly busy and we passed what appeared to be an ethnic gathering on the riverbank commanded by a minister in a long white gown with a hooked staff.

At the track end in the trees, an attractive and clearly popular spot by the tumbling waters, we ascended the slanting path up to the rim of Near Black Clough.

Bottoms Reservoir
Bottoms Reservoir (02 Apr 2023__10:24:54)
Torside Reservoir
Torside Reservoir (02 Apr 2023__11:38:32)
Woodhead tunnel entrance
Woodhead tunnel entrance (02 Apr 2023__12:59:03)
River Etherow
River Etherow (02 Apr 2023__13:08:15)

The rough path of peat and gritstone climbs steadily to clear the trees with improving views into the deep clough of heather and rocks and later to the hills beyond. After recent rain the peat was very gloopy in parts and the ascent was more arduous than usual as we weaved around to avoid the worst bits. Surprisingly we met a few walkers on this rarely mentioned path, most descending from the plateau.

In the uppermost reaches of the clough the terrain becomes more chaotic and, just beyond some isolated fencing, the path more or less vanished in the sinuous channels of the plateau, though the odd vague fragments of trodden line would occasionally appear to help or hinder progress!. Checking our position we finally picked up a vague line that led us directly towards the summit cairn.

We found a good pitch spot nearby just as a decidedly chilly breeze had developed and we retreated quickly into the warm shelter of the tent. The silvery light of the moon cast its glow throughout the night, occasionally accompanied by a bit of grouse cackling and the unmistakable dive-bombing sound of a snipe.

Near Black Clough
Near Black Clough (02 Apr 2023__14:31:03)
Near Black Clough
Near Black Clough (02 Apr 2023__15:45:26)
Bleaklow Head
Bleaklow Head (02 Apr 2023__17:17:16)
Pitch at Bleaklow Head
Pitch at Bleaklow Head (02 Apr 2023__17:44:35)

Day 2 - Hern Clough, Mill Hill & Chunal Moor

Around dawn in the comfortable warmth of my sleeping bag I unzipped the inner tent door and… oh my God! The flysheet was thickly encrusted with frost, as was the terrain outside, and that chilly breeze had developed into a bitingly cold quite strong wind. We had misjudged the forecast and were not prepared for this: I had my tracksters rather than windproof winter trousers and only a lightweight down jacket, not nearly enough protection.

Packing everything we could inside the tent, we braced ourselves and got outside, the frost having thinned considerably in the weak morning sunshine. Despite the bone chilling wind and shivering limbs the tent was dismantled and everything packed away with pleasing efficiency. I even managed to work the tiny camera for a morning photo, though I'm amazed it wasn't blurred because my arms - and entire body - were shaking uncontrollably and continued to do so for the next couple of hours. This was one case where starting the day with a steep ascent would have been welcome to generate some heat, but we were pitched at a summit and it was all gently downhill!.

Heavy frost at Bleaklow Head pitch
Heavy frost at Bleaklow Head pitch (03 Apr 2023__07:39:42)

The continuing discomfort was soon suppressed as we enjoyed the sunny morning through the occasionally very wet landscape of Hern Clough and onto the familiar long paved traverse of Glead Hill to Mill Hill, an open windswept moorland with no trace of shelter. We were hopeful of a mobile snack van at the A57 crossing for a hot brew but no such luck.

Approaching Hern Clough
Approaching Hern Clough (03 Apr 2023__09:50:45)
Pool on Glead Hill
Pool on Glead Hill (03 Apr 2023__10:36:30)

At Mill Hill we took a new descent line westwards leading to the trig point of Harry Hut on Chunal Moor, its gleaming white pillar clearly visible in the distance. The path passes the extensive wreckage of a B-24J Liberator that crashed here in 1944, the two-man crew unusually surviving to tell the tale. The path is initially clear and easy to walk but soon it all but disappears in a boggy expanse where we threaded the best line we could, aiming for a clear continuation of the path up to the trig point. There is a good view over the moorland back to Mill Hill and onward to Glossop.

A clear path descends NNW to a gate, passing Worm Stones with a good view over Whitethorn Clough. At the gate we followed the rightmost path directly down to Gnat Hole. A short walk along the road we took the access track through the farm to a bridge over to the northern bank of the stream and ascended the footpath to Hague Street and into Glossop.

Harry Hut trig point and Chunal Moor
Harry Hut trig point and Chunal Moor (03 Apr 2023__12:17:45)
Harry Hut trig point and the path to Glossop
Harry Hut trig point and the path to Glossop (03 Apr 2023__12:18:28)
View into Whitethorn Clough from Worm Stones
View into Whitethorn Clough from Worm Stones (03 Apr 2023__13:07:49)