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Home > Trips&Photos > Trips > Winscar, Snailsden & Black Hill

Winscar, Snailsden & Black Hill 2 days / 23 miles (36km)

OS Route Map → Map GPX Route file →

Date: 24 Jun 2024
Start: Penistone Station / Finish: Hadfield Station.
Maps: Explorer 001 - The Dark Peak.

Day 1Upper Don Trail, Snailsden Edge & Black Hill14.0miles / 2152 feet (22.6km / 656m)
Day 2Black Chew Head, Featherbed Moss & Tintwistle Knarr8.5miles / 696 feet (13.6km / 212m)
Descending from Black Hill

A 2-day linear trek to the Black Hill massif with a long eastern approach via the Don valley and Winscar reservoir.

The outward line follows the westernmost section of the Upper Don Trail (UDT), coincident here with the Transpennine Trail, to Winscar reservoir and ascends to follow Snailsden Edge to the group of deeply incised ravines around Ramsden Clough. The ascent to Black Hill from the Holme Moss mast is via Heyden Head. This approach is new territory for us, one of the very few pockets of the Dark Peak unexplored in our many years of walking here.

The return initially follows the Pennine Way towards Laddow Rocks and diverges to Black Chew Head. This time we continued on another new line to its sister top Featherbed Moss, sporting a trig point just 1m lower, and descended another new route via Millstone Rocks to Tintwistle Knarr and its impressive rock faces, finally joining the Longdendale Trail to Hadfield.

On one of the strangest weather forecasts we've seen for ages, containing a varying mix of dense mist down to valley level and warm sunshine depending on location and timing, the Peak District gave the most favourable odds overall. The conditions were quite good: sunny periods, a lot of cloud but no clag and very humid.

Day 1 - Upper Don Trail, Snailsden Edge & Black Hill

Upper Don Trail Logo

The exit from Penistone station emerges directly onto the UDT. The station has an information board describing its designated wildflower areas, a recurring theme along the trail and evidently a source of local pride, displaying a wide and colourful variety of native summer flowers today. A pleasure to see, but what a pity that such designated areas are even deemed necessary: in our childhoods they grew in vast numbers just about everywhere.

The old railway trackbeds often evolve into important local habitats and the verdant UDT marches west for six miles to Dunford Bridge and Winscar reservoir. Unfortunately there is no way through to the reservoir on the northern side: the road route around the southern wooded side must be ascended to the Sailing Club entrance on Windle Edge that gives access to the embankment track. Only a handful of people were around today near the small car park, fewer than expected on a very warm day. Several pairs of ducks and Canada geese shepherded their families around the shore.

At the northern tip of Winscar we took the access track down to the embankment of Harden reservoir and the Access Land of Lower Snailsden Moss.

Winscar reservoir
Winscar reservoir (24 Jun 2024__12:11:44)
Approaching Harden reservoir
Approaching Harden reservoir (24 Jun 2024__12:17:14)
Harden reservoir
Harden reservoir (24 Jun 2024__12:33:13)

An old quarry track leads westwards along the hillside from the southern corner of the reservoir. It reaches a crossing line of shooting butts where, a few metres beyond, a shooting track turns left uphill. We followed this to the highest point to join the track along Snailsden Edge, the onward line clearly visible as a line of old wooden posts with the omnipresent Holmes Moss mast visible in the far distance. The western arm of Winscar reservoir was now seen below. We can never resist a trig point, but we forgot about the 475m trig just out of sight above us and walked past it.

The expanse of wet moorland to the south, encompassing Swiner Clough and Great Grains Clough - the source of the Don - provides excellent support for wetland birds like curlews, several of which were trilling throughout this section today, accompanied by a couple of oystercatchers.

Turning northwards, the track is a bit farther east than the pecked line on the map and stays higher: a short way along we spotted a thin path down to the crossing point over Reaps Dike. The expanse of rough moorland ahead initially looks rather confused and formidable, but the line on our map above is true and the walking is easy.

Winscar reservoir from Snailsden Edge
Winscar reservoir from Snailsden Edge (24 Jun 2024__13:22:44)
View across Reaps Moss to Ramsden Clough from Snailsden Edge
View across Reaps Moss to Ramsden Clough from Snailsden Edge (24 Jun 2024__13:52:42)

Crossing a stile at the head of Ruddle Clough, a tight system of steeply incised ravines comes into view. This is excellent walking scenery and we wondered how this fine route escaped us in past years. A series of re-entrants leads to the stream crossing at Ramsden Clough, the first one to be flowing today, and ascends onto the shallow dome of Herbage Hill. The line becomes rather less well defined here but was not difficult to follow as it meanders along Great Twizle Head towards the Holmes Moss mast with a view down to Yateholme reservoir.

Reaching Lightens Edge, where the Holmes Moss mast actually looked bigger and nearer for the first time today, a short diversion was in place where restoration work was in progress to improve the peat gullies near the A6024 road. We turned left at the road and ascended a short way to the summit car park: at 524m, it was encouraging to realise that only 58m of ascent remained to Black Hill.

Gaining the Access Land at a stile, there is initially a divergence of opinion on the least boggy line to reach the Heyden Clough path, but it is quickly resolved and a short wooden post marks the onward path, a little squelchy occasionally but clear and pretty good for moorland despite the extensive oceans of cotton grass. Most natural ascent lines in the Peak have been relentlessly paved and tamed but not this one. The path crosses the stream at Heyden Head and meanders west to the summit trig point. We continued a bit farther southwards to find a very comfortable pitch.

Ruddle Clough from the edge path
Ruddle Clough from the edge path (24 Jun 2024__14:37:59)
View to Yateholme reservoir from Great Twizle Head
View to Yateholme reservoir from Great Twizle Head (24 Jun 2024__15:44:25)

Day 2 - Black Chew Head, Featherbed Moss & Tintwistle Knarr

Early sunshine brought a pleasing glow to the tent and landscape in the very humid air - the flysheet was sopping wet with condensation despite the warm temperature. We heard a very early skylark, unusual in largely heather moorland, as well as the usual cackling of grouse. We shook off the excess water and broke camp, resuming the initially paved Pennine Way towards Red Ratcher. More vast seas of cotton grass stretched out before us, one of Black Hill's strongest suits.

A pair of reed buntings and a short-eared owl joined the bird tally for the trip as we approached Crowden Great Brook and joined the rocky path along the ravine and up towards Laddow Rocks. Nearing the high point we diverged uphill directly to the summit of Black Chew Head, the county top of Greater Manchester and marked just beyond a stile by a small pile of stones. The top itself was just as unimpressive as on the last visit, but with the big advantage of almost guaranteed solitude, however the nearby pool was quite a pleasing sight for once in the angled sunlight.

Early sky from pitch on Black Hill
Early sky from pitch on Black Hill (25 Jun 2024__06:19:51)
Descending Black Hill
Descending Black Hill (25 Jun 2024__07:08:46)
Crowden Great Brook at Red Ratcher
Crowden Great Brook at Red Ratcher (25 Jun 2024__07:49:28)
Ascending towards Black Chew Head
Ascending towards Black Chew Head (25 Jun 2024__08:23:50)
Looking back to Red Ratcher
Looking back to Red Ratcher (25 Jun 2024__08:35:24)
Pool near summit of Black Chew Head
Pool near summit of Black Chew Head (25 Jun 2024__09:20:15)

The line south-westwards to Laddow Moss has a path on both the eastern and western sides of the barbed fence, not much to choose in terms of bogginess but on balance we chose the eastern side - it's not far anyway and there is another stile part way along to swap over.

We reached the main crossing path and headed south-westwards towards the trig point on Featherbed Moss, already visible in the distance. There is an intermittently discernible boggy line of sorts but walkers have clearly split up to find the driest way forward: overall this is one of the wettest tops we've encountered with numerous areas of standing water and hidden mossy depths. We weaved our way through to the trig point atop a heavily vegetated stony oasis.

Featherbed Moss trig point
Featherbed Moss trig point (25 Jun 2024__10:33:05)

A good path continues in the same direction following the line of a tiny stream to the point where it turns 90° left to enter Hollins Clough, giving false hope of an easy descent. Around this corner the path vanishes again in a very boggy area and we slowly picked our way through the tangled morass, staying as close as practical to the clough, to the point where the land started to descend. Here at last the path reappeared in firmer terrain and descended easily along the clough rim to arrive at Lad's Leap on the well worn edge path near Millstone Rocks.

Unfortunately as we noticed later, there was some surface deposit on our camera lens and the pictures of this spot were smeared and unusable.

Proceeding westwards on the Millstone Rocks path, we descended to a stile. The clear onward path is not as marked on our map: it goes straight across the moor aiming directly for Tintwistle Knarr quarry. At the Access Land boundary at Rawkins Brook (SK 04497 99300), there is a ladder stile on the near side of the stream and a step stile on the far side.

The latter gives access to an excellent rocky path that cuts across the precipitous quarry face giving a fine view of the rocks and an excellent situation. There is briefly a vegetated, almost sheer drop nearby on the left that might make particularly nervous walkers feel uneasy. All too soon the path levels out on a good quarry track with a more intimate view of the face and an opportunity for a rewarding exploration of its many nooks and crannies.

Tintwistle Knarr cliff face
Tintwistle Knarr cliff face (25 Jun 2024__13:02:52)

The quarry track gives an easy and pleasant descent through sessile oak woodland to the forest boundary, continuing on a zigzag track down to the A628. Across the road a woodland path leads to the embankment track crossing between Valehouse and Rhodeswood reservoirs, from here we ascended a short way to join the Longdendale Trail to Hadfield station.