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A fine day out at Bleaklow Head and Higher Shelf Stones.
by trailmasher » Sat Sep 02, 2017 11:58 am
Hewitts included on this walk: Bleaklow Head
Date walked: 15/08/2017
Time taken: 4.37
Distance: 16.5 km
Ascent: 604m6 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Elizabeth and I had planned having 4 days in Derbyshire to do both some tourist stuff and also find our way up its 2,000+ footers and we couldn't have chosen better as far as the weather in the Peak District was concerned. It had been raining most of the night and Monday morning was no better as we set off from Cumbria to travel along the busy motorways and then the quieter roads that would take us to Old Glossop where we would spend the duration of our visit to the Peak District.
I must admit to both of us feeling somewhat a little gloomy with the unpleasant nature of the weather, but as we made our way steadily south - there was no need to rush as our first walk was to be on the Tuesday - and on our approach to Forton Services the rain stopped and the sky brightened. It's only about 60 miles of a drive from home to the service station but we quite often stop there for a break and a two handled mug of Mocha from the Costa outlet, a drink to set one buzzing for an hour or two.
Despite the usual road works - they should put zips on the motorways - we arrived unscathed at our place of abode for the next three nights and with it being on the Woodhead Road just north of Old Glossop we were within a couple of miles of the town and the start of our first walk, that being Bleaklow Head and Higher Shelf Stones. After clocking in we made our way to Old Glossop - the northern part of the much larger Glossop - where, after having a walk around and admiring some of the old buildings we went for a drink and bite to eat in the Tyme Coffee Lounge, a place that has a look of the 50's but in a modern sort of way. It is clean and colourful with a good selection of food and drink, nice staff, good service. This is in no way a promotion line for it but just giving credit where it's due.
Tuesday dawned mild and dry, with cloud hanging over the fells, but more importantly it had remained dry all night which boded well for the forthcoming tramp across the moors. From our room we could look west straight towards where we would be going but due to cloud and distance the summits couldn't be recognised, just the great mass of Harrop Moss, Shelf Moss, and Shelf Moor looking like hard work and a daunting prospect.
After enquiring about the grouse shooting times and places we were pleasantly surprised to hear that the grouse shooting season started on the 17th August in this part of Derbyshire so that eliminated one problem at least.
Our chosen parking place was tucked in besides a fence at a large turning circle for the local buses and wagons that service the factory that is adjacent to the turning point. Despite the appearance of the possibility of blocking the road there is plenty of room if parked as tight as possible to the metal fence and away from the actual bends of the turning circle. We used a grid reference of SK045948 that entails a bit of finding after a run through the back streets to find the spot at the end of Shepley Street.
From the car park there is a metalled road that runs uphill alongside the end of the factory and into an estate of houses, this is where we would find Charles Lane, eventually. Arriving at the top of this road we had a choice of either going right and into the field on what looked like the makings of a path or turning to the left to walk through the houses. This was our first moment of being slightly unsure of the way to go as were looking for Charles Lane and we couldn't see it. I spotted a lady walking her dog and hurried across to ask her where the elusive lane was, she didn't know but knew someone who did so asked us to wait for a minute or two. A second elderly lady appeared and told us the way to go from which advice we soon found the lane in question, a lane that we could easily have passed and not seen as it's tucked away behind a row of houses further along into the estate.
Charles Lane is a narrow metalled lane with houses to the right and fields to the left and slopes gently uphill to arrive at a gate that intimates that you go no further but instead take the gate on the left that leads into the fields with a good track that once again heads uphill. After a few metres and looking back we could see the far hills of Chunal Moor, Burnt Hill, and Mill Hill in the south looking very green but in shadow from the dark rolling clouds that are now letting a little sun shine through them. This is the old quarry track - or we thought it was - but reaching the top of the first rise we came upon a herd of cows, a bull, and a number of calves sprawled across the track. There was some grazing, some lying, the calves looking more nervous than us, and his majesty guarding all before him. What to do we thought? Looking around us there wasn't an option that we could see to get around them the only other ones being to either turn back or make our way warily through them which is what we did after taking out our walking poles to give us a false sense of bravado and security.
As we passed through their ranks they gave us no cause for alarm and even the bull barely cast a baleful eye over us as we slowly walked on without making eye contact with anything that had four legs and a tail. After passing the cattle the track began to run out into grass and we realised that we had made error number two on passing through the left hand gate. Although the end of the metalled lane stopped at the gate and the track continued on to a large house we realised that we should have continued on to find a gate or a stile on the left to gain access onto the old quarry track proper. However a little further on from the cattle there is a gate in the wall to the right through which we went to find a small gate stile that would allow us access onto the quarry track. Once through the gate we were on a long and wall enclosed track that is still partly paved with old sets, is down to bare rock in places but is generally good underfoot. The track runs in a straight line northeast and passes by the two stands of pine trees of Blakemoor Plantation. On arriving at the first one a narrow gate is passed through to avoid walking through the trees and from this point the track gets a little rougher and wetter underfoot but by keeping alongside the right hand wall where the ground is a little higher we avoided getting wet feet. At the second plantation there is another gate to pass through and now the open countryside ahead can be seen with the quarry waste tips and Cock Hill forming a hump on the skyline.
After an easy walk part way along this part of the track we left it at a point where it was a bit too rough to walk along any further and where a path left it to the right leading us onto the open fellside.
The path that was still running roughly northeast passes through rough grass and rushes but the going was still fairly dry underfoot and with the very slight incline good progress was made to the wall that it passes through to put us on slightly steeper ground. From the wall the path heads towards a dodgy step stile over a wire fence from where it is another easy walk up to and through the waste tips. There is no mistaking the path as it's fairly wide and green as it wends its way through the humps and bumps of the piles of quarry waste and we had good views across the lower countryside that was by now bathed in sunlight.
We arrived at the trig column on Cock Hill 40 minutes after leaving the car so not bad considering the couple of errors in navigation and stopping to take some photographs, so this gives an indication of how easy the gradients and walking has been thus far.
From Cock Hill there are decent views over and across the neighbouring hills when looking west and south but north is blocked by Peaknaze Moor whilst to the east there was a fantastic view across the purple flowering heather.
By this time the sun had broken through the cloud in many places, but in spite of this warm sunshine the air was still quite chilly from the fairly strong breeze that was blowing. Not wanting to linger too long we set off once again to follow a line of grouse butts along a good path across Glossop Low, a path that makes its way through grass and then as we got a bit higher the grass is taken over by the carpet of purple heather of which there is a great abundance of just now. How much better the moors look when clothed in a purple robe that stretches for mile after mile in all directions. As the path slowly gained height we could see a large mound on the skyline and as we got nearer it proved to be a large pile of stone, the type of stone that is used for road construction.
The stone is parked up on the highest point of Glossop Low at 481 metres, some 55 metres higher than Cock Hill so not much of a climb between the two hills. Just over the edge of the summit on the north side there are the remains of an old shooting lodge and as there was no signs of an estate road we wondered if the stone was for constructing a new one and maybe the lodge is going to be rebuilt?
So far we haven't seen a soul but we had the company of a sheep and her lamb at the lodge for a couple of minutes until they discovered that we weren't going to feed them and they trotted off in disgust. From the lodge we continued on in the north eastern direction still keeping company with the grouse butts and still on a decent enough path that was now slowly descending towards Clough Edge that bears the weight of many Pennine Way walkers as they make their way up from or down to the farm at Reaps.
As we slowly lost height the northern views opened up somewhat giving us a decent view of Tintwistle Low Moor - Tintwistle Knarr, and Valehouse Reservoir whilst the heather covered Torside Naze lies just slightly east of north on the opposite side of Torside Clough.
As we neared the Pennine Way the path abandoned us and the ground drops away with deep ruts in the peat covered by the swathes of heather making it quite difficult to know where to tread next but with care we made it safely onto the PW that sits high above Torside Clough. We now had a steady walk along the path that varies much in its makeup with fairly even stretches intermingled with rough stones underfoot to some paved sections and with a few waterways to cross it made for a journey that was both interesting and a realisation that if care wasn't taken on some of the more uncivilised places a nasty accident could befall the unwary walker.
Nevertheless it is good walking and a steady pace could be kept up as the path rises ever so gently with interest being in the clough below as it made its way over the rocks and small waterfalls. The nature of the passage of the clough has changed dramatically from one of a wide green and tree strewn outlet at Reaps to one that gets increasingly shallower, narrower, rock strewn, and heather clothed as we followed it up to a step stile just below Torside Castle. Torside Castle is marked on the map and is comprised of a large mound some 265 feet by 160 feet and has been described as being many things from just a natural mound of earth to a Bronze Age fortification.
Just a few minutes past the stile I spotted a PW with an arrow carved into the bedrock of the path and I wonder how many people have passed over it without noticing it and then within a few more minutes we were at the Y junction of Torside Clough and Wildboar Grain, This junction is just north of John Track Well and where another path takes off south across Shelf Moor before turning east and arriving back at the PW just south of the Hern Stones. But we are keeping to the PW as the path drops down to the river ford from where we climbed out and followed a good well graded and stony path along the north side of Wildboar Grain. This part of the PW is atypical to what we have just walked on alongside Torside Edge and many other parts of the long distance route and once we had more or less climbed out of the shallow confines of the grain the path alternates between peat, sand, stones, and paved but all in all it was fine to walk on. So far we had nothing to complain about regarding the underfoot conditions that although quite rough in places was dry that more than made up for the lack of comfort had it been otherwise. As we drew out of the Wildboar Grain gully the views opened up behind us and we had a decent view over to the east across the purple of the moors.
We saw four walkers on the other side of the gully roaming around on the open moor doing what we didn't know and apart from one man well in front of us on Torside Edge they are the only people that we had seen. We followed the grain as it turned to the south to cross Far Moss and noticed some black bags of pitching stone over to our left amongst the peat hags so maybe some path repair is imminent and as the path was getting more wet and sticky with the black peat maybe it is time some work was done around the area.
Within minutes of turning south we could see the large mound of stones that forms the cairn with the long pole sticking out of the centre and a short walk got us to the summit.
The wind was quite cold and strong and as I stood on top of the cairn I could see that the place was well named as apart from the tops of the hills in the distance there is nothing but mile after mile of rough grass, heather, and grey rocks to be seen. Since leaving the old shooting lodge and the two sheep the only signs of life we have seen were the four walkers that were off piste and the chap on the PW. We have seen no sheep or grouse, rabbit, hare, or bird of any description, this surely is a wild place to be and quite disappointedly the heather has now lost its purple coat that is probably due to the height that we're at.
We decided to have a quick break despite the cold wind but were soon on our way again leaving Bleaklow Head behind to make our way on to the Wain Stones…
an unusual looking set of weather-beaten rocks with two of them looking like two heads gurning at each other, I believe that they are known as 'The Kiss'…
and as can be seen from the photo the ground is getting a little worse underfoot than what we have had so far on this walk. The rocks have been weathered into some fantastic shapes…
and one could marvel for ages over them as they are wrinkled, bent, or formed into pillars consisting of two or more pieces balancing on each other and making one wonder why some of them manage to stay erect at all.
We clambered about for a while looking over and in awe of the wild vastness of the surrounding moors and thankful that today good weather was with us as this surely would be one mean place to be in otherwise conditions. Looking south we could see our way forward towards the Hern Stones and Higher Shelf Stones the latter looking an awful long way away although in reality it is only about 1 mile distant - 1.6 km - from where we were at the Wain Stones. It was what was between us and it that looked daunting, not the distance. A mile of rough heather, grass, and hags didn't look at all appetising but from the Wain Stones we could see a shallow grough holding onto a narrow path that was going roughly in the right direction, this we started to follow to the Hern Stones that was looming up grey and large in front of us.
We were still on the Pennine Way even though it's only a narrow path across the moor at this point and to our delight it was more or less dry with just the odd wet patch that was easily got around and within less than 10 minutes of unexpected easy walking we were once again crawling over rocks, although these rocks are much larger and in greater abundance than the Wain Stones group.
Standing on this much higher pile of rocks gave a better view across the wild moor, Higher Shelf Stones now looks a lot nearer and after taking a quick drink we were off once again to continue on our way south. From this point we left the PW to follow the path forward as it moved slightly over to the west and once again were pleasantly surprised at how good the path is. We had as good a view back to the Hern Stones and Bleaklow Head as we had looking forward to HSS.
It was dry and obvious to follow and at no point did it fade away into the ground cover of the vegetation and once again we made good time crossing from the Hern Stones to HSS.
As we followed the path through some large peat hags we were suddenly confronted by a scene of devastation, it came as a bit of a shock really as our eyes fell upon the wreckage of the Boeing RB-29A Superfortress that crashed there on the 3rd November 1948 with the loss of all 13 crew members after failing to gain enough height to clear Higher Shelf Stones.
I had heard and read about this airplane crash and have seen quite a few on my travels through the hills but nothing like on this scale before and if it looks like this now what must it have been like nearly 70 years ago when it happened, or even 50 years ago it must have looked much worse than it does now as time, nature, and crash site collectors has taken its toll on the remains. The moors were quiet, but here it seemed eerily so as we walked our way through the wreckage amazed at the size of the devastated area and the bleakness that seemed so much more than the surrounding moorland. This is a sad place.
We moved on along a wide open swath of stones and peat tufted with grass that is still scattered with small remnants of the plane and within a minute or so the trig column at Higher Shelf Stones came into view on the horizon peeping between two peat hags.
Just a few strides more and we were there at the trig point that sits on large grey, weathered rock from where we had a good view to Glossop over in the west trying to hide behind Lower Shelf Stones
To the northeast across the valley that holds the waters of Hern Clough there is the large expanse of Bleaklow and Alport Head whilst lying slightly to the southeast there is the wide expanse of Alport Moor.
The huge rocks are full of graffiti, some of dating back to 1820 and if we had the time to search some more we would probably have found some that precedes even that date.
After having a short break all that we have to do now is find our way down to Crooked Clough from where we would then meet up with the Doctor's Gate the track that has been suggested as the course of an old Roman Road but has been disputed by some learned folk as they reckon that it would not have been a wide enough place of passage in some places, but after 2,000 years of erosion and nature taking back what was once hers it could have been a realistic probability.
We left the stones by taking a decent path that runs southeast towards the head of Crooked Clough and using a wide dark slash in the far foreground as a marker where we could see a couple of walkers using it as a means of getting to the Pennine Way that lay beyond it. We also saw a walker climbing out of Crooked Clough but he took a path that we had missed that took him directly to Higher Shelf Stones instead of the way we had come down. We had used a path but we had to leave it to walk over rough grass to reach the good path that runs alongside and descends at a good gradient down the east side edge of the grass sided valley that holds the clough.
At the head of the clough the valley is quite shallow and narrow and looking at the course of the clough there is no mistaking how it got its name as it constantly twists and turns like a snake on a mission.
As we descended the valley obviously got wider and deeper with a few waterfalls appearing but for now the views were minimal with just the grassy slopes to look at as we dropped steadily down. Crooked Clough makes its way down in a south easterly direction but as we get to the end of Devil's Dike that was above us and alongside the PW the path begins to swing around to the south from where the views have now opened up for us once again.
We joined Doctor's Gate at a small gate in the fence and steadily made our way along the valley that was now much wider with the sides towering above our heads. Up to now the way down the clough has been a narrow path but from here on it is quite wide and could give some value to the suggestion of Doctor's Gate being an old Roman Road even though there are quite a few places lower down the valley where the track narrows to a path as it is forced nearer to the clough bank, but this could be as suggested earlier a function of landscape erosion over the past 2,000 years as rivers are constantly on the move one way or the other. The landscape had also changed from the dreary brown of the moorland grass to more purple heather and bilberry with the start of the higher reaches of the bracken now appearing, something that we hadn't yet seen on this walk so a slight disappointment in not having a bracken free walk after all. There has been much planting of trees along the sides of the valley both in the higher reaches and down in the low areas. At one point we were walking very close to the clough with its waters running clear as crystal as it raced over the rocks of its bed.
All we have to do now is to cross the footbridge that is just below Birchen Orchard Clough and follow what is now Shelf Brook and follow it down to the intake wall at Lower Shelf from where we entered more civilised ground to pass Mossy Lea Farm and around the north side of Shire Hill before reaching the lane that would take us right back to our start point on Shepley Street.
After reading many reports of this walk I was a bit daunted by the prospect of a hard and wet, boggy walk through the most difficult of conditions but it has proved otherwise and has been contrary to all that I expected it to be like with an exception given to the views that have been wonderful in themselves and greatly helped by the fair weather that has accompanied us today. I realise through my many walks on the moors from the Cheviots, the Pennines, etc what conditions can be, and, are like on the peat moors and I'm sure that the Peak District is no different in that respect, and respect is something that one must have when walking in wild places such as these.
Today I deem ourselves very fortunate with the walking conditions that have been nothing short of perfect both underfoot and weather wise. Okay the paths and tracks are a bit rough in places as they are wherever we walk and we've walked on a lot worse than we have encountered today - Burnhope Moor comes to mind just now - and the weather although there has been a cool breeze has been nothing short of fantastic with blue skies and a mixture of dark stormy clouds and the more likeable white, fluffy ones with a clarity of views that we haven't seen for quite some time, although there was a haze in the far distance that I wouldn't be churlish enough to complain about as that was only a very, very minor minus for the days walking that we have had today.
We hope that the weather holds up as we are aiming our sights on Kinder Scout next and it would be fantastic to get another day like today, brilliant.
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