Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Three Go Mad in Calderdale

New friends from the latest walk
I don’t know about you lot but I am terribly indecisive when it comes to deciding where to go walking. It’s not so bad when I have a limited amount of time as a lot of possibilities are taken out of play and the choice is a lot narrower, however, when I know I have a whole day free and I can go where I please then I’m like a kid in a sweet shop. The trouble is that I can feasibly cover such a large area of country from where I live and a day out could mean the Lakes, Snowdonia, the Dales, Shropshire or a good long day in the Peak District. Even if we narrow it down to wherever the weather is going to be best then I can spend literally days looking at maps, guidebooks and trawling through the Internet to find the perfect place to go, the perfect walk, the perfect route. To be honest it’s a labour of love but it’s still bloody hard work sometimes.

One of the downfalls of it always being me planning the walks is that my own preferences always come to the fore. If you take the weather factor out of the equation then if I’m planning a day’s walking it will be the Lake District ticking off some Wainwrights. If the forecast for the Lakes is a bit grotty then I will sulk a bit but then spend an inordinate amount of time planning something that will fit better with the projected weather, day length and time of year.

Very cold down by th'cut
So, the other weekend, it was very nice to have all these decisions taken out of my hands by my friend, Colin. For months he has been extolling the virtues of his home turf of the South Pennines; the area that acts as a kind of buffer zone between the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales and the Forest of Bowland. Lots of millstone grit moorlands, deep wooded valleys and little mill towns; the disputed territory between Yorkshire and Lancashire (the boundary between the two used to run down the middle of Todmorden’s main street; I bet that made life interesting!). Its not that I was unaware of the charms of this bit of the country, it was just that it had never been a priority to go there. As I said before, sunny days were for the mountains of Cumbria or Wales. The South Pennines were for days when it was chucking it down with rain and Jo and I would have a mooch around Hebden Bridge with a stop for coffee and cake somewhere quirky. Therefore, Colin very kindly offered to arrange a walk for us that would serve as a bit an introduction to the area and would probably end up in a pub somewhere – pub and a walk? Don't mind if we do.

We had arranged a date well in advance and so it was incredibly lucky that when the allotted day came the weather was perfect – bright sunshine and the temperature somewhere around freezing. Thick frost covered trees and grass, the puddles had a skin of ice, any mud was frozen solid and the air was crystal clear. I would take a day like that anytime, even over a summer’s day. As I had left all the details of destination and route to Colin he had to direct us to where we were to park and by a little after 10 am we were pulling our boots on in a layby just short of Hebden Bridge.

Don't be fooled - its still a good way off
The start of the walk was pure Yorkshire, through a little ginnel (for non Northern English readers a ginnel is a passage or cut through between houses), over the River Calder then alongside the frozen Rochdale canal before a climb up through a fairly squelchy beech wood and out on to lane near the brow of the hill with a view back down over the Calder Valley and Hebden Bridge – it looked like something out of Last of the Summer Wine (another cultural note for my overseas readership – Last of the Summer Wine was a long running British TV comedy which ran for 742 years with a cast whose average age was 97.362. I use the term comedy very loosely). A short walk through some fields and we were up on top of a plateau with a full 360 degree view out across the moors and valleys and over towards the south west was Stoodley Pike.

Getting a little closer ...
As it was now plainly obvious what the days target was I was well pleased with Colin’s choice. I am a bit on an aficionado of strange things on top of hills. Growing up in Bollington we had White Nancy, a large, white, bell shaped structure built to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo on top of our local hill; now living in Hyde we have a kind of obelisk war memorial on top of Werneth Low. In the Lakes I always like finding a big cairn on the summit of a fell and I take delight even in a humble trig point too. I had seen the memorial from the valley floor a few times as I had driven past, to and from Hebden Bridge and always fancied going up there.

All 121 feet of Stoodley Pike Monument
There was something a little odd about Stoodley Pike Monument though. In the distance it looked pretty much like any of the obelisk style war memorials you can see in, or above, many towns around these parts but, as we walked towards it along a lovely old drove road it never seemed to get much bigger. A while later and the answer became obvious; the monument on Stoodley Pike is massive! It’s 121 feet tall, with stairs inside which lead up to a viewing balcony which goes all the way around. Rebuilt in 1854 after the first effort collapsed due to a lightning strike it is a memorial to the fall of Paris in 1814 during the Napoleonic Wars and was paid for by public subscription. It just goes to show, no matter how much Lancashire and Yorkshire dislike each other they will always stick together when it comes to celebrating a win over the French.

If you are thinking Wuthering Heights you are wrong ...
That's across the valley
Just below from the summit there was an old quarry where the hill had given up some of its fabric to build the monument; at least they hadn’t had to drag the blocks all the way up from the town below. The path went down past the quarry and zigzagged towards some houses lower down the hill before we followed a lane into a small wood, a quick splash through a stream, then down the track with pleasant waterfalls beside it and we were soon back at the canal – it hadn’t got any warmer since we had left it. The River Calder which runs next to the canal was showing evidence of the recent flooding with various bits of flotsam and jetsam hanging from the trees a good few feet above the present water level and some unidentified ducks (later researched as being goosanders) floated around to make the place look prettier.

Perfect day
After another mile or so the three of us ended up in the Stubbing’s Wharf, a lovely pub that was full of mountain bikers and walkers. The beer was very good with a great range on offer and the food looked pretty good too. Although we didn’t have anything to eat Colin and I did manage a couple pints each which meant Jo was promoted to driver for the journey back.

So, what have we learnt from this escapade? Sometimes you don’t have to drive all the way to the Lakes or Wales to have a really great day out. Sometimes it’s good to let other people choose where you are going and, of course, do the navigating and sometimes instead of driving past things and going “ooh, that looks interesting” try stopping and having a look.

Of course, there is one last thing. Now Colin has introduced us to the South Pennines and done such a good job of it into the bargain, it now falls to me to show him a good walk in my home territory with a pub thrown in for good measure – walk and a pub? Sounds like a plan ... now where are my maps?

You can read Colin's blog about the South Pennines here:  footstepsfotography


  1. Stoodley Pike in the sunshine, very nice! Last time I was there I could barely see it from 6 foot away!

  2. My wife has that luck with Pen Y Ghent - she has been up it and driven past it perhaos half a dozen times but never, ever seen it. Stoodley Pike is a grand place to stand and take in the view ... given the weather of course.