First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Aiming for the thousand-foot needle of Winter Hill TV mast on a chilly morning, we made out a network of paths coming from every direction, climbing to converge at the summit of the hill. Skylarks sang over the boggy track we chose, and meadow pipits gave out their sudden sharp ‘snip-snip’. We sat for a sip of water and a good stare round, out across the West Pennine moors, bleached by the onset of winter, opening northwards towards the distant sun-brushed hills of the Forest of Bowland.
At the summit of Winter Hill a cold wind whistled and groaned through the skeletal radio towers. To the west the promised view over Morecambe Bay, Blackpool Tower and out to the mountains of Snowdonia was hazed out to a milky blur under a streaky blue sky. Other walkers were out and about, striding purposefully across the moor.
Winter Hill has an ominous name. Memorials are widespread, one to a Scots traveller murdered here in 1838, another to the victims of an aeroplane crash in a snowstorm in 1958. Down at the southern brink of the hill we came to Two Lads, a pair of cylindrical cairns commemorating two boys who were lost here – or perhaps raised in honour of the two sons of King Edgar of the Saxons.
A broad braided track dropped down from Crooked Edge Hill to the cheerful Pike Snack Shack, where a cuppa and a sticky slab fortified us for the homeward trek. A rocky road led away west below the dark castellated bulk of the tower on Rivington Pike, an 18th-century hunting lodge, to reach the wonderful folly of the Pigeon Tower, a slender rocket of a building that called out for a Rapunzel to let down her hair. It was built by Lord Leverhulme as part of his remarkable project early last century to lay out Italianate and Japanese terraced gardens on the slopes below.
Rich men’s foibles notwithstanding, Rivington Moor and Winter Hill are democratic places. Bolton, Bury, Wigan and Blackburn lie below, the hill and its open spaces tantalisingly in sight. A mass trespass in 1896 saw 10,000 people break down private gates and occupy the ground. It would take another hundred years for the moor and hill to be declared open access land for all, but today the folk from all around can walk where they will.
How hard is it? 7½ miles; easy with one steady climb; moorland paths (can be soggy) and cobbled lanes.
Start: Black Dog Inn, Church Street, Belmont, Bolton BL7 8AB (OS ref SD 674158)
Getting there: Bus 535 (Bolton)
Road: Belmont is on A675, Bolton-Preston
Walk (OS Explorer 276): Up Church Road. In 400m, left on path round Ward’s Reservoir. In 700m, just before car park up on right, left across stream (666158). Uphill beside tumbledown wall. Where it bends left (665155), ahead up path, aiming for tall TV mast. At top of Winter Hill, bear right around fence to road (661148). Left and follow road. In ¾ mile on left bend, right at fingerpost (657136). Cross footbridge; ahead to reach Two Lads cairns on Crooked Edge Hill (655133). Right on broad path (ignore yellow arrow waymark post!), descending to Pike Cottage and Pike Snack Shack (649132). Right along stony roadway for 1¼ miles to Pigeon Tower (640143). Fork right here along stony Belmont Road for 1½ miles to meet Rivington Road (653158). Right to car park (665159) and reservoir path back to Belmont.
Lunch: Pike Snack Shack, Pike Cottage BL6 6RU (07949-338820, m.facebook.com/thepikesnackshack)
Accommodation: Black Dog Inn, Belmont (01204-811218, joseph-holt.com)