First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Around Blackstone Edge the gritstone moors roll away, breezy uplands that are a godsend to anyone bent on getting out of the former manufacturing towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire for a good day in the open air.
From White House Inn we crossed the road and followed the broad stony track of the Pennine Way. The path surface had broken down under millions of footfalls into sand and quartz, a creamy, honeyed hue, the components of gritstone disassembled once more after three hundred million years of clinging together.
A short cobbled section of Roman road led up to the Aiggin Stone, a medieval waymark pillar set up to guide benighted or mist-beguiled travellers. From here the Pennine Way rose to Blackstone Edge, a classic gritstone ridge with cliffs jutting westward like ships’ prows. Wind-distorted boulders stood at the edge, weathered to resemble stacks of black pancakes or gossiping trolls, their rough sandy bodies studded with specks of white quartz like globules of fat in coarse salami.
The narrow, stumbly path headed south down a long slope into the rushy declivity of Redmires and Slippery Moss. ‘Standing knee deep in this filthy quagmire,’ Alfred Wainwright wrote with mordant humour in his 1967 Pennine Way Companion, ‘there is a distinct urge to give up the ghost and let life ebb away.’ But thing have changed since Wainwright’s day. Nowadays it’s a dry-shod walk on a path of flagstones salvaged from the floors of redundant textile mills.
Beyond Slippery Moss the M62 cuts the moor with a roar and rush. We turned away to follow a trickling leat of water across the peat and heather to Green Withens Reservoir, a classic of municipal sandstone architecture, built in the 1880s in the middle of nowhere to supply Wakefield with water. From here the path ascended the dimpled face of Green Withens Edge before meeting Rishworth Drain and curling back towards the Aiggin Stone.
As we came level with Rishworth Drain a big bird of prey, its pale wings tipped with black, came flapping easily along the waterway. ‘Hen harrier!’ we exclaimed on the same breath. We watched spellbound as it launched itself downwards and pounced into a grass tuffet, then resumed its flight having missed its grab. Hen harriers are wonderfully efficient hunters, but even they have their off days, it seems.
How hard is it? 7½ miles; moderate; moorland tracks. Pick a fine day.
Start: White House Inn, Blackstone Edge, Halifax Road, Littleborough OL15 0LG (OS ref SD 969178)
Getting there: Bus 587 (Rochdale-Halifax).
Road – White House Inn is on A58 (Littleborough-Sowerby Bridge)
Walk (OS Explorer OL21): Cross road; follow Pennine Way/PW, then path beside Broad Head Drain. In 800m, left through gate (970169); up cobbled road to Aiggin Stone (974170). Right on PW (gate, National Trail acorn), southward by Blackstone Edge and Redmires. In 1¾ miles PW turns right to cross M62 (984147); don’t cross, but keep ahead with motorway on your right; then follow path on right of leat (986148) to Green Withens Reservoir (991160). Right along two sides; 100m beyond far end, right beside leat (991165). In 150m, left across leat. Follow path across moor, up Green Withens Edge; near the top, left on crossing track (991169). In ½ mile at Rishworth Drain (986172), fingerpost points right (‘Baitings Reservoir’); but keep ahead here. In 700m left across footbridge by pool (982176); bear back left on rutted Old Packhorse Road to Aiggin Stone; retrace steps to White House Inn.
Lunch: White House Inn, Blackstone Edge (01706-378456, thewhitehousepub.co.uk)
Accommodation: Premier Inn, Newhey Road, Rochdale OL16 3SA (0333-321-8449, premierinn.com)