Snow flurries were scudding across the sedgy fell sides above Meltham as we started up Royd Lane towards the open moor.First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
This part of West Yorkshire, the very northernmost tip of the Peak District National Park, is centred in ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ country; but if Compo, Clegg and Foggy had been out and about today, they’d have needed their caps and comforters. This was the Yorkshire Moors at winter’s end – bleak, harsh and compelling.
Royd Lane gave way to Magdalen Road, a noble name for a rugged old horse track that hurdles the low hill between Meltham and the twin reservoirs of Marsden Clough. Moor farms stood hunched along the lane, their windowless backs to the weather – Fox Royd, Upper Royd, Ash Royd. A ‘royd’ is a piece of land cleared of its roots, stones and trees for agriculture, but a lot of the royd land on these hills is going back out of keeping. One by one the hill farms are being abandoned in the face of pickings too slim to survive on.
Curls of snow still lay in the lee of the stone walls. A stray bullock was wandering in the lane, but when he caught sight of us he plunged with a twang straight through a barbed wire fence and cantered off to join his chums.
Beyond the Holmfirth road we dropped into Marsden Clough by way of Springs Road, a walled track whose beautifully cut sandstone paving-slabs had been grooved to guide the wheels of quarry wagons. Down along Nether Lane the stone-built farmhouse stood empty, solid old dwellings each in its own strip of fields – Goodbent, Bartin and Greaves Head.
Our ancestors did not always build solidly and well. Before climbing out of Marsden Clough and on back to Meltham, we leaned on the wall and looked down over the twin waters of Bilberry and Digley Reservoirs. When the poorly constructed embankment of Bilberry Reservoir collapsed in February 1852, a fifteen-foot-high wall of water rushed down the valley and devastated Holmfirth, ‘throwing a four storey mill down like a thing of nought, tossing boilers about like feathers, and carrying amongst the wreck of houses, mills and other buildings, men, women and children.’
Rural tradition says that the cries of plovers are the lamentations of lost souls. The upper air was full of them today, wailing and piping us away from the lakes and that dark old tragedy.
START: Royd Road, off Holmfirth Road, Meltham HD9 4BE approx. (OS ref SE 104102)
GETTING THERE: Bus 335 (stottscoaches.co.uk, Holmfirth-Meltham), 911 (wymetro.com, Honley rail station-Meltham) to Royd Road bus stop (at foot of Royd Road)
Road – Royd Road is off B6107 Meltham-Holmfirth road on southern edge of Meltham.
WALK (6 miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL1, 288): Walk up Royd Road. In ½ mile pass Fox Royd; in 200m fork right (100094, ‘bridleway’ fingerpost), past Royd Farm and on for 1 mile to A635 (094078). Right; in 50m, left through gate, down track (Springs Road) for ⅔ mile. At gate with ladder stile (086073), don’t cross, but swing left along Nether Lane; follow it for ¾ mile past Goodbent Lodge and Bartin to Greaves Head farmhouse (098074). In another ½ mile, turn left (106075) up grassy lane, over stile by gate (yellow waymark). On up between walls to road (106077); left to cross A635 (103080); ahead for 1¾ miles along Harden Moss Road (track), then Royd Road to B6107.
LUNCH: Plenty of pubs/cafés in Meltham
ACCOMMODATION: Durker Roods Hotel, Meltham HD9 4JA (01484-851413; durkerroodshotel.co.uk)