Monday, 22 August 2011

Black Hill The Crowden Horseshoe

I was originally supposed to be heading up to the North York Moors this weekend so booked off the Friday and Monday on annual leave. However after reviewing the petrol bill for our recent trip to Ullapool including driving around while we were there hit nearly three hundred pounds I decided it was probably best to stay at home, save money, do the house work, help the missus who had a busy weekend, get some website work done and maybe go for a local walk on Monday if the weather was good. Turned out for once the weather was absolutely perfect locally! I woke on Monday morning to find perfect blue skies and fluffy white clouds. A few days before I read a tweet from someone on Twitter saying they had been up Black Hill in the Peak District and were shocked by how green the place was due to the excellent work done to restore the moors. Having not done Black Hill I decided a sunny dry day would be perfect for my first time on a hill with a reputation for being unforgiving in bad weather. It is quite a lengthy walk and in certain conditions can be a very serious outing. I have seen photos in guide books of Black Hill's summit, the 'Soldier's Lump' and it often looked like hell on earth surrounded by nothing but sinking black mud. These images are unfortunately still used even in modern guide books and still appears for example on the Wikipedia page for Black Hill. As you will see from the following trip report and photos the Black Hill I discovered was far from all that negativity and was a thoroughly enjoyable and fantastic walk!

Trees below Black Tor

The journey there was heavenly as everyone else was at work, the only difficult part being the usual bottle neck around Tintwistle. The bypass subject is a difficult one around these parts and although I do not wish to see beautiful and important woodlands like Swallows Wood destroyed to make way for a bypass you can't help but think that the thousands of stationary cars and lorries exhausts are doing more damage to the local moorland and woodland than a bypass would if traffic was able to just move through the area. There are so many areas of Britain that have dual carriage ways and motorways going through them that survive because the traffic simply passes through without affecting the surrounding environment. As I say it is a difficult one but I don't see the traffic disappearing any time soon and the situation will only get worse and if anything have a negative effect on the surrounding environment unless something is done about it. I arrived at Crowden, somewhere I have never stopped before, I've only ever flown past on the Woodhead Pass on the way to Sheffield or other Peak District walks. The car park, which I am very pleased to say is still free, is just off the main road and has a lovely wood behind it. There is a camp site at Crowden which I was pleasantly suprised with, it was very clean and had a great shop and facilities which walkers can use. There is also a youth hostel in Crowden so plenty of options for people wishing to stay over night.

Oakenclough Brook

After checking out the camp site I headed north along the road out of Crowden to the Youth Hostel. The road crosses a bridge over Crowden Brook before the Youth Hostel, here I stood on the bridge and listened to several Dragonflies heading up and down the brook. I headed through the Youth Hostel car park and north west on an ascent path through heather and ferns. The path crosses a pretty leat of slow flowing water, reflecting the blue skies. The path split in to several paths at times but they all eventually ascended to reach the much clearer and wider Pennine Way path below the cliffs of Black Tor. I headed north on the Pennine Way up the valley. The view ahead was a stunning wide moorland valley covered in purple heather, flanked by gritstone cliffs and roofed by blue skies and fluffy white clouds. I reached an almost out of place tree plantation of around a dozen trees of Oak, Birch, Fir and Rowan. I sat and listened for a while. I am a Senior IT Analyst on a major law firms busy service desk so my Monday mornings usually consist of phone calls from people requiring me to help them with their problems repeatedly reminding me that time is money. Today I was sat in sunshine looking at stunning scenery listening to Dragonflies, Grouse, Stone Chats, flowing water and smelling nothing but fresh air and blooming heather with all the time in the world. If only every Monday morning could be like this! I found a stunning yellow mushroom under the trees and took a few photos. I continued on the Pennine Way path through slopes of fragrant purple heather.

Laddow Rocks

As I approached the impressive cliffs of Laddow Rocks the path turns left and heads to and crosses the tumbling Oakenclough Brook. I took a few side shot view photos of Laddow Rocks then made my way along the path as it crossed the top of the cliffs. The views from Laddow Rocks were fantastic stretching all the way along and across the Crowden Great Brook valley. Looking back towards Crowden I saw the huge dark bulk of the neighbouring Bleaklow above Torside Reservoir. After Laddow Rocks the path passes the castles at the head of the valley then descends to Crowden Great Brook. The valley narrows at the end in to a deadly quiet and wild land. As I was stood texting someone on my iPhone out of the corner of my eye I saw something wiggle its way across one of the big Pennine Way paving stones. I was delighted when I realised it was a small Common Lizard. I carefully put my hand in a diamond shape around it and it crawled on to my wrist for a photo. The path crosses Great Crowden Brook several times before reaching a stile over the perimeter fence then heading up the final ascent to Black Hill. As the path crossed Crowden Great Brook I was watched by a lovely bobbing Dipper on the rocks, I was quite surprised to see it here as they usually prefer wider and faster flowing rivers lower down. Maybe the sunny weather meant the Dipper could get higher the moor for a rare scoff of the many insects on the upper brooks many rocks. I went over the dog friendly perimeter fence stile and started the final push towards Black Hill. The path all the way to the summit was of the huge Pennine Way paving stone type, of which I am a huge fan. These paving stones are the only solution I have seen that stop people wondering off path, everywhere I see them is a narrow path following a set line and lacking erosion. The only negative is that they can be hard on the knees at times.

Common Lizard on my wrist

As I reached the first view of the summits trig point pillar, the paved path crosses a lovely peat bog pond with Dragonflies. All the way up the summit area I was constantly waiting to turn a corner and see an impassable quagmire of deep unforgiving peat bog. It never materialised and the rumoured success of the regeneration work was confirmed, this once barren and ruined landscape is now completely transformed and an abundance of green grass and wildlife. A combination of properly paved paths, reseeding from the air, perimeter fencing to keep sheep away, biodegradable netting of hags and lots of dedication from the Moors for the Future partnership has completely changed the future of Black Hill. There are currently discussions on similar proposals for Kinder and Bleaklow including the perimeter fence, after seeing the results on Black Hill I know which box I will be ticking. The summit of Black Hill is known as Soldier's Lump. This name relates to the Royal Engineer surveyors who were given the task of erecting trig points as part of the original survey to map Britain. Erecting trig points on thousands of hills across Britain is no easy task. If you are unaware of what was involved in this feat I would suggest researching it to appreciate how these regular features you see on walks were first installed, and their vital importance to the maps we use today. Black Hill was a difficult hill for them to erect a trig point on its highest point as they could not find any solid ground on which to erect a trig pillar in the usual way.

Black Hill summit Soldier's Lump

From Black Hill summit the views were not amazing as it is a very wide summit area. The peaks of the Yorkshire Dales were in view to the north as were the West Pennine Moors. The most obvious feature in view from the summit is the huge seven hundred and fifty foot tall one hundred and forty ton Holme Moss radio transmitter. From the summit I wanted to head south to south east towards Tooleyshaw Moss and its unique stone cairn. That route I thought was going to be fairly easy as it is after all the continuation of the infamous Crowden Horseshoe, however there was a very deep bog in the way so I had to retrace my steps back towards the pond then turn left over less boggy ground. In the end I managed to reach the stone cairn at Tooleyshaw Moss and the normal path was then easy to follow as it was flanked with wooden marker posts every few hundred metres. The stone cairn at Tooleyshaw Moss could have in the past I imagine have created a false summit for walkers in bad weather with many thinking it was the summit of Black Hill as from a distance it is sometimes first when approaching from the south. As I was stood next to the stone cairn a fighter plane flew extremely low and fast over Black Hill. It didn't look like the usual RAF Tornado planes you see when out and about so I am guessing it could be one of the Eurofighter planes from BAE.

Stone cairn on Tooleyshaw Moss

After Tooleyshaw Moss the path follows the eastern side of the Crowden Horseshoe through peat hags, marked all the way with wooden marker posts and the odd small stone cairn. I have to admit if I did Black Hill again I probably wouldn't bother with this eastern side of the horseshoe as it was very bland compared to the western approach. I crossed over the perimeter fence again at White Low, then as I reached the descent of Westend Moss I sat down in the heather slope to have my packed lunch with a sunny view over Crowden to Bleaklow. I chose not to walk over to the trig pillar on the top of Hey Edge and instead descended Hey Moss to the track that heads up Crowden Little Brook. The track passed under the spills of the old Loftend Quarry. To be honest they are probably the most aesthetically pleasing quarry spills I've ever seen and are made even better by the small plantations. The local sheep were sheltering under the trees to shelter from the warm sunshine. I crossed a stile over looking Crowden and made a short steep descent down to the Youth Hostel I walked along earlier. A short walk back down the road led me back to the camp site where I bought a cold drink from the shop then headed back to the car. A great day out, especially the approach along the western side of the horseshoe. I managed to get back home just before the rush hour too. I caught the sun quite badly as I only chose to put sun cream on half way through the walk, don't think I will ever learn that lesson!

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...


  1. It's interesting to hear about the success of the restoration works. My nearest hill area is the Brecons, and the paths up to Cribyn, Pen Y Fan and Corn Du are all being paved. At first I was dismissive of this as "urbanisation" of the hills, but after thinking about it realised that the eroded, motorway-width paths were unsustainable. Hopefully it will be as successful as the work on Black Hill.

  2. Yep it was exactly how I felt too when I first saw the huge Pennine Way slabs several years ago. Thing is the people are not going to stop climbing the hills so you may as well control it instead of avoiding the problem and decent long lasting paths can do that. Amazes me how well those slab paths work over the Peak District. Boggy paths just get wider and wider al the time in the Peak but these things eradicate that all together. :-)

  3. Yep same walk apart from I went over to the trig point on Hey Edge. What time did you start the walk? I also walked it on Monday and started about 9.30 I think after a full english at the YHA :) I bumped into a guy sitting at the top of Laddlow Rocks who was on his second day of the Pennine Way and could not believe the weather. I ended up with a nice English Tan (red as hell ;)

  4. Wow - although I rarely visit the Peak anymore for many years this was a regular stomping ground. I'd heard that Black Hill was much improved but the transformation is huge! I can remember a visit to the trig point involving wading through a deep morass. A favourite walk in this neck of the woods would visit Bleaklow via a couple of the cloughs - say up Wildboar Clough and down Far Back Clough for example. I'm impressed that the common lizard lingered long enough on your hand for a photo.