Thursday, 23 January 2014

Black Chew Head from Dovestone Reservoir

I'm back! I know a lot of posts start with "it has been a while since I got outdoors" but on this occasion it really is true. I haven't been hill walking for nearly six months! There are various personal, medical and technical reasons why I haven't been outdoors for half a year but I'll not bore you with all those excuses. I'm back and I plan on getting outdoor on a regular basis again. I decided to book off work the so called 'Blue Monday', the day said to be the most depressing day of the year. Partly for the irony and partly because I had seen a weather window on the forecast the week before. Planning my first walk in a long time I had to think of somewhere close, somewhere wild, but nothing too tasking. I sometimes  also like to have a quirky objective to a walk. A few weeks ago I was discussing highest points of various counties and realised that despite my obvious and often obsessive love, pride and passion for my home county of Greater Manchester I have no idea what is its official highest point. After some research I found that Black Chew Head a fairly insignificant bog that is actually a outlying bump of Black Hill in Derbyshire is in fact the highest point in Greater Manchester. Its height surprised me, at 542m above sea level, I had no idea the highest point in Greater Manchester would be so high. I bet like me not many people realise such a sizeable chunk of the Peak District National Park actually sits within the boundary of the metropolitan county of Greater Manchester.

Black Chew Head, the highest point in Greater Manchester.
I have walked within a few hundred metres of Black Chew Head when walking to Black Hill from Crowden but had no idea it was there or its relevance. I decided that instead of starting the walk from the familiar Crowden path I would instead start the walk from the Dovestone Reservoir so that the entire route was within Greater Manchester too. From Dovestone Reservoir there is a tarmac access road to Chew Reservoir which at 488m above sea level was the highest reservoir in England when it was built. I thought the tarmac road would be easier to follow in the dark and would be easy on my legs that are lacking hiking fitness at the moment. Dovestone Reservoir sits in a corner of the Peak District National Park that I have foolishly overlooked in the past despite it being less than half an hours drive from where I live. It is a stunning area that I plan to visit a lot more this year. So the plan was a fairly straight forward walk up the tarmac access road from Dovestone Reservoir to Chew Reservoir then a short wild moorland walk to Black Chew Head to hopefully see the sun rise from the highest point in Greater Manchester.

My car at the Dovestone Reservoir car park early morning.
As I haven't been walking for a while I felt quite nervous packing the night before. I was totally paranoid that I would forget something. Luckily I am meticulous when it comes to gear packing and use several electronically stored lists to make sure I don't forget anything. When I woke the next day the temperature outside wasn't as low as I had expected as there was a slight cloud cover. This was probably a good thing as the last time I was out in winter conditions I left my Microspikes in a pub so had nothing to help me walk on ice. Its hard to tell when you live in a city centre apartment if its frosty out in the countryside, despite the canal side views I get I barely see frosts now I live in the city centre. In order to see the sun rise from the top of a hill no matter how low or high that hill is you often have to leave home in darkness. Its not easy getting up this early when you are not a morning person and I certainly fall into that category, however one bonus is empty roads. After a short half an hour drive through Ashton, Mossley and Greenfield I reached the car park at Dovestone Reservoir in pitch black darkness. There was a glow in the sky to the south west from the city lights, the sound of ducks on the reservoir and a shivering chill in the air. I walked over to the pay and display machine expecting to be shocked by extortionate prices and walking away in a huff but I was pleasantly surprised to find the all day parking cost was a very reasonable £1.30. One of many reasons I will definitely be returning here to walk the area again.

Glow of Manchester beyond a dark Dovestone Reservoir.
I startled many ducks as I made my way along a dark Chew Road towards the sailing club, they seemed surprised to see me approach them in the darkness. I followed the tarmac road, passing the back of the sailing club, crossed Chew Brook then turned right and ascended into the Chew Brook valley. As the road got higher I looked back over the dark Dovestone Reservoir below and all I could see was the background glow of the city turning the otherwise invisible horizon into a silhouette. I have to admit I'm no fan of the dark, I'm a complete wuss, so walking somewhere I was unfamiliar in total darkness was quite unnerving at times and I often found myself humming nervously for no reason.

A frosty Chew Road approaching Chew Reservoir.
The road became quite steep as its snaked its way through the impressive Chew Brook valley until eventually I could make out a very straight and flat horizon in the distance that just had to be the man made dam wall of Chew Reservoir. By the time I reached the top of the valley it was fairly bright. I was amazed at just how impressive the Chew Brook valley was, if it wasn't for the ugly tarmac road snaking through it this would be considered one of the Peak District's gems as it is a stunning valley, almost canyon like.

Chew Reservoir, Peak District National Park.
At the top of the valley the temperature dropped quite dramatically and the road was suddenly covered in a dangerously slippery frost. I carefully made my way up the steep road that crosses the slope of the dam wall to reach the reservoir.

Track passing Chew Reservoir, Peak District National Park.
The reservoir was calm and silent in a dauntingly remote and desolate scene. It was cloudy so I knew at this point there was very little chance of me seeing the sun rise, but you never know, first thing in the morning the atmosphere changes dramatically in a short space of time as air temperatures fluctuate.

Frosty wooden boardwalk by Chew Reservoir, Peak District.
I headed east on the path along the southern shore of the reservoir. The path was icy which is often to a walker's benefit on an otherwise soggy peat moorland. There were patterned frozen puddles everywhere and a lovely satisfying crispy crunching sound every time my feet touched the ground.

Far eastern end of Chew Reservoir, Peak District National Park.
The surface water in the far eastern end of the reservoir was frozen. At the far end of the reservoir I followed Black Chew Brook through Chew Clough heading east and away from the reservoir.

Short-eared Owl flying away after I nearly stood on it near Chew Reservoir.
As I made my way through Chew Clough something stood up out of a clump of long grass in front of me. I expected it to be a Red Grouse but then realised it was too high, I thought Buzzard but then realised its head was too large. It stood up and flew off not far off the ground in the most graceful fashion. It was a beautiful Short-eared Owl. I struggled to get my large winter gloves off and my camera out in time to take a decent photo and it had almost disappeared over the hillside by the time I got this distant shot of it. I had a look around where it had been to see if it had left anything but there was nothing there.

Greater Manchester and Derbyshire boundary fence on Laddow Moss.
This was now proper Peak District moorland walking. Tough conditions underfoot making progress slow and a lack of geographical features available for navigational purposes meaning a slight off course diversion round a peat grough and you've no idea where you are or which direction you are supposed to be heading. There was a well defined path in places but I lost it on several occasions. When I lost the path I used the shape of the reservoir still in view and the streams as navigational aids to stay on course. Its times like this when you have the smaller streams as your only navigational aid that you realise the benefits of a more detailed 1:25:000 map. There were Red Grouse everywhere. Every time I turned around another grough a Red Grouse would be startled and fly away. Their unique calling sounds were always present, something that put a right smile on my face. After a kilometre of walking across the moor I reached the fence that marks the boundary of Greater Manchester and Derbyshire on Laddow Moss.

Myself at Black Chew Head.
I stayed on the Greater Manchester side of the fence, turned left and headed north along a very faint path to reach Black Chew Head. This path is only faint as I would imagine only those trying to bag the county tops would ever really bother heading towards its featureless summit. The summit is only around four hundred metres from the main path and is easy to find as the fence can be used as a handrail navigational aid.

Black Chew Head, the highest point in Greater Manchester.
Black Chew Head is the highest point and county top of Greater Manchester at 542m / 1778 ft above sea level. It is basically a boggy outlying moorland ridge on the shoulder of the much higher Black Hill in Derbyshire. The county border of Greater Manchester and Derbyshire which is marked by a fence happens to cross the ridge here and therefore makes it the highest land within the our county's boundary. The actual summit of Black Chew Head is only marked by a cairn of a dozen loose stones and at the moment a large wooden stake. I can't really decide whether that is a good or bad thing, but I think I'd like to see something a little more significant yet still sympathetically discreet to mark our county's top. To be fair to Black Chew Head on a good day the views are actually fairly stunning. The best views are west and south towards the rest of the Peak District with Black Hill, Bleaklow, Kinder and even Shutlingsloe on the horizon. Whilst stood taking photos by the summit I heard a noise I have really missed. If you have ever stood on Peak District moorland just a few minutes before the sunrises you'll have seen and heard Skylark. They are natures most magical indication that the sun is about to rise. As in composer Vaughan William's breathtaking classical piece The Lark Ascending, that makes my hairs stand on end every time I hear it, they ascended with their unique song and ten minutes later the sun appeared.

Icy path back to Chew Reservoir, Laddow Moss, Peak District.
Normally at this time on a Monday morning I'd be making my way along a busy and noisy Deansgate on my way to work. Today on what was supposed to be 'Blue Monday' I was sat in the middle of nowhere with just Red Grouse and Skylark for company and watching the sun rise. I took a selfie at the summit and rightly claimed on Facebook and Twitter that it was officially the highest selfie in Greater Manchester that day. After an enjoyable moment at Black Chew Head I headed back along the faint path with the fence now on my left to reach the main path at Laddow Moss I left earlier.

Red Grouse above Chew Clough, Peak District National Park.
At Laddow Moss looking south east I could see a trig point on the moorland. Its a shame that isn't the county top as it is far more prominent. Unfortunately it sits just one metre shy at 541m above sea level. When I reached the main path at Laddow Moss I turned right and headed west towards Chew Reservoir literally retracing my earlier footsteps. The warm sunshine seemed to have enticed the Red Grouse on to the top of the peat groughs, I could see them on top of groughs in all directions.

Black Chew Grain, Peak District National Park.
I followed the path which follows the streams back down to Chew Reservoir. All of the streams lead down to the reservoir off the moss so if the weather had turned bad whilst I was up there I could easily have just followed the streams to reach the reservoir. Right now though the weather was perfect.

Red Grouse above Chew Reservoir, Peak District National Park.
The Red Grouse were a constant presence on my way across Laddow Moss and down Chew Clough. One in particular decided to sit in the perfect position for me to take a photo of it backed by Chew Reservoir and its dam wall.

Plane approaching Manchester Airport above Chew Reservoir.
There was another constant presence with a somewhat larger wingspan. The planes approaching their landing at Manchester Airport fly very low over the moors here. Earlier on in the darkness they were quite frightening especially when their lights suddenly appeared through the low cloud.

Chew Brook valley below Chew Reservoir.
On the return walk down Chew Road from the dam I got a proper look down the impressive Chew Brook valley. It really is like a huge canyon with a ribbon of tarmac running down one side of it. The road less side is very dramatic with huge steep gritstone cliffs and boulders strewn everywhere.

Chew Road through the impressive Chew Brook valley, Peak District.

Chew Road through the impressive Chew Brook valley, Peak District.
Hoarstone Edge makes up the most of the ridge that lines one side of the valley. It has this fascinating flat topped outlying peak named Stable Stones Brow. I'll have to climb up this one day as its views across the Dovestone Reservoir are said to be quite something.

Stable Stones Brow above the Chew Brook valley, Peak District.
When I reached the bottom of Chew Road I took a slight detour down to the Oldham Way long distance footpath which crosses a wooden footbridge over Chew Brook. It was here that I saw the first person I had seen all day. From the wooden footbridge there is a fantastic view up the valley.
Looking back up Chew Brook valley, Peak District National Park.
The route of the Oldham Way rounds the foot of Hoarstone Edge. From here there is a panoramic view from Wimberry Stones Brow on the left across Dovestone Reservoir to Dick Hill and up the Chew Brook Valley.

Wimberry Stones Brow, Dick Hill and Sunny Brow from the Oldham Way.
Wimberry Stones Brow has the nick name of the Indian's Head and when you look up at it from the path you can see why. It is a unique and tidy lined outcrop of gritstone that looks just like the feathers on a Red Indian's headdress. I was amazed at how many gritstone boulders there were strewn all over the hillside below Stable Stones Brow and wondered if the given name was irony.

Life for a Life memorial trees above Chew Reservoir, Dick Hill beyond.
When I finish a walk I often find myself contemplating life, realising perspective, and reminding myself how lucky I am to be alive. I crossed the stream below Rams Clough then followed a path to the right to head back down through a beautiful woodland area to the road I left earlier. On the descent through the woods I came across a Life for a Life memorial forest. Life for a Life is a charity that offers the chance to celebrate or commemorate loved ones by planting memorial trees and installing memorial benches in woodland locations across the country. I made the mistake of reading some of the memorial plaques by the trees and ended up a lot more emotional than I normal end up after finishing a walk.

Dick Hill above Dovestone Reservoir, Peak District National Park.
After an unexpectedly emotional descent through the woods I reached Chew Road again and headed back along it passing the sailing club I'd walked past in the dark earlier in the morning. The view across the reservoir were now absolutely stunning. As you can imagine I took great pleasure in posting this panoramic photograph to Facebook and Twitter to let everyone know about my so called Blue Monday.

Panoramic shot of Dovestone Reservoir, Peak District National Park.

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  1. Fab to read your blog, looks and sounds heavenly and well needed too after the long absence!

  2. Looks a lovely part of the country, I am interested in walking the county tops so will probably be visiting at some point

  3. Read with interest as I was thereabouts today. One quibble, is Greater Manchester a county ? It is not one of our historic counties, and as a political entity only existed from 1974 to 1984. So isn't Black Chew Head in either Cheshire or Lancashire ?

    1. The county boundaries of Lancaster, Cheshire and Derbyshire were changed in 1974 and the metropolitan county of Greater Manchester created. I was born in 1976 in Warrington which only two years earlier would have been in Lancashire. Counties are what they are, they are just imaginary boundaries we humans put on our landscape for our own political and demographic purposes. People talk about historic counties like they are something we should never touch like they are sacred, especially those from Yorkshire, but at the end of the day they are all just imaginary lines we put on the landscape. Just another example of humans thinking they own land when in reality we are just a spec of dust, a blip in a story that may last for billions of years.