24: Blackstone Edge, Rochdale

Cyclists on the Edge
Cyclists do their thing on Blackstone Edge: Hollingworth Lake and Rochdale below.

Introduction: I could not decide between two routes which would both bag this summit. So, as with Black Hill, and for much the same reasons (see the commentary), I made two visits. Both walks have been described here.

County Top bagged: Blackstone Edge, the summit of which is 1,549 feet/472m above sea level and marked by a trig column at SD972163 [pictured]. Since 1974 this has been the highest point in the metropolitan borough of Rochdale (although see the note at the bottom of the page).

The summit
Walkers on the summit of Blackstone Edge.

This is my third ‘black’ CT (after Blackdown and Black Hill) — there are seven of these in total. Its name is descriptive. You only have to see it to realise why it is so called. It is one of seven CTs to lie on the Pennine Way, and is right on the main east-west watershed of Britain. Streams flowing off the summit to the east head for the North Sea via the rivers Ryburn, Calder and Aire; but pass water a few feet to the west and it will end up in the Irish Sea via the Roch and Irwell. By altitude, it ranks 57th of the 172 modern Tops, and 75th of the full list of 196.

[ << Beacon Hill, Norfolk (23) | (25) Woolton Hill, Liverpool >> ]

Difficulty: ★★★. Though the distances are quite long, the walking has fairly easy gradients and the paths are of decent quality, as most of both walks takes place on the Pennine Way. The top of Blackstone Edge is a rocky playground, but nowhere dangerous. There will be a few muddy bits in usual conditions, though on my first visit, the ground was frozen solid.

Lighthazzles reservoir
The Pennine Way above Lighthazzles Reservoir.

Ease of access: ★★★. Both walks lie close to the Manchester Victoria to Leeds rail line. All its stations from Smithy Bridge through to Hebden Bridge are potentially useful for one or the other. There are plenty of trains on this line (usually three an hour) but not all stop at Littleborough or Smithy Bridge, the stations nearest to the Top. Note also that most train services into Manchester come into Piccadilly station, so you then need to transfer to Victoria. Tram, taxi, bus and train are all options for this transfer but years of experience have taught me that walking it is usually the quickest (15-20 minutes). All in all, while it’s not hard to get to Blackstone Edge, you should plan your journey in advance.

Scenic qualities: ★★★★ for walk 1, but ★★★ for walk 2. Some might find the environment a little bleak but I’ve got used to it down the years. I think these walks offer splendid scenery. The views are magnificent: you can see the whole of Greater Manchester, possibly even as far as Billinge Hill in Merseyside, and certainly to Pendle Hill above Burnley. Blackstone Edge has a great summit too, the best CT I’ve been to since The Wrekin, and version 1 of the walk has the added bonus of excellent views of the Calder valley from around Stoodley Pike. Version 2 is not quite so pictureseque, thanks mainly to the motorway but also some ruinous fly-tipping on Windy Hill. But it’s still pretty good.

By the A58
Road sign on the A58, on the climb out of Littleborough, and an illustration of what a cold front looks like.

The area: Rochdale might have made played a bigger role in English history had it grown up in an isolated location, like Carlisle or Norwich. Squeezed between the Pennines and Manchester, and rather dominated by the latter, it still managed to give the world the Co-operative movement, founded here by the Rochdale Pioneers in the 19th century. This achievement was considered so internationally notable that once in Moscow I found myself walking down Rochdelskaya, or Rochdale Street, named in tribute. I have a lot of time for its football team as well (Rochdale FC). So yes; thumbs up for Rochdale. The local scenery is decent too.

Route One: Linear route (Littleborough – Hebden Bridge)

Date: 31st January 2021.

Warland reservoir
By Warland reservoir.

Weather conditions: Dry and reasonably clear, but in northern vernacular, parky. A bitter east wind, blowing almost all the way round, meant I needed full Kilimanjaro summit gear. This was easily the coldest of my CT walks so far. The ground was frozen solid, though not icy.

Start and end point of walk: Started at Littleborough train station. Finished in Hebden Bridge. This was the chosen end point because it’s where I live. Todmorden and Walsden, with train stations on the same line, would also make convenient termini. I left Littleborough station at 9.15am and was in HB about 4¾ hours later.

This walk also visits the summit of Stoodley Pike, at 1,319 feet/402m a.s.l. This is not a prominent summit topographically, but you won’t miss it, thanks to the huge (121 feet/37m) monument on the top (pictured).

Stoodley Pike
The monument on Stoodley Pike.

Pub at end: Hebden Bridge has at least a dozen watering holes of various kinds. Beer-wise, I am not going to recommend any one in particular. They range from tiny micropubs through traditional boozers to places that are (or think themselves to be, anyway) more upmarket. You will find something to suit I am sure. For food, in my opinion, the Shoulder of Mutton does the best.

Would that any of them were allowed to open at the moment. But I hope you will come visit my home town in saner times. Look me up and I’ll buy you a pint.

You also pass the White House pub on the A58 a few miles into the walk; another place that could be open at the moment, but is not.

The White House
The White House, a few pylons, and evidence that plenty of other people have travelled more than five miles to be there.

Distance walked: 12.4 miles/20km approximately.

Feet of ascent: 1,310 feet/400m approximately. Once you are up on Blackstone Edge most of the rest of the walk is quite flat.

Map: OL21 South Pennines covers the walk. This summary map is not that satisfactory but it’s the best I can do. The triangular summit marker is that of Stoodley Pike; Blackstone Edge is down at the southern edge of the map.

Map of walk 24

Route: This is a fairly long walk, and to extend it as far as Hebden Bridge might seem illogical to those who (unlike me) do not live there. But I do recommend it. The views are excellent. Much of it takes place along the Pennine Way, and this means it is easy, both underfoot, and to navigate. Fast progress can be made. If you do want a shorter walk, end in Walsden (see the advice below), but then you will miss Stoodley Pike, which gives purpose to the walk’s later stages. It’s probably safe in mist, though it’d be a long, grim haul in bad weather. And there’s zero shade until the last mile, so on a hot day, wear sunscreen.

From Littleborough station, head up the A58 Halifax Road as far as the junction near the tapas restaurant, where bear right. Follow this back road until reaching the hamlet of Lydgate. The serrations of Blackstone Edge are straight ahead, so there’s no doubt where you’re going. To cut out a bit of road walking, turn right up the lane that passes the last row of houses. This becomes a footpath across rougher ground. Follow it until it nearly joins the main road, then bear right along the path that heads obviously up to the Edge ahead, laid with old flagstones. On my OS map this is marked as a Roman Road, and though this accreditation is apparently now discredited, it is clearly a highway of considerable age.

Aiggin Stone, and signpost
The signpost at the crossroads by the Aiggin Stone.

Head upwards until reaching the ‘Aiggin Stone’ (pictured), where turn right. You are now on the Pennine Way, and also walking along the main watershed of Britain. The path gets rocky, but never awkward, so you will shortly attain the summit of Blackstone Edge, marked by a white-painted trig column perched on the topmost boulder (see the picture further up the page). The view is spectacular.

If you want to keep going in the same direction, before looping back down to Littleborough, see ‘version 2’ of the walk below. Those who are sticking with my first itinerary, head back to the Aiggin Stone then go straight on, signposted to the White House. The building in question is not Donald Trump’s post-presidency retreat but a pub, sadly closed at the present time.

On reaching it, cross the A58 with care, head uphill a little way, then follow the Pennine Way sign to the left, along the path leading just below the embankment of Blackstone Edge reservoir. From here to the far end of Warland reservoir is, according to signposts, 2¾ miles, but is almost entirely flat walking on a surface as firm as a tarmac road. So though this is the dullest section, it can be done at a spanking pace. About two miles from the pub, you cross from Rochdale into Calderdale and at the same point part company with the watershed, though you’ll only know this through looking at the map.

Looking back to the Edge
Blackstone Edge asserts its position as the highest thing around.

Once at the end of Warland, look back for a final sight of Blackstone Edge. See the picture: the view shows that it’s a worthy County Top, the highest point for miles around. Ahead appears the monument on Stoodley Pike, your next goal. (Here, if you have had enough, or the weather’s coming in, once you see the monument you can bear left along a clear track that will drop you down to either Walsden or Todmorden, both of which have train stations.)

The monument on (actually, just below) the summit of Stoodley Pike is a substantial construction so is further away than it looks at first. It dates from 1856 in its present form, though an earlier version, which fell down in a storm, was built to celebrate victory in the Napoleonic wars. The path, while deteriorating a little, remains pretty good, and as the Pike is approached, a magnificent view of the town of Todmorden and the upper Calder valley reveals itself to the left. You can ascend to the monument’s balcony 40 feet up, though you’ll need the torch on your phone to get you safely up the first few steps.

Descending Stoodley Pike
View on the descent of Stoodley Pike.

Take a 90º right turn at the monument, and keep following the Pennine Way signs as they lead you downhill, across a patch of ground where the path is less well-defined, and then along the side of a field, to bring you out at the farm of Lower Rough Head. The PW now becomes a lane, which follow down until coming to a signpost at about SD980261 announcing the ‘Hebden Bridge loop’ with red arrows. Finally leave the PW here by dropping off to the right, crossing the stream and then following the path along the top of the steep Callis Wood until reaching a cobbled farm lane at a gate. Keep heading downhill, and you will drop down Horsehold Road (the steepest descent of the day by some distance) and be in the centre of Hebden Bridge a few minutes later.

Route Two — (near) circular, Smithy Bridge – Littleborough

The Edge summit from the south.
Coming up to the Edge summit from the south, on version 2 of the walk.

Date: 7th March 2021.

Weather conditions: Bright sunshine first thing in the morning, but it clouded over. It remained dry and not particularly cold, so was good for walking.

Start and end point of walk: Started at Smithy Bridge station and finished at Littleborough station. These are separated by no more than a mile, so you could turn the walk into a proper circuit easily enough (see route notes). This version took three hours and forty minutes.

Up on Windy Hill.

Pub at end: When the Great Fear ends, three pubs cluster around the terminus — the Red Lion (which admittedly never looks all that open even at the best of times), the Wheatsheaf and the Falcon. Right now you’re limited to doing what I did today, and getting a bottle of beer from the Co-op next to Littleborough station.

Distance walked: 9.5 miles/15.25km approx.

Total ascent: 1,375 feet/420m approx.

Map: Once again, OL21 South Pennines can be your guide.

Map of walk 24, version 2.

Route: This is not quite as pleasing a walk as the first one, though it is a bit shorter, and as it’s (nearly) a circuit, the logistics may be easier. Its tranquility suffers thanks to the M62 and the invariable flock of visitors at Hollingworth Lake, but it’s still a decent walk. Like walk 1, it’s probably safe in poor weather, but it wouldn’t be much fun.

The Lake seems anomalous: clearly artificial, but dissimilar to many of the other reservoirs which speckle the local landscape (of which three were passed on route 1). The reason is partly that it’s never been used to supply drinking water. Instead it’s the main water source for the Rochdale Canal, so there is no reason to preclude use of the water for recreation. Hence, from the Victorian era on, it’s been set up as a kind of waterside resort, and thousands of people used to flock here on weekends. You might think the same is still true today, if you arrive on a sunny Sunday. But the views across the water are not unpleasant.

On Hollingworth Lake.

From Smithy Bridge station, take the road heading uphill. When you reach the lake, head to the right of the Beach Hotel and along the shore. Keep going until just before you reach the rather decrepit watersports centre on the other side, and then bear right away from the water, up a lane leading to the farm of Turnough. Go straight on there, and let yourself get directed around the side of the caravan park, where you lose height again before heading for the very obvious M62 viaduct, round the side of the rugby pitches.

This path rises steadily up, under the motorway (with the first real rash of litter, scattered off the carriageway like blisters). At the top you reach a junction, where turn left, signposted to Piethorne Reservoir. Then at the next signpost, turn left again, now signposted Windy Hill. The motorway, down on your left, and the radio mast ahead make it unlikely you will go astray on this section. It is a surprise to see the cars heading along the A672 to the right, still a couple of hundred feet above you.

The radio mast at the top of Windy Hill.

Once you get to the mast, don’t turn down the first path to the left, tempting though that seems. Instead, go a bit further on, pick your way through the disgusting piles of fly-tipped crap, and then bear left to join the Pennine Way for the next couple of miles. This leads across the motorway on a footbridge (not one for sufferers from vertigo). Bear left at the end and follow the Way over Redmires — formerly a trial for PW walkers but now flagged and dry — and arrives at the top of Blackstone Edge from the back. Doing it this way, the view is now a nice surprise.

From here the way down to Littleborough is the opening stages of route 1 in reverse. Keep going along the Edge until reaching the sign at the Aiggin Stone (pictured further up the page). Turn left there and drop down the old road until just before it reaches the present A58, where bear left, and you will come out onto tarmac at Lydgate. If you do want to end the walk back at Smithy Bridge, you can take the lane on the left at the end of the buildings, right under the line of pylons. To finish in Littleborough, just stay on the road, as it drops down to join the A58 and ends up in town.

Blackstone Edge dam
Under the embankment of Blackstone Edge reservoir.

Lockdown commentary: Since 4th January we have been living under another bout of house arrest in the UK. Apparently we should not travel ‘more than five miles’ for a hike. Stories abound from the Lake District and other honeypots of the police acting like doggers, cruising car parks for easy pickings and taking advantage.

I assert my right as a citizen of the United Kingdom to walk along rights-of-way and along open access land, where I am not acting ‘unsafely’ — whether that means wearing a mask and socially distancing to reach it, or not gambolling over precipices once there. No one should not be treated differently from others because of their postcode. Those without doorstep access to fine landscapes — which we all pay taxes to preserve — should all have the right to travel to such places. Hiking (and that means, in the countryside, not walking up and down the alleyways of some city or other) is proven to benefit individual health, thus, public health, everybody’s health. Potentially criminalising those who engage in it, or at least, travel over some arbitrarily-defined and very tightly-drawn limit to do it, is obnoxious, and unjustified.

On the edge
Up on the Edge. The two speedy walkers who joined me on the summit (see above) are in the distance.

Under protest, I have suspended my Wainwright blog — and should I walk in Cumbria I will not publish the details until I can do so without fear of censure. (I haven’t done any since 5th December; honest, officer.)

Last weekend I took the family on a walk on Brown Wardle, another hill above Rochdale, and that got me thinking about whether that was the highest point in that local authority. I hadn’t so far bothered to break up the metropolitan counties in Top terms. The Times Atlas of Britain, which has been my reference for the modern Tops, doesn’t do so, nor did I feel the need. But, as when I added the modern Tops in the first place, circumstances suggest that giving myself 40 more — particularly when many (like Blackstone Edge) are reachable without pissing off the curtain-twitchers — is now a good move. Perhaps I am like Leonard Shelby in the movie Memento, a man with no memory who keeps setting himself a puzzle that he’ll never solve. Actually, this addition (and it will be the final addition, I promise) eradicates an inconsistency in this blog that was annoying me. And I’m not doing all the London boroughs. I mean it.

Pennine Way flagstones
The flagstones of the Pennine Way, at Red Dykes Flat.

In the style of Orwell’s memory hole I’ve updated previous posts on the blog. All these new entries are based on my ‘manual’ survey of the relevant OS maps, and I may have some wrong. A rival for the Top of Rochdale is the (unpromisingly-named) Hail Storm Hill, over on the other side of the territory (SD840189). But the large-scale OS map suggests that the boundary of the authority, there or on the nearby Top of Leach, only just reaches over 470m. There are no measured spot heights on the boundary in that area so in the end I’ve made my own call on this: Blackstone Edge is definitely the highest confirmed altitude in Rochdale. Possibly, somewhere, there’s an ‘official’ listing but right now I’m not interested in tracking it down.

Either way, I welcomed the opportunity to add the Edge to my collection: it’s a fine summit and today was a good walk, despite the icy wind. Blogging, articulating my impressions of the landscape and giving all these endeavours just that little bit more of a point, helps too. Safe, socially distanced and healthy walking will continue.

Blackstone Edge, from Littleborough
Looking up to Blackstone Edge from Littleborough: a view that illustrates its name.

11 thoughts on “24: Blackstone Edge, Rochdale

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