Date: 25th February 2021.
Weather conditions: Reasonably good. Dry and not particularly cold, although windy on the top. Some sunny intervals.
County Top bagged: Winter Hill, the true summit of which lies at grid reference SD660149 and is marked by an OS trig point that has a spot height of 1,496 feet/456m above sea level. This is the highest point in the local authority of Blackburn with Darwen.
Today we can double up, because the Top of Bolton local authority also resides on Winter Hill, south-east of the trig point at SD663146. I assume this is marked by the cairn pictured here (for I can’t see what other function it serves). This is 1,466 feet/447m up.
Cairn and trig point are about 500m apart, making the pairing nominees for the two CTs that are closest together, though I will wait to confirm this until I visit the tops of Kent and Greater London, which appear to be separated by about the same distance. (Billinge Hill and Crank Road are about 650m apart.)
This is definitely the only County Top to have given its name to a track by 80s Manchester band, A Certain Ratio (on their 1981 album, “To Each…”). And it’s pretty good, if you’re into nearly thirteen minutes of post-punk instrumental.
Neither of its two high points was a CT until 1986 (Bolton) and then 1998 (Blackburn with Darwen) when these authorities were hived off from Greater Manchester and Lancashire respectively. But Winter Hill certainly feels like a County Top, being the highest point for many miles around. In distant views (see the picture on the Billinge Hill page, for instance) it is unmistakable thanks to the 1,015 feet/309m high TV transmitting mast on the summit, as well as several other masts.
Rankings of these two summits by altitude (in both cases the one between them is Ronas Hill, in Shetland):
* 60th (Blackburn) and 62nd (Bolton) of the 172 modern tops;
* 78th (Blackburn) and 80th (Bolton) of the full list of 196.
[ << Woolton Hill, City of Liverpool (25) | (28) Woolley Edge, Wakefield >> ]
The walk also takes in the separate and distinctive summit of Rivington Pike, at 1,191 feet/363m a.s.l.
Start and end point of walk: Started at Blackrod train station. This is on the Manchester – Bolton – Preston line. Finished at Bromley Cross station, on the Manchester – Bolton – Blackburn line. The walk took me four and half hours: I fitted it between the 10.35 arrival at Blackrod (from Manchester Victoria) and the 15.11 departure from Bromley Cross (to Blackburn).
The walk probably would work just fine the other way around, and that way the best views will be ahead of you on the way down. I had to keep turning round to see the panorama.
Pub at end: There is a pub just outside Bromley Cross station, but my preference on the way there would be to stop at the Nook and Cranny: leave about ten minutes to get to the station from there.
Distance walked: 10.9 miles/17.5km approx.
Feet of ascent: 1,510 feet/460m approx.
Difficulty: ★★★. There is never anything very difficult, but this walk is a moorland tramp for much of its length, and some sections are very boggy, particularly the stretch between Rivington Pike and the summit.
Ease of access: ★★★. I nearly gave it four stars, as it’s a plausible day trip from much of England and north Wales, but you do need to check the times of trains in and out of Bolton and Manchester. At Bromley Cross, trains heading in opposite directions arrived more-or-less simultaneously, and had I missed both I would have been waiting there for an hour (without a pub, today).
Scenic qualities: ★★★. Certain sections are a little uninspiring and could do with an injection of some charm, but the views are extensive, and Longworth Clough makes for a cute ending. Despite its proximity to Bolton it’s a mostly rural walk until the last mile or so.
The area: Both Bolton and Blackburn probably evoke stereotypical imagery in most Britons. 1950s-style football clubs staffed by players with Brylcreemed hair. Textile mills and Fred Dibnah the steeplejack, who created a TV career out of his job of demolishing their chimneys.
Of the two I’d say I know Blackburn better, thanks to the rest of my immediate family (parents, sister) living in the area. But while today’s walk does pass through a couple of miles of that authority’s territory, it doesn’t get close to Blackburn itself. Bolton is engaged with much more, and seemed OK to me, although few of the other walkers I passed today seemed particularly friendly. But that’s a subjective opinion.
Map: It was useful to have OS Explorer 287: West Pennine Moors to hand. On the summary map shown here, the walk proceeds west-to-east (left-to-right).
Route: Although this walk has some dull sections, overall it’s a good one that I did enjoy. It feels just long enough: a proper day’s exercise, but not excessive. The views from Winter Hill are extensive, although somewhat dampened by its very flat top. On the other hand, the steep-sided Rivington Pike has a superb panorama.
Bear in mind that it’s called Winter Hill for a reason. In 1958 a plane crashed on the summit, killing 35, in weather that was so bad, the staff of the TV transmitting station did not even know the disaster had happened. I wouldn’t do this walk in poor conditions.
The first couple of miles are unexciting, but at least this is one of those walks where you are in no doubt at all where you are going. Rivington Pike (with its tower) and Winter Hill (masts galore) are plainly in view from Blackrod station.
Assuming you arrive on the train that has come from Manchester, take the ‘public footpath exit’ up to the road, then turn right and walk along the pavement for a couple of hundred yards before turning right again, down the path that crosses both the railway, then the M61 by the service stations.
Carry on along this track until it comes out onto the A673, turn right, then left down Dryfield Lane. Follow this until reaching the school, then take the lane that heads up the right hand side of the campus and then, at a triple junction, take the right-most option, and start the ascent proper. This path winds very obviously up to the summit of Rivington Pike, with its tower and comfortable seats to use to admire the view. Not that I was able to sit on them — there were dozens of people up there on the day I visited.
From here the path to Winter Hill is obvious; as is the fact that it’s going to be a peaty trudge. So it proves, though it could be worse. Eventually you arrive at the massive TV tower, one of the tallest structures in the UK. Add the height of the mast to the height of the hill, and the tip is at 2,553 feet a.s.l., higher than any natural point in modern Lancashire. The mast is hollow, and the people who maintain it do so by climbing up inside it — which must be a rather eerie experience.
I found myself tempted round the path to the south of all the masts, which worked OK but I then had to bear left to find the cairned summit of Bolton, which stands near the corner of the two old walls that must mark the boundary. The main, Blackburn summit, with the trig column, is then found by following the tarmac road past the line of smaller masts, until it appears on the right. The column is defended by a foul morass of peat, but I found my way through in the end.
That sludge encourages the use of a stile in the fence, on the escarpment side, to leave the summit and then head down the clear path that descends Winter Hill to the east. This is cut up by bike trails, but isn’t too bad, and leads you down to the A675. Cross this, turn right, then go left, down the signposted footpath past Greenhill Farm. A half mile later, before entering the grounds of the next farm, turn left, and drop down a steep and muddy path into the valley of Longworth Clough, where turn downstream.
This valley has an air of melancholy neglect, thanks to the huge, abandoned works (a mill? factory? coal mine?) that you pass, and it’s got its boggy sections too, but all in all is a pleasant way to end (or, possibly, start) the walk. At about SD702147, cross the river again and then turn immediately left, along the ‘Restricted Byway’. This leads uphill a little then through the golf course before coming out on the apocryphally numbered A666.
At the main road, cross over and then head right along the other side of the river bank, past the Eagley Sports Centre. You are now finally in suburbia and might as well use the app on your phone to get you round the rest of the way, particularly through the complex of refurbished mills at Eagley. There is then a bit more climbing to do, up past the Spread Eagle pub, turning right at the top of the hill down the B6472, and then going left, along Bromley Cross Road, to the station.
Point-to-point Commentary: Since I began seriously walking, and blogging about it, in 2009, I have always preferred to travel to walks by public transport. Of course, sometimes (like with Burnhope Seat or White Coomb) driving is the only option. But I find linear, point-to-point walks more pleasing. If I oblige myself to return to my starting point because that’s where my only transport option is waiting for me — is the car serving me, or am I serving the car?
I did look today to come back down the same side of Winter Hill as I ascended it, back to Rivington and then Adlington. But I am glad I didn’t. I got a much better impression of the whole hill doing both flanks. And thanks to the ‘Lancashire Day Ranger’ rail ticket which I acquired at Hebden Bridge station, the cost of travel on the various different lines I had to use today was kept at a reasonable level (£25.50 in case you were wondering). It is significant that these Ranger tickets are so hard to buy. The automatic machines at the station won’t sell them — and when I asked our friendly guy (Paul) in the ticket office at HB, he had to dig through reams of plastic folders stuffed in a drawer before he could confirm that the ticket did, indeed, still exist and that it covered the area I intended to travel.
But it was worth the bother. Today was a fine day that reasserted how healthy and positive it is to get out into the open air even if it is more than five miles from home. We have been tossed March 29th as a date by which I might be able to return to walking in the Lake District, or any other points further away from home than Lancashire or West Yorkshire. Meantime, let’s continue bagging some of the CTs that I have deftly added to my list since lockdown began. The historic county of Lancashire (obviously) had only one Top, but the same territory now has at least a dozen modern ones, including the two today.
The scale of the project I have committed to becomes more apparent, though. Had I stuck with my original 91 tops, then considering only the number of bags, I would be nearly one-third of the way through by now. As it is, my next Top will see me at only one-seventh of the revised total.
So be it! Onward! The weather forecast looks fair into the coming weekend, so I will probably go back and do my second route up Blackstone Edge within the next couple of days. After that — who knows? It keeps me sane, at least.
10 thoughts on “26/27: Winter Hill, Bolton/Blackburn with Darwen”
A Certain Ratio are not the only Manchester band to tribute Winter Hill, you should hunt out the rather wonderful Doves’ song off the ‘Some Cities’ album.
Thanks, I will 🙂
Good to see you are getting out and about. Certainly better than my options in Greater London / Kent.
I guess I am pushing the rules somewhat but I haven’t been outside Lancashire or West Yorkshire since Xmas…..