Pennines Walk - Cragg Vale to Stoodley Pike
PUBLISHED: 00:16 23 February 2011 | UPDATED: 15:24 26 April 2017
Enjoy classic Pennine moorland country of huge skies and water-gouged hillsides. Terry Fletcher is your guide
They have always done things their own way in the deep valleys of the South Pennines. Even today Hebden Bridge is known as the Alternative Living Capital, not just of Yorkshire or even the North but probably of the whole country. But colourful as it may be, mild 21st century eccentricity is a pale shadow of the wild lawlessness that was once the hallmark of these valleys and none more so than Cragg Vale.
In the 1700s this was the stronghold of ‘King’ David Hartley and his two brothers, the self-styled Dukes of York and Edinburgh, who were at the centre of a gang of coiners, men who carefully clipped the edges from gold coins, re-milled them and then used the precious metal they collected to produce bright new sovereigns.
The penalty was death but the rewards immense and the Hartleys’ criminal reach was said to extend into the finest houses. Local landowners and the newly-rich industrialists were said to send their money to be ‘recycled’ at a profit. When Hartley’s reign was ended by excise man William Deighton, the Dukes put out a Mafia-style contract on him and he was murdered by two local thugs.
In those days a stranger could expect a hostile reception but happily these days walkers are welcome and the most serious risk a visitor takes is of a soaking from the rain. The men who peppered these hills with reservoirs certainly knew what they were about.
From the main road through Cragg Vale take Church Bank Lane down to the right, signposted to St John’s Church and the Hinchliffe Country Restaurant. The road quickly passes St John’s before crossing a bridge.
Continue up the road, which is part of the Calderdale Way and passes an impressive gatehouse as it makes its way up the wooded clough.
Eventually it arrives at Withens Clough Reservoir, where there is usually a car park but this is closed until the autumn to allow work on the dam.
A signposted diversion leads above the old car park. Follow the yellow-painted posts round the workings to rejoin the reservoir road. Turn right along the shoreline for a couple of hundred yards. When the track swings leftwards go through a gap in the wall on the right next to a lichen-encrusted sign pointing the way to Stoodley Pike.
The path soon reaches a walled enclosure where there is a choice of routes. Take the left hand one by a sign pointing to the macabre-sounding Lad’s Grave.
This is classic Pennine moorland country of huge skies and water-gouged hillsides. It could never be described as pretty yet has an austere grandeur which has called to generations of northern walkers for whom it represented an escape from the clatter and smoke of the surrounding milltowns.
The path climbs steadily to the ridge until the obelisk of Stoodley Pike monument comes into sight close ahead. Follow the path towards it and cross the surprisingly solid wall in front by a sturdy ladder stile. Here a vast panorama opens up all around, painted in a thousand shades of green and brown.
The monument is a prominent feature in almost every view in the Upper Calder Valley and even close up it does not disappoint. It sits four square on the rim of the moor with Hebden Bridge at its feet, a vast bulk soaring 120ft into the air. It was begun in 1814 to commemorate the abdication of Napoleon but has been rebuilt twice since then.
From the monument turn rightwards aiming for a large conifer plantation further along the ridge.
As the Pennine Way branches off towards Mankinholes, carry on towards the trees. A broad walled track, Dick’s Lane, runs along the plantation’s edge. Turn left along this and continue beyond the trees and through a gate until the left hand wall disappears. Here take another green lane on the right, marked Public footpath. This is Cragg Road and has a top-of-the-world air with the moors stretching away all around.
Pass Knowl Farm and descend the road. Where it turns right at Stone Royd Farm, press ahead through a gate and descend the fields diagonally rightwards to emerge on a rough farm track. Turn left for a few paces and then take a gate on the right with a yellow footpath arrow.
Head diagonally left aiming for the bottom corner where a discreet yellow arrow points into the wood. Drop steeply through the trees to emerge on some stone steps. Turn left past the farm buildings before forking rightwards downhill round a series of steep winding curves to where it meets the reservoir road by the gatehouse past on the outward leg. Turn left and follow it back to Cragg Vale.
Start/Finish: On the B1638 at Cragg Vale
Distance: 6 miles/9km
Time: 3-4 hours
Terrain: Mostly on moorland tracks and green lanes with a couple of steep descents
Refreshments: Cafés and pubs in Cragg Vale, Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge
Map: OS OL21 South Pennines