South Pennines walk - Marsden

PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 November 2017 | UPDATED: 19:15 17 February 2020

Looking back to Blakely Reservoir

Looking back to Blakely Reservoir

Terry Fletcher

A walk from Marsden which passes six reservoirs, all of which have a story to tell

The easy to follow Pennine Way above Blakely CloughThe easy to follow Pennine Way above Blakely Clough

This walk was published in November 2017, so the details of the route may no longer be accurate, we do advise these articles should only be used as a guideline for any potential route you take and you should double check an up to date map before you set off.



Marsden, on the western fringe of the moors just before Yorkshire tumbles downhill into Lancashire is one of those sturdy Pennine villages which still carry the supremely self-confident stamp of their Victorian inhabitants. It grew wealthy on weaving and still boasts some impressive buildings from those days. Though not as tourist-dominated as its Summer Wine neighbour, Holmfirth, it nevertheless has a familiar air, thanks to its frequent use as a film location.

This walk sets off from the town centre and makes its way past a procession of no fewer than half a dozen reservoirs strung out across the moors. All have played their part in Marsden's history for good and ill, powering the mills, feeding the canal and domestic taps but also bringing tragedy to the valley.




1. From the bridge over the River Colne in the centre of Marsden, turn up Peel Street (the main shopping parade) and carry on up to the A62. Turn right along this and after a couple of hundred yards turn left in Fall Lane, signed to Butterley Reservoir and Golf Club. At the first junction carry on directly ahead up Binn Road, which is discreetly signed as the Kirklees Way. The road passes a mill and a row of stone cottages. Carry on, and on the brow of the hill the views open out to the moors and the green dam of the reservoir appears. Take the second of a pair of footpaths on the right, still signed Kirklees Way and heading along the side of the reservoir.

The Victorian dam is flanked by an impressively broad spillway which was designed to be ornamental as well as practical, It was originally faced with Ashlar Stone and had curved steps. First built to supply water power to Marsden's mills, it was later bought by Huddersfield Corporation to slake the town's thirst.

2. The unmade road presses on up the valley to reach a second dam, this time impounding Blakeley Reservoir. Just after passing the dam look out for a gap in the fence on the right with a Walkers are Welcome badge marked 'Swellands'. Go through the gap and follow the narrow green track as it shadows the water's edge and then climb up beside the inflow stream into the Wessenden valley. The path crosses the beck by a footbridge and then climbs steeply up the hillside to reach a concrete water tank.

From here there is a view of yet another reservoir at Wessenden. However, turn right away from this to follow the shoulder of Blakeley Clough on a clear track. The path eventually crosses the clough by clambering down over rocks and climbs the other side before heading out onto the open moor.


3. Although there are few, if any, landmarks on this section the way is clear thanks to the partially-flagged path, which is now part of the Pennine Way long distance trail. The stone flagging becomes even more pronounced as the path approaches the lonely water of the twin reservoirs of Swellands and Black Moss. On a grey day this can seem a gloomy spot and it has a history to match. In 1810 the earth bank of the still only partially-built Swellands dam burst, releasing a flood which drowned six people, five of them from a single family and the body of one victim was found six miles downstream from where she had vanished.

4. Cross the dam of Black Moss still following the Pennine Way. Carry on along the flagged path which lead down to the final reservoir of the day at Red Brook. However, a couple of hundred yards before reaching it the Pennine Way meets a broad track, the Standedge Trail, coming in from the left. Turn right along this, signed to Marsden, on a post erected by the Peak and Northern Footpath Society.

The views are already extensive but those who want even wider panoramas can make the short detour to climb Pule Hill, the green wedge-shaped summit just to the left. Whichever is chosen, the Standedge Trail is followed across the moor to reach Mount Road, which has climbed out of Marsden heading for Lancashire and which has been a Pennine crossing since before the Romans came here. The easiest way back is to follow this road all the way into Marsden. However a quieter but much rougher way is described below.

5. Cross straight over into Old Mount Road and follow it for a few steps before switching to an unmade track signed to Hades Farm. This fine level track has views rightwards to Butterley Reservoir and the opening section of the walk. When the wall on the right hand side starts to drift away take the signed path down beside it. This is the steepest and most difficult section of the whole route and look out for a more enclosed track heading down leftwards to rejoin Old Mount Road, which is followed steeply all the way back to Marsden.


Compass Points

Start/finish: Marsden

Distance: 7.5miles/12km

Ascent: 1150ft/350m

Terrain: Moorland tracks

Time: 4 hours

Parking: Roadside in Marsden

Refreshment: Wide choice in Marsden

Maps: OS OL 1 Dark Peak and OS OL 21 South Pennines



10 great walks in the South Pennines


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