South Pennines Walk - Todmorden
PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 April 2014
Stride out along moorland tracks and old packhorse routes that cross the wide open spaces of the South Pennines
The Industrial Revolution did not always deal kindly with the South Pennines, filling its valleys with mills, roads, railways and canals. Successive generations, including our own, have been none too careful either. Even on the tops the often-clumsy hand of man is never far away. The result is hillsides draped with electricity pylons and now skylines pierced by forests of white wind turbines that stand out against the dark moors. Yet this bruised landscape still exerts an irresistible pull for thousands of walkers.
The smoke-blackened mill towns and villages may lack the overt beauty of their counterparts on the North York Moors or the sturdy charm of the Dales but the moors still hold a stark, elemental beauty. On a benign day it is a country of sweeping horizons and vast skies but when the mist drops these wind-raked hills retain more than an echo of the untamed nature that made our ancestors view them as places to be avoided rather than the stuff of Sunday strolls. This walk takes in all those elements rising from a mill village and a canal to two reservoirs, wild open moorland and a revitalised packhorse causey – the stone-flagged tracks that were once the main route for goods coming in and out over the hills.
Start from the lay-by at the Belholme Sports Ground at the southern end of Walsden, near Todmorden and walk south along the main road towards Littleborough, passing the Bird in th’ Hand pub. After about 300yds turn left into Warland Gate End and cross the canal before carrying on straight ahead to take a steep narrow lane which climbs the hill. When it comes to the impressive gates of Calflee House do not be deterred by the stern Private Road sign. It is a public footpath so go through the pedestrian gate on the left and carry on up the lane. When it reaches the house take the pedestrian gate to the side of the main gates and turn immediately left to climb up to another house. Behind this a field gate leads onto the open moor. This often-wet track climbs diagonally across the hillside until the earth embankment of Warland Reservoir looms ahead. At the foot of the earthworks take the rising track on the right which climbs up to the end of the dam. Turn back left along the dam top and carry on to cross a stone bridge at the far end of the reservoir. Stay on this track as it runs beside an enclosed feeder channel with the lonely pinnacle of Stoodley Pike coming into view.
Just before the next stone bridge a flagstone path heads rightwards across the moor making for the sheet of Gaddings Reservoir and a windfarm visible in the distance beyond. As the surrounding land becomes increasingly waterlogged the flags become ever more welcome. Without them a boat might be needed to cross this soggy stretch. Carry on to the reservoir and along its dam to the far corner where a flight of enormous stone steps mark the return route to the valley. The path drops gently, passing the distinctive gritstone formation of the Basin Stone. A few hundred yards further on, the path meets another descending track at a T-junction by a marker post in a cairn. Turn left to follow it downhill.
This is part of the recently-opened Pennine Bridleway but it has felt the weight of horses’ hooves for centuries. Known as Salters’ Rake it is one of the many old packhorse routes which once criss-crossed the Pennines and its name commemorates the jaggers who brought trains of ponies laden with salt across the hills from Cheshire. Their passing can be measured in the deep grooves worn into the causey over the centuries.
When the bridleway eventually leaves the moor at a gate take the tarmacked lane which passes above the stately mullioned farmhouse. It passes another more modern house before regaining the moor at a gate. Go through this and then immediately break back downhill on another narrower causey, still part of the bridleway. This is followed all the way to the tiny hamlet of Bottomley. Here turn right down the metalled lane but immediately break off right through a gate onto another enclosed causey which leads downhill to the canal. If time is pressing carry on to the road and turn left to reach the car.
However, the canal towpath makes a pleasant finale if followed leftwards back to Warland Gate End and the bridge crossed at the start of the walk.
Start/finish: Lay-by at Belholme Sports Ground at the southern end of Walsden, near Todmorden,
Distance: 6 miles/10km
Height gain: 900ft/275m
Time: 3-4 hours
Terrain: Open moorland tracks and old packhorse causey’s. Can be very wet. Boots recommended
Parking: Lay-by off A6033 Todmorden to Littleborough road
Refreshments: cafes and pubs in Todmorden