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Posts Tagged ‘footpaths’

Mellor Knoll from the Hodder

You know that feeling when you’ve come down off the fells, and you’re looking to pay for coffee, but can’t find your wallet? I would have been embarrassingly short, but I’d found a pound on the trail which, when added to the change in my pocket, just came to the price of the coffee. It was good coffee, but I didn’t enjoy it because I thought I’d lost my wallet. It summed up the day, a mixture of good and bad, and a feeling I’d not got the best out of it, possibly due to my own gormlessness, or possibly not.

We’re in the pretty little village of Dunsop Bridge today, central hub of the Bowland fells, also the geographical centre of the British Isles, or near enough, at least by some calculations. I have a Christmas card a friend sent me, from the post office here, in December 1992, and which he describes in his book “A Journey Through Lancashire”. It was journey’s end for the book, and he describes in his closing paragraph the bleak view of Mellor Knoll and Totridge fell that day. Here I am now, getting on for thirty years later, and my friend has since departed for a different sort of journey, though, knowing him, he’s already written several guidebooks about it. The fells have an altogether brighter look about them today. There’s a cold wind blowing, but it’s driving the clouds, so the hills are great canvasses for fast moving patches of shadow and light. The freshness is exhilirating.

The plan was for a circuit of Mellor Knoll, a prominent cone-shaped hill, following the route described by fellow blogger and guide to Bowland, BC, here , though I decided to go the other way around and get the steep bit out of the way first. Viewed from Dunsop Bridge, it’s an obvious objective for any hill walker with blood in his veins, but, though a right of way runs by it, the summit itself is technically a trespass.

With a few exceptions, the paths in Bowland generally aren’t as well walked as in other areas, and sometimes the exact line of a marked right of way on the map is more of a general idea than a dead certainty, so you need your wits about you. Options for circular walks tend also to be longer, and over rougher ground. And although access is much better than it was, post CROW 2000, there’s a sense one still has to be careful, especially now trespass has been uplifted into a criminal offence.

Towards Langden Brook

The early part of the route was straightforward, though not heavily walked, so it wasn’t always clear what line to take across open ground. But from Langden Brook, you’re basically aiming for the coll on the shoulder of Mellor Knoll. Totridge fell impressed with altitude, and an attitude of austere bleakness, and we needed little by way of persuasion to save that one for another day. I found shelter from the wind behind the wall on the coll, and watched the farmers gathering sheep in the valley below. Of resident flowering flora, I found only a lone mayflower, flowering more in hope than expectation, amid an otherwise bleak expanse.

The summit of Mellor Knoll is just a short, tantalising detour from here, but if pressed I shall claim my meandering over to the summit was strictly the result of navigational error, therefore unintentional, and, moreover, that I did not intend taking up residence. That said, the views were 360 degrees of stunning. Bowland is, at times, the jewel in Lancashire’s north. At other times, it can be deeply irritating. Speaking of which,…

Mellor Knoll

The way from Mellor Knoll continues plainly enough, but I lost it when entering a patch of woodland to the west of New Hay Barn. I’m still not sure what happened here. A gate led me confidently into the wood, and waymarkers reassured me I was on track. Next thing there were flying motorcycles everywhere, and the line of the route had vanished in a confusion of rutted scars cut by bikes, and the waymarkers had given up on me. There were motorbikes growling everywhere, and first aid boxes perched on poles, suggestive of danger to life and limb.

After a couple of aborted attempts to muddle my way through, I approached a motorcyclist, who had dismounted, and asked him where the path went. Either he misunderstood my meaning, or he hadn’t a clue, or both, but he seemed confident and friendly enough, and he pointed me in a certain direction, so I followed. He meant well, but this turned out to be down the trail used by the leaping bikes, and not the right direction at all.

I was in deep doo-dah now, well off my route, and fearing to carry on, or to go back up the fell to my last known good position. Indeed, I felt like a sitting duck, this lone twit on foot amid a melee of armoured bikers at play, that it was only a matter of time before I’d be needing the contents of one of those first aid boxes. So, I bailed out into a meadow, in some haste, climbing a gate and, putting myself into unknown, and pathless territory. To whom it may concern, apologies for this particular trespass, which was indeed intentional, but I really was in fear of injury. I was lucky in finding just the one electric wire, which I had to duck under, and then I was on a private track down to the road, by Hodder Bank farm, all of which cut a couple of miles from my intended route, and rather soured my mood.

A little road walking brought me to Burnholm Bridge, on the Hodder, where I picked up the remains of the day. From there onwards, it was a very pleasant return to Dunsop Bridge, by the river, which did much to calm my curses. All I needed now was coffee from Puddlducks Cafe, a nice drive home, and all would be well,…

Which brings us back to the beginning of my story, also the end of today’s adventure in the Forest of Bowland. But it was fine. The good luck fairy was looking after me, stumping up change for my coffee, and then arranging it so as I’d left my wallet at home. If I’d lost it on the fell, now, that would really have spoiled my day.

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The Ribble at Marles Wood

I’ve just come a cropper on the Ribble Way. I seem to have discovered the knack, this year, of navigating rights of way that no longer exist, other than on the OS map. I’m using the latest mapping, and GPS. X marks the spot, and yes, it looks like there was a path through here once. I see shadows of its former self in the lie of the land. But it’s adopted now as part of the expanding grounds of this big old house. Mystically speaking, I’m standing in a liminal zone, then. We’re somewhere between the deep past, and a future in which the path isn’t even a memory in the most venerable and crustiest of walkers heads. Technically I’m not trespassing on private property, because the map says I’m not, but I doubt the owner would see it that way. After some desperate manoeuvres in the undergrowth, all efforts end in barbed wire, and I concede defeat. This is becoming a habit.

The path has been unofficially rerouted. I’ve missed the opening, which I discover a little higher up the lane. So, I drop a pin on the GPS to remind me of the location where the path disappears, should I ever come this way again. I’ll not bother reporting it. It’s not my patch, and I’ve got a few reports on the County Council’s PROW website already. I’ll be getting a reputation as a pedantic nutter. Besides, the re-route is as plain as day if you know what you’re looking for, which I didn’t. But here we are. On we plod.

We’ve got a moody sky and light rain today. Pendle hill was the plan this morning, up the Big End from Barley. But it looked like it was promising a soaking, so we came off the A59 and worked our way along the little lane to the car park at Marles Wood. I was there in the summer, delighted by the stretch of the Ribble, upstream to Dinkley Bridge. It was the same today, very picturesque, though looking less autumny that I would have thought for the time of year.

Just down from the car park, we encounter the Ribble at its most lovely. It emerges from a rocky ravine overhung by woodland, before taking a wide bend into open country. There were cormorants and egrets fishing from a distant clutch of rocks this morning. I remember trying a photograph there in the summer, with the big camera, which didn’t come out very well. I’ve got the smaller Lumix today, which usually makes light work of murky conditions. We’ll see how it does.

The walk goes upstream, takes in the Dinkley Bridge, then downstream along this section of the Ribble way to Ribchester, before looping back to the car. I’d given up on it in the summer, in the heat, made do with the Marles Wood stretch, and I’m glad I did. I’m far less enchanted by this return leg on the Ribble Way, but only because my pride is dented. I don’t like mucking about in mud and brambles around farms, and posh houses. I’m sure the occupants don’t like it either. But a little friendly signage would go a long way towards helping everyone out. I have the impression the wealthy find the footpath network annoying, even a little socialist, and would rather have it done away with. Or is that the politics of envy talking?

Ribble Way signage, resting in the mud.

Speaking of signage, I come across a fallen footpath marker a little further on. I’m getting the impression the Ribble Way isn’t a well walked route, or not well liked by landowners. Anyway, we muddle through, make it finally to a line of fishermen by the bridge at Ribchester, where the air is suddenly funky. I’ve no idea what other narcotics smell like, but cannabis isn’t exactly discrete. If it’s ever legalised there’ll be an outcry against the smell alone. Odd, but I’d never have thought to combine whacky baccy with fishing.

The rain is coming on heavier now. I had planned to take the rights of way that cut up through the environs of New Hall, then up the valley side, into the woods – more new ground for me. This might be straight forward, or it might involve another mysterious re-route. With the weather coming on, I’m in no mood for that, so take a short-cut and brave the traffic along the Ribchester Road. A pleasant diversion for a wet day, about five miles round, and worth it for the section between Marles Wood and Dinkley bridge alone.

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The Yarrow Reservoir

So, we’re leaving the car by the Yarrow reservoir this afternoon, tucked into one of the cuttings along Parson’s Bullough road. It’s a cold sun sort of day, enough to tease us outdoors, but the daffodils are looking shivery, so we’ll need to zip up. There’s a good light on the reservoir, and the sun just low enough now for the contrasts to be interesting.

The Yarrow reservoir: late Victorian period, built to supply water to Liverpool and, along with its much larger neighbours, the Anglezarke and the Rivington reservoirs, it was all something of a tragedy if you consider the land and the farms and the homes that were sacrificed to progress hereabouts. But they’ve been an unchanging fixture of my own life and, as far as reservoirs go, they’re beautiful and have bedded in well.

This afternoon’s jaunt will cover about three miles, where we’ll find a varied and fast changing scenery of moors and meadows, woods and running water, also a few dark tales along the way.

yarrow reservoir mapWe start with a bit of quiet road-walking, first across Alance Bridge, which spans the tail end of the reservoir. You sometimes get idiot kids tomb-stoning from the bridge in the summer, but it achieved a different kind of notoriety a few years back when murderers crept out of one the darker cracks of Bolton and attempted to dispose of a body by dropping it over the side here. It’s not a story I’m happy to be adding to local lore, and it reminds me these remoter stretches of Lancashire are perhaps best not explored after dark.

Next comes the climb up Hodge Brow, eventually passing an old barn on our left. This is a queer building, marked as Morris House on early six inch maps. I’ve known it variously as a ruin, then a bunkhouse and more lately a millionaires des-res project that’s stalled and has now lain empty for years. It looks about another winter away from the weather getting in too. There are warnings of spycams. This is a bleak corner, the wind unchecked, roaring down off Anglezarke moor to rattle the tiles – pretty enough in Summer, I suppose, but I don’t think I’d want to over-winter here.

Past Morris’ we’re onto Dean Head Lane, a narrow cut of a road, water pooling in the reedy hedgrows as it drains from the moor. It’ll take us on to the pretty little village of Rivington eventually, or up by Sheephouse Lane and Hoorden Stoops, to the more populous Belmont. There are fine views of Anglezarke to the north and, further off to the east is Noon and Winter Hill – something shaggy and frigid about them this afternoon though, in spite of the sun, like they’re hung over or still grumpy after the summer heath fires.

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The path by Dean Wood

At Wilkocks farm (1670), we cut down the path along by Dean Wood which skirts the deep ravine in which the wood nestles. I’ve often fancied a closer look at the wood as legend has it there’s a fine cascade hiding in there, but this place is considered so precious to the region, it’s sealed off and managed as a secure nature reserve – access by permission only, and you’d better have a good reason for asking.

There’s something creepy about the path, an old story about a farm labourer coming along here in the early nineteen hundreds. He felt a “presence” behind him, then turned to see, in his own words, the devil “horns and all”. Terrified, he ran to Rivington and told his tale, swearing all was true. Three months later they found his body at the bottom of the ravine in Dean Wood having apparently fallen from the path around where he claimed to have had his near miss with old Nick.

It’s a story recounted first, I believe, in John Rawlinson’s “About Rivington” and I’ve been careful not to add anything of my own to it here. Writers usually can’t help embellishing where they feel a story lacks detail. What I will say though is reports of such Forteana tend to cluster in the liminal zones, and this one certainly fits that pattern: the open meadows coming down to the edge of the wood, and then the deep ravine itself forming a void of air, all of which  makes for a fine transition from one thing to another.

One theory is we “imagine” such apparitions, but that doesn’t make them any less real, at least not to those experiencing them. On a fine sunny afternoon like this it’s just a story of uncertain vintage – no names, no precise dates, so it’s impossible to research more fully. To my knowledge Old Nick hasn’t been seen again around Dean Wood, but would I come down here at dead of night? Well, let’s just say, I’d be tempted to go another way.

I remember John Rawlinson as a kindly and wise old gentleman – a leading light of the Chorley Historical and Archeological Society, also a good friend of my father’s, both of them a half century gone now, both legends in their own way and loving every inch of the moors hereabouts.

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Turner Embankment – Yarrow Reservoir

After offering us tantalising glimpses of the forbidden, sylvan delights of Dean Wood, and hopefully avoiding any diabolical disturbance, the path brings us out into open meadows and with a fine view of the Yarrow reservoir, overlooking the somewhat angular Turner Embankment, so named after the house that was demolished to make way for it. Rawlinson tells us the house was most likely salvaged, and the materials put into building Dean Wood house, which nestles in a cosy bower just to our left here. There’s something pleasing about the close-mown lines of the embankment, I think,  with the trees still bare against the sky and the foreground meadows all lit by late afternoon sunshine.

Now we’re off along Dean Wood lane, through a fine avenue of chestnuts, just coming into leaf, and there’s a clear brook tinkling alongside us for company. We can walk on to Rivington from here, perhaps have a brew at the chapel tea rooms, but that’s for another day. Today we’ll take the path around the Yarrow instead, which we could follow pretty much all the way back to the car if we wanted, but if you don’t mind, I want to make a bit of a detour because I can hear the rumble of water and I suspect the spillway is running.

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The Yarrow Reservoir overflow

The Yarrow spillway is a spectacular feature hereabouts, a series of cascading steps that takes the excess from the Yarrow and feeds it with style into the Anglezarke reservoir. It isn’t often running these days, but there’s a good bit of water today, and it’s always worth a photograph, especially now with the sun settling upon it and adding a golden glow to the highlights.

I try a couple of shots with the lens wide open and manage 1/2000th of a second on the shutter. This has a dramatic effect on the capture of water, freezing it and rendering an image that’s essentially true but something the eye wouldn’t normally see. There must be thousands of shots of these falls on Instagram and Flikr, and a good many of them mine, but I never tire of it.

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F1.8 – 1/2000 sec

Okay, it’s just a short way now back to Parson’s Bullough and the car. Then it’s boots off, and home for a brew. A pleasant walk in familiar territory, but always something a little different to see.

Just one last look back at that gorgeous spillway, and we’re done:

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