…in which I tramped miles on white hills, sank pints in a White House and camped wild at Light Hazzles.
Crowden to Light Hazzles, 21 miles.
You’ll be leaving the campsite too early for breakfast (won’t you?) so buy something from Steve the night before. I’d get lunch too, then any snack van that may or may not appear will be a bonus. Unless you’re stopping at Standedge, you’ll need as well at least breakfast for day three. ‘What snack van?’ I hear you cry. Sometimes there’s a very welcome snack van after Black Hill on the A635 at Wessenden Head (NTG p. 43, 076 072). I say ‘sometimes’ because in a gale and freezing rain in October 2016, when I could really have done with a snack, there was no such van present.
The standard accommodation tactic is to get to Standedge, Diggle or even the fleshpots of Marsden via the A62 but this seems to me to make the second day silly-short. I find it easy and preferable to crack on past the horrid M62 and camp. In 1999 I wild camped at Blackstone Edge, which was peaceful with fine views of the western conurbations although there were lots of dog walkers at dawn. This time more careful study of the map elicited a revelation – on the A58 there is a pub! Blackstone is already quite a hike from Crowden, but I was very thirsty, there was plenty of daylight and I was on a tighter schedule. The wonderful White House Inn was absolutely packed with clean, respectable townfolk eating out on a Bank Holiday Saturday night, but the staff were welcoming and served me a delicious meal on a corner of the bar, out of the way.
They also told me Wayfarers often camp in an old quarry further along the Head Drain at about 964 193 but this turned to be damp and shady. It was a sunny evening and I fancied a view so, down through the rocks a few yards west, I found a perfect wild camping spot at Light Hazzles Edge. I don’t normally wild camp near a vehicle track, figuring any trouble will probably be vehicle-borne, but this was well hidden behind rocks just before the power lines.
The path from the top end of Laddow Rocks is a bit vague, just follow your nose up the valley hopping over the streams, or leaping them after rain. All Wainwright’s old-school fun of getting lost, falling into bogs, losing pipes and possibly even expiring on Black Hill has been stolen from us by the flagstone pixies. Thank goodness, bless their little pixy helicopter. It’s now virtually impossible to go wrong on Black Hill (ha ha), even though there’s a discrepancy between the new edition Wainwright and the new NTG concerning the route off it to the north. Fear not, just follow the stones.
On the north side of Black Hill there’s one hazard you do need to consider if it’s early or late in the year and if it’s been raining heavily for more than 24 hours, not that unusual on The Way. The stream at Dean Clough (078 066, NTG p. 43) can in wet weather become dangerous or even impassable. I don’t know what one would actually do about this coming from the south, other than strip off and wade, but if you’re meeting walkers coming from the north and they’re not looking aquatically traumatised, obviously it’s OK. Head up the A635 towards Holmfirth then cross it just before the snack van (if it’s there) and walk a little way along Wessenden Head Road. Then take the obvious path down to the left, at the quirky steel ‘picture frame’. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.
Watch out for nutty cyclists all along the reservoir track. The route up to Blakely Clough has changed between the old and new NTGs. You no longer cross the dam at the west end of Wessenden Reservoir, but follow the track further along to where the Way is fingerposted directly and steeply down over the river then similarly up again to the mysterious tanky thing with its mysterious radio mast. Don’t miss the change of direction at 038 087 (NTG p. 45, E) as the original route directly to the southwest corner of Black Moss Reservoir is now a trackless swamp. How do I know? Because I mistakenly came that way on a subsequent north-south Pennine Way. South-north the path is flagstoned, you should be fine.
At Northern Rotcher don’t miss the lovely old marker stone at about 004 113, the track off to the northwest is the Oldham Way; we want the Oldie Way. The Aiggin Stone and the right turn off the roman road are both obvious. Relax and rejoice, you’re briefly in Lancashire, God’s Own County (other ancestral counties are available).
As I blundered stiffly out of Steve’s campsite at 5 am Swallows were flitting and chittering, wagtails were chissicking, caravanners were snoring, all was well with a sun-kissed dawning world. It must have been the pizza. Try not to mourn the beautiful former Youth Hostel down to your right, be touched instead by the charming memorial wood. Then be annoyed by all the numbering and other signage installed by the ‘Outdoor Activities Centre’ (fka ‘Youth Hostel’) to indicate their rock climbing pitches. These are presumably for the convenience of their ever-changing and often hungover young staff, who doubtless put up with minimum wage for the sake of an outdoorsy life and the social opportunities afforded by a constant passage of freshly-minted sixth-formers.
I don’t climb rocks as, perhaps surprisingly for an Oldie Outdoors, I’m scared of heights. Laddow Rocks is the only bit of the Pennine Way I have to scuttle past with clenched buttocks, la-la-la-ing loudly and trying not to look sideways, not even at the amusing Ravens. Up in the valley a lad from Huddersfield overtook me. ‘Try the pizza?’ I enquired. ‘I did’, he replied enthusiastically, ‘I thought camping site pizza’d be crap, but it were amazing!’ Apart from that brief but comforting interaction, on a sunny May morning I had the whole of this vast and wonderful landscape to myself.
On this late May morning, Black Hill was confusingly not at all black, but white. At first it was white due to being covered in beautiful Cotton Grass, miles of it, all merrily nodding it’s little cotton buds in the breeze. Then it became even whiter as I ascended into thick, impenetrable cloud.
In April 1999 I’d been up here in warm sunshine. Skylarks had sung, the views were extensive, the flagstones nonexistent and the bogs Wainwrightesquely alarming. This time I just followed the stones, through the fog and out eventually towards what might or might not be the legendary snack van on the far horizon.
Is it the snack van? Is it just a truck? It could be a snack van… The question looms ever larger as you trudge the endless stones and eventually acquires overwhelming existential significance, as if it were ‘pardon me, drug-crazed intruder, but is that a real gun?’ or ‘Mr Trump, is that real hair?’ Luckily, the answer looms ever larger too.
In April 1999 (tell me if you’re bored) the then very small snack van had been densely populated by a sweet and friendly older Yorkshire couple in charming white coats, and their beautiful daughter. They sold me a freshly-cooked egg buttie in a proper chewy, tasty bread bun, volcanically hot tea and the best ever oaty, treacly Yorkshire parkin. It was all incredibly delicious, and when I’d told them so, the gentleman had comically clapped his hands over his wife’s ears; the daughter had blushed sweetly and refilled my tea. My hopes were high in 2016, not least as the van appeared larger.
It turned out to be less numerously but more contiguously populated by two tattooed Yorkshire ladies, who sold me cheap burgers and cheap bacon in a cheap fluffy roll, lukewarm tea and a cheap factory-made flapjack. Every scrap was incredibly delicious; I went back for more and told them so, even though a querulous voice in my head muttered that, being in Yorkshire, they should really up their game. On a much hungrier day four months later I discovered I’d been fortunate to find them there at all.
The Wessenden reservoir paths were teeming on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday with dog walkers, families and harum-scarum bikeheads. A Redstart sang beautifully but invisibly in the tall trees at the Lodge. As I dragged myself by my polestraps up the steep climb to the tank, a Redfleece, aka Peak Park Ranger, strode fast and self-importantly past me as if I were invisible. To be fair though, as one of the main roles of these Rangers is to move on wild campers I tend instinctively to impersonate a clump of heather on encountering one.
As he made no effort either to pick up the continuous trail of Werthers wrappers some lowlife had dropped one after another along The Way, neither did I. At Black Moss Reservoir I met a nice couple who just a week previously had been camping fifty yards from my front doorstep in Norfolk. A gold-chained and shell-suited geezer sucked on his rollie and cackle-coughed indulgently as his three leadless whippets, as skinny as their owner, harassed hysterical Curlews from their nests. Where’s a Peak Park Ranger when the birds need one?
The Standedge car park was full of men flying depressingly noisy drones, the brain-frying whine of which was but a mere gnat-buzz compared to the distressing bear-growl of the M62, which one can literally hear for miles. It’s traditionally poetic-ironic for lone walkers to stand on the bridge and shout abuse at lone drivers passing below. Eco-friendly cars carrying more than one occupant get a cheery wave instead. They probably can’t tell the difference, and upon being assailed by such doubts one must restore one’s karma by blessing the flagstone pixies while trudging onwards and upwards to Blackstone Edge, a lovely place with great views.
I was by now really tired. Although the mileages don’t seem long, with the climbing and the rough ground The Way does that to you. While failing to find my 1999 campsite I met an elderly Lancastrian who kindly confirmed my suspicion of a pub on the A58, ‘you’ll enjoy a pint in there’. Two thirsty men’s eyes met. Our arms twitched towards the almost tangible vision of foaming ale that hung between us. I forced my legs to twitch again to the rhythm of a pub mantra, viz. ‘oh, the pub is near, the pub is here, the pub is going to sell me beer’, bawled tunelessly on endless repeat. I find loud chanting of made-up songs essential on The Way, but I’m not holding out for a Grammy.
The pub wasn’t that near, but I made it and they did sell me beer, although not before the landlady had pointedly enquired ‘poo, who smells of Ralgex?’ ‘Erm, it’s Germolene’, I admitted. She obviously realised she’d been a bit sharp as we then had a brief but friendly conversation, a kind gift of time on her part considering her pub was rammed. ‘You should smell the Spine Racers’ she confided. I felt inclined to explain that even in the unlikely event of a Spine Racer ceasing rapid movement long enough to be sniffed, I might still forego that pleasure, but she’d rushed off to serve a table of about twenty. The steak and kidney pie under its lush but light suety blanket was fabulous, the ale was foaming and fabulous, the nice boys behind the bar were fabulous – maybe I’d already been walking too long? The Malteser cheesecake was small and prettified as so often with pub desserts, but not by any standard unfabulous.
A fully primed beer scooter whizzed me along the reservoir track to the old quarry, which I scorned campingwise as it was shady and damp. Below the track just before the powerlines I found a lovely sunny spot, hidden behind a rock and quilted with warm, dry grass. It turned out that this would rustle and scuffle terrifyingly all night against my tent, as if I were encircled by a war-dancing tribe of man-eating hedgehogs, but you can’t have everything. If I were still of reproductive age I might not sleep so close to powerlines, fearing low frequency radiation, but for an oldie, issue is not an issue. What a great end to a long but rewarding day.