Longdendale 6 mile walk
Although it is flooded by a string of five reservoirs, threaded by the busy A628 trunk road and defiled by an army of marching electricity pylons, Longdendale’s enclosing moors retain their wild beauty, as this walk shows...
Black Hill and the Crowden Horseshoe
Alfred Wainwright unkindly dubbed Longdendale “Manchester-in-the-Country,” and it must be admitted that this major trans-Pennine valley has suffered more than most from the hand of Man. Although it is flooded by a string of five reservoirs, threaded by the busy A628 trunk road and defiled by an army of marching electricity pylons, Longdendale’s enclosing moors retain their wild beauty, as this walk shows.
Crowden has always been an important stop-over for travellers using the Woodhead Pass and entering Longdendale. Crowden Hall, a fine late 17th century Stuart mansion, was demolished in 1937 by the Manchester Waterworks Company in the interests of preserving water purity. Crowden had its own railway station on the Woodhead line on the opposite side of the valley, and the last remaining terraced cottages, known as Long Row, were converted by the National Park to a much-needed first-stop youth hostel on the soon-to-be-opened Pennine Way in 1964. The hostel has now been replaced by a £1million, purpose-built, 32-bed Crowden Outdoor Centre, run jointly by the YHA and Rotherham Council, just half-a-mile away up the A628.
When the string of five reservoirs which now fill the valley bottom were constructed between 1848 and 1877, they formed the greatest man-made expanse of water in the world, and were praised as a wonderful example of Victorian engineering. The Bottoms, Valehouse, Rhodeswood, Torside and Woodhead Reservoirs were needed to provide pure drinking water for the fast-expanding industrial population of Stockport and Manchester.
From the car park, pass the camp site which was built on the site of Crowden Hall and turn left through a gate and over Crowden Brook Bridge. Through a second gate, you turn right to join the Pennine Way, over a ladder stile by a small plantation.
Turn left and follow the well-beaten path towards Black Tor, noting the Outdoor Pursuits Centre down to the right. Continue left around the edge of the moorland crossing a small stream (Span Gutter) beneath Black Tor and ascend gradually towards the lovely moorland stream of Oakenclough Brook. The path thins as it climbs towards the impressive buttresses of Laddow Rocks ahead. Beyond Laddow Rocks, the prominent twin landslipped hillocks known as The Castles defend the head of the valley, with Black Hill beyond. Take the edge path, ignoring the left-hand branch to Chew Reservoir, to reach the summit rocks of Laddow.
Laddow Rocks were among the first crags to be explored by Manchester climbers in the early years of the 20th century, long before Stanage and Froggatt were “discovered.” Climbers used to sleep in the cave below the rocks to get an early start, and some climbs were done wearing clogs, or even in bare feet!
Laddow also saw the start of the mountain rescue service in the Peak District. Following a serious accident on the rocks in 1928, a climber was carried off and down to Crowden using a pair of “No Trespassers” signposts as a make-shift stretcher. This incident led to the formation of the “Joint Stretcher Committee” in 1933, which was the predecessor of the modern Peak District Mountain Rescue Organisation.
The path continues northwards along the edge of the rocks, then gradually runs down towards Crowden Great Brook, near the twin rocky outcrops of The Castles across the stream. Keep on this peaty and often boggy path below Red Ratcher, to the left, and gradually ascend across Grains Moss until it levels out at Dun Hill.
The summit of Black Hill, marked by its stranded white trig point, lies ahead, and is now reached by a paved path constructed by the National Park Authority and the Moors for the Future Project, over what used to be an unpleasant quagmire of cloying peat.
Wainwright commented on Black Hill: “It is not the only fell (sic) with a summit of peat, but no other shows such a desolate and hopeless quagmire to the sky.”
Formerly the highest point of the old county of Cheshire (most of Longdendale fell within that county), Black Hill at 582m/1,908ft was appropriately named. It really was black until conservation work done in recent years has resulted in much easier conditions for the hillwalker, and much welcome re-vegetation on the surrounding moors.
The official name of the summit is “Soldier’s Lump,” a reference to the 18th century visits of the Royal Engineer surveyors who first used it as a triangulation point. An examination of the mound in 1841 revealed the timber framework for the theodolite which was used for the survey, which began in 1784. The original instrument is now in the Science Museum.
The views from Black Hill, on a good day, extend as far as the distant fells of the Yorkshire Dales to the north. Closer at hand, our route is revealed to Laddow Rocks, and the thin needle of the Holme Moss TV mast threads the clouds to the east.
Leave the summit in a south-easterly direction on a thin path which leads across drier ground on a series of cairns which leads across Tooleyshaw Moss towards some prominent grouse shooting butts.
Continue on the broad ridge to White Low and Westend Moss, with its little reedy tarn on the summit plateau. You now begin the gradual descent back down into Longdendale, with the heights of Bleaklow filling the southern horizon across Torside Reservoir.
Head for the trig point at the summit of Hey Moss, and then follow the ridge down to the top of Loftend Quarry, a prominent, if unsightly, landmark in the Longdendale Valley.
This large abandoned quarry with its large spoil heaps is known locally as Moses Quarry – perhaps named after a former worker there? In its heyday, it employed 100 men, an indication of the size of the former population of Crowden and the rest of the valley. Stone was produced to provide kerbstones for the fast-growing city of Sheffield. Today, it is popular with rock climbers and the home of some rare birds of prey. Plantations have been established in the quarry bottom to help soften the painfully-visible scar.
Leave the quarry by the cobbled track built to serve it, which winds down to the tiny chapel of St. James by the side of the A628 in the valley bottom.
St. James Church, Woodhead
This tiny church, usually known as Woodhead Chapel, is perhaps best know for its gravestones at the back of the churchyard to many of the navvies who lost their lives during the terrible cholera outbreak which occurred in 1849 as they were building the second of the Woodhead railway tunnels. Twenty eight men died during the outbreak, adding to the death toll of 33 who were killed making the first, single-track tunnel between 1838 and 1845. It gave Woodhead the reputation as the railwayman’s graveyard.
On reaching the A628, turn right to walk the 800m/½ mile back to Crowden.
Start/finish: Crowden-in-Longdendale car park, Longdendale
Distance: 10km/6 miles
Approximate time: Allow at least five hours
Highest point: Black Hill, 582m/1,908ft
Maps: OS Explorer Sheet 1, The Dark Peak
Refreshments: At Crowden
Terrain: A strenuous moorland walk for which good waterproof equipment and a compass are required
These walks have been adapted from Roly Smith’s Rambler’s Guide to the Peak District, published by HarperCollins in 2000.
Copyright Let's Stay Peak District 2010
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015