The Wilds of Bleaklow
...not for the faint-hearted
The route to Bleaklow’s wild and isolated summit from the old cotton town of Glossop is one of the best...
The Wilds of Bleaklow
The route to Bleaklow’s wild and isolated summit from the old cotton town of Glossop is one of the best. The second highest hill in the Peak never gets the same number of walkers as Kinder and it still manages to convey a feeling of remoteness and wildness in a way that over-populated Kinder cannot, despite a 22.5km/14-mile long perimeter fence erected by English Nature in 2003 to keep sheep out.
Glossop’s wealth was founded on the patronage of the 11th Duke of Norfolk, who gave the centre of the town its fine range of civic buildings and squares. It is no coincidence that the planned early 19th century streets and factories at the western end of the town were named “Howardstown” – a reference to the family name.
Old Glossop, the starting point of our walk, is a pleasing mixture of old gritstone cottages clustered around the parish church, which sprang up at the junction of packhorse routes crossing the Pennines. Earlier still, the Roman fort of Melandra, north-west of the town now in the huge Gamesley housing estate, guarded the entrance to Longdendale.
Follow Shepley Street, which runs east alongside the Shelf Brook, from the centre of Old Glossop. This leads to a ladder stile and access point onto the Lightside ridge, with the unpleasantly-named Shittern Clough down to the left.
Keep to this ridge and climb steadily towards the rocks of Yellowslacks ahead. Go along the edge of these rocks, which were once blown up by an irate landowner in a bid to stop climbers using them, above the narrowing Yellowslacks Brook, which soon becomes Dowstone Clough.
Head due east at the end, crossing the sheep-excluding fence by a ladder stile and heading across boggy Shelf Moss towards the Wain Stones. These isolated boulders were made famous by Alfred Wainwright, who first likened two of them when seen from a certain angle, to the profile of a kissing couple. It is a few squelchy steps north-east from here to Bleaklow Head.
Despite its lofty elevation of 633m/2,076ft, the view from the summit rocks of Bleaklow Head is disappointing, considering it is the second highest summit in the Peak. All that can be seen is a wasteland of peat hags and groughs, with only the peeping of the occasional meadow pipit or the croaking of a grouse for company. Bleaklow Head stands on the watershed of England, so that the 152cm/60 in. of rain which falls annually on the summit eventually finds its way into either the Irish Sea, via the Mersey, or the North Sea, via the Humber.
From Bleaklow Head, turn due south passing the Wain Stones again and head for Hern Stones, whose name may come from the Old English “earn”meaning eagle. Follow the ridge through the morass of peat groughs south again making for the welcome dry ground and scattered tors surrounding the white trig. point on High Shelf Stones.
Higher Shelf Stones
Higher Shelf Stones is the bold promontory seen from the Snake Pass just as it starts to drop down into Glossop. At 621m/2,037ft, it probably the finest viewpoint on the Bleaklow massif, and looks down on Doctor’s Gate across the Shelf Brook valley, and over Coldharbour Moor towards the distant Mill Hill and Chinley Churn, with Shining Tor just peeping over the massive northern shoulder of Kinder Scout.
It was the scene in 1948 of a tragic aircrash involving a U.S. Air Force B29 Superfortress nicknamed ‘Over Exposed’, which had been involved in the Berlin Air Lift. All 13 members of the aircrew were killed, and a simple memorial erected on the 40th anniversary now marks the spot. Just beneath the summit to the east there are still large pieces of wreckage to be seen, and there are stories of ghostly apparitions having been seen near the spot.
Descend from Higher Shelf Stones in a south-easterly direction across Gathering Hill – a reference to a sheep gathering ground – until you meet the line of the engineered path which is the Pennine Way at Devil’s Dyke. This is an ancient boundary ditch, possibly dating from the Dark Ages.
After about half a mile of this pleasurably dryshod route, you meet the ancient causeway known as Doctor’s Gate, where you turn right for the long descent back into Glossop.
Marked on the map as a “Roman Road,” this ancient track is probably a medieval packhorse route, perhaps built on the line of a much older Roman route between the forts of Melandra near Glossop, and Navio, at Brough in the Hope Valley. It is thought to get its name from Dr. John Talbot, the vicar of Glossop between 1494-1550, who must have been a frequent traveller on this moorland route.
The route is now obvious and gradually descends the Doctor’s Gate path across Urchin Clough, Rose Clough and Birchin Orchard Clough on a superb natural route. Doctor’s Gate eventually joins the valley of the Shelf Brook, crossing Yellowslacks Brook near Mossy Lea Farm, and rejoins the outward route and back into Old Glossop.
Start/finish: Old Glossop.
Distance: 14km/9 miles
Approximate time: Allow at least 5-6 hours
Highest point: Bleaklow Head 633m/2,076ft
Maps: OS Explorer Sheet 1, The Dark Peak
Refreshments: In Glossop
Terrain: A tough moorland ramble, waterproofs and compass essential
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