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The Walk

The crossing of Bleaklow is a relatively short walk, but it is not one to be undertaken lightly. This is rough, tough terrain. Bleaklow is a vast sprawl of moorland wilderness, roughly 130 square kilometres of peat bog, heather and rough grasses. If you've already crossed Kinder you know roughly what to expect, but there's rather more of it. The few paths that exist in this morass largely follow stream beds and, as such, tend to be either stony, muddy, or both. Away from the stream beds Bleaklow is a difficult and endless void of peaty hummocks and dark, sinewy channels, looking exactly the same in every direction. The ground is saturated. Progress is slow, and navigation can be difficult. This is not a place to be in bad weather and not a place to come unprepared. One sentence in Wainwright's guide should be warning enough - "lives", he says, "have been lost on Bleaklow". If the pictures below fill you with horror and revulsion then all well and good. I might have saved the mountain rescue boys a needless outing.

Having said that, there are plenty who enjoy Bleaklow, and its crossing is an excellent day out for the experienced walker. Sections of the path have been "tamed", laid with flagstones to prevent erosion and to give dry and safe passage. The mile south of Bleaklow Head itself has been rerouted from the original path, nowadays following the bed of Hern Clough rather than the exposed and relatively boggy route via Hern Stones. Gradients on Bleaklow are gentle while the summit is relatively firm terrain, a wide area of rock and silt giving improved walking, and once you find the path heading off along the developing stream of Wildboar Grain, navigation becomes easier (though the terrain becomes rougher and stonier). The final two miles of the route follow a rocky path high above the deep ravine of Torside Clough, arguably the scenic highlight of the day's walk, with views opening up down to Longendale and Torside Reservoir. Youth hostellers will be heading for Crowden, a couple of miles to the right on the far bank of the reservoir, while the day trippers are faced with a three mile walk back to Glossop or Hadfield (except on Sundays, when buses run).

Walk Statistics:
Length: 5.67 miles / 9.13 km
Total ascent: 545 ft / 166 m
Total descent: 1514 ft / 462 m
Estimated time: 2 hrs 33 mins

Map: OS 1:25000 Outdoor Leisure 1 (Dark Peak)

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Snake Pass

The beginning of the Bleaklow section is the summit of the A57 Snake Pass, the main road between Sheffield and Glossop. Bus services on this road are skeletal, with just one bus each way on Saturday mornings and three or four services a day on Sundays. Unless you want to tackle the four and a half mile ascent from Glossop on foot your best bet is to take a taxi from the rank outside Glossop station.

First Pennine service 373, Manchester/Glossop to Castleton (weekends only)
Stagecoach service 275, Sheffield to Glossop (one journey only, Saturday morning)
Stagecoach service 473, Glossop to Baslow (one journey only, Sunday morning)

An obvious gravel path leads away from the road heading slightly east of north, seemingly disappearing into nowhere.

The Pennie Way leaving Snake Pass for Bleaklow

Doctors Gate

A few hundred metres after leaving Snake Pass the Way crosses the road's predecessor, an ancient right of way known as Doctors Gate, and apparently based on a Roman road. It is believed to have been named after Dr John Taylor of Glossop, who trod it regularly in the sixteenth century. Beyond Doctors Gate the Way continues along a pretty straight line to approach the watercourse of Devil's Dyke.

Doctors Gate looking west and east, and the approach to Devil's Dyke

Devil's Dyke

Typical Bleaklow scenery

Devil's Dyke is a long, straight watercourse running roughly northeastwards for about a kilometre. The Pennine Way runs alongside the streambed, partly on flagstones but mostly on a more natural surface of silt and stone.

Devil's Dyke

The name is a little fanciful. A glance at the map, and in particular at the drainage system either side, shows that the Dyke is artificial. A watercourse this straight, and in this position, doesn't add up. It's pretty much following the line of the watershed for one thing, and a glance either side shows a maze channels of glutinous black peat, all of them tending slightly downhill away from the dyke. None of the guidebook writers have mentioned this, let alone followed it up, so no clues are offered as to who constructed the dyke or why. The Pennine Way used to follow the left bank but it seems that walkers preferred the solid, silty bed in the same way that the river Kinder became the preferred route on Kinder Scout. Even Devil's Dyke has been tamed, for what you see nowadays is a new path laid along the left-hand side of the channel, the watercouse itself having been confined to a ditch on the right. Devil's Dyke is about six to eight feet deep on average, which means that you don't get much of a view to either side except at the openings of side channels. Way over to your left is Higher Shelf Stones, a "top" of Bleaklow on the edge of the higher level of the moor.

The higher reaches of Devil's Dyke

The route of the Way along the Dyke gains height, almost imperceptibly. The Dyke becomes shallower in its upper reaches as it approaches the minor swell of Alport Low.

Alport Low

Devil's Dyke petering out at Alport Low

The Dyke peters out and now you see Bleaklow in all its glory, a wasteland of peat bog, of soil so sour and acidic that it will support little apart from heather and the roughest of grasses. It's too poor even to function as rough pasture and no sheep graze here, but the one species that seems to love this terrain is grouse. Grouse is a relative of the pheasant, a ground-nesting bird found in temperate to cold regions of the Northern hemisphere, and in Britain it's hunted as game. Having been deliberately maintained as a habitat for game for sereval hundred years, these moors are now an ecological disaster area, the soil too wet and too acidic even to grow trees any more. You'll see this effect at its worst tomorrow on the summit of Black Hill, on which a large area is completely devoid of vegetation and now exists as a desert of naked peat.

Alport Low

The Pennine Way reaches the rise of Alport Low. The watershed now turns northwest, and the parish boundary between Hope Woodlands and Charlesworth follows it. The boundary used to be marked by a line of wooden posts and early Pennine Wayfarers were known to mistake these for route markers. However, the posts no longer seem to be in situ, perhaps having been lifted, or more likely having rotted or sunk. The Pennine Way wanders a little uncertainly between the peaty hummocks of Alport, the worst stretches having been provided with flagstones. The terrain to either side looks positively alien and does not invite exploration except after prolonged drought. The flagstones detract from the true "wilderness" feeling of Bleaklow but you only need to glance to either side to realise what it would be like up here without them.

Alport Low, and a flagstone path

The Pennine Way now curves gradually to the left and begins to descend to the watercourse of Hern Clough.

Hern Clough

A first view of Hern Clough, and the path descending into the watercourse

The Pennine Way now descends slightly to approach the watercourse of Hern Clough, one of the more substantial of the many streams that drain Bleaklow to the southeast. You first catch sight of it as it falls to the east, where it has carved itself a small but impressive little ravine in the steepest part of the slope (first picture above). The path curves to the left and approaches the streambed on the diagonal as it descends from Alport Low. After a very short distance the path reaches the streambed, more or less at a significant bend at which the water channel turns more to the north. Depending on the recent weather conditions this can be a most agreeable spot, and I remember halting here for my morning refreshment break when I first walked over Bleaklow in 1989.

Hern Clough runs out to the east and south, eventually finding its way into the river Ashop somewhere near Hope Woodlands, bound eventually for the North Sea. Just a hundred metres to the west, however, the similar declivity of Crooked Clough turns southwest to run alongside Doctors Gate, eventually finding its way into the suburbs of Glossop and heading ultimately for the west coast.

The upper reaches of Hern Clough

Our route now follows the course of the stream uphill. The path is patchy and rough, switching from side to side according to where hikers can find the best walking surface. More often than not the bed of the stream itself provides the best going, though parts of it are unpleasantly rough. A glance at Wainwright's guidebook tells you that the original course of the Way crossed Hern Clough at the bend to track over the moor a hundred metres or so to the west, more or less on the watershed. That particular route option had already fallen into disuse when I first came here in '89, walkers obviously preferring to stick to the course of the stream.

The Pennine Way following the route of Hern Clough

Continue to make your way along the course of Hern Clough. Its course is never in doubt and in one or two places it gets a bit steeper, but the going is rough and just about every footstep requires care. As you progress further upstream more stretches of flagstones appear.

Hern Clough

About six hundred metres along the course of the stream, at grid reference 094952, you reach the point at which the original route of the PW has been abandoned in favour of a new course, sticking to the streambed right up to its source. The occasional stone pillar marked with an arrow and the acorn symbol of the PW keeps you going in the right direction, as Hern Clough is now tending to break up into tributaries. The original path may still be followed in dry weather - it runs via two natural rock sculptures, Hern Stones (two boulders apparently shaped into a pair of heads kissing each other) and Wain Stones, which could almost be a partially collapsed stone circle. If you stick to the new route via the stream bed then Wain Stones is still visible from the path, only a couple of hundred metres up to the left.

The top of Hern Clough on the approach to Bleaklow Head

Dowstone Clough

The gradient eases now as you approach the broad top of Bleaklow. The terrain becomes firmer too, and if you wish you can explore a little without fear of mishap. On my recent walk in April 2005 I chose to walk a hundred metres to the west to find Dowstone Clough, the original route of the Pennine Way beyond Wain Stones. I halted for lunch here, in reasonably agreeable scenery and in complete privacy, even though the voices of many walkers could be heard as they passed by not far to my right.

Dowstone Clough

Bleaklow Head

Bleaklow Head

And so you come to Bleaklow Head. The terrain is mixed here at the summit, the peaty hummocks and channels interspersed with quite large areas of rock, gravel and silt. Walking is easy here. The nominal summit of Bleaklow is marked by a tall stake around which a large cairn has been built, though curiously it's not actually at the highest point, a peaty hummock some ten feet higher about fifty metres to the east. Bleaklow's top is broad and largely flat and there is no view to speak of, just the far off lines of similar moorland heights to the north and south. Behind you is the vast sprawl of Kinder, seen for the last time, and ahead of you to the north is the equally featureless skyline of Black Hill. On clear days you may catch a glimpse of the Holme Moss radio mast to the northeast. In the days of 405-line television this same mast broadcast BBC TV to the whole of the north of England, serving roughly half of Britain's population.

Bleaklow's summit

The trick now is to find your way off. When I first came here in 1989 the path was obvious, but conditions change and now you have to hunt a little. If the day is cloudy you might well want to dig out your compass for a bearing, for the top of Bleaklow looks pretty much the same in every direction. You need to head north (or very slightly west of north) off the summit, choosing whichever depression among the peaty hummocks most takes your fancy. You can't really go wrong as just about all these channels find their way into the developing runnell of Wildboar Grain, and this watercourse makes a wide loop around the north of the summit area to head off eventually to the northwest. It will look pretty nondescript and tentative as a path at first but it soon becomes obvious, and it will begin to curve around to the left. You're on your way down to Longendale.

Leaving the summit area for the source of Wildboar Grain

Wildboar Grain

It's a while before Wildboar Grain gets it act together and begins to look like it knows where it's going, but eventually it settles down and becomes a significant watercourse. The long, gradual curve runs out and you find yourself heading pretty much due west. The old path used to run along the south side of the stream but a more prominent, and rather easier, route has come into being on the north bank (or the right hand side as you progress). You can still see traces of the old route on the other side of the stream.

The upper reaches of Wildboar Grain

The route alongside Wildboar Grain runs for about a kilometre. Roughly halfway along this stretch you should begin to see the crest of Torside Edge rising ahead (first image below), and just a couple of minutes later any lingering doubts about whether you're on the right path will be put to rest by the reappearance of flagstones.

Wildboar Grain developing into a sunstantial watercourse

Eventually, a kilometre out from Bleaklow Head, you reach the confluence of Wildboar Grain with Torside Clough. The path descends to the streambed. It's both muddy and rough so care is needed.

The confluence of Wildboar Grain with Torside Clough

Torside Clough

Cross to the opposite (southwest) corner of the confluence and take the steep path up the south bank of Torside Clough. Within a very short distance Torside Clough develops into an impressive ravine, both deep and steep sided. The route of the Pennine Way chooses to keep high above the ravine to the south, and the scenery improves dramatically.

The path climbing above Torside Clough

You need fewer directions and less narrative now, for the route is straightforward from here on and the scenery speaks for itself. The ravine first heads northwest but, like Wildboar Grain before it, it also curves gradually around to the left and ultimately heads due west. As the ravine deepens the edge of the clough actually begins to rise and the path runs gently uphill once more.

The Pennine Way, Torside Clough

Some pretty impressive rock scenery begins to appear, and one kilometre out from the watersmeet you get your first view of Torside Reservoir down in Longendale. Don't forget to stoip every now and then to cast a glance behind you, for the views into the upper reaches of the Clough are rather good. Ahead of you the ravine curves gracefully to the right to open out into Longendale, while Torside Edge rises substantially above it. That's out route, and it looks like quite a climb from here.

Torside Clough

Your gaze will naturally be attracted towards the continually unfolding view of Torside Reservoir, but take care and watch where you're putting your feet. This is rough terrain and Torside Clough is not a place to sprain an ankle.

Expanding views of Longendale

Torside Edge

Torside Edge, looking forwards and back

The walk is perfectly straightforward from here on but this is arguably the day's hight point. As Torside Clough itself carves an ever deeper channel through the edge of the moor, the edge of the ravine actually gains height, reaching its greatest elevation immediately before the clough curves around to the north to enter Longendale itself. From the crest, then, one gets a glorious view down into the lower reaches of the ravine, of Torside Reservoir in Longendale, and of the rising swell of Black Hill beyond.

Torside Edge

Views of, and from, Torside Edge

The terrain is a good deal firmer and dryer than most of the Bleaklow massif, but it's still rough and stony and requires care. Apart from the views into Longendale there's a fair number rock formations along the edge to provide visual interest. Immediately after the crest the path starts to curve around to the right, or north, as it follows the ravine edge.  The views back along Tordide Clough from here are beautiful.

The curve, and the view back along the clough

The path starts to drop now, quite steeply, towards Reaps Farm and Torside Reservoir. As you descend the views of Longendale expand rapidly, and the extent of Black Hill beyond starts to reveal itself. That's for tomorrow.

The descent to Reaps Farm


A view of Longendale to the east

And so the path comes down into Longendale. This is the Pennine Way's first major descent and it's where a good many inexperienced walkers discover an unpleasant truth - that going downhill can be just as much an effort as going up. Muscles and tendons not normally expected to carry loads are suddenly called upon to put in a lot of effort, and they complain. The ankles and the backs of the knees are normally the worst hit, and the root cause is that, as you descend, your feet invariably have to point forwards and down. This is where blisters start to make themselves felt, this is where you really discover if your boots fit properly (continual jarring of your toenails against the internal surfaces of your boots are a bad sign), and this is where the majority of falls and slips occur. Take your time. If you really stiffen up badly, try the trick of turning around and descending backwards. It might look silly but it works, as it transfers the load back again to the muscles and tendons that are used to it.

Approaching Longendale

The terrain changes a couple of times as you descend towards Reaps farm. The natural surface of rock and compacted soil is succeeded, about a third of the way down, by cobbles. These have been laid in order to prevent erosion but they are particularly hard on the knees and will jar alarmingly. Wherever possible try to place your feet heel downmost as you descend. And do keep watching where you tread, at all times. If you want to look at the scenery, stop. 

Arrival at Reaps farm

Below the cobbles the steepest section of the descent is mitigated by a wide zigzag across the grass, at the apex of which a stile has to be crossed. Below this you're on grass for a bit, until you reach the environs of Reaps Farm. The farm would appear to have been spruced up, or even rebuilt, as it looks a good deal more handsome than I remember from my earlier journeys here a few years back. The path now enters a sizeable little gully with a firm stony bed, though doubtless it also doubles as a watercourse during and after rain. The gully converges with the driveway of Reaps Farm, from where it's a simple downhill walk over gravel to the gate and the road.

Longendale, and Torside Dam

Wainwright is pretty scathing about Longendale. Here, he says, are the first trappings of civilisation since leaving Edale, and he reckons that they are not a pretty sight - roads, railway, reservoirs and power lines all crowded into one narrow ribbon of hectic activity. Heretical as it may seem, I largely disagree with him. Times have changed, of course. The railway has gone - it closed in 1980, the only electrified line in the UK ever to be abandoned, and the old trackbed is now a path and cycleway that provides a convenient and level route into Hadfield two and a half miles to the west. The road on the south side of Longendale is the quieter of the two, the vast bulk of the traffic confined to the main road on the north side. But for the power lines, which are admittedly a visual intrusion, Longendale is actually quite charming and the string of reservoirs that occupy it are probably its best visual feature.

Day trippers will be bound for Hadfield along the old railway track, which is preferable to the direct road walk into Glossop - not only will the traffic be unpleasant but the road also climbs a fair bit. Hostellers bound for Crowden still have a bitl to do. Walk along the road to the right (east ) for a hundred yards or so then cross it, and cross the old railway track in turn, to gain the side road going down to the dam across Torside reservoir. Cross the dam to gain the main road. Crowden Youth Hostel is not quite two miles to the east, and the main road can be avoided by a path a little way down the bank and along the shore. The official route of the Pennine Way follows this for about six hundred meters then crosses the main road to take a track a little way up the hill and behind a wood. It's up to you which option you take.

Service 61A (Sundays and Bank Holidays only), Buxton - New Mills - Glossop - Longendale - Holmfirth

    Crowden Youth Hostel
  Derbyshire County Council's Peak District website

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This page last updated 9th April 2005