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South Pennine Snakes And Ladders

There wasn’t much room between sky and swallows up on Back Lane. Headroom lowered as the evening progressed and not a splash of September sunlight touched the ground all evening. Had it done so  the landscape would have have ignited in ripe purples, grassy yellows and the mature intensity of summer’s back end.

Open Barn Door

Instead it was twine on gateposts, rusty tin sheets and the smaller man made details which punctuate the South Pennines that seemed to stand out. Agricultural detritus such as long unused East European tractors, yellow dumpers and old bath tubs as water troughs are never far away in this corner of Yorkshire. Such rustic untidiness is as part of the landscape here as sweeping sour moorlands and grit stone crags.

Wind Blown

From a low stone wall by Carter Plantation a silent Little owl sprinted away from us on short wings. Followed by a laid back brown hare avoiding us out of habit. In a field nearby a lone tree’s growth imitates the wind and the Pennine Fox Hound’s deep barks followed us long after we’d passed the overgrown path by their kennels.

Harden Hill Road is the top of a snake and we slide it’s hard won contours down to Hebble Lane. Here Swallows swept towards us at knee level before banking sharply and twittering  to us as they swerved sideways and upwards towards the low sky. You couldn’t move for them on Royd Lane and the endless chattering near misses were a delight. Purple heather lined the lane side bright against a dark sky and a fringe of mist fell across West Nab.

Royd Lane

At Sun Royd Farm we picked up the water conduit which would take a long a curving contour to Deer Hill. Walking by I remembered the old farmer here threatening to knock my head against my mates for walking up there just after Foot and Mouth. We must have been 30 years younger than him and I smiled at the time and again this evening. He must have been fierce in his younger days!

Sun Royd

Dusk dropped like a drizzle of pixels across the moors. I snook some brown peaty water from Deer Hill Reservoir before heading up towards Shooters Nab where a fresh breeze back combed the moors crew cut of vegetation. Not fancying a rattling night on top of the Nab I tucked the tent behind half a contour at the crags foot . Bells pealed in Marsden long after dark. Trans Pennine trains rattled through quickly  whilst the stopper grumbled about stopping at Marsden and Slaithwaite. As ever a farm dog somewhere barked behind it’s barn door and car headlights were swallowed by dips on hillside lanes. It was a good place to be.

We emerged from the mornings grey sky at about the same height as a Marsden chimney pot which meant breakfast wasn’t far away. A double egg butty for me and a tricky still hot jumbo sausage roll for the dog. Coffee was good here too. In fact Marsden is always good, it’s that kind of place. Held in a deep cupped heathery hand among fingery cloughs and craggy, scabby knuckles of grit stone it retains an understated South Pennine character worth getting to know. It’s laid back ewes munch at pavement planters and congregate like super market youths on the green in a woolly attempt at intimidation. An expensive campaign of fences and cattle grids to keep them out has been quietly dropped as the canny ewes adapted to find new ways under, through or around such obstacles. Many learnt to roll,walk and jump over the grids which now merely rattle warnings of approaching cars rather than fulfill their stock proofing claims.

Pennine Ewe

An unstated aim on this walk was to avoid the Pennine Way between here and Hebden Bridge. To stitch together familiar and unwalked paths  along the Eastern side of the Pennines only meeting the well trod way around Stoodley Pike. A roller coaster ride through  deep valleys where height would be gained and spent in a snakes and ladders way throughout the day.

Spring Lane out of Marsden is one of those long ladders where you’d be pleased to land a childhood tiddly wink and sweep upwards with a smile. Walking up the lane is more of a character building experience but height is gained with every plodding step and breath. Huck Hill Lane eases things and leads out onto the fine open country of Slaithwaite Moor and the “secret seaside” of Cupwith Reservoir. The little sandy beach here is well visited by toddlers, ducks and walkers  too yet this man made delight is set to be drained and turned into a grim peaty pool by the estates lack of regular maintenance. There is however a strong local campaign from Cupwith lovers to save this simple Pennine jewel for all to enjoy in the future.

Sometimes, in fact most times, it’s best just to get out to these places and be. So we savoured each moment amongst quacking shoreline ducks in warm September sunshine. Content at the top of a long ladder and with a few level squares ahead before the next slithering  hillside snake down to Deanhead.

Waterman’s House is almost invisible amongst a galaxy of sheds and agricultural detritus which expand ever outwards from the small stone farmhouse at it’s centre. It could be billions of years old for all I know. It’s outer edges only visible as barely detectable shimmers of light in the lens of some Hubble type telescope. Having visited many such places over the years I’ve become something of a connoisseur. Every rusty item here tells a story of this place and human existence on the sour moorland fringe. A lone chained collie stood on it’s kennel roof to bark and rattle as we passed. There was no  other  sign of life.   

Scot Hall Farm

A patchwork of close cut nitrate green silage fields caught a spotlight sun and the rumble of M62 traffic grew louder as we climbed upwards through the ruins of Deanhead. A short but steep ladder which meets the tip of a long winding snake  whose tail twitches unseen in the woods of  Booth Dean Clough far below.

Most of us have driven by Scott Hall Farm which sits funny peculiar in the middle of the M62 as it climbs to the low Pennine crest just beyond. Now we stood on the lovely path directly above as a wave of sound broke around us. Lumbering trucks and flighty cars formed an intermittent chain of colour and noise each side of the farm. Whilst just off the carriageway silage bales waited to be collected and ewes grazed with end of summer sized lambs. What strikes me about the place is how tidy it is. Unusually well kept for this part of the world.


The human stories around building the M62 through here are fascinating and I’ve spoke to a few people who were on this section. One old lad who could tell a story dug from here to Hull putting in drains. Many of his colleagues seemed to end up buried alive or stuck under heavy objects and he was one of those people who always seem to be there when these tragic events  happen. It seemed as if he dug out half the workforce at some point or other.

Beneath the motorway sheep feed and fence posts were stacked neatly and the area is obviously used as two big sheds through the winter. Once out of the under passes normal countryside is resumed and the path drops steeply on down the snakes tail to the quiet woods of Brook Dean Clough.

Waiting Swallows

A few rungs up our next ladder a topless pot bellied bloke hailed us from the back of a junk filled barn and we passed the time of day beneath a phone wire full of waiting swallows. He told me it would be to warm for walking soon before disappearing back into the shadowy barn. About a mile or so further on his words rang true and we took a half hour out back resting on a gritty boulder by the Blackwood Edge Road path.

Above us the empty expanse of Dog Hill and Rishworth Moor sat like a suet pudding on the Pennine plate. We had to climb the short easy ladder up it but the rungs were rough, wide and surprisingly rickety or was the heat of the afternoon just taking it’s toll? Picking up another conduit path we snaked through heather and bog towards the  Roman and Rochdale Roads. The moory end of the Ryburn Valley here has a dark cheese slicer line of pylons cutting a gash through the wild skyline which will never heal. Despite this there’s no getting away from a sense of wildness seeping from every peat hagg. The wilderness experience was undoubtedly  enhanced by the 99 I bought from the ice cream van on Rochdale Road. The van was parked up on the 380 m contour and we now followed this slithering brown line on the map for a long old way as it dipped in and out of every nook and cranny along the moorland edge. Never losing height and never heading directly for Stoodley Pike which marked the nose of our last long snake into Hebden Bridge.

Shooting Box

Our own personnel Mountain Rescue was working in Halifax and advised in a text we’d be picked up at 5.30 in Hebden Bridge which to me meant 6 miles in 2 hours. Ought to have said we’ll get the train but the thought of a lift was too appealing. So we put some quick steps in along the snaking contouring path but I’m getting slower with age, the views were wonderfully distracting and by the time we reached the slopes of Stoodley Pike the light was lovely and the camera was out.

Flying on Stoodley Pike

Last time we were on Stoodley Pike I knelt by a Swallow in the yellow grass and watched it open an arc of wing to take off effortlessly leaving me static and leaden on the ground. This evening above the steep green fields of Calderdale a bloke with an American accent had his own wing and stepped into the air to spiral upwards  and sweep across the escarpment in sharp twists and turns.

Pinnacle Lane

Calderdale’s cloughs and contours are always appealing. So much of everything crammed into so small a cupboard the door barely shuts. Coming down from the Pike onto Pinnacle Lane we walked through an unspoilt walled field system and watched a farmer bale hay with a New Holland baler from back in my childhood. The sounds, scent and dusty haze were a true blast from the past. Hay bales are much heavier than straw I recalled from the many I stacked in my agricultural days. They wear your trouser knees out quickly, are tied with “charlie band” and kept in Dutch barns. Today a real hay bale is a rare thing even around here.  To my Dad who ploughed with a horse and stacked hay in Stoops a New Holland baler in the sixties was the cutting edge of farm machinery.


The baling sounds slowly faded as we continued along the well kept lane high above Hebden Bridge. Past a blue shed on wheels, a vegetable plot where spuds were being lifted, handmade signs about Sat Navs and a view across the valley to Heptonstall church. After a long day the last descent is always uncomfortable and going down through Crow Nest Wood on the final move in todays snakes ‘n’ ladders felt  like someone slapping my feet with a paddle.

Sat Nav Help

Outside the Shoulder of Mutton our own personal Mountain Rescue had been waiting for an hour and a half and may just have been thinking of calling out the real thing.

Blue Shed