The wind was huffing and puffing and trying to blow the house down this morning while the Met Office were firing off warnings about snow, wind and extreme weather outside .
Over the hill in Saddleworth I set off waking in a bit of a stiff breeze but with the sun shining brightly too. I seemed to have left the camera memory card in my laptop again and god knows what’s happened to the spare I put in my camera bag to out flank my forgetfulness but it’s not there! Telephone saved the day though.
Up at Pots ‘n’Pans the dogs were spooked by the increasing gale. As I took a pic of poppy crosses a gust knocked me sideways and then sort of beat me up. I stuck out my walking pole which stopped me falling but it skidded into the air and knocked me on the head. The phone flew out of my other hand hitting the memorial. My hat took off and my usually friendly hood began slapping me in the face!
Caught the 314 up to Holme and headed off into the gathering gloom of a November dawn. At the top of Holme Woods we had five minutes to wake up a bit more and sneak a quick cup of tea from the flask. A necklace of fading snow patches ringed Holme Moss above us and another cold spell was slipping South to cross our path.
A few layers came off pulling up to Holme Moss only to be put straight back on the moment I stepped into the cold Easterly blowing on top! The flat moor tops around here give no straight lines to walk and I had a game of hop scotch between snow patches and peat hags until somewhat easier ground on the Woodhead side. My heart missed a beat as a winter coated mountain hare invisible on a snow patch suddenly sprank into warp speed as I walked past !
My part of the Pennines was caught beneath a carpet of heavy cloud being fed in from the East coast but to the North I looked towards sunny and snow capped Wharfedale hills. Oh well .It was a head down and crack on in the wind kind of morning now. I followed the watershead briskly before dropping down the leeward side of the hills and picking up the Trans Pennine Trail at the top of Woodhead Reservoir. The gloomy tide broke a little on the crest of hills I’d walked over and a wind free stroll down to Crowden was much more agreeable.
St. James Church sits alone on the opposite side of the trail and as I walked past I noticed it had it’s own little flock heading for the door.
Down at Crowden as I picked up the Pennine Way a couple of roe deer were grazing just off the path. It was the middle of the day by now so it must have been a quiet moring! For a few moments a weak November sun overcame the clouds to catch rusty autumn bracken which lay in barbed wire coils across the hillside. A few nosey ewes came towards me to investigate Paddy.
I warmed up a nice tin of tomato soup on the trangia which did for lunch and enjoyed this unexpected sunny spell knowing I’d be heading into the teeth of the Easterly on the home leg.
Laddow Rocks and the walk over Black Hill was a taste of winter to come. A biting wind, low light and long clear views in all directions. November’s ruddy hills hung onto a few snow drifts and the landscape came to life in fading late afternoon sun. It was hard going taking photos on the crag due to the strength of wind and cold hands but wonderful to be out in some proper weather!
Could I catch the half four bus though? It would be close on my tiring legs and with Black Hill still in the way. Thankfully a long line of Pennine Way flagstones eases the walking somewhat these days. I still needed a breather out of the wind towards the top but it was short as I realised the bus timetable,distance to walk and my legs were not in sync!
I came down Issues Road in the last light the day had to offer having walked from dawn until dusk for around 17 miles. As my boots hit the Holme cobbles the 314 came around the corner and I stuck out a grateful arm and jumped on.
I watched this ewe and lamb on Holme Moss as they seemed to be deciding which way to go. The ragged and molting fleece of the ewe blew in the wind and she looked like she hadn’t seen a pair of clippers in a while. The lamb was big, noisy and needy like a child who gets it’s own way too much. The ewe looked around as if to say “well I’m going this way”. I took the photo and off she went to have some quality time away from the bleating lamb. I was happy with my photo and thought no more about my models.
Back in December I was doing an art market at the lovely crook barn in Penistone and a couple were browsing through my prints with great interest. The John Deere baseball caps and fleeces along with that agricultural complextion gave them away as farmers fairly quickly! They were naming fields,places and neighbours as they examined my work. And then they came upon my Ewe & Lamb print and I was to discover from them the grisly fate of my raggy looking ewe.
“That’s so an so’s ewe that. The one that escaped and shouldn’t be up there. She started off with two lambs didn’t she? One got run over fairly young” I said how amazed I was that they could practically name a sheep from one of my photos but it just goes to show how close neighbouring hill farmers are and how they look out for each others missing or roaming stock.
Sadly they went on to say that the ewe in my photo had herself been hit by a car on Holme Moss in the autumn and was no more!
A couple of times a year I walk the sort of boundary to my patch here in the Holme Valley. It’s a long day of some 22 miles but I can slip out of the back door and be up in Ramsden Clough in an hour or so. From there I walk the pony track which traces the clough edge to Red Cabin and on along the skyline to Holme Moss. It’s a soggy walk across the Moss to the trig point on Black Hill where I pick up the line of the old Pennine Way for a glorious tramp across quiet bog lands to Greenfield Road and onwards to Black Moss on a good flagged path. That’s roughly half way! To get back to the house I dip down into the beautiful Wessenden Valley and climb up onto the gritty escarpement of West Nab before losing all my hard won height by dropping down to Meltham. A long haul up Harden Moss Road follows and if It’s early spring or autumn the sun is usually setting by now. There’s not enough daylight in winter for me to get around happily! I pop out behind the Ford and walk a quiet lane to Upperthong before dropping back into Holmfirth via Hill Lane.
In April 2016 I had wonderful morning of blue sky,sun,ring ouzels and curlews on the circuit before an afternoon of thunder and snow up on Holme Moss where I hid under a peat hag with lightening flashing around me and snow blowing past. A bitter wind bullied me along the pony track and I’ve never felt so glad to get off the tops and back into the valley on a local walk.
A November frost gave an easier day of crunchy bog walking after a pre dawn start to catch a golden sunrise in Ramsden Clough. There were long views North to Pen Y Gent and a magical close encounter with a Hen Harrier before a cold lunch stop at Black Moss.
Daylight ran out somewhere near the Ford and I walked home through Upperthong and down Hill Lane by torchlight. Come March and the longer days I’ll have to get one under my belt for this year.
Only a few weeks past the solstice and winter afternoons hold a little more light. Enough to steal a walk when a week or two ago I’d have missed out. So gone 3 o’clock on a cold still January afternoon I crunched across the bogs to Birtland Edge Hill above Woodhead. A leg stretch after a day sorting out prints,cards and orders in my attic studio.
The low sun must have hidden me from the mountain hare which ambled past to sit just a couple of metres away. At first I thought it was the little dog and did a double take when I realised it was bigger and fluffier. At the same time the hare realised I was there and skipped off into some hags to hide. Stopping on the way to look back and check he really had seen me.
Fortunately I had Paddy on a lead and the hare didn’t seem too freaked out. Our paths were to tangle up again through the windless winter bright hour to come.
South of me a cloud of thick smoke poured into the sky from the Langsett Moors. The smog created drifted across to Emley Moor where the iconic transmitter tower was reduced to a stump. The source of this polloution is gamekeepers burning heather in the ever increasing intensification of grouse moor management which blights these moors and has turned a harmless “country sport” into a growing ecological crisis. Ironically to my West I could hear the thud of a chopper airlifting heather brash onto Bleaklow as part of a more positive upland restoration scheme.
As the sun lowered and weakened it’s effect on the landscape grew stronger. It’s low light caught the edge of a ewes fleece, danced off frozen puddles and warmed up colour in a washed out winter landscape. The sky turned from blue to orange. Whispy clouds and con trails caught the glow like kindling catching light.
Finding a spot to sit I realised it had already been taken. The pale rock a few feet away had eyes and whiskers! Only when the hare stood up and broke his spell of stillness did his camouflage fall away completely. He skipped off again in another attempt to get away from me.
I watched the sun dip behind the horizon and felt the cold come calling. Walking off I saw the hare once more. Rock shapped and close to the ground just a few feet from me. I moved off quickly not wishing to disturb him again. I studied his rock like form and black eyes as I passed until his presence slipped from the corner of my eye and he was gone.
November saw a couple of mini cold snaps with snow falling and laying for a day or two before retreating to the moors and then disappearing. I could hardly contain my excitement and surprise at a layer of white snowy dandruff covering my familiar landscape and making everything new. The Ramsden Road sycamore had it’s limbs highlighted white against a grey misty sky. The wall running from it leapt out of the ground and ran towards me like an iced white bake off show stopper.
Ewes looke dirty and hungry against this clean back drop but stood nicely for me while working out if I had any food!
In a sunny spell I went to see if any of the David Browns or Massey Fergussons were still out in the fields near Flush House. I found one painted with snow flakes beneath tall wind blasted sycamores.
I used to drive these machines on my mates farm as a kid and later on a local estate where I worked and I’m delighted to find well looked after workers like this still active in the valley. Needless to say they are a great subject for photography especially in these conditions.
Crossing fields below the tractors I was investigated by several hairy beasts who were interested in Paddy.
They met us by a gate and stalked us across the field where I got a a few pics of thier curiosity. How much more excitement could I cram into a day with the camera?
As the November afternoon light began to fade every where was silent beneath the snow. Being on a high path I looked down over snow plastered stone walls to Holme which sat quietly below Holme Moss.
One of the local farmers who had a summer wedding in a field had left his sign out.
A relaxed and steady walk up through the contours and folds which rise and form above Kettlewell. A low but warm autumn sun highlighed limestone green fields and long wall lines over golden fell sides on a pretty much perfect afternoon. We brewed by Rain Slack Well before heading across rough ground upwards towards the long escarpment of Great Whernside.
A bit of huffing and puffing got me over the final steep pull onto the wide open expanse of rusty,rocky hill top. Here the warmth of the sun was taken away by a light but cold Northerly wind. A little nudge from a winter to come.
Must have had the tent up before 4 o’clock. Tucked away behind a low gritty crag I had shelter from the breeze and watched a beautiful sunset unfold as I sorted out camping domestics and brewed up.
I ate outside in the gloaming watching lights come on and mists begin to form in the dale below. When darkness came I could pick out the lights of Emley Moor Mast and from there the red lights of Holme Moss transmitter where I’d stood just a few days earlier gazing North at Great Whernside. “Wouldn’t mind a night up there soon” I’d said to myself!
Stillness and a cheeky frost settled in the night but I was comfy and warm with just the fly sheet and sleeping bag for shelter. Paddy snored and dreamed throughout in the way dogs do. I had to tip him out of bed in the morning for a rather reluctant walkies!
We headed off for Buckden Pike, Buckden and Birks Fell in a 15 mile circuit around the head of the dale. A day of sun,cold autumn shadows,peat,long distant views North,soup in a Buckden pub and a dusk finish.
These few days camped in Coire a Bhric Beag grew into something special. Like a ball of summery string I couldn’t find the start of the long June days and their end was so long a wait I never got there either. Their slow tide like rhythm was easy to live with and happy to hang on for me. A waltz of days passing with out reference to a watch or a to do list. Warm sun on fly sheet a gentle waker each morning. Sun burnt tiredness and midges my que for sleep later . In between the two, walks up to rocky ridges, thundery rain, swims, naps on cool mountain tops , coffee and malt loaf.
Summer is a brief and often muddled affair in the hills. It was a joy to reaquaint myself slowly with the real thing here. Wild tyme scent soaked the thundery breathless air on every hill. Taking me back to long forgotton folk song school days. Butter cups lined the Allt Coire a Bhric Beags’ sparkling silver waters. Orchids speared blank bogs where cuckoos had been sptting. On high ridges bright purple saxifrage popped blooms from rocky hiding places. Stags balanced thick velvet antlers . A few times ptarmigan hissed and crackled out of rocks, wings spread, heads low to the ground in their loud distraction dance. At my feet I walked through their tiny tweeting snacks of chicks. Only the mosses were struggling. Edges toasting brown in the sun.
Leum Uilleim or Liam as I call it is the sweeping twin topped and ridged hill opposite Corrour station. From my camp I ploughed through leggy heather to climb onto the toe end of Sron an Lagain Ghairbh the steepest of Liam’s ridges. Dry rock steps and mossy ledges with views of Loch Ossian and Ben Alder led upwards toward a ragged tablecloth of snow drifts along the corrie edge. Up here my foot steps seemed louder as the scree and rock underfoot moved like a pocket full of lose change. There’s a tangible character to every hill and corrie which, like most of us, changes through the day, seasons,weather and to my mind shifts subtly with what you bring to the palce too.
My first hills were the North York Moors some 40 odd years ago and I recall being almost overwhelmed by the sense of space and peace on a still moorland day. For a kid brought up surrounded by thick woods and hedge rowed fields a view of 25 miles or more all around was a revelation. And here was the same feeling looking out over the peaty wet void of Rannoch Moor to a line of hazy hills from Schiehallion, Ben Lawyers, Orchy, Black Mount,Glencoe, Ardgour and on and on until back at Schiehallion.
Despite thundery rumbles, flashes of lightening and near misses with showers Beinn Bhric seemed welcoming and both me and the dog snoozed comforably amongst the lichen covered scree for what felt like just the right amount of time.
On a to hot afternoon a few days later I followed the Allt Coire a Bhric Beag from my tent door upwards through bog and buttercup meadow to an elephants grave yard of Caledonian forest half swallowed by dusty peat at the corries high point. One tree had fish like bark still covering it’s bleached tusks. A fine web of roots moved in the breeze where deer had rubbed on peat banks exposing them.
Despite it’s beauty there’s an emptiness to these Highlands. First the trees were taken and not so long ago the human population too. You can feel it in these places. The scale of what has gone slaps you in the face.
I climbed steeply upwards out of the corrie. Burning sun easing on the breezy ridge above. There was another summit snooze and a slow appreciative walk down that lovely rocky ridge.
By half eight I’d pulled clear of the oak wood and sat drinking sweet flask tea as a blue sky emerged above us. Leggy heather and a lichened rock made a seat worth two teas and a biscuit. I contemplated a third cup when a cuckoo began to call nearby.
Walking on, the path is drawn into a rock filled stream bed cutting deep into the moors. I felt like I was stepping inside the hill. Confined in a landscape within a landscape. Feeling my way through shadows. Absorbed in the detail of hand holds and stretches. Breathless, I chucked the dog up big blocks then followed with a nervous commitment myself.
The scrambles were brief and punctuated by black rocky pools where water wept from cracks and wagtails flitted in the shady silence. Beyond the shadows and out of reach the blue skies and greens of spring were framed by the cloughs’ dark edges.
Each scramble was steeper than the last as the contours held me ever closer. I could almost feel their touch as the clough narrowed around me. The wind became their breath as I imagined man made map features coming to life.
Beyond a last dark pool filled with sky a greasy waterfall pitch forced me out over exposed crumbling rock toward the cloughs fringe. Here sun filtered in to shine on bees and bilberry. The atmosphere lifted and I walked back into that spring day.
Winter came and went in cold bites. It’s first nibble in November tinged the fields of Flush House white as showers of rainy snow rattled down the Holme Valley leading to the rare abandonment of a wind tunnel walk on Cartworth Moor.
By December the snow was established up on Holme Moss and Black Hill and we would wander up from the valley into a crusty frozen world white with frost and snow. Low cloud and wind sweep this plateau and but for the ruins of Wrigley’s Cabin there’s little shelter. The Mountain Hares seem to find refuge with their backs to peat hags and Grouse care not what weather is thrown their way.
At some point on Boxing Day Dunford Road outside the house fell silent under a blanket of snow. There’d been no gritting and the steep hill roads here were shut. We went out for a wander and Holmfirth was silent and white. Someone skied down South Lane and we ended up soaked and cold by the fire in the Nook.
The Pennines sparkled next morning beneath a blue sky. Not a thing moved as we watched the sun rise and begin to fill the still, cold morning with light.
Mid January saw us attempt a walk up to Wrigley’s with the tent. It was another day of rattling snow showers. Light and shadow. In the midst of a shower things went black and it was best to hide behind something solid until it blew over.
By the time we made it onto Naze End the wind was whipping up a blizzard. We turned back dropping onto the steep slopes of Issue Edge and finding a reasonable place to pitch. I ended up peeing into the tupperware so bad was the wind and snow outside. By midnight as our tent sagged beneath it’s drift the weather improved. I got up to a starry sky and dug out our chilly home.
Believe me there’s nothing better than waking up to a perfect winter morning,brewing up in the tent and walking off up the hill with it all to yourself.
At Wrigley’s we brewed up seeking out a little shelter against a wall and in the sun. In the distance I noticed a snowy Pen Y Gent.
West Nab is a perfect Pennine peak and especially so in winter. We often walk up there for dawn or sunset and it’s sweeping lines and peaty bogs never disappoint. Standing clear of the main moorland chain it gets the best of all lights and is usually found in a descent mood compared to some of the more character building moorlands around here.
Lower down the valley winter often struggled to hold it’s grip but there were some wonderful still days after a heavy snowfall when you could just step out of the door into it.
Through February and into March winter hung around. Big banks of snow filled the cloughs on Holme Moss creating a necklace of white around the head of the valley.
There was fresh snow in March which covered the tops again but it was short lived as milder air seemed to be getting the upper hand.
I began watching the last few snow patches in Issues Clough and on Kaye Edge. Issues Clough was clear of snow by about 2oth March but the drifts on Kaye Edge clung on until around the 27th March. Of course many times I’ve seen snow last much longer up there into April and even May. Ironically just after I noticed the Kaye Edge snow disappear it snowed again on 1st April!