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Woodhead

Woodhead

Dunford Bridge Herdwick

The 25 to Penistone ground low through its old gear box stuttering up Dunford Road out of Holmfirth and below Longley’s turbine.  For years the factory turbine has stood exposed in the wind, alone, something novel. Opposite now on Cartworth Moor new and brightly spinning blades  introduce themselves and higher on Royd Moor the arms of giant grey spin bowlers warm up in the breeze. The whiz of wind in a farm turbine slicing a Westerly is just another sound in the hills.  Like quads purring or farm dogs arguing.
Take to the tarmac

Hade Edge shoppers alight near the band room picking up bags for life carrying pricey Co-op goods. Each thanks the driver and steps off onto a windswept pavement a 1000 feet above the sea. There is no hiding from any wind direction here. No one is outside without a coat or a hunch of shoulders to protect against an incoming shower. We follow the last green Co-op bag off the bus at Dunford Bridge and take white lines of road uphill towards Windle Edge and the moors of Woodhead.

There is a keepered intimidation lingering still on these hills. The “Right To Roam” resented and almost hidden like some embarrassing relative. You might come across the little brown access sign occasionally. It’s usually accompanied by larger signs listing negatives and seemingly designed to put you off especially if you have a dog for company. On Windle Edge the “No Dogs” sign had been removed and only the trademark coach screws remained at each corner.  I keep her at heel her nose an inch from my boots.

Dog in a bog

We pull away from grouse butts fresh cut in dripping peat and head over Dead Edge. The moors of Woodhead are defined by their lack of certainty. Contours are subtle and often undecided especially along the moorland watershed. Water here stands still stranded between East and West. There is a feel of the unfinished. As if nature distracted put this place down and never returned to complete her work. Too busy cutting groughs or sculpting grit stone on Bleaklow.

Mounds and posts once marked out the watershed. Though still shown on maps they have been replaced by a long stock fence which slices across the peaty tops like a cheese cutter through some cheddar. It kinks and doglegs sniffing a way across the undefined. Giving a man made certainty where nature hesitates. A white trig point marks Dead Edge End and Holme Moss transmitter provides a compass needle to walk towards. There are a lot of blanks for the imagination to fill.

By September the Curlews and Golden Plover are gone. No sky Lark will rise before boot and sing as it ascends sky wards and weightless. The moors are a quiet place now until late February when the Spring sing song returns. Only Grouse cackle to each other and sweep away noisily in their comic groups. They are tied to the heather  like Giant Pandas are to bamboo so have nowhere else to go.

Fresh from Holme Moss a wind with a dash of the North in it brings the weatherman’s sharp showers mixed in with the pop of shotguns from over on Goodbent. Come September moorland light matures like warm Rowan berries and casts its spell across these brown hills as time falls towards the equinox. Details lost in summer’s invisible ink are sketched back into the landscape. Subtle contours gain contrast and tone. Grit stone warms and asks to be touched again. Faded heather glows in the hearth of lowering sunlight.  Rolling hills are a tea stained compost heap of  browns mashed in shades from dishwater Earl Grey to a deep  stewed workers brew  you could stand a spoon up in.   From this narrow Pennine backbone ribs of light spill outwards to catch the near urban in an inadvertent X Ray of the every day.

After 18 years’ worth of soakings I have a new coat! Snapped up at a sale In Keswick  one dank November day for £99 my old coat became a part of me. Its pockets held stories of mild adventures amongst its biscuit wrapper, sea shell and ticket detritus. Its sleeves Pennine peat stained, salt tide marked and bothy burned. Its scent slightly smoky like a good whiskey. It could no longer be worn in public places and struggled on the hills like a dog past its best. It was green. The new coat is introduced to rain for the first time today. The cold drops form large tensioned beads on its waterproof surface. They join into hot silvery rivulets and look for weakness but there is no getting in. The new coat is factory clean and blue like the sky. A blank page to write on.

Holme Moss transmitter station appears to be a school child’s model project before us. Its coat hanger mast held in place by wires drawing pinned into the ground. Odd sized shoe box buildings clutter around the mast foot. One knock from a passing infant would send the lot flying and end in tears. In winter snow it is an Ice Station Zebra and there would be no surprise to see a submarine conning tower break through the ice from the thick sea of peat below. It is an ugly thing to be honest but so much a part of our moor and valley landscape. Often it is erased by mists to a short pencil stub. At night its soft red lights reflect on cloud and reassure in the blackness.

Holme Moss Transmitter

Passing the mast we walk over Holme Moss towards Heydon Clough to find the remains of Fairy Swordfish P4223. Swept up like a pile of silvery leaves the remains of this aircraft sit quietly in a peaty grough. A poppy wreath and several small wooden poppy crosses are placed poignantly amongst the metal.   The plane came down here in January 1940 killing the pilot. Due to bad weather the wreck was not found until a month later when a local Council worker clearing snow on the Holme Moss road walked across to look at an odd shape on the moor.

You can never be certain of anything up here, least of all where you are.  Amongst Black Hills grough ribbed plateau nature casts a short sighted spell which confines’ vision to a few metres of peat, bilberry and heather in every direction. The moorland world is intimate when following a grough and has a feeling of “I shouldn’t really be here” about it like childhood garden creeping or hearing the farmhouse door open when up a tree picking someone else’s apples. Confidence is questioned on the clearest of days and it’s forever a surprise to find the summit trig point and paved Pennine Way. A landmark feature to comfort and guide if required. We ignored the curve of mill flagstones and crept off for the head of Issues Clough and Edge. A tide of light and shadow swept the Holme Valley below us and a rainy rainbow drifted over Huddersfield from the Infirmary to the incinerator where it seemed to evaporate.

Town's rainy rainbow
Town's rainbow

The Edge falls a way to high enclosed fields each side of Issues Road and to the moors of Goodbent beyond.The popping guns were silent now and 4×4’s bounced off along Spring Lane from the shooting lodge. A neat Mountain Hare perched on a hagg. The wind fingered his coat and took our scent across the peat to him. His ears flattened to a “Get Set” position before he sprinted away in shallow arcs like eddies in the wind. From up here Holmfirth’s stone houses hang on steep valley sides with the colour and texture of rag rugs hanging on a line. Older houses are stacked like neglected boxes on a grit stone shelf and beneath and amongst what can be seen exists a world of underdwellings, ginnels, steps and jealously guarded parking spaces.
Best drink of the day

Our trip out was a spur of the moment, catch the bus affair and had been fuelled by a slice of toast nearly 10 hours past. A four fingered kit kat and a brew up here could not stop that shaky low blood sugar feel tapping me on the shoulder half way along the Edge. From a bilberry seat in the sun I rang our Mountain Rescue Service and asked for a rendezvous on the cobbles in Holme. We were rescued with a smile as dusk’s shadows fell on the moors.

I like the bottom one about stubbing your fag out properly !
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