So I find myself in Royston Vasey again, and I am arguing with myself in the station car park. Walk! No, get a taxi for Tubbs's sake. The walk is along that railway track, it's flat.

I go a little way into town, hesitate. Turn back to the waiting cab and ask  how much it would be to take me to Crowden. He is not sure but thinks about £16.00  I mumble thanks but think I will leave it and set off to walk back up the valley to Crowden.

Stupid really. It is about six kilometres and I am not setting out that early. After trains to Manchester and Hadfield it is gone ten already. Laziness and meanness have fought themselves to a standstill in my head.

When I walked down this old railway line before it was warm though overcast. Today there is an icy wind coming from the North. It really does not feel like May. This is March weather.

But the land  has gone green. The train travelled through a landscape transformed, even from a week ago when I went up to complete the Hathersage-Edale gap. Trees have burst into leaf. winter wheat has grown just enough to cover any sign of soil. Grass is looking lush. The only interruptions in this green sea were a few recently ploughed fields and a the odd splash of vibrant yellow where oil seed rape was blooming.

Along the old railway line flowers have come into bloom since I was last here. There were a few isolated cowslips last time, now the way is festooned with them. I hurry, past, cross with myself for being too mean to pay for the taxi.

I could have gone straight from Hadfield and probably I should have, taking the Pennine Bridleway for some of the way. It would have been a good deal shorter and given me an easy day to start with. But the lure of the Black Hill, so hideous in Wainwright's description, has piqued my curiosity. I would have left it if I had not read that the mire on top of it had been flagged with stone since Wainwright wrote his woeful description.

I leave the railway, taking a footpath that goes perilously under the path by a sort of cobbled culvert. Perilous because there is a stream running down it and my foot slips on slime immediately giving me a painful jolt in my knee. The floor of this little tunnel slopes down on either side with the water running down the bottom and the whole also slopes so progress is awkward.

I stop to wash my hands when I get out and am startled by a frog.

Back across the dam, through the pines, familiar from my exhausted plod to Crowden hostel, and then the little hill that had seemed a horrible barrier at the time. Today, not weakened by exhaustion and virus it hardly seems a hill at all. I don't go all the way to the youth hostel because the Pennine Way path goes turns off before and I start climbing into moorland almost immediately.

There have been a few people about, a couple of fit walkers charging down the path and some off in front of me but there is a curious figure coming down the path towards me. He looks to be in his nineties or late eighties. Moving very, very slowly, as I get closer I see his stick is not a walking pole but the sort of aluminium walking stick that elderly people sometimes use. Where has he come from? The path leads on to the high moors and nothing else.

When we meet he says, in a voice as ancient sounding as he looks that it looks like rain, pointing behind me and, indeed, the clouds look ominous.  I leave him to his doddering descent, panting now as the climb is getting steeper.

The scenery is dramatic, rocky outcrops on the other side of the valley and, after crossing a stream that tumbles down the broken hillside I come to crags on my side. A plane flies over, then another, seemingly very low. I guess they are descending towards Manchester airport. I should have done this bit last time when the ash cloud had grounded all air traffic!

The path follows the edge steeply for a while, and it is precipitous in places. But gradually the gorge diminishes and I find myself plodding across featureless moorland.

Really featureless. Even Featherbed Moss had more to look at. After some horrible boggy peat that gives me a moment of panic - is this really flagged or did I dream it? I come across the familiar flagstone pavement. Except that it is red, red with a film of peaty mud, dried to dust. I am very glad I am doing this in such dry conditions.

There is almost no sign of life at all. Even the birds have largely disappeared. There is a very occasional little brown job; a twite or rock pipit, but even these are few and far between. No curlews or grouse at all. And then even the twites and pipets disapear and there is nothing in this heather desert. Nothing, to see except the radio mast on an adjoining hill.

But as I get a little higher I hear a song, I cannot see the lark but I am sure that must be what it is. Can larks really survive up here? It seems strange.

And I do see another sign of life of sorts, a dead shrew on the pavement. As I get to the top I hear another lark and this time I do see it on its song flight. But this is an odd, almost sinister place. Later I see a dead mouse, and by the road a dead seagull. There seems to be more dead wildlife than live animals round here.

There is a right of way marked on the map that would be a short cut. As I get to the top a couple approach from the other side and we have a chat. They say, agreeing with ominous signs and Wainwright that it can be very dodgy in these bogs but it is dry at the moment. But there is no sign at all of a path. Indeed, the direction of the right of way looks grim, dark and slimy looking hollows and even standing water.

I decide to stick with the flagstones of the Pennine Way. The cold wind is relentless as I slowly leave the top of Black Hill and suddenly a vista opens up in front of me. To my amazement I can see green lowlands to both west and east. I can see into Yorkshire one way, with an amazingly high, thin tower in the distance, the land green with a single patch of rape yellow, but I can also see verdant lowlands and the tower blocks of a city in the Lancashire/Manchester way.

I had never realised that the Pennine backbone got so narrow. It feels as if I can see right across the breadth of the country.

I follow the flags downhill and then cross a clough before a sharp climb up to the A 635, another of these Pennine roads beloved of bikers, to judge by the regular high whining of their engines.

I cross the road and am surprised to see how different the landscape is on the other side. A track runs down to a resevoir, and then on down and down towards a distant house and patch of woodland.

The path does not go across the dam but my map is awkwardly folded and for some reason I think it does. I am concerned about time so berate myself as I hurry back to join the right way. But the route is now straightforward and easy for the next couple of kilometers. Sloping down but not too steeply, on a broad track, with a fine view in front. Perhaps the loss of time will not be such a problem.

Aproaching Wessenden I see some animals in a paddock by the building. Lamas? As I get closer I can see that they are elegant deer though I am not sure what species. The track continues by the side of a gorge now, with a rather worrying patch of rhododendron clinging to the far side. According to the map the Pennine Way goes off to the left but I cannot see where. Then there is a sign. I have to climb down a very steep path to the river and then up. I see it, a tiny path so steep that it looks like a scramble.

My knees do not much like the path down to the river but I do catch a glimpse of a dipper flying upstream. I love dippers and, though it is not a great sighting it gives me a real thrill. I reckon that I have made up for my lost time and stop to finish my tea, which is cold and disgusting, tasting of stale wine from my flask's last outing despite my heroic efforts to clean it. As I sit there a couple pass me and as I start up the steep climb a couple of unfit looking girls come down the path that I had just descended.

The scramble is not as bad or as steep as it had looked, with steps in the worst places. The couple have moved on by the time I get to the top and set off on more flags across more moorland. But I catch up to them as the guy is consulting his guidebook.

We exchange greetings and then walk together for a while. He is a bit puzzled as he is using the 1966 Wainwright guide and the route of the way has changed. I tell him what I am doing and he tells me that he is a dairy farmer from Lancaster who is walking the Pennine Way in between milkings! It has taken him 11 years so far and he has not yet completed it.

He is glad to have met me, he says, because his wife will realise that what he is doing is not so crazy. I am not entirely convinced, but after so long walking on my own it is very pleasant to walk in company for a while, which we do until we get to the car park on the A62. When I mention how green the country seemed today, travelling up he said that the grass had begun growing just in time because he had been running out of silage. Everything is late this cold, cold spring, even the grass it seems.

We walk across Saddleworth Moor together. A dismal landscape with a dismal repute but the sun on the reservoirs imparts a certain dramatic beauty.

Now all I have to do is to find my B&B. It is called Rock Farm and is a substitute. The woman I booked with was going out and asked if I would mind going to her daughters. I have looked up the post code in Streetmap and it is a way down a small road but you get to this down a bit more of the Pennine Way, and then a bridleway. But at the bottom of the bridalway is a sign for Rock Farm and as I am wondering if this is it a car pulls up and a woman says. "Are you stopping with us?"

It seems like I have reached my destination.

Rock Farm is just below a row of crags, on the very edge of the moorland. But the view, down the valley towards Oldham in the distance is of a green country. It really is breath taking
Bird of the day, dipper. I know, it was only a glimpse and it seems a bit unfair on skylarks, but I really like dippers!


  1. Caroline said...

    I love larks- the way they circle round and round, higher and higher, till the song fills the air... Thanks, Spencer, for the memory!

    I think your deer is a roe- it's hard to tell because I cannot judge the size, but it's an adult and there's a bit of black in the right place on the under-tail area. Roes have very delicate noses, though, so maybe not... Sorry.  

  2. Spencer said...

    I don't think they were roe, Caroline. They were very delicate and some had longer horns than roe that were slightly curly. I didn't think that they were any UK species.

    I googled the place where they were paddocked and found a reference to a small herd of deer but not the species, unfortunately.

    The larks were great. But it seemed strange that there were so many of them when there was so little life of any other sort around.  

  3. Caroline said...

    Well, most deer are actually very delicate, Spence! Curly horns might indicate Sika. And teh Roe's "delicate " nose is almost always dark, and this one isn't very dark around the snout... However, I've just remembered that most of the feral deer spcies hybridize easily, anyway, so I suppose we could never actually get to the bottom of this one without asking the owner of the land!

    Oh, and Larks nest in long grass, IIRC  


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