29.1km, 830m ascent, 9hrs 30 mins (This includes rest stops. I had to teach Johnboy what a 'rest stop' is. You would have thought that as an experienced backpacker he would have known. After a week or so he would eventually get the hang of the concept).
Walking is definitely easier with a companion. Well it is for me. The weather had started off slightly mizzly but the climb up and over Laddow Rocks seemed much less of an effort than the last time I’d come along here. We were at Red Ratcher in an hour and forty minutes. It had taken me two hours in 2019, although then the weather had been far worse.
|John on the summit of Black Hill|
|A numpty on the summit of Black Hill|
Visibility dropped as we climbed the flagstones to Black Hill, but as we got closer to the trig point two murky figures resting there came into view. Actually they weren’t murky figures at all. What I meant was that it was the weather that was murky. But you will have guessed that. If you didn't then you are even more pedantic than me and need to get a life. Anyway, they were two young lads we’d seen at the campsite the day before, doing a circular route over four or five days. After a natter with them they disappeared into the mist. A couple of minutes later Johnboy noticed that one of them had dropped his spectacles and the next thing I knew he, too, headed off into the mist following them at a speed close to that achieved by Usain Bolt when winning Olympic Gold. He returned, mission accomplished, a few minutes later. I mean John returned, not Usain Bolt. Oh crikes I've done it again. You knew what I meant, didn't you?
The Pennine Way initially heads north-east from the summit of Black Hill along flagstones which give safe passage over what were once horrendous peat bogs. We, however, went north-west into the cloud, not lost but following the original route that John had taken in the 1980s. This path is now very indistinct and in places has disappeared completely, if it ever existed. The great advantage is that it shaves off a kilometre or so and a couple of hundred metres of ascent as it sticks to higher ground. The massive disadvantage is that it means that you miss out on the snack bar with its bacon rolls and mugs of tea that is often parked up on the roadside at Wessenden Head. The new route re-joins the old at Black Moss Reservoir.
|On the original Pennine Way route off Black Hill. None of your cushy flagstones here|
The sun appeared as the day went on which made the walk along Standedge and up White Hill a delight. Even the once disgusting car park just short of the M62 seemed much improved, with the only detritus on show now being piles of used nitrous oxide cartridges. Even better, though, was the newish addition of Nicky’s mobile snack bar. It is important to support enterprising local business and it was for that reason only that we ordered copious amounts to drink and rolls filled with various pork products.
|John appears to be sprouting antlers as he approaches the top of Standedge|
|The view from Standedge|
|Nicky's Snack Bar|
|The Aiggin Stone: A mediaeval way marker for travellers|
I must have been feeling pretty good after this refuelling because I think it was me rather than John who suggested that I could manage going further than the quarries before the White House pub where we had planned to camp for the night. I must make it clear, if the obvious has not yet struck you, that John had not suggested going further only because he is aware of my physical limitations, not because he wasn't able to walk further. And thus we found ourselves in fabulous late afternoon sunshine putting the Duomids up in front of the poem “Rain” carved into the rocks just short of Light Hazzles Reservoir. Bloody vandals.
|Camped at Light Hazzles: A perfect evening|
|'Rain' by Simon Armitage. It didn't.|
Day 3 Light Hazzles to Ponden Mill
28km, 779m ascent, 8hrs 40 mins
|Another misty morning on the way to Stoodley Pike|
|Bridge over Colden Water. They don't make them like this anymore.|
We woke to more mizzle but were packed and away by 7.30am, which had become our normal daily starting time. The walking was pleasant but unexceptional. Unexceptional, that is, apart from the climb out of the Calder Valley up the very narrow, cobbled rights of way that lead passed various relics of the industrial revolution. Fascinating, but I reckon this is possibly the steepest sustained climb on the whole of the Pennine Way. A legendary feature of the Pennine Way came soon after in the form of May’s Shop, allowing us to pig out on pies, cakes, cans of drink and so on which we got stuck in to with a vengeance.
|The sign says it all|
Having started the day a couple of kilometres ahead of the original plan we decided we could today also get further than the original intended wild camp at Top Withins, the alleged inspiration for the setting of Wuthering Heights, which as you will know is a famous novel written by that great literary figure Kate Bush in 1978. Click the linky thing for appropriate sound effects.
I was quite pleased not to be camping at Top Withins, it looking rather bleak and the spots to pitch, such as they were, were nothing to write home about. One flat space, which used to be large enough for a tent, now sports a large wooden seaty thing, all very well for Japanese tourists but not for weary backpackers hoping to spend the night there.
John had earlier phoned ahead to the camp site at Ponden Mill which is a couple of kilometres beyond Top Withins. He had found that they had closed the camping field for the night because of a wedding being held there, but was informed that they were allowing backpackers to stop on an adjacent field. This 'field' turned out to be a narrow stretch of steep river bank with virtually no level ground. The woman in charge made sure she got a tenner out of each of us before showing it to us. In return we had the enjoyment of the facilities ie a small, shabby toilet block that looked little more than a Portakabin, no hot water in the gents and an outdoor washing up area. I can give you a flavour of the latter. I went to fill up my water bottles there and decided to put them on the ground rather than on the draining board as I decided that the ground was probably more hygienic. We stayed on a few camp sites on the walk. This was the most expensive, and by far the worst in terms of facilities, pitch etc. Moan over.
We managed to get the only almost level spots on the site. To be fair the small wall made for a great seat until the midges arrived.
Day 4 Ponden Mill to Gargrave
26.5km, 844m ascent, 8hrs 40 mins
This was another day that started with mist and a little drizzle and ended with sunshine, the weather seemingly reflecting the scenery as we moved from the bleaker landscapes of the southern Pennines onto the softer beauty and friendliness of limestone country. Thus, we walked across misty Ickornshaw Moor to the fields above picturesque Lothersdale, then up to Pinhaw Beacon with its fine views, before more sheep and cow grazed pastures and then the towpath of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. There is a super café just off the towpath beyond East Marton where I managed to disgrace myself thanks to a large scone, some jam and a copious amount of clotted cream. I can only put this down to low blood sugar, overwhelming hunger and manners that make the eating habits of pigs at a newly filled trough look refined. After the café more fields were crossed during which we planned and readied ourselves for a wild Saturday night out in Gargrave.
|John (in left corner) hastily trying to find another table well away from me to avoid any more shame about the way his companion necked down a Yorkshire Cream Tea .|
|Lots of this today|
We had booked an Air B and B. The plan had been to sort out our resupply parcels, wash shirts and socks and stuff, get to the Co-op to supplement the supplies, then have a pint and a pub meal followed by another pint or two. We were thwarted. One of the two pubs has closed down. The other was fully booked. So was the Indian Restaurant. So after completing the routine jobs we ended up eating fish and chips in a bus shelter and then headed to the packed pub for a drink. I hadn’t fancied standing up to drink my pint after walking for the best part of nine hours so when I saw a group about to leave their table I was sat on one of the seats almost before the previous occupant had left, possession being nine tenths of the law as they say. I may be slow on the hill but when it comes to getting a table in a busy pub I am unbeatable.
Four days done and almost a quarter of the distance. And the best is yet to come.