The Pennine Way. Heptonstall to Lothersdale
Day 4. 16 miles
I awoke to a grey and gloomy morning. Rain had been forecast today but thankfully it had come early and had fallen overnight – it had woken me a couple of times with it pittering and pattering on the top of my tent. Being a Saturday morning I decided to have a little lie-in and then make the most of the facilities on hand before leaving at 9:30. When I say facilities, that is aimed more at the shop than referring to hygiene. The toilets were akin to Victorian times: two outdoor cubicles with wooden benches and troughs underneath, and a running water supply outside for the hands. There were no showers, but I almost hoped that was so, as one of the joys of camping is about being a dirty grotbag, and it was now 72 hours since I’d had a proper wash. I finally dragged myself out of my tent, dressed, and headed down to the shop and patiently stood behind a small queue of locals buying their papers and eggs, before May served me chicken pie, a pint of milk and some fruit, with some delicious freshly made parkin which weighed half a ton saved for later. And then off I went on my merry way. Out of the farm and back down Cinder Lane and then my first climb of the day, a short but steep ascent to Mount Pleasant Farm, which led immediately onto the vast and empty expanse of Heptonstall Moor.
The moor would have been my home for the night should there not have been the field at Mays, and I counted my blessings that it wasn’t. Being wide, expansive, and open would have led no doubt to a considerably nippy evening and being covered in heather, finding a decent spot might have been a problem. Admittedly, the overcast and dark grey skies above added to the moors gloomy façade, but on the plus side, the wilderness and the vast panorama around it did make for a pleasant early mornings walking. Navigation was easy, cut through the moor for most of the way were flagstones and where there weren’t any was an obvious path which some cows were at one point sitting on and eyeballed me suspiciously as I strolled past, sticking of course as close of the wall as I could. It soon led to one of my favourite spots on the Pennine Way, that of the little valley at Graining Water. Two footbridges and gorgeous ferns and waterfalls sit underneath a small crag face, and if there was ample room to put my tent up (there isn’t) I’d camp there anytime. It’s always worth stopping there for a few moments to soak it all in, which I did today, standing on one of the footbridges and simply embracing a picture perfect landscape. Some sun would have ticked all the boxes but that’s just being greedy and anyway, there was much of that to come later. Exiting onto Widdop Road is the start of some lane walking that heads eventually to the three Walshaw Dean Reservoirs which in turn lead over the moors to Top Withins. As ever, walking on concrete for an extended period soon affects the leg muscles and so I took to walking on the grass verges where I could. At least it was flat. The likelihood is that you won’t have seen many people up to now, but that sure as heck changes when you arrive via a steep climb away from Walshaw Dean Middle Reservoir, over flagstoned moors to Top Withins and – in the case of today - into the sunshine and at a dilapidated, roofless house, which may or may not have been the Wuthering Heights inspiration. Whether it is or isn’t, it attracts tourists galore though as this early time it seemed to be more local dog walkers than camera wielding tourists which for a Saturday morning I was pleased to avoid, considering I would hazard a guess that it would have been like Piccadilly Circus if I’d arrived any later. Regardless of if it inspired Bronte or not, it’s a lovely spot and it’s always worth sitting on a bench at the front of the house to have a snack and a drink, and admire the beautiful views.
Just in case the crowds did begin to arrive, I made my escape and headed off to Stanbury Moor, the descent only gradual though the views slowly disappeared as the path headed beneath the hills until it emerges again at Upper and Lower Heights farms. Back on this section in 2017 we took a wrong turning in between the two farms and ended up heading towards a conifer lined forest, and at the time I blamed it on both our navigation skills and also a signpost missing a sign. Strolling past Upper Heights this time, I was grateful to see a fresh and gleaming Pennine Way finger post pointing the way down to Lower Heights with Ponden and its reservoir beyond. Because of the Bronte connection and the area being a popular one it’s notable that a few of the signs having Japanese translations, and also notable, personally speaking, for the realisation that I barely recognised a single aspect of this part of the route. It’s not as though Ponden is a blink and you’ll miss it village, it takes a good hour to get through from the narrow and shrubby walkways, down to the reservoir and then the steep climb to the other side of the water but it was as though I hadn’t been there before. The only part I could recollect was the steep ascent up to Ponden Hall and then an even more pronounced vertical climb to Dean Edge Road, as the path zigzags through small fields with thick, long grass that in addition to the climbing, were a pain in the arse to walk through, especially in the noonday sun like today. Therefore a break was in order so after a spot of more of road walking where I was passed several times by a royal mail van – it was like seeing an old friend by the third time such was the smiles and waves the driver and I exchanged - I entered the vast Ickornshaw Moor which I knew would take up a large chunk of my afternoon. After a few minutes of becoming reacquainted with the moor, I stepped inside a gate just off the trail, hung my t-shirt on the wall to dry out as it was wet through by this point, and proceeded to lay down in the grass with my cap covering my face and nod off for a half an hour. The warm breeze and quiet country air as ever had a reinvigorating effect and to be truthful, I could quite easily have spent the rest of the day there. Of course, this wasn’t an option and with Lothersdale as my target for the day, I put back on my t-shirt and boots and despite some achy feet and hips when I got going again, it didn’t take long to get back into my rhythm and though the moor was wet and squelchy in places, the going was easy enough. The time spent walking on Icky Moor is considerable and even when the numerous grouse huts come into view with the farms beyond to make you think you’re approaching the end, the path still manages to change direction a few times before, finally, it skirts around another farm before departing the moor via a track, which leads on to the A6068 that heads into Cowling, a lovely village where we stayed two years ago. Shops and pubs also abound but I had no need for either, being as I planned to eat and sleep somewhere in Lothersdale, a further two miles away across the lovely fields out of Ickornshaw. Like Ponden before, much of it was unrecognisable but like yesterday, the sun-kissed late afternoon made a weary walker feel a lot better through the last part of the day. Some of the fields were a lot steeper than I recalled but nothing was too much effort until I reached the field with some dastardly cows that meant fleeing to the adjacent one to escape them.
I'd managed to not get bogged down in the mud of Surgill Beck, so shutting the gate and heading off, I could see the cows there, but they were on the other side of the field. It’ll be fine, I thought. I took a good line adjacent to the shaded fence area that contained among other things, nettles, thistles and a barbed wire fence on the far side, with an empty field beyond. As I started to move, so did the cows. I had walked a good fifty feet from the beck when the ringleader among their troop began to cross over, followed by a fairly sizeable group behind. All looking at me with a stone-hard look of intent in their eyes. I stopped in my tracks as they then started heading in my direction. I looked behind, if I headed back to the gate, at pace, my back would be turned and I might trip. Too far. Sizing my options, which at this point were considerably limited, I took a a few steps to my right and dropped beside the thicket of venomous and stingy plants. The cows followed but stopped several feet away with a group of them in a semi circle trapping me in with no way out. A brief stare and stand off ensued. There was only one thing for it. In my shorts, I leapt into the nettles and ran through, rested my hand on a wooden post at the field boundary, stepped on the top line of barbed wire and jumped over, dusting myself down and rubbing my legs in anticipation of the stinging that would inevitably follow. I turned around to see my enemy still there on the other side sizing me up. I gave a volley of abuse back over the fence, being the big man I am, and within a few minutes I'd safely reached the gate at the top, re-entered the field I’d heroically escaped from moments before - the enemy still camped at the bottom - and exited the farm.
As amusing as the incident is in retrospect, it did shake me up a little, more so knowing how many more cows lay ahead on the walk and wondering how many would also be lying in wait and without having an escape route like I had this afternoon, even if it was through large and stingy plants. I only really relaxed when I left the farmhouse at the top of the hill, and from there is a descent down a field and then through some dense woodland to emerge in the small but pretty village of Lothersdale. I decamped to the Hare and Hounds pub for dinner and following my very lovely fish and chips, I discovered that I shouldn’t take the cow chasing too personally. Not long after I’d eaten, in walked Kate, who I'd briefly spoken to outside the White House yesterday. Kate was also a lone wayfarer with a pair of thick, black eyes, and told me that on her first day she’d taken a fall at the top of Jacobs Ladder with her face taking the brunt of it, before accidentally taking the skyline path through the Woolpacks instead of the Pennine, leaving her with a fair few extra miles on the clock to correct herself. I did admire her steely resolve in continuing from there as if I’d been through that at her age of 21, I’d have probably given up and headed back down to Edale. Anyway, the first question she asked was whether I’d also been chased by the same cows, and she had to take quite the diversion away from them. After comparing notes, I left Kate to enjoy her own dinner, and headed off to find somewhere to spend the night. From entering the pub in sunshine, I exited to big grey rainclouds. I investigated rumours of a camp site in the village that I'd heard about but these proved to be unfounded, and although I knew nearby Pinhaw Beacon could be an option to pitch up on, a mile or so along the trail from the pub, some lower, sheltered ground appealed and so I took up the option of camping in the corner of a field next to some woodland. There was no sign of recent animal usage - i.e cow or sheep remains - and being as the spot was at the lower end of a lip in the field, it seemed as good as a site as I could find. Although the pitch was on a slope which meant I kept slipping off my mat to the side of the tent, it proved to be an ideal place to spend the night.