I may be accused of plagiarism, today’s walk was almost a repeat of Michael’s recent exploration of these parts. I acknowledge his inspiration for this walk and accept that it would be difficult, nay impossible, for me to assemble a post of his standard. My delves into the internet came up with virtually the same history of the area.
We, the Rockman up from Bolton and I, start from the same Royal car park as last week but have another itinerary in mind. We noted the demolished mill’s pond on this occasion and then took the track up the moor. The Stepback Brook, culverted in parts, was followed past a pretty fall and into a sheltered copse known as Lyon’s Den, named after John Lyon, a seven-foot-high giant who apparently constructed a simple house of turf and heather here around 1790. There was no sign of his abode, but all around were signs in the landscape of abandoned coal pits and small stone quarries. The track we were following no doubt served one or the other.
We came out onto the windswept moors with views back to Darwen Tower wrapped in its temporary sheeting. Tracks go in all directions, but we take one to the west, leading to a shoulder with newish fencing and a gate. From there we make our individual ways, picking the driest parts up Cartridge Hill. At 402m this is the highest part of Darwen Moors and neither of us had visited it before. The hill itself was nondescript and rounded but had a stone cairn on the summit and excellent views over the Bolton hills and the Lancashire plain. Even wetter ground brought us down to pick up another pit track, this took us in the right direction under Turn Lowe. In these wild moors, finding a track you can follow relatively easily is a godsend not to be scorned.
Ruins of a farm appeared alongside the track – Higher Pasture Barn. Long since abandoned. I’m reading at the moment a book about the cruel Highland Clearances (On the Crofters’ Trail by David Craig) and I reflect back to all the ruined crofts I used to see on my Scottish stravaiges. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries many farmsteads on these Lancashire moors were abandoned either from natural relocation to the mill towns or by the water boards taking over the land for water catchment areas. A glance at the early OS maps shows their origins. I remember reading a learned history of the fate of the Haslingden Grane valley families when the reservoirs were constructed. A significant social clearing has occurred here on these moors. Ironically, just down the road, Lower Pasture Barn has been saved from collapse and converted into an expensive luxury country residence.
But another extensive ruin was soon to be encountered on this walk. The short stretch of road to get there was a disgusting depository of rubbish – cans, bottles and take away plastic, that Bolton and Darwen can’t be proud of.
Hollinshead Hall has its own Wikipedia entry I don’t remember visiting it before and was eager to explore the ruins. I wasn’t expecting such an extensive site. First we made use of some of the low walls for a bite to eat whilst a school trip played hide-and-seek. Once we had the place to ourselves, we could wander at will, postulating on the functions of the various spaces. Is there a master plan somewhere? What I had read about was the only remaining intact structure – The Well House and its spring. Probably the reason for the citing of the original C17th buildings, and also at one time a supposed cure for eye problems. We climbed up to have a look at it and to peer through the opening into the interior, where two large troughs are fed by an ornate Lion’s Head. The spring supplying the building is up above it, but I was distracted from further exploration by my phone falling out of a pocket into the precious waters.
The whole valley of the Roddlesworth, once meadows and pastures, has become a plantation after the water board’s purchase. We spend the next hour wandering along its old tracks, picking out sites of buildings slowly disappearing into the greenery. On the moors we meet few but down here dog walkers are out in force. We join some of them in the café for coffee and cake.