CICERONE’S LANCASHIRE – the darker side.


I’m being unkind there, the darker side of the Pennines is actually in the White Rose county. But it is often gloomy as you drive down through these eastern Lancashire valleys with the prominent Peel Tower watching over you.

Walk 28, Holcombe Moor from Ramsbottom promised “A non-too-demanding walk from the endearingly quirky of Ramsbottom up onto the moors and back in time for coffee and cake – or a pint – in one of many inviting bars and cafés” That turned out to be a little short on the detail, both good and bad, but we are out for adventure and discovery after all.

Ramsbottom, forget the corny jokes, is, or was a solid Lancashire Mill town. Wikipedia as usual has more than enough information. It is now an apparently thriving, on the evidence of all the people there today, shopping destination. Its strength is the number of independent businesses both basic and frivolous. Parking was not easy on a busy Saturday. The station, one of the main attractions, with sometimes steam hauled trains up the valley on the East Lancs Railway was just around the corner. Only diesels today but come later and there will be Santa Specials.DSC02246DSC02245DSC02251DSC02253


Relics of the past.

I’ll gloss over the first stretch through a modern industrial landscape. But all of a sudden one is out into open fields with the River Irwell alongside. I’d been here before on the  Irwell Sculpture Trail which at the time seemed very short of sculptures. Today I was noticing things new like the ‘stone hedge’ bordering a field, the nod to industrial heritage on the site of Cross End Mill, (a C19th dye, bleach and subsequent textile print works) the little allotments and a modern day communal food bank.


Capture Cross End


The path deposited me in the isolated hamlet of Strongstry, a couple of back to back streets which must have provided housing for mill workers in the past. There seemed to be a sense of community with book banks and bird feeding stations. A nice place to live.


Now for the interesting and unexpected bit, underplayed in the book. A scramble up alongside a lively stream in a hidden, rocky, tree lined gorge. Pure delight for 3/4 of a mile and 500 feet of climbing. Well done the National Trust who care for this land.


Out the top and across the road the character of the walk changes as open moorland is reached with increasing views over all those industrial valleys. The arrival at the top was greeted with a plethora of signs warning of the dangers of the MOD firing range, with more regulations than you could throw a bomb at. There were no red flags or explosions today, so I could happily trip along the ridge of Holcombe Moor.



The main point of interest was a stone monument erected in 1902 on the substantial base of an ancient Pilgrim Cross. The inscriptions told of the way to Whalley Abbey in the C12th.


From there I could have made a beeline to the distant Peel Tower over Harcles Hill, but the going looked boggy and besides I was following Mark’s footsteps. His way was no less boggy but had views down into the steep sided valley of Red Brook south of Bull Hill. I’m not certain I took the right track, there were so many, but eventually I homed in on Pell Tower after an arduous half hour or so, again underplayed in the guide. It was a lot taller than I had remembered, 128ft in fact, and today as always the destination of many family groups coming up the short way from Holcombe. Built in 1851 with public subscription to mark gratitude to locally born Sir Robert Peel for repealing the complicated Corn Laws which were causing starvation in the agricultural workers. Political intrigue was as complicated then as it is today. I think of him more for his reform of the criminal justice system and the establishment of Police Constables, ‘peelers’.


A murky tower in the distance.


Arduous conditions – welcome to winter walking.


Bull Hill – I’ve never knowingly visited.


Tried an arty shot with the ‘towers’ of Manchester in the background. It didn’t come off.


Look at the size of the figures.

I found a good stone to sit on overlooking the valley and opened my lunch box containing my lovingly handcrafted egg and tomato salad sandwich. Placing it on the stone behind me whilst I poured some hot tea. Reaching for the anticipated sandwich it had disappeared. I had to look twice, but it just wasn’t there. The culprit was a silent poodle who must have crept up behind me, there he was finishing off my lunch higher up the hill. I suspect his owner was hiding out of shame.


There’s a dog up there…     I’m on my way down.

Rested but not fed I started to make my way down steep tracks, past a Millennium Bench, and lanes through Holcombe. A mixture of old stone cottages and extravagant new properties, the former predominating the lower I went. My intention was to stop off for a pint in the Shoulder of Mutton pub and phone the plastic bag man, living nearby, for him to join me in what was once one of our haunts after climbing. But alas the place was boarded up , landlord needed. It is not a good time for pubs. So down steeply, and I mean steeply, into Ramsbottom.DSC02340DSC02341DSC02343


A Lowry’esque church – Holcombe.

DSC02351The streets were still busy. I was disappointed to see also that the Grant Arms in the centre had closed, I stayed there on the Irwell Sculpture Trail, it was pretty grotty at the time I must admit. It is now a financial investment office. You can see why traditional pubs suffer as quite a few small bars were scattered around, offering a good range of beers often home-brewed, cocktails and a bright environment. They were all full of happy people.DSC02357DSC02355


Maybe here lies the answer…


…more likely here in a modern bar.

I was pleased to see that the welcoming Chocolate Café across the way was still in business, it was always a haven on shopping trips. All things chocolate.DSC02358

Anyhow, a change of plan, and we were soon sat in The Garsdale on the edge of Bury enjoying a beer and chewing the fat as they say in these parts.

A superb varied walk full of interest but a little more demanding than Mark suggests, or am I getting old? Surely not. Thanks for sticking with me.


20 thoughts on “CICERONE’S LANCASHIRE – the darker side.

  1. shazza

    That looks a good walk. Have been actually, a few years ago on a foggy day. Found the tower in the most, but we approached via the Shoulder of Mutton way. I have also been on a steam train on the East Lancs Railway, which was fun. I am glad that the Chocolate cafe is still open. I wonder if Ramsbottom still does it’s chocolate festival..

    1. bowlandclimber Post author

      A friend of mine has abseiled down all 128ft, said it was terrifying. Shame it’s not open more often. I wonder how you find out the opening days?
      Ramsbottom is thriving, a bit like trendy Chorlton in Manchester. But not the traditional pubs – who would want to run one in these stretched days?


    Laughed regarding the doggy story. I don’t think I would ever have recovered from that. I note you missed the opportunity for the short excursion to the trig at Bull Hill SD 766 187. Leg is much better and I am working up to giving it a try over The Knott. I have had other problems also but hopefully now sorted and back in the real world.

    1. bowlandclimber Post author

      I thought you would like the disappearing sandwich. I remember Tony losing a pie in similar circumstances at Brimham – he chased after it for a while before realising the futility of it.
      My excuse was I thought I might stand on a mine on the way to Bull Hill. It was pretty boggy up there.
      Good news about the leg, have you been over the Knott yet?

  3. bowlandclimber Post author

    A friend of mine has abseiled down all 128ft, said it was terrifying. Shame it’s not open more often. I wonder how you find out the opening days?
    Ramsbottom is thriving, a bit like trendy Chorlton in Manchester. But not the traditional pubs – who would want to run one in these stretched days?

  4. ms6282

    That looks like a decent route.
    Interesting to see the traditional pub has shut but smaller “crafty” bars have opened. That seems common today and in some ways a return to older times when there were lots of small beer houses, sometimes effectively someone’s front room selling home brew. What goes around…..

  5. Martin Banfield

    I did this one on 10 May ’22, and found it most enjoyable. There’s a very steep climb at one point, I seem to remember.
    That was so careless, losing your sandwich! Luckily Ramsbottom does have replenishment facilities.
    I found free parking at the station met my needs.
    Good to see you, and Conrad, out and about again.

    1. bowlandclimber Post author

      Very enjoyable indeed.
      The station car park was rammed on a Saturday.
      Looking back at your post we had similar experiences.
      For some reason I’ve not been getting your recent posts, was particularly interested in your Annapurna Circuit index to compare to mine from 1989. Will comment in due course.

  6. Eunice

    Definitely an interesting walk even if it was a bit boggy in places. The tale of the disappearing sandwich made me smile – I hope the dog enjoyed it 🙂

    Peel Tower opening is a bit hit-and-miss, just a few Sundays each year depending on willing volunteers. If it’s open there’s usually a white flag flying from the top, otherwise Bury Tourist Information Centre should be able to tell you if you’re interested – 0161 253 5111.

    I was intrigued that you once stayed at the Grant Arms and wondered how long since? I ask because only today (Tuesday) I watched a Hotel Inspector programme from 2015 where she had the place done up. Apparently it was a very rough-and-ready place – more rough than ready! – but was transformed with a swanky new bar and refurbished rooms. I don’t know how long it survived after that or when it was changed to business premises but any Tripadvisor reviews have been removed as they obviously no longer apply.

    1. bowlandclimber Post author

      That’s very interesting. August 2014 when I stayed. It needed a hotel inspector. As a female you would not have been comfortable to stay there. Obviously the transformation didn’t last.
      The fate of many pubs these days.


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