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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.