Northern Walks: Discover Derbyshire’s Dark Peak – To Bleaklow Head
Just south of the Yorkshire-Derbyshire border, beyond Holme Moss, the A628 crosses the Pennines. Cars speed past the reservoirs of Torside and Woodhead, and should passengers look south; they will be awed by an imposing landscape rising dramatically from the water – and this is to where this walk ventures.
Although the incline looks daunting, the route ascends steadily, but not severely. The route is just over 10 miles, best done on a dry, clear day and is not advisable for those who dislike edges and steep drops. As always with moorland walks, do take a compass, and don’t forget your OS Explorer OL1 Map.
It begins from Torside Car Park (on the B6105 towards Glossop, approx. postcode SK13 1JB) which is managed by the Peak District National Authority so does attract a daily charge of £4.75. There are alternative places to park (lay-bys on the A628, albeit closed currently due to roadworks) and another, much smaller car park between the reservoirs (whether it is pay & display, I do not know).
Begin by taking the Trans-Pennine/Longdendale Trail East. Doing the loop clockwise means this 5.5km stretch to Woodhead Tunnel, which is flat and (in my opinion, rather dull!) is out the way first and gives your legs time to warm up. The route was originally the first train line between Manchester and Sheffield, transporting coal across the Pennines. Construction started in 1839, with the first passenger train departing in 1845. Immediately before the entrance to the Woodhead Tunnel you pass through the site of the former station for Crowden, which opened 1861. The route is extremely popular with cyclists, who can complete a 150-mile coast to coast route from Liverpool to Hull by use of the Trans Pennine Trail, which shares this section of the route.
Beyond the station platforms, follow the track as it makes an ascent towards a car park and the main road. However, take the clear right turn to cross the stream, then continue in the same direction as before on the opposite bank. You pass a flow station and come to a ford. Stay this side of the river, bearing right, and follow the obvious path into the woodland, beside the water.
Black Clough City beyond the peaks
On reaching an open space, where signs prohibit camping and BBQs, take the path on the right that turns back, but ascends. This will zig zag – keep to the left-hand path on the bend and begin to ascend Near Black Clough on the western bank.
The map shows the path as a dotted black line. It ascends the clough exposing the walker to some steep drops and edges at times. You leave behind the trees, climbing higher and higher above the river far below. There is only one path although it does bifurcate a couple of times, only to re-join several metres ahead.
Gaining height, the steep drop diminishes. Eventually, perhaps 2.5km beyond the woodland, you come to a fence. Pass through and stick beside the stream (a path does bear right but keep left). Before this, on the opposite hillside, you can see Near Bleaklow Stones – somewhere upon that moorland there are two plane wrecks dating to 1941 – a Botha plane and a Defiant fighter plane – however both are a challenge to track down.
The path will curve right as you come to the plateau, although visibility is still limited. Up ahead, after a short time, you can glimpse a pole projecting from a pile of stones: that is the destination – Bleaklow Head, sitting at 633m above sea level.
It is here too that you see ‘over the hump’ and start to glimpse the landscape to your west, including the always juxtaposing vision of Manchester on the far horizon.
Here you also meet the Pennine Way, so navigation is incredibly straightforward hereafter. A stone pillar indicates the Way (you are turning right/north) after the cairn and it begins a long, steady descent. The path crosses a ford and continues down. Part of the Pennine Way is currently diverted to prevent further erosion, but it is very clear to follow; if rather muddy in parts.
Pennine way descending Torside Clough Torside reservoir
You re-join the Pennine Way-proper as the land drops away to your right and once again you are following the edge of a steep decline; this time it is Torside Clough. It is so beautiful, and so dramatic. As you approach the bottom, stop and look back to appreciate the remarkable vista. It could almost be threatening, should the sky look ominous, or the temperature bitter. The Dark Peak may be so-named due to the peat-covered slopes and its grit stone and shale; but to me, it is aptly named for its austere charm, with the underlying sense of foreboding.
You return to solid ground on meeting again the Trans Pennine/Longdendale Trail at the very bottom. Turn right and a final, short stretch returns you back to the start.