Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Hadfield to Penistone 21/06/14

Top of the year already, and I rarely get out to do anything with the longest day before the decline of Summer kicks in, so as we are entering the final corner of my three year odyssey this seems like a cue for a long day on the trail, aiming for the second most talked about route of all the paths that I have been considering over the last few years, namely the Woodhead Route, the late and lamented Manchester, Sheffiled & Lincolnshire Railway / Great Central Railway line from Hadfield to Penistone, now enduring as the central stretch of the Trans Pennine Trail. A big day also deserves company, and I request the company of my good friend MW, himself a keen walker and in the midst of his own voyage of experience in his 40th year, so that me might share a social expedition that the previous years have missed. Even before we have set out he has shown his value, acknowledging that a train ride from Leeds to Hadfield is unduly long and expensive, and that alighting at Stalybridge and getting a taxi will cut 40 mins of time and £10+ from travel costs. So onwards into virgin territory for the both of us, starting out on the very fringe of Greater Manchester, but actually with the High Peak District of Derbyshire, and it you'd like an alternative perspective on the day, hop over to MW's blog to enjoy a much brisker and more engaging writing style.

Hadfield to Penistone, via the Trans Pennine Trail  16.5 miles

Padfield Main Road bridge
It's a 10.15am start from outside Hadfield station, setting off once MW has gotten his Garmin fired up, and this is another reason that he is useful walking company, as I have always relied on only a watch and dead reckoning for my time keeping, not yet having been tempted to allow technology to aid me on my travels, but in retrospect, it would have been useful to have had my own GPS to use throughout my 1,000 mile odyssey. A device will also give you a good reason to keep your pace up too, as it can give you constant feedback on your progress, making you feel like you should be putting in a lot more effort than having a mere dawdle, so whilst this is a long day in terms of mileage, out electronic motivator will ensure that this is far from the longest day on the trail. It's only a short walk from the station along Platt Street to the path up to the railway line, and we are soon off on the Longdendale Trail, passing the local walkers and riders of High Derbyshire, and the early going is relatively enclosed, with only Padfield Main Road bridge interrupting the tree lined cutting as we move into the Peak District national park, so chatter rules our early steps and I'll whiffle on about railway history for anyone who might be interested to listen. The original trans Pennine line was built in 1845, and absorbed into the into the MS&LR in 1847 (renamed as the GCR in 1897), it was the company's premiere route until the construction of the London extension, and it's lifeblood was always coal, and the heavy traffic from the South Yorkshire coalfield to Lancashire fuelled the need for innovation, making it the first electrified main line using overhead wires in 1953. Passenger service were controversially lost in 1970, redirected to the Hope Valley line, and all services ceased in 1981 due to the declining coal traffic and the cost of maintaining the non-standard 1,500 volt DC locomotives and power supply, a considerable loss when you consider that a third of a century later, thoughts are now turning back to high speed rail and transport improvements in the north of England. Still, a number of the line's locomotives had a second life working in the Netherlands, and it is worth going to see the Class 77 now preserved at MOSI, as Ariadne is one of the few electric locomotives that actually looks powerful, you really have got to love the practises of massive over-engineering which endured well into the 1950s.

Torside reservoir
Once we've got some distance out from our start point, we can feel like we are now out on our own, far from settlement and the hills and valleys of Longdendale roll themselves out to give us an impressive amphitheatre to roam within, with wooded hillsides rising to the moorlands above, with reservoirs dwelling at the valley floor, five of them in total, the lower pair being Bottoms and Valehouse. This territory is new for both of us, and we spend quite some time pondering why we haven't come this was in all our travels, having preferred to head north to the wild hills and valleys of the Yorkshire Dales, and we figure it must be due to the relative expense of travelling into Lancashire, as the pounds per mile differential is much worse when heading west and crossing the border, it must surely be a conspiracy to keep Yorkshire folk in our place (even adopted ones like both of us). Relatively level going alongside Rhodeswood reservoir, mostly hidden by trees, has us pondering on the explosion of interest in cycling in recent years, and numerous riders pass us as we go, MW illustrating the poor technique which many possess, and I wonder why my desire to ride stopped when there were regularly 8s in the year, eating the pavement too many times is my best guess. Still, the Tour de France is only a couple of weeks distant from its Grand Depart in Leeds, and it's due out here on day 2 as well, and I've no idea how I'm going to fit in a trip to see it, whilst MW planned ahead and bagged a marshaling role, even if he has to be ready to work at 5am on a Saturday morning! A confusing moment comes as the path seems to disappear as it crosses the B6105 Woodhead Road, as it hairpins twice to prevent cyclists barrelling into the roadway, now realigned in the spot where it used to bridge the track, and then the trail goes quiet for a while as if this is as far as the non-hardcore trail lovers venture. It would be a mistake to not travel further though, as the next opened out view is a gem, as the waters of Torside reservoir spread below, complete with numerous boats, and the rolling hills to the north illustrate the route of the Pennine Way to the north, in the direction of Laddow rocks and Black Hill. To the south is Torside clough, a particularly massive gash into the gritstone, along the edge of which the Pennine Way drops into the valley, and the adventurous parts of our natures have us wondering if a visit to Bleaklow could be conceivable from this path.

Woodhead tunnels
Push on to keep up the pace, as the track encloses again and the day starts to brighten somewhat, and we press on alongside the barely seen reservoir again, as the moorlands of the Dark Peak rise to the south, and part of the track along here seems to have become a water feature of some size, though I can't tell if it was by accident or design. Eventually the track rises to meet the road once more, as it crosses the dam of Woodhead Reservoir, and we keep to the south bank as we pass over the site of Crowden station, which never really served any settlement of note, and to this day the station houses are derelict and not redeemed as holiday homes, and conversations reveal that if money were to come our ways, a getaway in the country would be on both our priorities list. Parallel tracks exist along here for some reason, one of which exist for National Grid access purposes, I think, but we are sticking to the rougher of the tracks and MW is thrilled that his lightweight trail shoes are doing him proud whilst I'm hammering away in the usual heavy boots, and I find myself wishing that the TdF would be taking this track on 6th July, rather than giving the road racers and easier (relatively) time on the A6024 and A628. A glance to the descending road from the north east reveals a view up the cleft of Heyden Brook towards Holme Moss, with the transmitter appearing over the hillside to give you the feeling that you are quite close to home territory, even when it is some three miles distant from here, and pretty far from anywhere on the other side. Converging valley sides and gathering pylons indicate that we are approaching the top of Longdendale, and the site of Woodhead station appears surprisingly quickly, and beyond there is the engineering point of interest for the whole trail, namely the three Woodhead tunnels, much closer to the path than I anticipated but still hidden away by lots of industrial fencing. The first pair of single bores were completed in 1845 and 1853, and at 3 miles long were remarkable achievements when considered that the railway age was still in its infancy at the time, they were hellacious to work though, and were replaced by the double width Woodhead #3 tunnel in 1953 when the line was electrified. Now they are all in the hands of National Grid, and electrical cables are fed through them, completely precluding them from used for transport purposes for a generation or more, such a sad end when you know there could be a cycle track beneath the Pennines or a future High Speed line cut through these hills.

Still, it's not fun and games for those who do work underground though, as signage adds to the usual risks of falls & trips, machines & noise, the much more dangerous prospect of Weil's disease, so the prospect of bacterial infection and kidney failure is perhaps a good reason to be staying above ground as we depart the railway alignment, having done the first 6.5 miles in 2 hours on the nose. According to MW's Garmin, we haven't just maintained a healthy 3+ mph, we have already burned enough calories to earn a pub lunch, but as we are in the middle of nowhere we will have to do with a light watering before heading uphill on the track to the path over the moorland. At the crossing of the A628, the view down Longdendale is one worthy of applause, despite the substation parked with in it and a look south along the continuing cleft of the River Etherow has us pondering the well made path heading high onto the moors of Bleaklow, as if it might create a future circular walk out from Hadfield. We ascend, meeting cyclists resting midway along their stretch, loving the ride but lamenting a surface that is destroying their tyres, and favouring a ride back along the road rather than hitting the moorland, for that is were we will be progressing, hammering it some 50m of rapid elevation to meet the old track across Woodhead Moor, and to meet some moorland cattle, who look about as wild as cows can get, clearly these are hardy beasts who do not need a lot of tending. The old road, since supplanted by the A628 provides good going, a nicely solid surface that the rules say you could drive a horse and buggy over, if you so wished, and we meet the only major walking party of the day as we traverse, heading over to Longdendale and probably out from a very early start in Penistone. Moorland grandeur rules for a while, again showing up the differing characters of gritstone country, with green grass spread over the hills to the north and the dark heather clad bogs to the south stretched across the mass of Bleaklow, the sort of territory that I have still managed to avoid in all my trails, because long miles over the moors still fail to appeal when no escape route is obvious. Chatter has exhausted our funds of walking stories as we cross the A628, and we're deep into the 'religion & politics' part of the day as we descend to cross Salter's Brook, above which the main road has a most impressive embankmented bridge, and that marks our transition out of Derbyshire, and back to Yorkshire, but this is the Southern quarter, and it's my first footfalls in these parts, so that's another new county onto the list at this late juncture.

Woodhead moor
The track tacks back uphill, passing abandoned sherpherding shelters and exposed rock strata, as well as the only notable growth of trees on the Moor as we return to the road once again, and as MW is the first to spot the massive ventilation shaft of the tunnel, conversation turns to another topic which fascinates us both, Urban Exploration. We are so glad that we live in the internet age with this one, because we both lack the fearlessness needed to venture into the abandoned and sealed buildings and structures of the industrial age, and instead can appreciate the work of those who do at a remove without risk to health or well being, though Woodhead tunnel should be considered completely out of bounds these days, even to the boldest of adventurers. 2 miles of moorland track ends as we cross the A628 for one last time, and hit the surfaced old moorland road down towards Dunford Bridge, not busy enough to be dangerous but still having enough traffic to warrant single file walking, and it's only a short way along to meet the summit of the Trans Pennine Trail, at 435m. That's a good spot to stop for lunch, sitting in the tussocky grass and observing just how bold you have to be as a road cyclist when slowly ascending among the traffic on the A628, as well as looking east into South Yorkshire and realising that we are pretty stuck for land marks in this part of the world, neither of us able to identify anything on the distant horizon. It's a solid mile of downhill walking after food time, down Windle Edge, with the Windleden reservoirs lying in the clough below us and Winscar reservoir sitting high above the valley to the north, almost as if its dam sits directly above the eastern portals of Woodhead tunnel, and before us the Don Valley opens out, with numerous wind farms sat above it, and as this is Sheffield's major river, we can feel ourselves to really be in a different part of the world now. Pylons reappearing in the landscape must meas we are nearly upon Dunford Bridge, which is really little more than a hamlet with a pub, and two bridges, but a peer over the first of them gives us a look at the tunnel portals once more, and they may be lost to access but at least they are still visible, with impressively gouged rock cuttings leading up to them. A check of the Garmin confirms our slower speed over the top, even with the lunch break, but as it's 2pm on the nose, we are looking good to make the train that I had figured might be just beyond our range, and so the going keeps good as the legs keep going.

Hazlehead station house
Returning to the railway path, we now start down the Upper Don trail but we are not far through the car park and beyond the tracks of the old CEGB miniature railway when we meet fences and signage indicating that the trail is closed for resurfacing, but as the detour is pretty ridiculous (and I came here for railway walking, damnit) we chose to ignore it has who would close a path when in the height of the cycling season? If we meet plant or workman we can always claim we thought it was the picnic site that was fenced off, and any way we are far from the first people to come this way today, but it turns out that for the next 2 miles there are no signs of any work being done at all. A new hard surface has been laid, however, the type that is good for speed but less good for falling down on, so it looks like this is going to be the half for the budding Chris Froome's of the future, or that someone discovered a lot of cash in the district council kitty to be spent on getting South Yorkshire healthy. It's honestly a bit of a disappointing stretch on this side, offering no real views of the Don Valley as the tree density provides far too much cover, and the river hides well even when close by, and it's only the old railway buildings that prove to be interesting, one having no obvious access point to it, and another being the former house of Hazlehead station, and progress is measured by counting the half kilometre markers by the track, and we conclude that this is one trail that really is more suited to the cyclist than than the walker. Still, we are not getting too downhearted as we keep the pace up, and past the A616 bridge we find evidence of resurfacing that has been done very recently, possibly even that morning, and soon enough we meet workmen by the path side, completely disinterested in those travelling on their freshly laid surface, probably bored by trying to warn people off by now, and even the guys driving the roller and dumper truck will give you a sunny greeting rather than telling you to stop spoiling their handiwork. Moving on, other things to see include a flooded open cast pit that has turned the foulest colour imaginable, one of the prettiest overbridges on the whole trail, and a route guide map entirely made of wire, but lacking a key so it functions far better as a work of art.

Ecklands bridge
Beyond the A628 bridge, last turn for that road, we meet the track completely reopened to usage, and busier with locals out to stroll or ride, and the surface improves markedly, with a rubbery surface to offer a much more forgiving surface, which is just as well as my hip is starting to feel it after hammering for nearly 5 hours, so we start to slacken the pace a touch for the last couple of miles passing below Ecklands bridge and finally having the landscape view open out again to get a look back up the Don Valley to reveal that this is a pleasingly rural corner of the county too. We start to approach settlements once more, with Millhouse Green and Thurstonland hiding away on the north side of the valley, and a couple of minor road crossings show up rails still in situ in their surfaces, the only notable pieces of railway furniture left along the whole line, and I had really hoped to have a few gantries or markers left along the way, but it seems that everything went pretty rapidly after its closure in 1981 as scrap metal sold for a good price back then. Keeping our pace good, chatter turns to ageing, and looking to the future rather than looking back through the last couple of decades, both of us looking to be healthier than we are and acknowledging that whilst all this walking is good for us, I am eventually going to have to pick up the exercise pace and join MW in the business of running. Two bridges over and one under pass through the leafiness before we meet the playing fields and skate park on the edge of Penistone, just in time to see a local lad wipe out painfully, but in the nature of all skaters, he's okay! and then it's on past the old goods yard, where the cafe and cycle shop are not open for some reason, which feels like someone missed a trick for a good summer day like this one. The town and the Parish church appear off to the south and then the railway viaduct over the Don appears off to the north, so we are almost home but a peer over the B6462 bridge reveals that the station's pub is no more so we have no immediate prospect for beer when we finish. We'll just have to roll up on the station, where the old platforms still hide below the cover of trees to roll out to the concourse of Penistone station for a finish at 3.55pm, easily in time for the 4.18pm train, having done 16.6 miles according to the Garmin, once MW has remembered to switch it off. To think I'd originally thought this trip might have needed an overnight stay, an earlier start today and we might have been good to burn all the way to Barnsley, but I'm good to stop now, as MW is apt to point out, I smell like I'm going to need to burn the shirt I'm wearing, so we'll head Huddersfield bound for a celebratory pint in the Head of Steam, and I'll start thinking of Black Hill for my next social walk target, and you know what? so is MW!

Next on the Slate: One trip to South Yorkshire surely deserves another? EDIT: Not after a whole week of my body dedicating itself to snot production, it doesn't. Instead, an interlude with two wheels.

1,000 Miles Cumulative Total: 1164.8 miles
(2014 total: 251.6 miles)

(Up Country Total: 1085.4miles)
(Solo Total: 949.9 miles)
(Declared Total: 956.6 miles)

No comments:

Post a Comment