Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Hebden Bridge to Ponden

Rosemary and Alan Towers at Badger Field Farm -
ready for a day on the Pennine Way
We were off at a few minutes before 10:00 – Rosemary, Alan and myself for rhe Pennine Way, and Mike by taxi to Hebden Bridge itself to catch a train back to Alderley Edge.

The path was just across the field from the farm, which was right at the crest of the ridge that separates the Calder valley from the Colden Water immediately to the North. So it was across a field where the lambs were sheltering from the brisk Northerly wind on the lee sides of their mothers, and straight to the North. Bright sunshine, and wonderful views – but downhill to a valley, with the promise of a climb up the far side.

This is attractive country. The crossing of Colden Water was a delightful little grassy area, a wooden bridge, with a rocky climb up the other side through trees. Too early for any sign of leaves this year, of course, but one could imagine it being a really lovely picnic spot when Spring does arrive.

The view back to Stoodley Pike, nearly ten miles away
The long climb up the other side saw us pass snowdrifts where local farmers were still digging out the lanes, a couple of terraces of three-storey houses that seem completely out of place in the midst of fields, and then fields with sheep which chased after me, seeming to think I had something to offer them. Altogether crossing the valley involved losing the best part of 200 metres in altitude before climbing back up to a slightly higher level.

At the top the countryside changes completely from nice tidy fields to open moorland. The next two miles or so were fairly level, but snowy and wet. In places there were flagstones, but there were also piles of stones on pallets yet to be put in place. And at one point I went straight through the surface layer of apparently solid ground and managed to get both boots wet, so that I spent the rest of the day with squelchy feet. Rosemary and Alan had better boots – and perhaps also better luck – and stayed dry.

Crossing the streams on teh Pennine Way
At the end of the moorland stretch the Pennine Way joins the Pennine Bridleway for a quarter mile or so, before the two part company again for the Pennine Way to cross a couple of streams where they join. Then there’s a stretch where you join a road briefly before taking a track described as part of the Calder/Aire Link across to the next valley. This, though, is not the watershed, as the streams in both valleys flow South to the Calder.

It was fine and bright, if windy. The fields were alive with birds who had moved in to breed – lapwings, curlews, oystercatchers, common gulls. I chatted to a birdwatcher, who said that he hadn’t yet seen any long-distance migrants such as wheatears or ring ouzels. Just too cold this year, I suppose – though I did catch a  glimpse of what might have been a ring ouzel an hour later. That was after we’d walked past most of the second of the Walshaw Dean reservoirs and struck off across the moorland to the Northeast. This was grouse country, and we saw a number of red grouse as we climbed. They are pretty wary, and don’t allow you to get too close, though occasionally a cock bird stands up on a distant clump of heather to advertise his presence to the ladies.

Bronte Country
Over the top of the moorland, after a 100m climb, we eventually reached Top Withers. This is a ruined farmhouse, frequently cited as the model for Wuthering Heights. It had been advertised first from the top of our first climb, at a distance of 6 ¼ miles. It’s an attractive spot, and signifies the beginning of a relatively easay descent into the valley of the River Worth.

The next couple of miles were pretty easy, but at the point where the Pennine Way turns sharp left all we could see was huge drifts of snow. So instead of following the prescribed route we took the road down almost to Stanbury, and then down towards the bottom of the Ponden reservoir. The consolation was that we were able to stop for a drink at the strangely-named Old Silent Inn before finally rejoining the Pennine Way and reaching our B&B at Ponden House.

The view from Top Withers: just five miles to go!
A fine, bright, cold day, still with a strong East wind. 0 to 8C. Plenty if residual snow in hollows. 19.20km; 494m ascent, 569m descents. Initially attractive farmland, but then largely open moorland. Some paved sections later on.

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