8th May 2010 – Hebden Bridge to Cowling – 16.8 miles
“…my companion is impatient, and proposes that we should appropriate the dairywoman’s cloak, and have a scamper on the moors, under its shelter. A pleasant suggestion and … we cannot be damper, or colder, in the rain than we are here”.
Wuthering Heights – One of the Brontes (not the brother)
WOW! What a day! Not sure I’ve ever finished a days walking and felt so utterly knackered as this. I’ve done longer walks, I’ve done higher walks and I’ve even done longer and higher walks, but the 17 miles and 3200 feet of today’s walk from Hebden Bridge has completely shattered me. It was down to the wind of course and perhaps the previous 3 days exersions.
The wind was ferocious again, all day, but especially on the exposed moorland sections, of which there was plenty! There were parts of today when I struggled to make forward progress into the headwind. However, trying to put a positive spin on things, as it was so windy and bloody cold too, I had all my layers on and consequently my pack was mostly empty 🙂
It was straight into the hilly stuff today – no preamble – just head down and try not to look at how steep it’s getting. It’s not made any easier by what must be England’s densest concentration of public footpaths. So many green dashes on the map – so many little paths to confuse and confound, but I only made one small error of navigation and it didn’t delay me at all. Reaching the gate at Mount Pleasant farm came as something of a relief – from the constant climb and the confusion of paths – the fingerpost pointing out across the moor was a sight for sore calves.
The moor was dry of course and the path was clear to follow. It skirts the lower slopes of Standing Stone Hill, the wind put me off making the diversionary climb to the summit to bag the trig point – that’s one I’ll have to come back for one day. The path drops down to Gorple Cottages and then cuts through the miniature, but absolutely delighful valley of Graining Water.
As I plodded up from the Walshaw Dean reservoir towards Withins Heights I decided, if the Pennine Way was a man, he’d be a retired steel worker from Sheffield, where he would have been employed bending bars, he’d have served some prison time – probably for half killing someone in a brawl – but in self defence. He’d have “TUFF” tattooed on the knuckles of one hand and “RUFF” on the other. His friends would respectfully describe him as a “reet ‘ard bastad”, but never to his face. And that’s the Pennine Way for you, especially when you’re battling the weather too! I’m not complaining about the weather mind – I had sun for most of the day and plenty of views, but they weren’t particularly inspiring – more reservoirs and electricty pylons, with intermittent blissful highlights of the open moors.
I say open moors – but these are certainly not lonely moors – I met more groups of ramblers today than I think I ever have in the past. At least three big groups that I took pictures of and a couple of others too probably. I guess they’re here for the “Bronte experience” – just try to avoid meeting one of them at a stile – if you’re very lucky one of the group might let you through, but normally I stand there with my invisible ring on, patiently waiting for dozens of folk with a combined age of several thousand all gas-bagging and taking forever to negotiate a wooden step.
At Top Withens I took a rest from the wind among the ruins of the farmhouse. The sheep here are almost as aggresive as the ones on Kinder, they probably see hundreds of visitors every day and have worked hard on their approach. The ewe that saw me eating an apple sent her little lamb over – she’s obviously adopted the “ahh” factor. I’ve never seen a tiny lamb come so close to me before – it was almost fearless. I bit off a small piece of apple and flicked it to the lamb. Well that was the cue the ewe had been waiting for, she was in like Flynn and almost grabbed the rest of the apple from my hand. I finished the meat off it and tossed her the core, thereby storing up more trouble for future visitors. Ah well, it won’t do any harm – the Japanese tourists probably expect it!
Rather than bang on about how windy today was, just take it for granted that anything I did today was into the teeth of a gale – that will also save me the time of typing it repeatedly.
From Top Withens there’s only about 8.5 miles to Cowling and I should have broken the back of the day. I’d already battled my way up the lung bursting climb out of Hebden Bridge, crossed Heptonstall Moor and Graining Water, completed the long and tiring climb up to the Walshaw Dean reservoirs and the leg sapping climb to Withens Heights. (Don’t forget the wind). However, the last few miles were actually the hardest it seemed. From Top Withens you lose a lot of height as you drop down through tiny lanes and fields to Ponden Reservoir. There’s then another long climb up more fields and lanes to the edge of Oakworth Moor and then into Ickornshaw Moor. After gaining these 800 feet you then lose most of it on the descent into Cowling.
Interestingly I saw some guys cutting and stacking peat on Ickornshaw, I didn’t realise people still cut peat for fuel in England. I guess they could have been using it in one of the many huts that you find on the moor here, called cowlings – I have no idea what purpose they serve – holiday homes for masochists perhaps?
I walked into Cowling at 15:10, so too early to knock on the B&B, so I headed for the Bay Horse pub and ordered a pint of Diet Coke. I didn’t quite get the “music stops and all heads turn to regard the stranger” but it wasn’t far off. At least they had Sky Sports on so I could watch the football scores coming in. It’s great news for Blackpool – they take a 2-1 lead into the next leg for the Premier League playoff semi. It would be great to see a team like Blackpool in the top flight next season – if nothing else it’s 2 games City might win 🙂
Woodland Street B&B is another top notch establishment. Susan made me very welcome when I arrived at 16:00 and I was offered tea and a lovely slice of lemon cake. Nothing is too much trouble.
The pub in Cowling doesn’t do food, the fine dining restaurant mentioned in the Trailblazer guide has been replaced by a Thai place and next nearest place is 1.5 miles down the road. Susan offered me a lift to that pub, but couldn’t pick me up after, but she did mention there was a chippy at the far end of town, beyond the Bay Horse.
After a shower I set out in the search for food – I was hoping the chippy would be open as I didn’t fancy Thai or a 3 mile walk. I was in luck! One of the best chippies I’ve ever been in. They have a small seating area so I ordered my meal to eat in – half expecting to be charged for the privilege, but in some bizarre twist of Yorkshire hospitality I was told all customers who eat-in are offered a free brew! Double bonus! And to cap it all the chips were properly cooked!
I’m back in the pub again with another pint of Diet Coke – I really need the fluids rather than alcohol.
On the whole things are going well, my feet are fine, although the toe beside the big toe, on both feet, are beginning to turn black under the nail – that’s never happened to me before – they are a bit sore, but not excessively.
My cheek chafe has kicked in, so that will require daily attention now. I’ve found that Lanacane works well, but applying while on the walk does require a moorland section with views in both directions – to avoid being caught out by other walkers.
I met no other Pennine walkers today, I think I saw a couple well behind me at one point, but the only people I saw were walkers coming towards me. They all had tailwinds of course and must have thought the balaclava clad, monstrously sweaty, fat bloke walking towards them was some sort of bungling bank robber on the run.