08/09 – Bleaklow via the Superfortress

If you’re after picture postcard views and voluptuous foliage then this might not be the walk for you. We’ll be heading to a unique plateaux famous for it’s never ending peat trenches, repeating over and over, leaving you stuck in a loop just waiting to wake up from the nightmare. The landscape is famous for it’s navigational challenges, climbing to the top of a mound in search of features from which you can take a bearing. You return to the trenches, get turned around and spat out in a different direction before you try again. Occasionally you bump into others, the lost souls have been trying to escape the hall of mirrors for hours, days, months and even years. That’s right we’ll be heading to the summit of Bleaklow for a fun day out full of joy and falafel.

The parking is free but please be careful not to block the turning circle as it’s used by trucks, carriages and a circus. We’ll ascend the giant peat mound via a medieval path called the Doctor’s Gate, a path that starts wide and gets smaller and smaller as it heads down what appears to be cul-de-sac. Just as you start to question the paths exit route from the valley, you cross a stream and start a gradual climb traversing the right hand embankment. After a brief zig-zag marking the steepest section of the climb, we’ll pop out onto the plateaux. We’ll head away from the edge until we hit a busy crossroads and the motorway which is the Pennine Way, please make sure you respect the traffic lights when making your left turn. A straight paved highway lays in front of you with embankments on either side designed to protect the local neighbourhoods from the residual noise. Obviously we don’t like to follow the crowds for too long, we like to take the paths less trodden and in this case quite literally as we turn 90 degrees to our left and head straight across the moorland to Higher Shelf Stones to admire the views and enjoy our lunch.

Taking a 90 degree turn to our right, we’ll turn our backs on the viewpoint to head in a north easterly direction for around 150m until we reach the memorial and wreckage of the US Airforce B29 Superfortress. The Peak District is the location of many crash sites, sadly in this case the crew of 13 all lost their lives on the short flight from Scampton (Lincoln) to Burtonwood (Warrington) after crashing in poor visibility. After paying our respects we continue north easterly directly towards the Hearn Stones via a couple of ditches. We’ll probably then join our final section of Pennine Way to a pile of stones with a large stick, the summit of Bleaklow, our highest point. We’ll perform an about-turn but taking the right fork, passing by some boulders until we reach the Wayne (Wain) Stones. Few people know that these are called Wayne because they resemble Wayne Rooney’s head. We’ll continue in the same direction and after approximately 10-15 mins we’ll perform our final off-piste transition across the moorland onto a track which will bring us out to the plateaux edge with views of The Pike, Dog Rock and Yellowslacks Brook. This path will then be followed along the edge, leading us lower down through the fields and back onto the track we started leading to the car.

The route can get very muddy and surprisingly cold on Bleaklow, so bring your coat, boots and a good attitude (I take a towel and change of clothes just in case I fall in the mud). It will be fun.

04/08 – Blackstone Edge via Dog Hill

Warning, emergency walk! With the weekends getting busier as the blistering summer draws in, an emergency walk has been requested. I was going to go big and suggest a walk up Bleaklow or Kinder Scout but the weather forecast is looking mixed, so chose somewhere with options. Please let us know if you’re joining us because I might adjust the walk route and start time depending on the weather.

Plan A is to start in the free car park just before The White House pub on Halifax road. We’ll head off piste via the quarries onto the Old Packhorse Road. Having taken a sharp right next to the lavada, we’ll follow the edge until we see the summit of Dog Hill and make a beeline for it. [NEXT BIT WILL BE MADE UP ON THE DAY]. Our arrival at Green Withens Reservoir should coincide with the timing of lunch, so we’ll whip out our quesadillas and poppadoms to enjoy a feast. We’ll follow the reservoir road, I’ll point out the farm in the middle of the motorway and we’ll arrive at the highlight of the walk, THE M62 (possibly my favourite motorway bridge). The path then slowly ascends up to the summit of Blackstone Edge which the experts describe as nice and rocky, if we’re lucky we’ll see a paraglider or two. Finally we’ll return back to the car park where there will be a discussion about going into the pub which us an unusual ordering system.

28/04 – Heptonstall to Hardcastle Crags

After a long spring walk we headed out to collect our reward of satisfying pub grub and a pint or two. We stooped down to pass through the entrance into an establishment held together by tat on the walls and beer soaked floors. “4 pints of Skull Crusher” requested, a corner was found, ready to relax and watch the evening go by. As the night drew on and the silhouettes began to blur around the edges, the clock struck midnight and door bolted shut. Instantly the locals unleashed their cigarettes, the horizon illuminated by a thousand lighters as if attending a Princess Diana tribute concert. In the cosy snug, a brightly lit green cloth pulling us in, a pool table without pockets… puzzled faces questioning what game this familiar cloth enabled. “It’s a billiards table”, said a voice from the shadows, “do you want me to show you how to play?” The featureless shadow grew in definition as it approached through the smokey tavern, confident in stride, pint of bitter in hand and then… a sparkle from his gold chain. Who was this, Tupac Shakur back from dead? Dappy from N Dubz? Noticing our glances at his opulent bling, the mysterious figure answered the unspoken question “I’m the mayor of this town, do you want to learn how to play billiards?”

Which town you might ask, that town is Hebden Bridge and the location of our next walk. Hidden away in the Calder Valley, Hebden Bridge is surrounded by hills, which makes it an excellent place to start a walk. Located nearby is Hardcastle Crags, which between mid-April and May is renown for it’s bluebells, ideal for bluebell hunters.

We’ll start the walk from a large carpark in the village of Heptonstall, which lies above Hebden. Having weaved through the buildings we’ll descend into the woodland, past the working mans club and into the National Trust property of Hardcastle Crags. This is where we should see the bluebells, bringing some vibrant colour to the forest. Hebden Water will show us the way to Gibson Mill where visiting the cafe or shop will be discouraged. We’ll continue following the stream until we fork left and begin to climb out of the valley, up some steps and onto the road. The terrain briefly changes to open moorland where we’ll have a couple of options, either return to the stream or take the shortcut back. The open moorland leads us through Mount Pleasant and Long High Top, onto the Pennine Way. The path descends towards Golden Water which we then follow until we hit a steep road. The climb up brings us great views across to Stoodley Pike, before the short walk back to the carpark.

Please not that a piano festival will be taking place that weekend if you want to check it out.

24/03 – Wild Bank Hill and Harridge Pike

The Saddleworth Moors go burn, burn, burn, burn… Burn, burn, burn, burn… Burn, Burn, Burn, Burn… BURN, BURN, BURN, BURN… burn. That’s right, we’ll be visiting one of the sites of last years moorland fires.

We’ll be starting our walk from Stalybridge Country Park, parking is on Hartley Street (be warned there aren’t many spaces). The plan is to take in a couple of hills, both with great views over the Peak District and Manchester. We’ll head up through the park, over a road and out onto more traditional moorland. It’s not an official path but we’ll see a route turning left, and straight up the hill to the summit of Wildbank Hill. This leads us onto the ridge of the moorland, heading over to Higher Swineshaw Reservoir. This reservoir was surrounded by fire last year, so the perfect location for us all to carry out some moorland conservation (can someone else arrange this). Beyond the reservoir is a track going up a hill on the other side, normally you’d follow this over and back down again but we’re going to take a little detour. When we reach the highest point we’ll head directly west, through, over, on the bracken until we reach the trig point. This is your moment to get out your smoked salmon canapés, devour your baked camembert and delve into you duck pate… we’ll stop for a snack. I’ll probably point out that you can see Ikea before heading north and trying to pick up a sheep track as we curve back onto the main path. The Pennine Bridleway will then be followed back to Stalybridge Country Park, via a couple of roads. Obviously those who wish to go for Ikea meatballs on the way home can, or you can pick up a new cupboard.

24/02 – Bickerton and Raw Head

For this walk we’ll be heading to the Cheshire plains, an area the young Mr Statham grew up. In the flat lands of west Cheshire, those seeking a walk with views head north to Frodsham, west to Wales or south to Bickerton and the Sandstone Trail. Bickerton is an area known for the castles of Peckforton and Beeston, which stand out like beacons across the plains. It’s also home to popular tourist attractions such as the Crocky Trail, Cheshire Ice Cream Farm and the Cheshire Workshops.

We’ll be parking at the back of the Cheshire Workshops in a public car park, if people want to visit the workshops I’m sure there will be an opportunity. This is a walk of two halves, the first part will be the transition across to Bickerton Hill via the roads and fields (expect some mud). Having gone, right, right, right, right, left, right, left, we’ll finally ascend Bickerton Hill, when we reach the top it will be time for lunch.

Post quinoa (kwin-oa) lunch we’ll start making our way back along the top of Bickerton Hill, passing just above Mad Allen’s Hole (a wealthy local bloke who lived in a cave 200 years ago). The path will descend Bickerton and join a road where we can pretend to be cars or other motor vehicles. This short stretch links us up with the path to Raw Head, the highest point on the Sandstone Trail (a 34 mile long distance path). We follow the edge of the hill around the farmers fields, with views out over the Cheshire plains. This links us up with Bulkeley Hill, a popular dog walking spot… used by dog walkers. After descending Bulkeley we’ll make our way back to the Cheshire Workshops and the safety of the cars.

06/01 – Moel Famau via Loggerheads

The new year will be welcomed in with a visit to the glorious hills of Wales. More specifically we’ll be visiting Moel Famau on the Offa’s Dyke Path, a hill with a summit height of 555m in the Clwydian Range. Normally climbing Moel Famau is a relatively short family walk, so we’ll be extending it with a visit to the valley and Loggerheads as part of the circuit.

The walk will begin from the lower Moel Famau car park, next to the Pen Barras Lodge. The last time I visited car park, parking was £2 (in the form of 2 £1 coins) and should have plenty of spaces during the winter. We’ll head into the forest along one of the forest paths, then joining the forest roads, before descending into the fields and along a road (exciting times). The road will lead us to Loggerheads, a Country Park which follows the River Alyn down the valley and past the Devil’s Gorge (there is no proof the devil actually owns this gorge). After some more road and field action we’ll begin the ascent of Moel Famau. We’ll check on the time and decide which route to take, the shorter steeper ascent or the gentle longer path. It will probably be time for lunch, so we’ll arrive at the nearest reservoir, find a stone and stop for couscous and feta salad with spicy fried chicken, or whatever takes your fancy. Having had a break we’ll tackle the steepest part of the route and ascend onto the Offa’s Dyke path which follows the ridge, it should bring spectacular views (weather dependant, terms and conditions apply). Following a few ups and downs on the ridge we’ll soon join the crowds on top of the Jubilee Tower atop of Moel Famau. You’ll be able spot people looking for phone signal, others who’ve been dragged on a walk, runners showing off and couples not speaking. The descent from the summit will be approximately 30 mins, then we’ll be back a the cars and ready to go home.

21/11 – Hillside to Freshfield via the Dunes

This is a “Robin Tong” inspired near Formby. It covers ground we’ve walked before but has been lengthened by getting the train down the coast. Most people head to Crosby to see the Antony Gormley artwork (worth a visit) and walk north to Formby but we’ll be doing the opposite, because we don’t like to follow the trend. The walk will start from Freshfield Station where there is free parking (for rail users), we’ll be aiming for the 10:24 to Southport. It’s worth arriving nearer 10:00 as you’ll need to get your gear/boots/sandles sorted and purchase a ticket from the station’s ticket office before getting on the train. After a short journey (7-8 mins) we’ll leave the train at the second stop, a place called Hillside, and start the walk.

From the train station we’ll double back on ourselves heading between the golf courses of Hillside and Royal Birkdale (host of the Open Golf Championships). This leads us to a beautiful area of sand dunes where we’ll use a combination of sun and our pigeon instincts to navigate a scenic route back to civilisation. Following the Sefton Coastal-Footpath we’ll briefly walk alongside the Coastal Road (for all you road fans) before crossing over into the main Aisndale Sand Dunes. This part of the route is open to interpretation, we’ve got a gate to aim for but how we get there doesn’t matter, as long as we do get there eventually. This will lead us into the Ainsdale Sand Dunes National Nature Reserve where we’ll ignore the paths and head into the forest. Please be warned this is an excellent spot for a fir cone fight, so you enter this area at your own risk. Having joined the popular cycle route we’ll head back into the forest and look for an excellent lunch spot in the shelter of the pine trees. Depending on whether I can find the path, we might head off piste a little to join the Long Slack path, joining onto the Old Fishermans Path, then the Dune Path North before appearing on the beach. The next 30 mins of the walk is along the beach, so bring you’re beach entertainment i.e. ghetto blaster, windbreak and sand in your chips. When we reach the crowds we’ll head inland into the red squirrel sanctuary, which has toilet facilities. Lastly we’ll head back through Formby, admiring the big houses whilst keeping an eye out for our football heroes and arriving back at the cars. There is an opportunity for an Ikea trip on the way home as you will be passing it.

30/09 – The Marple Wishbone

Now that most people’s outdoor plans are dying down as everyone beds down for the winter, we thought we’d try and keep everyone exploring the outdoors by doing another walk. This time we’re going to be visiting Marple and it’s surrounding areas. The walk starts just west of Marple on the Chadkirk Estate, with free parking and GPRS. We’ll head through the forest to the canal, across the world famous Marple Aqueduct and alongside the 16 Marple Locks. We’ll leave the canal and head north to the Roman Lakes and cut back on ourselves into the centre of Marple for a browse of the shops or a haircut. This will lead us into Brabyns Park and the opportunity to have lunch in carpark. The path heads through the park back across the River Gout (spelt Goyt) and almost into everyone’s favourite park, Etherow Country Park. We join the river Etherow heading back into some forest and up a muddy back into a housing estate. At this point we actually rejoin the route previously taken before branching off down the canal. We head back into the Chadkirk Estate from the other side with a potential visit to a chapel and a loop back to the carpark. We then head home to watch the Ryder Cup.

14/07 – Shutlingsloe Forest Loop

Shutlingsloe, the ‘Matterhorn of Cheshire’. We’ll be following one of the recommended Macclesfield Forest walks, which is roughly a distance of 4.3 miles. Firstly we’ll exit the main car park through the picnic area and start heading up the hill. The forest track start to flatten out and we’ll take a right out of the forest, across a field to the summit of Shutlingsloe. We’ll return to the forest and find a nice tree trunk for lunch. We can then decide if we go over or around the hill before taking a left on the forest track. We’ll then weave through the forest alongside the road back to the car park.