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Darwen Tower and the Freedom of the Moors

A simple walk, if moderately steep in parts, to a great physical and historical landmark on the moors.

Distance 4 miles (6.4km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 705ft (215m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Well-defined tracks throughout, 3 stiles

Landscape Reservoir and wooded surroundings, farmland, open moors

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 287 West Pennine Moors

Start/finish SD 665215

Dog friendliness Dogs can run free on tracks, watch for sheep on moor

Parking Car park near Royal Arms

Public toilets At car park

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1 From the car park cross a bus turning area and then the road. Go through some gates and reach a footpath sign in 30yds (27m). Go right, following the sign for 'Woods and Water Trail'. The path descends steadily to a crossroads. Turn right here on a broad path - still the 'Woods and Water Trail' - then after 200yds (183m) go right at a fork on a gently rising path. Gradually curve to the right and climb a little more steeply, with open fields on the left, out to the road. Go left for 200yds (183m).

2 Go right up a walled track, part of the Witton Weavers' Way. Go straight on at a crossroads then descend steeply, with a section of old paving, towards Earnsdale Reservoir. Cross the dam and swing left at its end then follow the lane up right until it swings left once more, over a cattle grid. Go straight up the steep grass slope ahead, skirting a fenced area with regenerating trees.

3 Go left on a track then, just above a house, bear right up a concrete track. At a gap in the aluminium barrier bear left on a level path towards an old quarry. As this is reached, go up right on a stony track then keep left where it forks. A gate on the left, flanked by fine flagstones, gives a good view of the town of Darwen, dominated by the India Mill chimney. Continue up the main track for another 100yds (91m). As the gradient eases and the tower comes into view bear right, past a marker stone on which there's a likeness of the tower, and straight up to the real thing.

4 From the tower bear left past the trig point and along a broad path above the steeper slope that falls to Sunnyhurst Hey Reservoir. The path swings left past a bench. Go over a stile on the right overlooking the valley of Stepback Brook and down a zig-zag path. Don't cross the next stile but go back left, towards the stream, then over a stile at the bottom. Go left on a track to cross the stream.

5 The track swings back right and up through a wood. As it levels out pass to the right of a pair of gates and continue down towards a row of houses. A lane just left of these leads to the road. Go back past the bus turning area to the car park.

The 'right to roam' may be still in the process of being established over most of England and Wales, but has been enjoyed on the Darwen Moors for over a century, and Darwen Tower stands in commemoration. After a long struggle, spearheaded by the Ashton family, rights of access over the moors were transferred to Darwen Corporation in 1896. A large procession of local people climbed on to the moor in celebration.

It's worth remembering that in this, as in most other cases, what was really happening was the re-establishment of rights of access that had existed for centuries. Local people would cross the moors on their way to work in the mills and in the small collieries that existed here. The erosion of these rights in favour of 'sporting' interests caused much resentment and was not forgotten. Free access to these moors today is a right, but should also be considered both a privilege and a responsibility.

The opening stages of the walk are a pleasant preamble, through the woods around Upper Roddlesworth Reservoir and over a shoulder by some old tracks to Earnsdale Reservoir. Here you are just above Sunnyhurst Wood, Darwen's main park, which provide a direct link from the town on to the moors. Above the reservoirs you climb in stages. After the old quarry you begin the final, longest stage, on a corner of the moors overlooking the town.

The dominant feature, without question, is India Mill dating from the 1860s. The chimney is 302ft (92m) high and its style is not Indian but Italianate. The mill closed in 1991 but now houses new light industry and office space, and there are plans for retail and leisure developments in the subsidiary buildings.

And so to Darwen Tower. Construction began in 1897, the year after the achievement of access, which also happened to be the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The building was opened in 1898. There are 65 wide stone steps, and then 16 iron ones leading to the small glasshouse on the top. The tower did fall into some decay during the middle of the 20th century but was thoroughly restored, with funds from a public appeal, in the 1970s.

Naturally the view is extensive, especially in the northern half. Some of it has changed totally since the tower was built; the new industrial areas alongside the M65 above Blackburn are the most obvious example. But the skylines of Bowland and Pendle are the same. The descent takes you past some old mine workings and a waterworks channel. Just before the end, the row of houses (Hollinshead Terrace) was built as workers' accommodation for a nearby mill that no longer exists.

Where to eat and drink

The Royal Arms has an old-fashioned feel inside, with its several small rooms, though in a welcome modern development one is no smoking. The menu is also fairly traditional but still provides a reasonable choice. The garden is a sun trap and has a play area.

What to look for

You can look, with care, for old coal mine shafts on the moor, in the area where you begin to descend. Usually there's little left to see but a conical pit, with scattered spoil heaps near by forming good markers, but one or two still have open shafts. The deepest of the shafts went down around 200ft (61m).

While you're there

Tockholes village, which lies below the main road, is best explored on foot as its streets are narrow in places. There are several fine 17th-century houses, a church and a chapel (and the site of a second). The village school, dating from 1854, has an external pulpit allowing open-air preaching.

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