In Longdendale, the wild Pennines meet the bustling Metropolis.
Distance 7.4 miles (12km)
Minimum time 4hrs
Ascent/gradient 1,180ft (360m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Good paths and tracks, a few stiles
Landscape Heather moorland, and rolling farm pastures
Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 1 Dark Peak
Start/finish SK 073994
Dog friendliness Walk is on farmland and access agreement land. Dogs should be kept on leads
Parking Crowden pay car park
Public toilets At car park
© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
1 Leave the car park and cross the A628. Take the permissive footpath east before crossing a footbridge over the Etherow beneath the Woodhead dam. Passing through a small wood, the path meets a road. Across it, follow a path to the Longdendale Trail.
2 Turn right along the trackbed, following the Longdendale Trail westwards above the south shore of Torside Reservoir. Leave the track where it crosses the road, then follow the lane opposite, crossing the dam to the north shore. At the apex of a right hand bend leave the lane for another permissive footpath, this time heading west above Rhodeswood Reservoir.
3 After going through the left of two gates follow the path through scrub woodland to the Rhodeswood dam, where a tarmac lane takes you back to the main road.
4 Turn left along the road for a few paces, then cross it to climb on a track right of the intake wall. Turn right to follow an old quarry track that zig-zags up heather and grass slopes before delving into the woods of Didsbury Intake. The track passes between the cliffs and the bouldery landslip area of Tintwistle Knarr Quarry.
5 After leaving the woods behind you reach the brim of the moor by Rawkins Brook. Go over the stile in the fence and trace a peaty path known as Black Gutter. This heads roughly north east across heathland towards the gritstone 'edge' of Millstone Rocks.
6 Follow the edge to Lad's Leap, where you descend to ford the Hollins Clough stream before climbing back onto the moors. A dilapidated wall comes in from the right, and the path descends with it into the Crowden valley.
7 Half-way down the slope it meets the Pennine Way route, where you turn right, descending towards Torside Reservoir.
8 Turn left along a prominent unsurfaced lane that descends parallel to the northern shore of the reservoir and then to the bottom of the Crowden valley. Walk across the bridge over Crowden Brook, then follow the walled lane as it curves right to reach a crossroads. Turn right, passing the campsite and toilet block, to return to the car park.
Longdendale, the valley of the River Etherow, threads deep into the Pennines between the craggy cliffs of Bleaklow and the sullen slopes of Black Hill. In bygone centuries this must have been an inhospitable but dramatic wilderness of heath and bog.
Meanwhile in nearby Manchester, the Industrial Revolution had caused a dramatic increase in the population from around 10,000 to over 230,000. This meant that Manchester needed more water, and its engineers turned to Longdendale. Between 1848 and 1877 a string of five reservoirs were built to the designs of John Frederic La Trobe Bateman. Later came the railway, linking Manchester with Sheffield, then came electricity. So this remote narrow valley was filled with the contraptions of the modern world. Manchester's people came here in their thousands, using the railway and taking to the fells.
Crowden, where the walk starts, is one of the few settlements in the valley. Around the youth hostel you'll often see weary walkers, weighed down with heavy backpacks. More often than not they will have just completed the first day of the Pennine Way over Kinder Scout and Bleaklow. In the little book they're clutching Alfred Wainwright has told them how unsightly Longdendale is, and how they will continue towards the horrors of Black Hill's bogs.
But this walk shows you the very best of Longdendale. The railway has gone now, dismantled in 1981 with the decline of the coal-mining industry. After strolling down to the Torside Reservoir you follow its trackbed, now part of the Longdendale Trail. Soon you've left the valley behind and you're climbing through the shade of woods, where oak, birch, larch and pine are mixed with open patches of heather and bilberry.
Longdendale looks pretty good now. Bleaklow's ruffled peat-hagged top is fronted by a bold line of cliffs, which overlook the valley's blue lakes and emerald fields. Several white-water streams plummet down shady ravines, while Torside Clough, a huge gash in the side of the fell, dwarfs the little farm at its foot.
Now you're on the moors with squat cliffs of Millstone Rocks lying across cotton grass moors. At Lad's Leap, the Hollins Clough stream tumbles over a slabbed rocky bed into Coombes Clough. I don't know who the lad was that could leap across this gap, but he must have had long legs, or a good imagination. Mere mortals descend to ford the stream before continuing above Highstone Rocks to the rim of the Crowden valley where you can look deep into the inner recesses of Black Hill. Below, just a short descent away, your car awaits.
There's nothing on the route. The Beehive public house on Hague Street, Glossop is the nearest good pub for bar meals. There's a good range of home cooked food, with many blackboard specials. There's an attractive beer garden at the back too.
The Longdendale Trail, which you use in the walk's early stages, was the trackbed for the Great Central Railway's Woodhead line, built in 1847 to link Manchester and Sheffield. The line, which included the 3-mile (4.8km) Woodhead Tunnel through the Pennine ridge, claimed many lives - 32 for the tunnel alone. Those who died in the hostile damp conditions are unrecorded, but 28 workers perished in a cholera epidemic of 1849. Some of the graves can be seen at Woodhead Chapel, just off-route above the Woodhead Reservoir's dam.
It would be worth doing a short there-and-back walk along the Pennine Way to see Laddow Rocks. The fine tiered gritstone cliffs, which lie in the heart of Crowden valley, were popular with climbers in the early 1900s. Today, most of the climbers have moved on to the more challenging (and accessible) eastern edges, such as Stanage, Curbar and Froggat.