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The Deserted Valley of Haslingden Grane

A walk which, more than most, lays bare the past.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 1hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 426ft (130m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Good tracks, a few steep and rough sections, 11 stiles

Landscape Rough pasture and moorland, some woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 287 West Pennine Moors

Start/finish SD 750231

Dog friendliness Mostly grazing land, dogs under control

Parking At Clough Head Information Centre, on A6177

Public toilets In information centre

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1 A footpath starts immediately left of the information centre building. Go through a small plantation then climb alongside a wall. Cross a stile by a Rossendale Way sign then go immediately left over a stone slab stile and follow an almost level path along a fine wall. After 100yds (91m) past a plantation, go left over a stile by another Rossendale Way sign and down to the road.

2 Go left down the road for 90yds (82m), then right on a track, swinging right to pass some ruins. After about 440yds (402m) the track swings left again near some spoil heaps. Keep straight on, past more ruins, then dip into a small valley alongside an old water-cut.

3 Go right 50yds(46m) on a walled track, then left again across a short wet patch. Follow an old walled track past ruined houses and into another small valley, just above extensive ruins. Skirt rightwards round these and descend to the stream then climb up alongside a plantation. Cross into this at a stile. The path starts level but soon begins to descend quite steeply, winding past Rossendale Way signs, to meet a clearer path just before a footbridge at the bottom.

4 Cross the bridge and go up steps then across the hillside below a beech wood. Cross another small stream, go up a few paces then go left and follow a generally level path through a pine plantation. Continue along a bilberry-covered hillside above Calf Hey Reservoir, passing a ruin on the left and through a dip containing a small stream. Another 90yds (82m) further, you'll see a large sycamore tree standing on its own.

5 Cross a stile just below the tree then descend slightly rightwards to a stile by the dam. Cross it and go up a tarmac path past some valve gear to a gate.

6 Go through another gate on the right, then through a gap in the wall and up a path. This runs alongside the road to a car park. Where this path ends there's another up to the left, signed for Clough Head. Go up this, meeting the access road again, then continue up some steps and through a small plantation just below the main road. Go left up the road for 50yds (46m) then cross it by a footpath sign to a kissing gate opposite. A short footpath leads back to the start.

It's hard to believe today, but the Grane Valley was once home to well over 1,000 people. Many houses have vanished entirely, but many more remain, in varying states of decay. It's tempting to assume that it was the flooding of the lower valley that caused its depopulation, but in fact the story is considerably more complicated.

Settlement began in the area, previously a deer park, in the early part of the 16th century. The population grew over the next two centuries as woods were cleared. However, farming here was nearly always marginal. Most families supplemented their income by handloom weaving. Another widespread source of income was the distilling of illicit whisky. Many of the houses had secret passages or cellars to hide the stills.

As larger mills developed, handloom weaving became less viable. The construction of the Calf Hey Reservoir in the 1850s robbed the struggling community of its best land, but the final nail in the coffin was the crisis which afflicted agriculture in the 1880s, with drastic falls in commodity prices. There's an echo here of the problems which farmers are facing today. Once more, many farmers are searching for supplementary sources of income and in some cases leaving agriculture altogether.

The crisis of the 1880s led to the abandonment of poorer upland farms in many parts of the region, but the total depopulation of the Grane Valley is one of the most dramatic instances. Even on the opening section of the walk, before crossing the main road, you pass the sites of several farms, a smithy and an inn - though all you're likely to see is a few remnants of wall incorporated into the boundary wall.

As the way swings round the head of the valley it passes several ruins. These stand around 1,000ft (305m) above sea level and it must always have been a somewhat bleak and exposed spot. It's hard to imagine these gaunt shells as they were, with adults working and perhaps children playing. Beyond the ruins the way descends through a conifer plantation but then runs through broadleaved woods, notably a fine stand of beech. These plantings give some idea of how the valley might have looked before it was settled.

As you cross the dam of Calf Hey Reservoir, there are quarries on the skyline both ahead and behind, which also provided employment in the area. Walk 29 takes a closer look at the Musbury quarries. Just before the climb back to the road, the walk passes a graveyard and the sites of both the Methodist chapel and Anglican church. The latter has been re-erected lower down the valley, about ½ mile (800m) beyond the Duke of Wellington pub.

While you're there

The Helmshore Textile Museums on Holcombe Road (off Grane Road) comprise not one but two working mills. One of them, Higher Mill is still powered by a waterwheel. While you're dipping into the past, you can also travel behind steam on the East Lancs Railway, which runs between Rawtenstall and Bury.

Where to eat and drink

The Duke of Wellington, about a mile (1.6km) down the road towards Haslingden, is a spacious establishment with good beer and a standard Brewer's Fayre menu. Children are welcome but dogs will have to remain outside to enjoy the views down the valley. Beer connoisseurs can head to the other side of Haslingden and the Griffin Inn, which brews its own.

What to look for

Two characteristic birds of grassy moors and upland pasture are the curlew and the lapwing. Curlews are large brown birds with long down-curved bills. Their long, bubbling call is one of the loveliest and most evocative sounds of the moors. Lapwings are black and white, with a greenish sheen on the back and a small crest. Their peewit call gives them their alternative name.

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