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Ways on Blackstone Edge

A steady climb to a rocky ridge on the Pennine watershed.

Distance 6.4 miles (10.4km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 1,066ft (325m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Field paths, rough tracks and faint paths across open moorland, 2 stiles

Landscape Sheltered valley, rough pasture, bleak and rocky moors

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL21 South Pennines

Start/finish SD 939153

Dog friendliness Most of walk on grazing land, so dogs under control

Parking Hollingworth Lake Visitor Centre

Public toilets At visitor centre

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1 From the far end of the car park a well-made path runs past picnic tables then crosses and follows a small beck. At a track go left 200yds (183m) then up right with yellow arrows. Zig-zag up the slope then left and down to a stream and footbridge. Where the path forks keep to the lower one, just above the stream. It wriggles through birch woods then up to a wider path and round to Owlet Hall.

2 Go through the lychgate and left alongside the house to a stile. Cross the stream, and then another stile. Ignore the path on the left and keep right, just above the stream, along a line of thorn trees. Cross a decrepit fence and follow a neglected path alongside a wall. Go up to the trees flanking the drive to Shore Lane Farm. Turn left, then left again on a lane.

3 Just before a road, turn right on a track past some houses. Continue on a narrower but clear path. Meet a farm track just below the A58, go right a few paces, then left up the well-worn path 'Roman Road'. Cross a water-cut and keep on climbing. The slope eases near the Aggin Stone.

4 Turn right, through a kissing gate and follow a rough path across a rock-strewn moor to the trig point. Follow the main edge south for another 400yds (366m) to a break in the line of rocks.

5 Slant down right across rough moor to the old water-cut. Go left alongside this until the path veers off right. It soon rises again, across a shoulder of moor, then levels off by a small cairn. Keep right, along the edge, descend more steeply then swing right, joining an old grooved track. Continue down a green track, past a cairn, then back left descending towards Dry Mere.

6 Where the ground steepens, just beyond the tarn, the path splits. Take the lower one, towards a pylon. Go straight across a well-used track to another track just below. Go left, fording a small stream, then swing right. Drop down to a shale track in a small valley and go right down it.

7 At Syke farm join a surfaced lane, which is also ancient. At Hollingworth Fold, with its multicoloured signpost, just keep straight on down the lane to join the road along the lake side. The entrance to the visitor centre is just across the first embankment.

Is it or isn't it? Even the experts seem to be divided. It seems fairly clear that there was a Roman road across the Pennines linking Manchester (Mamucium) with what is now Ilkley, in West Yorkshire. And there certainly is an old road over Blackstone Edge Moor. However the stone surface which can still be clearly seen is much more recent and so are the carvings on the Aggin Stone. The route was well-used by packhorse trains and other travellers in medieval times and only faded into relative obscurity with the advent of canals, turnpike roads and railways.

The best guess of the age of the existing masonry is probably less than 200 years. This may seem a let-down if you're sold on the Roman connection and want to add another nought, but on reflection it's still quite impressive. And those old stones are highly evocative, whether you choose to imagine Roman legionaries tramping up the steep incline, or 15th-century merchants and their trains of horses laden with bales of wool or barrels of salt. Romans or merchants alike would surely have regarded these high, exposed moors as an awkward obstacle to be surmounted, not as an attraction to be sought out. The Pennine Way is an expression of a very different spirit.

The Pennine Way was the first long distance path to be proposed in the UK and the first to be opened: it was officially inaugurated in 1965. It stretches from the Peak District to the Scottish Borders. In fact, it's topped and tailed by pubs: the Nags Head in Edale and the the Border Inn, Kirk Yetholm. In between lie 268 miles (431km) of walking and the stretch over Blackstone Edge is a fair sample.

The huge popularity of the route has created problems with erosion in a number of places. In fact stories about erosion may have contributed to a decrease in the numbers tackling it, though the main factor is the great expansion of a network of other long distance paths, from the South West Coast Path to the West Highland Way. These days far greater concerns about erosion result from the inappropriate and often illegal use of motorbikes and four-wheel drive vehicles.

The rocks of Blackstone Edge stretch for about ½ mile (800m) and have some appeal for rock climbers. The main climbing area is north of the trig point where there are about two dozen routes. Of course this walk is not solely about the ridge. It starts and finishes in softer country dotted with old farms and weavers' cottages. At Syke Farm, near the end, there's another ancient lane. And the hill just above is called Benny Hill, which will amuse some people hugely and others not at all.

Where to eat and drink

The conveniently-sited Fisherman's Inn, a short stroll from the visitor centre, is large and unfortunately smoky, while the outside tables are close to a busy road. A better bet, with good plain food and excellent beer, is the White House Inn, high on the moors on the A58. (It can be reached from the walk itself by a detour of about 500yds (457m) each way, following the Pennine Way, from the Aggin Stone.)

While you're there

Hollingworth Lake was created in 1801 to supply water for the Rochdale Canal and has been a popular spot for local people ever since. There are boating opportunities from launch cruises to kayaking and windsurfing, and coarse fishing, nature trails and a bird hide. It's also reputedly where Captain Webb trained before becoming the first man to swim the Channel in 1875.

What to look for

Peat, so widespread on the moors of Lancashire and Cheshire, is of relatively recent and partly artificial origin. It is formed by the slow decay of vegetable matter in waterlogged conditions. The conditions for this were created by the clearance of trees in the Bronze Age and by climatic changes. Peat is quickly eroded but slow to regenerate, especially on exposed sites, therefore its wholesale removal for garden use is destructive.

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