Wildness is a necessity.

John Muir

Good weather over an October weekend does not come easy, but it certainly arrived that day, and the next day. However, it had only just stopped raining heavily when my train arrived in Hebden Bridge that morning at 8.35am. This made the ground soaked, supremely boggy and very muddy. This part of the Wild Yorkshire Way walk, mostly along the Pennine Way, is already challenging – it is over 3,500ft climb over the 22.5 miles, with constant climbing up and descending throughout the day – but add to it the feet working harder on soggy, soft, slippery ground and the fact I was camping with a large hiking bag on my back – and it was a proper workout!

In Hebden Bridge, one first follows the Rochdale Canal to the west to connect with the Pennine Way. These first 2 miles are in the valley and essentially flat. However, the second the route connected to the Pennine Way, sharp to the north, the first steep ascent begins. It pays to turn back to look at Stoodley Pike on the other side of the valley; on the day of my walk, it was shrouded in mystic clouds.

There is some zigzagging on the way up towards Winter Lane, which is about half way to the top of the first ascent, a hard 1-mile of constant work, between 10% and 20% inclination. Just before Winter Lane, there was this I’ll-call-it-waterfall, which shows how much rain had fallen just an hour before. Many streams I passed were raging torrents on that day.

There is a short walk along Winter Lane, but soon the path took me further north, and further up, towards Badger Lane, along green fields, with Stoodley Pike still visible, commanding the area, further and further away behind me.

In front of me, your classic British view of green fields came into view.

Once you’ve gone up, sooner or later you need to walk down – Colden Water is soon crossed before the path climbs up again, now towards Smithy Lane, Edge Lane and then eventually (steeply) towards Heptonstall Moor.

The last photo above is the last look south towards Hebden Bridge – you can still make out Stoodley Pike on the horizon there. Now it’s north-west across the moor to Lower Gorple Reservoir. There are stone slabs in most places leading the walker across the moor, but following the heavy rain earlier, some were submerged and it took some ingenuity to avoid the worst of the bog! No matter! The vistas around the walker are truly wonderful here.

Lower Gorple Reservoir

On the approach to the reservoir, the narrow path, sometimes paved, sometimes just grassy, reaches a wider road and the route turns directly north. The reservoir’s water looked delightfully dark-blue owing to the superb light effects – clouds in the sky letting just enough sun creating spectacular light effects during the day.

A minute’s walk down the wide road and one soon leave its comfort for another path towards a stream (the name of which I can’t find). A small wooden bridge allows the walker to cross to the other (northern) side and for just a few minutes the route leads inside the ravine you can see in the photos below.

Soon, the walker climbs to the top though and five minutes later (it’s now 7 miles in) Widdop Road is reached. Barely any cars here, and after 5 minutes’ walk north, at crossroads, there is a sharp turn east – and this road leads to Walshaw Dean Lower Reservoir – lots of reservoirs here!

It’s only 1 mile to the reservoir with beautiful open wild moorland and grassland spaces all around. The sun pushed through the clouds at that point for me – just enchanting.

There are three Walshaw Dean reservoirs here: Lower, Middle and Higher. My route, and the Pennine Way, skirts the first two of them. I always marvel at how natural-looking the areas around British reservoirs tend to be – wild nature; these reservoirs are no different. The way leads to the eastern side of the reservoirs with a comfortable narrow path running alongside them. The photos below were taken around the first of the two – the lower reservoir.

There were some walkers around here – no wonder, the day was lovely and with a car, this is easily accessible. The middle reservoir was even prettier, I thought.

If you think that some of these moors that surround the reservoirs look a bit Heathcliff-like, you are right. Over the hill north of here, there is Top Withens, a ruined farmhouse thought to have been the inspiration for Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. That’s where I was heading next.

It’s a relatively short walk – and paved – over the hill, but it is nonetheless 400ft elevation, before Stanbury and settlements on the other side of the hill, and indeed Top Withens come into view.

Walshaw Dean Higher Reservoir
Walshaw Dean Middle (closer) and Lower (further) Reservoirs

Eventually, Top Withens and the landscape over the hill to the north comes into view – a view for many miles. The second and fourth photo below have Top Withens in it (the third was taken from in front of it) – I attempted to show the surroundings of the farmhouse, which make this location a popular spot. In the fourth photo the farmhouse is shot from a considerable distance, but it’s there! This is one of my top 10 favourite hiking spots in England. It has the remote feeling, it’s harsh moorland environment with incredible vistas (practically 360-degrees). And it’s link to literature seems to only add to it.

Once you have passed Top Withens, it’s climbing down to yet another reservoir, Ponden Reservoir down below, to the west of Stanbury. To get there, the route leads first east, then turns to the north when it’s a very steep path down (on a muddy day like that, it was slower going down than up!)

Upon reaching Ponden Reservoir, the route leads west and then north, essentially going around the reservoir, before going further west, leaving it behind. There are some beautiful views of the waters of the reservoir from the path above it.

As you can see in the photo above, this reservoir is larger and oblong, so you need to walk for at least 1 mile to walk around it; when you do, you will cross a busy Scar Top Road to the north, beginning a 2-mile and 600ft long climb to the top of Keighley Moor. Because of the soggy grass and muddy ground, this was a long slog and quite arduous. The first bit is past a number of farmhouses and some on quiet roads, then it’s the moorland.

Once on the wet and boggy top (one tries not to imagine what the experience would be like without the stone slabs!), the views of the sun-lit Dales to the north greeted me – a puzzling contrast between the wet, sodden heath and grass of the moorland I was walking across with the dazzling green hills and mountains on the horizon.

The path – a combination of rocky and muddy, now descends towards Dean Hole Clough and Lumb Farm, with beautiful views of the green valley down below. The interplay of October sunlight, the shades provided by the clouds and the autumn colours of the grass and the leaves – a delightful spectacle.

Upon reaching Ickornshaw, a village to the north just now, I had walked for 18 miles. The constant changes of elevations – up and down, up and down, up and down! – and my large hiking bag, were beginning to feel heavier on me, but there were only 4 miles or so left now. I pressed on further north, now through decidedly rural, grassy, sheepful areas. I met a lovely elderly lady living in a farm house here and spent 20 minutes chatting to her about completely random things ranging from sheep to addiction to mobile phones. This was in this area:

A little further north, there is Cowling Hill Lane; the walker crosses it onto Grandage Lane which leads down hill – a welcome respite for a weary walker such as moi!

Can you spot the enormous rainbow here?

In order to reach my camping site in Cononley, I needed to walk to walk the last 2 miles on the day away from the Pennine Way. Previously, I tried to find some place, campsite or not, to sleep in Lothersdale, which is on the Pennine Way about 1 mile further north, but there was nothing available there.

So it was now mostly downhill first along Grandage Lane and down past a small woodland, across a beck and a series of fields to Standsfield Brow, north-east. The sun was now setting, but it cleared up more a bit, making it for incredible sunset views of the hills to the south (where I’d just walked down from).

From Stansfield Brow, it is about 1.5 miles on quiet roads in the north-eastern direction to Cononley, where my campsite was. This was a very quick and rapid walk down to the village. As I was entering the village, it rained for about 5 minutes, pretty much the only rain I experienced over the weekend.

I was tired and in need of some drink and food, but definitely ready for more adventure on the following day!

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