What to do…

The weather may have caused plenty of disruption last week, but the duricrust of windblown snow gave the hills of Saddleworth mountain-like qualities on Saturday.

The slopes glistened in the winter sun and folk were out… sledging, skiing, horse riding and, of course, walking. Indeed, I saw one chap trudging through the streets to Dove Stones reservoir decked out in winter gear and armed with two, yes two, ice axes.

Despite these wonderful conditions, I needed to test my back on the bike and got 40 miles in on thankfully clear roads.

High up on the pass to Holmfirth, the hummocky peat had been covered with a meringue of fluted snow ridges – like mini, white barchan dunes.

It was beautiful, and although I didn’t have a camera with me to do the vista justice (just a poxy phone), the experience was sufficiently vivid.

Blue Monday

Frustration reigned on Monday. The sun was a blazing orb, the sky clear, and I was working.

The view from my officeThe view from my office mocked me.I watched a solitary walking stride purposefully across the hill. Perhaps he’s retired, with no worries of mortgages, credit crunches and negative equity plaguing his day-to-day.

He could have been having a ‘mental health day’ – a restorative bunk off work when the weather is so divine that a day stuck in a stuffy office is a waste when there are hills to climb, beaches to comb, cricket matches to watch, fish to be caught.

Try, as I might, to justify the skive, I was not be able to join him that day. I had documents to wade through and interviews to prepare for.

To rub salt into the wound, the post arrived and among the humdrum brown envelopes was a catalogue for an outdoor retailer and the summer issue of Backpack magazine, the quarterly journal of the Backpacker’s Club.

I leafed through it and it got me thinking about where I could, or should, be.

I ploughed on through the day and spent the evening watching the sun retreat behind the breast of my hill.

Tuesday dawned dull and I went to London . I climbed aboard a connecting train and noted its nameplate with a smile: Benny RothmanThe Manchester Rambler.

A walk ‘round the block

The great frustration for anyone who likes to be outside, and unfortunately works indoors, is finding ways of maximising time in the open.
Upper Swineshaw Reservoir
Depending on what you require from your outdoor recreation, most places that satisfy an appetite for wildness or tranquillity are generally found in the lesser-populated areas of the country, which, in turn, tend to be less accessible.

You can move, of course. The more determined or lucky ones among us will have upped-sticks to the sticks and headed north of the border.

Other enterprising souls will have founded training consultancies and opened teashops in the verdant valleys of Lakeland… and still have no time to hit the fells. For the rest of us, we can find some outlet in our backyards.

I fall into the latter category. Having settled in the North West, I have the rough and tumble of the South Pennines on my doorstep.

Tameside, to the east of Manchester, has more than its fair share of urban grime, but it also has hills and moors.One route I regularly follow is a circular around and over Harridge Pike. Walkerwood Reservoir catches the evening light

It starts amid the bridleways and litter of Stalybridge Country Park but soon leaves the detritus for higher ground. It’s a perfect evening escape, when the dog walkers have gone home and shell-suited teenagers have found somewhere else to get stoned.

On this early May evening, the sun was low but still warm and the Brushes Valley was quiet. Climbing through the park and passing Walkerwood Reservoir, the trout active in an evening ‘rise’ munching on aquatic insects, I followed the water company tarred track to rougher ground.

The higher I walked, the quieter the urban rumble became until it was almost imperceptible, save for the odd piercing police siren. Above, Airbus and Boeing angled a course into Manchester Airport interrupted the relative peace.
A 'D' drawn with pebbles in the path
Nevertheless, the melodic song of blackbird was dominant in the mixed woodland that fringes the track as it climbs the side of the valley. Breaks in the foliage offered views of the chain of reservoirs, which, looking back, caught the sunlight and made golden pools of light against the dark hills.

The contours separated and a relatively flat section took me into the moors and I saw heather, some of it regenerating after planned burn, and heard the cries of grouse and pheasant, reared for the gun.

The gold and green of landscape in evening light were then spoilt by the rusted, hulking mass of a National Grid pylon, which delivers power from the other side of the Pennines. A necessary evil.

Turning left at Higher Swineshaw Reservoir, it was time to head across the moor proper. This can be a wild excursion in bad weather, with the moors in an eerie cloak of mists. Today, the calm also had an enclosing effect.

Despite the far-reaching views, all the way to Bleaklow in the Dark Peak, up here the soundtrack appeared to have been sucked from the landscape. I stopped, sat down and savoured its completeness. The descent off Harridge Pike

I then came upon an odd ‘D’of pebbles in the track marking a junction of routes. I photographed it and wondered how long it would remain.

Beginning the descent, the views were spoilt somewhat by the ugly scar of Buckton Vale Quarry; but the evening light softened even its sheer excavated faces.

All too soon the roof of my home came into view as I reached Higher Hydegreen. A steep descent across a field full of horses and rabbits and I was nearly home.

An hour had passed since I’d left and the short escape has been rewarding – as always.