Top o’ Leach, Hailstorm Hill, Tottington Higher End Moor, Whittle Hill, Peel Monument, Bull Hill, Wayoh Reservoir. 13 miles.
Pretty much constantly as I walk there’s a tune playing in my head. Often it’s a well-known song that’s just beamed in there – I’ve had Ramones, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Shirley Bassey, ‘and many more‘ all cycling about this week. Sometimes it’ll be a more beloved thing from my past listening like a Hüsker Dü song or a bit of Mission of Burma or Amon Düül II. Then there’s the bastardised versions of popular songs: one such inexplicably constant companion is the first line of the Chris Rea song ‘Driving Home for Christmas’, but with the lyrics changed to: ‘Hydrochloric Acid… Is my favourite fuckin’ acid‘. Then there’s a whole bunch of things that I’ve just unwillingly made up – there’s about a whole musical’s worth of chorus-line, good-time, upbeat showtunes going on that are just INANE. Lastly, there’s the ones that relate to my current situation. So the other day when I was taking my first steps up Mount Famine having just added the contents of Stash 1 to my rucksack, feeling the extra weight, I had ‘Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, Baby give it up, Give it up BABY GIVE IT UP‘ looping loudly. This morning, awfully, but pertinently, I had Phil Collins’ ‘One more night… One more night‘ chiming on and on.
But despite that it was a great feeling having just one… further night before completing this adventure.
I could hear that work had begun at the quarry as I was setting off up the moor. The high-tufted grass was full of little dewy spider webs.
After a bit of a disheartening early navigational struggle I found the path to Top O’ Leach and made it to its gorgeous summit. Wonderful views towards Rossendale, down into Calderdale and over Rochdale’s other tops, plus some ruins and TWO trig points. One of them seemed older, an earlier format.
I strode on to the nearby top of Hail Storm Hill and then went up the gently rising moor to Tottington Higher End Moor. I was in one of the biggest windfarms in the UK and I was having a ball being amongst these machines. I dislike the reindustrialisation of the hills – the roads for the maintenance vehicles, the large rubblefields and the slicing-through of old paths; and I’m full of disdain and suspicion of their makers – the Peel Group: the massive organisation that will probably build the next planet after it’s crushed all of Earth’s local councils with unrefusable leverage. But I really adore these things. They’re modern in an almost nostalgic sense… something about them reminds me of early ’80s kids’ sci-fi imagery. And the size of them, the sound of them and the giant swoop of the blades – despite all the reservations about why they’re here what they do and who benefits, I still find something marvellous and hopeful about them.
I descend into a deep clough and then drag myself up to the top of Whittle Hill. There’s a large cross sprouting from a cairn at the top. I joke in my head about it being a ‘response’ to the windmills – but then read the plaque at the top and discover it was a tribute to yet another victim of a plane crash – another one who came down on the hills. Apparently before a certain point people weren’t aware that wind speeds varied with altitude, and so pilots navigating in poor conditions would often calculate that they’d cleared higher ground and descend fatally early.
A long stroll down from the hills takes me into Ramsbottom, where I’ve scheduled a stop for an hour or two to recharge my phone so I can make sure I can let Rachel know when and where to pick me up from tomorrow. In the sunny high-street I’m conscious again of looking a bit untoward. I’m also noticing that people smell really nice. It’s reminding me of Mr Hanky from South Park – ‘You smell an awful lot like flowers‘ – which makes me worry about what scents I’m exuding. I hesitate on the threshold of Lola’s Vegan Restaurant, but I’m welcomed in and shown to a seat with a plug socket and given a glass of water unprompted because I ‘look thirsty’. I spend a great couple of hours in there getting percents back on my phone, eating a vegan Philly ‘Steak n Cheese’ baguette and a sipping a couple of ‘Big Ginge’ mocktails.
I have to drag myself away and uphill, past the last of Ramsbottom’s houses, steeply up a path in a patch of woodland and then out over a fast-moving b-road to the base of Holcombe moor, upon which Peel Monument stands. I get to the monument, get my pictures of Manchester and look across the hazy outline of the horizon to where I started out from. It looks a daftly long way off – I can’t really take in that I’ve walked from there.
And the pinned slope of Winter Hill, that I’ve watched growing and sliding leftwards this whole time still seems a heckuva distance away.
I slog up a long, muddy path adjacent to a military live firing zone and make my way over Bull Hill’s seemingly endless sloping top to its summit. I’m feeling seriously fatigued now but I’m pleased that this will have been the last significant climb of the day and everything will be downhill now to the reservoir where I’ll camp. Until a check of my compass lets me know that it isn’t, and to get to Wayoh I need to haul myself over this nothingy slab of moor to the southwest – ordinarily not so much of a task, but right now it’s a painful realisation. I whimper and set off down Bull Hill and up the nowhere slope. It’s boggy, lumpy and the path is tricky to pick up. What’s more, today seems to be the day that the ants get their wings – it must be a joyous occasion for them, but it’s making me curse their maker because every time I stop for a breather or to check my map I get covered in them. They particularly like to get in my ears.
I eventually get over the crest of the hell-slope and begin the real descent – into the fringes of Bolton – past a building which, from the smell, I can only take to be some kind of cat-sick processing plant. I move through farms and down into an area of a type I mentally christen ‘farmers and footballers’. It’s a picturesque country village, but most of the buildings are pretty new and many are still under construction. Many of the older buildings are converted into modern minimansions. A terrace or two of what must’ve been the ‘original’ community remains, but seems dominated now by the millionaire, (or thereabouts) bracket property that’s sprung up. It sets me on edge. I’m hoping to find somewhere to camp around here and I’m sensing something about the place that I find hostile. Joggers, dog walkers pass me and to my default ‘Hiya’ I get strained responses. It’s different than the friendly but oddly office-y greetings you get in the Peak District and miles away from the ‘How do’ that’s popped up a couple of times since Warland.
I make it down to the reservoir as the light starts to give up and start worriedly looking for somewhere to camp. I’m tired and paranoid – there are ‘No Camping’ signs up on all the paths around the reservoir and my mind’s not able to keep in proportion what the consequences of me being caught doing it would be.
I get a little higher up a road away from the reservoir, past more farmer/footballer type homes, and cut down a path into the surrounding woods. I go pretty deep in and find a big enough gap between the pine trees to set my tent up on the needle-y mulch. The paranoia grows – there’s dogs barking seemingly everywhere and I hear shouting voices. I decide I’m not going to cook tonight, or even turn on my lamp. I’m just going to make a quick Spam wrap, shove it down with some water, and then try and sleep.
That takes a long time to do because my anxiety about being where I am gets to play freely now I’ve nothing else to think about. I keep imagining being discovered by a parade of torch-bearing farmers and footballers, protecting their countryside from villains who’d try to steal comfort in it – like I was in a countryside version of Scorsese’s After Hours.
Eventually this died away and I just lay there listening to the trees creak and the owls scream.