Sunday, 4 October 2015

Higher Shelf Stones & Bleaklow

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Route: Doctor's Gate, Old Woman, Devil's Dyke, Hern Clough, Over Exposed Crash Site, Higher Shelf Stones, Hern Stones, Wain Stones, Bleaklow Head, Far Moss, Wildboar Grain, Torside Castle, Glossop Low, Cock Hill, Blakemoor Plantation, Moorside

Date: 04/10/2015
From: Old Glossop

Parking: Shepley Street
Start Point: Doctor's Gate
Region: Peak District Dark Peak

Route length: 10.5 miles (16.9 km)
Time taken: 04:27
Average speed: 2.4 mph
Ascent: 551m
Descent: 572m

Summits: Higher Shelf Stones (621m), Bleaklow Head (633m)

Other points of interest: Doctor's Gate, B-29 crash site, Torside Castle

Bleaklow's reputation seems to precede it; the clue is all in the name. Read any route description and you'll see fearsome reports of bogs and wilderness and general tales of foreboding. This, however, generally acts and encouragement to one like myself and, having recently got to grips with Kinder Scout, it was the turn of its marginally shorter neighbour.

I should probably point out at the start, we had a fine day weather-wise with clear blue skies for the majority of the day; something of a rarity around these parts. A grey murky day may have been an entirely different proposition.

Our chosen circuit started in Old Glossop, a small village on the edge of the Peak District and, as the name suggests, the original heart of the current town of Glossop. There is ample unrestricted parking along Shepley Street, adjacent to a large factory. The end of Shepley Street also marks the beginning of Doctor's Gate, the route up Shelf Brook to the summit of the Snake Pass some two and half miles away.
At the foot of Doctor's Gate - Bleaklow is ahead on the horizon
Coldharbour Moor
The route is clear and easy to follow to Old Woman
Why Doctor's Gate? A local legend suggests that the name comes from a local doctor who was under the power of the Devil. To get his freedom he had to race against the Devil on horseback and win. The doctor lost the race because the Devil used black magic, though the doctor discovered he was free from the Devil's powers as long as he stayed on the other side of the river
The valley of Shelf Brook
In the depths of Shelf Brook - Higher Shelf Stones appears on the horizon
Is Doctor' Gate a Roman Road? Apparently not, despite what many websites will tell you. It was originally thought that Doctor's Gate linked the Roman fort at Melandra to Brough however, upon inspection the valley would appear too narrow and too vulnerable from being attacked from above to accommodate a Roman legion marching 4 - 6 men wide. It is now know that the Roman route travelled much further south. It is likely that Doctor's Gate is little more than a packhorse route across the moorland.
Low Shelf Stones
White Clough
Climbing higher - looking across the Higher Shelf Stones
The view down Doctor's Gate
We marched along Doctor's Gate (excuse the pun) which rises slowly into an ever changing landscape that feels wilder and more remote the further you venture in, despite being less than 1km from the A57. The path is a joy to follow and presents little difficulty; something that might not be expected of Bleaklow. Higher Shelf Stones looms overhead for much of the climb.
All is well, despite my expression and grasp on the GPS
Upon reaching the summit of the A57 Snake Pass, the route joins the Pennine Way which follows the Devil's Dike (perhaps also named of the aforementioned legend?) up onto Bleaklow. Again, it's a very steady climb, slowly gaining elevation as you follow the route of the Pennine Way. We were lucky that it had been considerably dry in the preceding week so there were no bogs to trouble us.
A beam on sunshine over the Snake Pass
Bleaklow marker post
The Pennine Way stretches ahead
Looking back along Devil's Dike
Hern Clough
Close to Hern's Clough, a small path leaves the Pennine Way and makes its way towards Higher Shelf Stones, one of the high points of Bleaklow. While Higher Shelf Stones is a worthwhile place to visit in its own right, it was the wreckage of a WW2-era bomber that had captured my attention.
Leaving the Pennine Way
Layers of moorland
The first of a vast area of wreckage
Strewn across an unexpectedly large expanse of the hillside is the wreck of an American B-29 bomber, the famed aircraft that delivered the decisive blow against the Japanese at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This particular aircraft had a role to play during the American development of 'the bomb' as it was converted into a camera ship to film the effects of testing at Bikini Atoll. This led to its equivocal name 'Over Exposed'.
Wreckage of  'Over Exposed'
Wreckage of 'Over Exposed'
A small, ad-hoc memorial in the centre of the wreckage
The circumstances of the aircraft's demise follow a depressingly similar pattern that can be shared among numerous wrecks in the Peak District; a combination of poor weather and navigational error proving fatal to the 13 crew on board. A vast amount of wreckage remains strewn across the moor including large discernible pieces such as the nose wheel, wing spars and all four engines. It's a quietly moving place with a small memorial dedicated to the crew.
One of the four huge engines
Two more engines and the memorial stone
Engraving on the memorial stone
The full wreckage site
After wandering around the site for a bit we made our way over to the Higher Shelf Stones trig pillar which stands a short distance up the hill to the west. The location commands a grand view of Doctor's Gate, a worthy place for a quick bite to eat in the sunshine.
The summit of Higher Shelf Stones is a short distance from the crash site
The view to Lower Shelf Stones
Higher Shelf Stones' summit
High Shelf Stones
We returned to the Pennine Way via the modestly sized Hern Stones and followed it to Bleaklow Head - the highest part of the moorland (supposedly). I'm reliably informed that the actual summit is close to Wain Stones where any one of the peaty mounds could claim the crown. There was only one thing for it - a good poke around.
Hern Stones
Back on the Pennine Way
The stones at Wain Stones
It is believed that the summit is in here somewhere
A cairn can be found close by
The large cairn at Bleaklow Head
Satisfied we had indeed found the top, we returned to Bleaklow Head via the massive cairn to continue along the Pennine Way which descends into the depths of Wildboar Grain, a stream that drains Bleaklow's north western slopes and feeds Torside Reservoir. After crossing said stream, we left the Pennine Way, heading cross-country towards Torside Castle while utilising a path obviously used by the local huntsmen. Glossop Low (the hill we were aiming for) must be a popular location for grouse shooting given the number of butts that are lined up on the hillside, including one called 'The Pulpit' a veritable fortress of stone overlooking Wildboar Grain. The odds are most definitely stacked up against Mr. grouse.
The Pennine Way alongside Wildboar Grain
Wildboar Grain
Wildboar Grain
Wildboar Grain and The Pulpit
Our route to Glossop Low took us past Torside Castle, an impressive mound on the slopes of Harrop Moss. It was once thought that this was an ancient castle (hence the name) but, subsequent studies have now deemed it to be no more than a natural feature. It is an isolated site with no apparent strategic importance.
Torside Castle
Glorious open moorland
We had another short stop atop Glossop Low, in amongst the remains of a pair of buildings, old shooting huts perhaps? Away to the south west is Cock Hill (snigger) and its elaborately painted trig pillar. Cock Hill is home to a rather large (though now disused) quarry and the unnatural undulations are a result of this turbulent history. While totally man-made, they are impressive and form the centrepiece of some nice photos.
Bricks-cum-cairn on Glossop Low
The view across to Bleaklow Head
A curious feature - perhaps an old shooting butt?
Grouse butts on Glossop Low
Trig pillar on Cock Hill
Old quarry spoil
The overgrown quarry road
The view east towards Bleaklow
Cock Hill
A walled lane leads down past the precise edges of the Blakemore Plantation in a straight line back towards the factories of Shepley Street and the car. Bleaklow wasn't half as bleak as I was expecting (though we did have a fine day to explore it) and I wouldn't hesitate to return. A part of me wants to experience it on a miserable day to see what its true colours are and, coming in to winter, I don't think that will be too far away.