Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Bleaklow

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Route: Snake Pass, Old Woman, Devil's Dike, Alport Low, Higher Shelf Stones, B-29 Crash Site, Hern Stones, Wain Stones, Bleaklow Head, Far Moss, Wildboar Grain, Clough Edge, Reaps Bent, Reaps, Torside Bridge

Date: 20/03/2016
From: Snake Pass

Parking: Layby on Snake Pass / Torside
Start Point: Snake Pass
Region: Peak District Dark Peak

Route length: 7.1 miles (11.4 km)
Time taken: 03:37
Average speed: 2.0 mph
Ascent: 288m
Descent: 595m

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

Other points of interest: 'Over Exposed' crash site

The high peat moorland of Bleaklow forms an immense, featureless area of the northern peak district. Characterised by imperceptible elevation changes, Bleaklow can be one of the most navigationally challenging places in the Peak District -  or even England for that matter. Fortunately for us, we had the weather on our side and we'd be walking the well defined Pennine Way from the Snake Pass to Torside, a great one-way route taking in Higher Shelf Stones, Bleaklow Head and the impressive Torside Clough.

We left a car in the Torside car park, beneath Long Gutter Edge, before taking another round to the summit of the Snake Pass, a somewhat beneficial starting point at over 500m elevation. There is pace either side of the road but successive visitors have eroded the ground, putting car undersides at risk as you leave the road, as I found out last time I was here.
Bleaklow from the Snake Pass summit
As I mentioned, the Pennine Way crosses the summit of the Snake Pass, shortly after its trip from Edale over Kinder Scout. From the Snake Pass it follows Devil's Dike, an ancient boundary ditch, to Alport Low where we left the Pennine Way to strike out across open moorland, aiming for the trig pillar at Higher Shelf Stones.
Pointing the way...
Heading towards Old Woman
The Bleaklow finger post
Devil's Dike
It was turning into a warm, fine day, despite the gloomy forecast we'd been led to believe. In spite of this, there were still patches of snow lying around, some concealing the notorious, peaty bogs that Bleaklow (and the Dark Peak generally) is renowned for.
Looking over Alport low to Higher Shelf Stones
Some early Spring snow
We reached Higher Shelf Stones unscathed and took a moment to admire the views down into Doctor's Gate and beyond towards Manchester. 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.
High Shelf Stones
Trig pillar at Higher Shelf Stones
High Shelf Stones
Doctor's Gate, Lower Shelf Stones and the summit trig pillar
While Higher Shelf Stones is a worthwhile place to visit in its own right, it was the wreckage of a WW2-era bomber that drew us to this location. 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'.
One of the engines
An engine and the memorial
Undercarriage and wing spar
A small memorial amongst 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.
Further wreckage
The full crash site
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.
Open moorland on Bleaklow
Wain Stones
The summit is around here somewhere

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 followed the Pennine Way as to contours along the crest of the ridge of Clough Edge high above Torside Clough - a wonderful place if there every was one.
Bleaklow Head
The Pennine Way descends into Wildboar Grain
Wildboar Grain
The view down into Wildboar Grain from the Pennine Way
Wildboar Grain
Crags in Torside Clough
Torside Clough
Panorama from Clough Edge
Torside Reservoir with Black Hill beyond
The view back into Torside Clough
At Reaps Bent the path final begins to fall down into the valley below. At Torside Bridge we joined the Trans Pennine Trail and followed it to the Torside car park where we had left the car that morning, concluding a grand day out on Bleaklow. That's twice I've been lucky enough to experience the plateau in fine weather, it's a wonderful place. I'd quite like to head up in some more character-building weather to see the real character of the moor; it may only be then that I can really say I've experienced Bleaklow.
Black Hill
Long Gutter Edge looking north east