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We picked a good day for it. It was warm and, although it was cloudy, the cloud was high. The path follows the left side of a valley, running through bracken over undulating ground until it rises up a steep-ish, rounded ridge. We stopped half way up it to eat. From where we sat we had a great across the valley to the other two "big hills" at the start of the Pennine Way: Bleaklow and, just peeping over the top of it, Kinder Scout.
At the top of the ridge the path turned right and ran along the top of Laddow Rocks (see picture - you can just see the Pennine Way path on the left hand side). After that, I must say the route has a bit of an "are we nearly there yet?" feel to it - surely it's not such a long way to the summit of Black Hill?
It is. The fact that Black Hill is the least high of the three aforementioned hills doesn't mean it's any more compact - like the others, it's made up of a sprawling system of valleys and ridges. One of the great attractions of the area, to me, is the way what appears from a distance to be a fairly obvious lump of land turns out, on closer inspection, to conceal all sorts of nooks and crannies. Streams disappear round corners into steep-sided valleys that you only find when you go exploring. What looks like a straightforward green hilltop turns out to be a patchwork of stream beds, peat groughs and pools. What looks like one hill is in fact a whole range of hills and valleys.
Another great attraction for me is the area's associations. I don't know why, as the early photos are black and white, but something about the heather in flower, the deep greens and reds of the rowan trees, the bracken, and the dark grey gritstone outcrops sets me thinking of the people who came here walking and climbing in the mid-twentieth century. People still walk and climb there, but it was all new to them then. Rambling was a new idea (and sometimes illegal), and the land they rambled over, undiscovered country. The hill would seem bigger, the valleys more mysterious. They were not recreating others' well-documented adventures, or following green dotted lines on Outdoor Leisure maps. They were discovering routes through the hills or climbing and naming routes on the crags they came across. And I have a real soft spot for the names climbers give their climbs. They have a poetry of their own and often say a lot about the lives and times of those who think them up. They are a way for their inventors to stake a claim on the landscape - one (and this is part of the attraction, I think) that a casual passer by would be totally oblivious to. These are just a few of the routes you can climb on Laddow Rocks, for example: Easter Bunny, The Tea Drinking Tabby, Gardener's Question Time, The Pongo Finish, Tuppence Ha'penny (an old one, I suspect), Surfing with the Aliens (a newer one). (If you find this interesting, check out the full list).
We finally made it to the high, distant point in the photo: the summit of Black Hill - the oddly named "Soldier's Lump". Off to the right is the pretty unsightly but necessary (if you think television is necessary) Holme Moss TV mast which stand at the other end of the summit plateau. It had taken us about two and a half hours to get there, so we stopped for a second time and admired the spectacular view you get from there of the sprawling cities of West Yorkshire. We then headed off along the old Pennine Way path towards Saddleworth Moor. This involved descending a different side of the hill. The path was more interesting: no stiles, no paving slabs over the muddy bits. You were on your own, with nothing but footprints and the occasional small cairn to help you. Far more fun. We finally reached a point where our route was blocked by a network of substantial streams that had carved their way across the moor. You couldn't see much of the water: there were reeds all over and the surface was covered with a substantial mat of bright green vegetation. But it wouldn't hold a person's weight: step on it and it bounced. Put your weight on it and you you sank. We explored, looking for an easy place to cross: we finally found one. However, it took a while and, once on the other side, we realised time was getting on. We hadn't intended to go much further anyway, so we decided to set off back.
We simply reversed our route (as we had always intended), but we didn't linger much on that return trip. The distant clouds looked a bit darker than the ones over our heads so we weren't sure what we'd be in for if we hung around. We got a good pace going back up to the summit. Every now and again you could feel a spot of water on your face. By the time we got back to Laddow Rocks, the odd spot was a sprinkling. By the time we were back down to the foot of the rounded ridge, steady rain was falling. We arrived back at the car seven hours after we'd set out.
We had both enjoyed ourselves. My only regret was that I didn't discover Black Hill years ago. In the past I'd always driven past it to the more alluring world of Kinder Scout and, sometimes, Bleaklow. But although Kinder has a magic few English hills can rival, and Bleaklow is, well, bleaker than most, Black Hill has a charm all of it's own which makes it well worth walking over.