A look at the West Pennine Moors by author Terry Marsh (with audio)
PUBLISHED: 09:25 06 January 2011 | UPDATED: 13:07 08 February 2013
Writer and photographer Terry Marsh takes us on a very grand tour of Lancashire's very own wilderness
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Generations of Lancashire folk have used the West Pennine Moors as a place of recreation. They contain 90 square miles of reedy moorland and water-gathering grounds between the towns of Chorley, Bolton, Horwich, Ramsbottom, Haslingden, Oswaldtwistle and Darwen.
This amorphous, breezy upland is dissected by wooded cloughs and pinned in place by skyline features like the Winter Hill radio mast, nearby Rivington Pike, the Peel Monument on Holcombe Moor, and Jubilee Tower on Darwen Moor, and a highly valued and a much-appreciated constituency for recreation. This is gritstone country, and the landscape is dark and sombre as a result. And there is a clue, too, in its use as a water catchment area; in all but the driest of climatic periods, it is wet, boggy and invariably muddy, attributes that might lead you to suppose that it is unappealing and unattractive.
Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a beautiful, semi-primeval landscape, a moorland theatre of vaunted appeal and attraction, and a superb setting for those with interests in flora, fauna, biology. These often bleak, always energising, moors are also a rich and varied playground for the walker, giving pleasure throughout the year.
Rising to a peak on Winter Hill (456m/1496ft), the moorland is predominantly upland, with myriad well-trodden paths and areas of historical and geological significance. Although large sections became freely accessible under the right-to-roam legislation, much of the terrain is marshy and difficult walking, and the footpaths - of which there are a many - remain the most convenient means of access.
The moorland falls into fairly well-defined blocks at Withnell, Anglezarke and Rivington; Darwen and Turton, and Oswaldtwistle and Holcombe, where the prevalent land use is sheep farming. Unlike other moorland in the north of England, the West Pennine Moors are not managed for grouse shooting (not for want of trying), and are characterised by rough grassland and peat bog.
Providing useful habitats for wildlife, the Moors are networked by wooded valleys and cloughs, the largest being the Roddlesworth valley, near Tockholes. Although there are a few small coniferous plantations, particularly around the reservoirs, the overall woodland cover is nominal, and it is a fine sense of openness that dominates here, and this, coupled with the intricate network of footpaths, makes the area an ideal place to begin a lifetime of recreational walking.
The main valleys are consumed by reservoirs constructed in the mid-late 19th century. Evidence of this Victorian landscape is found in the form of mixed woodlands, architecture and dressed stone walls. The valleys are heavily rural in character with large areas of grazing land and broad-leaved woodland and plantations that enable the valleys to absorb high numbers of visitors without feeling overcrowded.
Ornithologically, all of the reservoirs, especially Jumbles, Wayoh, Delph, Belmont and Rivington, are important to wintering wildfowl. The woodlands and plantations are valuable for breeding birds including woodcock, redstart and pied flycatcher. Up on the moors you find snipe, curlew, kestrel, buzzard and an occasional sparrowhawk searching for lunch.
Evidence of pre-industrial use is exposed in field patterns on the lower valley sides, abandoned farmsteads and attractive buildings like the medieval manor house at Turton. However, the construction of the reservoirs and mining has destroyed many early remains, but evidence of later settlement is widespread. For example, near Anglezarke there are remnants of 18th-century lead mines.
The reservoirs represent major feats of engineering and construction, and are of huge historical significance. Gothic-style valve towers and crenellated stone walls with decorative reliefsare a wonderful component of our architectural heritage.
Rivington is a wide, shallow valley largely water-filled and with three reservoirs - Anglezarke, Upper and Lower Rivington, and Yarrow - built by Liverpool Corporation in the mid 19th century.
Much of the charm of the lower part of the valley owes its influence to Lord Leverhulme, who had his home at Rivington Hall. His keen interest in architecture and landscape design permeates the valley in the form of long, tree-lined avenues, a network of footpaths, the Rivington Terraced Gardens and a replica of the ruins of Liverpool Castle on the banks of Lower Rivington Reservoir.
Turton and Jumbles, to the north of Bolton, contains a line of three smaller reservoirs surrounded by extensive conifer plantations. Originally, the valleys fed Bradshaw Brook, a focal point of industrial activity based on textiles. Entwistle was the first in the 1830s, one of the first in the country of such size, followed by Wayoh in the 1860s, and Jumbles in 1971.
The reservoirs are now a focus for recreation and nature conservation, with walking, fishing and other leisure pursuits located at Entwistle and Wayoh, and the County Park centred around Jumbles Reservoir.
Haslingden Grane is a remote valley to the west of the town of Haslingden. This was once a well-populated valley with farmers, quarry workers and a number of mills. The entire valley was depopulated when the reservoirs were constructed.
Today, the scattered abandoned farmsteads, ruined cottages and pastures and packhorse tracks are remnants of the pre-reservoir landscape. The Grane valley, flanked by rather steeper sides than the other valleys, is especially engaging and increasingly being used for informal recreation.
The Belmont, Delph, Springs, Dingle and Wards Reservoirs are sited in an incised valley high above Bolton. Despite the presence of settlements like Belmont, this is a quiet valley with few recreational opportunities compared to the other valleys.
There are numerous public footpaths, many linked to form the Witton Weavers Way, a 32-mile walking trail of discovery around the moors. This valley is more rural than the others; ancient woodland still clings to the steep cloughs which have not been dammed. These also contain important wetland habitats. Belmont, incidentally, is one of the earliest recorded settlements in this area, dating from the early part of the 13th century (recorded in 1212), and later found itself situated along the turnpike road linking Bolton and Preston.
The beauty of the West Pennine Moors is their accessibility and there are few, if any, other places in Britain that provides such a wealth of walking potential for so many, so easily, and with such aplomb. Make the most of it.