After another disastrous encounter with the crazy limited access junctions and lack of signs on the A56, we arrived at our next top. I was worried about the parking for this one, but there is plenty of space on the side of the road from Cowpe up to Boarsgreave. We hopped out of the cars and headed up the road, with Justin and I wincing slightly from the blisters we’d accrued on the previous top.
Boarsgreave is a bit of a classic northern village. It’s dominated by a giant factory (in the process of being redeveloped) and its wrought-iron gates, with little workers houses scattered around it (and some very nice looking modern terraces, blended in rather skillfully – well done the developers). It’s frowned over by the towering semi-circular escarpment at the head of a deep valley. Tucked within this corrie-like enclosure is Cowpe reservoir, and one wonders why a village with such a spectacular setting is not more touristed. There was not a sign of any non-locals as we followed the winding road up through the eastern side of the village.
Passing into Upper Boarsgreave, it felt like we were walking along a private drive. We checked with a friendly local, who confirmed that we were indeed going in the right direction and that the path hit the open hillside after passing through the “tip” ahead. The “tip” turned out to be the back yard of one of those individuals who specialises in collecting giant rusting chunks of machinery. It felt so private that without the assurance of the local, we would undoubtedly have turned back and sought another route. Soon, however, we found ourselves following a boggy footpath around the hillside, revealing good views of Cowpe Reservoir, cuddled by the steep escarpment. There were also impressive views northward along the Cowpe valley and beyond.
The path now veered up to the top of this escarpment on a surprisingly gentle ascent, and ended at a drystone wall. Someone in the past had clearly been unhappy about this, and had partially demolished the wall to provide a way through. We stepped over, taking care not to dislodge any more stones, and joined a broad track which would take us around the head of the "corrie". This offered views into another tiny reservoir high up on the corrie walls, which was nearly empty – clearly it wasn’t just the south-east that had seen an exceptionally dry month.
The track joined the Rossendale Way footpath, and wound through a series of rather stunning quarry workings, with high banks and cuttings all around. A burnt out car in the midst of this provided a stark contrast between the industrious quarrymen of yesteryear, and the selfish, brainless prats that who are unfortunately becoming increasingly common (in two senses of the word) nowadays.
Three local 4x4’s (which looked like they had been tested to their limits and had never seen a school run in their lives) seemed to be having a great time racing over the intricate bumps and mounds of the quarry – it looked great funa and I wanted a go. Unfortunately they also seemed to have had a bit of a go at the summit peat bog at exactly the point we needed to turn off. It was with great care that we picked our way through the deep, muddy tyre gouges and headed off into Cowpe Moss, the peat bog that covers the vast, flat summit plateau of Hail Storm Hill.
Cowpe Moss seems to be a bit notorious on the web for being impassable, and for covering those who attempt it in mud up to their elbows. Once again the dry April came to our aid, and we were able to stroll across the Moss quite easily with only a few detours to avoid the wetter sections.
The county top we were aiming for wasn’t actually the high point of the hill – the boundary of Rochdale Unitary Authority ran across the far side of the Moss a little below the high point. On reaching it, we were surprised to see that a new track had been carved across the Moss, and there were several large construction vehicles parked haphazardly a few hundred yards away. We decided the high point was on the dirt bank beside this new track.
The high point of the hill was a marilyn. We headed back that way, but the grid reference quoted by other baggers didn’t seem to be significantly higher than much of the surrounding bog, and we quickly headed back to rejoin the Rossendale Way.
We decided to complete the circumnavigation of the corrie, and return to Boarsgreave from the west side. The Rossendale Way continued to provide fine, airy walking until eventually we turned off on a footpath that weaved round some more quarry workings and appeared to descend down towards the village. And then it vanished. We continued to head in the same general direction – most of the drystone walls here had either been removed or had fallen down – but never picked the path up again. With a 1:25,000 scale map we could probably have worked out the field boundaries and which fields we needed to descend through to reach the paths out into the village at the bottom. However, we had only a 1:50,000 scale map printed from Streetmap, and didn’t therefore have a Scooby of the right descent and we afraid of ending up in someone’s back garden. We decided given that there was nothing stopping us, we decided to head horizontally along the hillside as we would soon pick up one of the two or three other paths that were meant to descend into the village.
As it turned out, these paths had vanished too. We continued, pathless, across numerous small fields partially bounded in decaying drystone walls, giving a wide berth to bulls and to a tiny but surprisingly deep side valley carrying a pipeline and stream down the hill. We didn’t find a descent route until the track zig-zagging down to the bottom end of Cowpe, on which we overtook a number of horses. The walk back up the road through Cowpe did at least give Jus and Cat the chance to use the pub loo. Back at the cars we settled down for a welcome lunch, and (in the case of Jim and I) an even more welcome flask of tea.