The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Sunday, 23 October 2011

To Top Withins

It was a last minute trip. As I got home at 5pm on Thursday I suggested that, as we needed to be in Halifax early the next morning, we should travel up that evening and make the most of the trip by spending Friday night on a hill somewhere. So as not to arrive on Ma-in-Law’s doorstep at an impolite hour at night that gave us 2.5 hours to cook and eat tea, wash up, pack our bags and plan a route.

Two and a half hours later we were on the road with a plan.

Halifax isn’t the obvious choice for starting a backpacking trip (I say that based on not recalling having read a single trip report that used the town as its starting point), and I can understand why. But, given that our business in the town was unlikely to see us free to set out until around noon, I thought that we would save the time and trouble of travelling anywhere by setting out from Ma-in-Law’s front door. With the benefit of hindsight I can report that to have been a good decision; it was an excellent trip on good and varied terrain!

Friday – From Illingworth to Withins Height
Distance: 14 miles (2700 feet of ascent)
Time: 1140 to 1755
Weather: overcast but mainly dry, with just the edge of a few drizzly showers threatening us

This area of West Yorkshire is notable for its steep-sided valleys. Having spent a whole fifteen minutes planning a route, I hadn’t paid much (or in fact, any) attention to the contour lines and even though I’d walked most of this route before as parts of various day-walks, I had overlooked the violence of the inclines. I’d also, perhaps, overlooked the fact that I’ve spent the last four months sitting down and thus that I boast very little fitness just now.

Here’s the profile of the route we took:

Those ups at 5.5 miles and 8 miles certainly attacked the valley-sides straight on. The one at 5.5 miles was so steep that steps had been installed, seemingly with the planners basing the step size on a walker with a 50-inch inside-leg measurement!

The route featured streams:

Interesting buildings (albeit with the sun in the wrong place for a photo):
Good views:
And, on our way to the trig point on High Brown Knoll, the view included Stoodley Pike in the distance:IMG_3343
The waterfalls at the head of Crimsworth Dean were a fine spectacle:
Perhaps, at this point, I should mention that I have now declared summer to be over. For the first time since spring, I was out in full Paramo, and as we reached Crimsworth Dean I was wearing gloves too. Apparently these chaps weren’t finding the weather quite as cool as I was:IMG_3347
As we met them again after they had jumped into the pool below, swum around a bit and had climbed back up to the path, they were asked how the water was. “Freezing!” came the response “But quite refreshing” the other added after a pause. They breed them hardy up north, you know!

By the time we joined the Pennine Way at Walshaw Dean Reservoirs, my body was feeling the effort and I was about ready to stop. Perhaps, given my complete lack of fitness, it would have been wise to take the walk at a slower pace and to have stopped occasionally. However, in my mind I can still walk 25 miles in a day without a problem – and, in any case, daylight was conspiring against us.

It looked like we were going to be caught by a heavy shower as we first left the Pennine Way to try to find a pitch for the night. Unfortunately, where we’d hoped to find a nice stream with a patch of flat grass alongside, we found a boggy wallow where I succeeded in losing one of the ferrules off my Pacerpole. I think that’s four that I’ve lost so far this year. I plunged my hands into the peat to try to retrieve it whilst Mick donned his waterproofs. I didn’t find the ferrule, but Mick’s donning of waterproofs did the trick and the rain skirted us.

Upwards we continued, even though we didn’t have enough water for the night and even though we weren’t optimistic of finding any up higher. Whilst kicking myself for not having stopped to collect some earlier, we cocked our heads at each indent in the ground that looked like it might be hiding running water, listening for a give-away tinkle. Finally, just before Top Withins, the magic sound was heard and after digging through the grasses I managed to find a hole down to the underground stream. Slowly, a mug at a time, our water bladders were filled with water that was peaty, but not as brown as expected.

What we didn’t know until Saturday morning was that if we had continued on for about 20 paces beyond Top Withins there was a perfectly clear and perfectly accessible stream…

We didn’t get that far, because when we got to Top Withins we set about finding a pitch and were pretty pleased with the one that we selected. Although very close to the Pennine Way it was completely out of sight of the path and whilst a tiny bit lumpy (fortunately, those NeoAirs are very forgiving), it was level, sheltered from the worst of the strong wind, and with a far-reaching view. By the flatness of the long grass, I suspect that we weren’t its first occupants this week.

With the darkness falling, we wasted no time in pitching Vera, making tea and settling down for the night as the street lights all lit up below us, proving quite how close we were to civilisation whilst feeling like we were properly out on the moors.


  1. Not your normal backpacking destination. Still a good spot to camp for a night.

  2. I wish I had known, I was in Rishworth on Saturday.



  3. Brings back memories. I used the shelter at Top Withens as an overnight stop when I did the Pennine Way as a lad.

  4. I often wonder at the people that put in those steps. For us shorter types, they're tricky!
    Very impressed with size of Mick's crinoline, but a bit overdressed, perhaps?

  5. Mike - It was indeed. Glad I didn't look at that profile before we went. Always best to be ignorant of these things until you're in the midst of the reality!

    Martin - It was indeed a good spot. I'd happily do the walk over again, although perhaps next time I would choose the clear easy-access stream for our water!

    JJ - So close! Another side effect of the lack of any prior planning of this outing meant that we didn't have the chance to announce our intentions in advance.

    Robin - I did notice on this trip that the door of the shelter (which didn't look overly inviting last time I was there) was firmly fastened with a sturdy padlock.

    Louise - Mick thought the period dress to be appropriate for the location ;-)

  6. Louise - the bloomers were difficult to walk in as well; and not particularly lightweight!

  7. The Stockport walking group was on the same paths as you on the Saturday. But about hour later.

  8. Helen & Colin - Great minds must thing alike as I've just had a look at the SWOG calendar and see that there's an outing to Kinder this Sunday. Guess where we're going this weekend?