Day 46 - Stalybridge to Marsden
Just as yesterday was a bad day for no reason, so today has been a much better day. It didn’t start like that - I woke feeling anything but keen to go out and do another walk. It was probably a good thing that breakfast wasn’t served at the homestay accommodation, otherwise I might have dawdled. Instead I got up and out, without my normal feeling of curiosity about the day, more a sense of resignation. But within a hundred steps or so my body settled back into its walking groove, and my mood lifted. It’s as if this is what it’s designed to do now, despite the aches and dodgy feet. The act of walking reduces any worry about and dread of walking.
After a mile or so of red brick terraces so reminiscent of Manchester, but with the fells as the background, I crossed onto the Tame Valley Way. I was to stick with this for almost half of today’s walk, and this section of the 24 mile path that links Stockport to Denshaw in Saddleworth was lovely. It ran mainly by the side of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, sometimes next to the river Tame.
All the things I love about canals were here: the secretive quiet, the birds, the juxtaposition of old industrial architecture with countryside, and peaceful water life just next door to modern industry.
And although the locks were taking the water uphill gradually, essentially it felt as if it were flat walking, which is always good to get some miles in. I had high hopes of getting a coffee in Mossley, but it was too early. So therefore I had not been girded up with the (de)caffeine before I met my first challenge of the day. The Scout Tunnel is 616 feet long. There is a towpath of old flagstones, running alongside the canal inside the tunnel and a handrail between the towpath and the inky water.
I set off confidently enough, but soon realised that it was going to get very dark. Inside, it was pitch black, with dripping water down the sides of the walls. More unnerving was the silent body of water to my left. And then I heard scittering above me, I tried not to think about bats and my hair. I came out feeling both relieved and pretty pleased with myself for going through it without incident. Then I looked at some video I took in the pitch black. The phone camera uses the light more efficiently than my eyes do, so it spotted something flying just in front of me….. Tasha tells me it’s possibly a camera reflection, but that’s not nearly as good a story!
With increasing desperation I had been stopping people to ask if they knew of somewhere I could get a coffee, to be met with complicated directions or shrugs. The couple I finally asked just looked surprised and pointed up the road. Uppermills is a bustling little village on the side of Saddleworth Moor, and there were coffee shops galore. I had the first of my two lunches today in a tiny upstairs cafe in which putting on my rucksack became a team effort in order to avoid knocking cups of other people’s tables. I really liked this village, with northern grittiness, dads teaching their children to fish in the canal, art galleries and a sense of community epitomised by crocheted woodland creatures adorning their post box.
Talking of crafts, I have an apology to make about well dressing. I made a rather puzzled comment about this as an activity when writing about Tissington. This has provoked an outpouring of comments (to be accurate, 2) saying what an important thing it is, and how valued it is as an art form. Apologies, I will try to return to Derbyshire during the season to admire it!
After the flat of the canal and another disused railway line, I knew that the day would finish with a climb up onto the moors. I also knew that the forecast was poor later in the morning. And so it came to pass that those two combined. Next to the PBW sign in Diggle is the Diggle Hotel. I thought it would be a good plan to shelter in there with a drink to see if the rain was going to recede. Although the doors were open, the pub was actually shut. But Sue was kind enough to let me in and even gave me a free drink. I had a chat with her and her husband Billy about the pub. They’ve only been running it for 9 months, but it’s doing well. A gruelling life though, they’ve got to be the last people to bed at night and the first up serving breakfast to the guests in the morning. As a last act of kindness, Sue offered to drive me to my accommodation. I obviously declined, but was very touched.
Then onto Standedge Trail, upwards for about a mile, ending up on the edge of Wessendon Moor. The rain hammered down as I climbed, all around me was grey and wet. I could see the glower of slag heaps to the side of the path, presumably left over from the excavation of the tunnels that are marked on the map. It’s a bleak place, especially with no visibility beyond a few hundred yards. But then as the moor flattened out there was a little lightening of the sky. And it was a bit drier so I could take a photo or two.
Although these weren’t big exhilarating views, there was enough to feel anticipation for the proper Pennine Way section of the walk, after Hebden Bridge. I know it’s famed for being a bit grim, but I love moorland and as long as it doesn’t rain every day…..
Marsden was the home of Simon Armitage, the poet laureate. His book Walking Home has both encouraged and discouraged me from walking the Pennine Way. So I knew a little about the town, but I still was startled at its dour beauty viewed from above. The mills that had employed so many since the 19th century are still there, the chimneys making a strong industrial statement. The last mill closed down in 2003.
It appears to be a thriving little town, with plenty of shops and cafes. I chose Katie’s Homemade Kitchen simply because it had started to bucket down and I wanted immediate refuge. A very happy choice, I was given the biggest avocado and halloumi toast I’d ever seen, it was warm and dry and there were lots of friendly people in there. I had a long chat with a man whose name I sadly didn’t take, about walking, he talked wistfully about how his work is so regimented that what he would like to do is just set off with a tent and see where he ends up. And then I met Deb and Jen. Deb moved up to Marsden because she loves hill walking. She has been so happy here that she is gradually persuading her friends to move nearby. It certainly seems like a lovely place to live.
I’ve actually lost track of how many counties I’ve passed through since setting off. No mistaking that I’m in Yorkshire now though, the number of people I’ve heard saying ‘see you later’ instead of ‘goodbye’. Causes such confusion for a southerner, leading to puzzled checking of the diary….
Interesting new fact of the day, the phrase ‘being on tenterhooks’ comes from the cloth manufacturing industry. Cloth was stretched to regain its size on wooden beams held between tenter posts, and held in place by hooks to dry. The picture below is if the grade II listed tenter posts. I couldn’t see any hooks.
A final deluge as I passed the last bit of canal, so that I was thoroughly soaked again by the time I arrived at my lovely pub, the Olive Tree, just outside Marsden, that opened in 1800. I love a place that doesn’t raise an eyebrow at a wet muddy traveller, has a bath, that without question brings me a bag of ice to treat my leg. And offers a really varied vegetarian menu too. I’ve definitely replaced all the calories burned today.
I can’t put my finger on why today was a good day and yesterday wasn’t. I think it’s probably not something to query, just to accept that that’s how it is on a big adventure such as I’m doing. I think if I were to feel that every day should be exciting and fun then that would be unrealistic. Sometimes the enormity of it all is just too much. It just happens that today it didn’t feel too enormous, and that the exciting and fun bit had the upper hand. Who knows how it will feel tomorrow.
Distance travelled:14.5 miles
Total ascent: 1966 feet
Calories burned: 2032
Local tipple - Nook blonde from the Nook brewery in Holmfirth, 15 minutes away
Dinner at the Olive Tree - fantastic
Broccoli tempura with chilli sauce
Mushroom ravioli with peas and cheese sauce
Plate of petits fours
New song of the day
I don’t live here any more - The War on Drugs feat. Lucius
Classic rock groove, with a simple melodic hook for the verse coupled with similar guitar ostinati. More exciting chorus though. And the lyric ‘we’re all just walking through this darkness on our own’ seemed quite appropriate.
Video of the day
Number of lunches I’ve had today: a strong 2