By jove, but it can be wild and rugged in the South Pennines!
This five-miler round the fringes of Rishworth Moor in the Ripponden area near the Lancashire border took on the characteristics of a tough Dales challenge what with the up-and-down hills, heavy going under foot and pretty average waymarking. It felt a lot more than five miles, I can tell you. So don’t think you are in for an afternoon’s saunter.
Rishworth Moor rises to a height of 1,410 ft and separates the valleys carrying the two major trans-Pennine routes – the M62 to the south and the A58 Halifax-Rochdale road to the north. The whole region is a water catchment area for the old mill towns of Lancashire and the West Riding; there are at least two dozen high-level reservoirs within a long stone’s throw of Rishworth Moor.
We visit two of them on this circuit – Booth Wood (completed 1971) and Ryburn (completed 1933), both serving far-off Wakefield. Booth Wood, our starting point, not only takes water by damming the Booth Dean Clough, but also channels drainage water direct from the surrounding moors.
Another feature of these South Pennine moors is the number of ancient packhorse trails which have criss-crossed the high ground from the 16th century onwards, enabling all manner of textiles and materials to be transported between cottage weaver, mill and market. Many of these trails still survive and we make use of a good one in the early stages of this walk – the old main route between Rochdale and Huddersfield.
PARKING: Booth Wood Reservoir can be approached from the Leeds area by taking the M62 westwards to Junction 22 and then following the A672 towards Rishworth for three miles – set your trip - to Booth Wood Reservoir car park (free) on the right.
BOOTH WOOD and RYBURN RESERVOIRS
5 ½ miles: Allow 2 ½ – 3 ½ hours. Map: O/S OL 21 South Pennines
Exit car park into A672, cross it half left to an access road (footpath sign) and take this road up to a house gate and sweep left with the access road, past gable end of house. Go through centre of next properties – stone bungalow on your left – to the gate ahead and use the walkers’ gate to its right.
Go straight ahead over the cobbles to exit premises to arrive, soon, in a road and turn right for 50 yards to a fingerpost and, here, turn LEFT along another access road, soon passing an 18th-century white waymark stone for Rochdale and Huddersfield when this was the main road.
Go past the impressive Rishworth Lodge (a 19th-century hunting lodge) and a house called The Minster and then, after a few hundred yards, sweep right with the walled vehicle track and follow it up to a property (Boan Cottage) and cross the ladder stile (or use gate) to left of cottage.
Go through next gateway (stile to its left) within a few yards and then, after 20 yards, go straight ahead over the grass passing to the right of a lone stone gate post. Go up righthand side of the broken wall ahead and straight on to a stout wall with stone-step stile.
Cross the wall to enter Crow Act Access Land on Rishworth Moor, turn left for six paces and then turn right over a ditch and go slightly right over the moor, gradually closing with wall to your right and then continue alongside wall.
Go past a ladder stile and continue by the wall which, soon, makes a steep descent – go a quarter left away from the wall to follow the best path. The path eventually approaches a wall ahead – turn right to regain the wall on your right at a prominent fingerpost and gap.
Go straight across the next field aiming for right edge of a farm (Blackwood). Pass to the right of the black hay bags and go down into the fence corner to a home-made gate to gain a fingerpost to left of a cabin and go straight ahead, past farmhouse, to exit premises along a narrow ginnel between breeze-block buildings (footpath sign).
Go straight down the field towards the road ahead, passing down righthand side of wall (old bike) with pylon to your front right. Go through gap in wall and link up with wall on your left and follow it down to a minor road (Long Causeway).
1: Turn left along the road and sweep right up the hill towards an old Methodist chapel (built 1839). Near top of hill, before the chapel, turn right up a minor road and then turn right along an access road towards a pylon and the tiny community of Lower Wormald.
Pass through the properties to an immediate fingerpost on your right and one on your left – turn left up the side of a newly-rendered house (fingerpost: Higher Wormald). Turn right round the corner of the house (Lower Wormald) and follow the enclosed path into field and go straight across.
Cross a stile and go half left making sure you are in line with the arrows. As you near fence at top of field, root out the stile – it will probably be to your left. Enter a narrow path and turn left. At end of this path, go through gate on your right and go half left down the field, through ruins, to a three-sided fingerpost with the massive dam of Baitings Reservoir (completed 1956) ahead.
Turn right down the field by the wall with Ryburn Reservoir appearing to your right. Descend steeply to a stile above the River Ryburn and then descend steps to footbridge, cross it and go up the far side and follow this fine path by the edge of Ryburn Reservoir to its end to enter a field with the reservoir dam to your front right.
Go slightly left across the field to a gate and stile, cross it and turn sharp right, down steps, to the dam and cross it. On crossing the dam, turn right and, within 30 yards, turn left up a stout track past an information board.
At top of track, cross a stile next to gate and go straight ahead up right side of wall, over stile at field end, past a house (Cheetham Laithe) and then a stone barn with arched door. Go through stone pillars and turn right along access track to the huge complex of buildings at Upper Cockcroft, sweeping right into the premises and admiring the magnificent 17th-century house.
The house at Upper Cockcroft is mentioned by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner in his “Buildings of England”. Pevsner claims an earlier date than 1672 for the property. He maintains that the house was originally two buildings and that the earlier half survives from 1607. He describes Upper Cockcroft as “a sombre, impressive house, quite broad and stretched out”.
Exit properties along the access road and follow it up to a road (Long Gate opposite) and turn left with Rishworth in the valley. Go under power lines at pylon and immediately take the signposted path on your right, just past a gate.
Go half left across the field corner, through reeds, to a stile, cross it and the ditch and go half right across the playing fields in line of power cables with the first set of goal posts to your right and then the second set just on your left to gain the wall ahead and turn right to an old rusty gate with several arrows and a stone arch on your left.
Squeeze past the rusty gate and immediately go half right (vague path) to pass just left of pylon to gain a kissing gate in fence ahead (yellow tape). Pass through and follow the broken wall straight ahead towards a farm (Arkin Royd), the left side of the wall being less muddy as you near the farm.
2: Go through wooden gate to left of metal gate and along concrete apron into farm. Just before house, ignore the concrete road on your right with permissive footpath sign – continue right up to the house and take the path up the steep banking on your right by a wooden fence.
Enter field and turn left along field edge to twin arrows and go half right to a stile. Now go a quarter right diagonally up the field (no path) aiming for the farm (Pike Farm). Gain the wooden fence round the farm at a fence corner just to the left of a red metal gate and follow the fence ahead (fence on your right). Turn right round the fence corner to a metal gate within a few yards, go through and turn left along farm track to emerge in road and turn left.
Follow the road uphill, through the “S” bend, to a footpath sign on your left and turn left along farm drive. After 100 yards, at fork, take right branch and continue to the gate at the entry to Turner Top Farm - STOP!
Note: The public right of way goes down the farm drive and across the front of the property, despite the intimidatory warnings about dogs running free. We tackled it head-on and spoke to the owner who said he preferred people to bypass his property on the left.
So, at the gate to the premises, bear left along the green track for a short distance until just past the house and then turn right through a tall wooden gate with slats – don’t overshoot it! Follow fence on your right past the house and go straight down the field to a tortuous gated gap stile with tall stone pillars – rucksacks off!
On negotiating this desperate squeeze, cross the ditch ahead – best place just to your right – and then go half left over the field, soon with telegraph pole and a line of telegraph wires on your left, to gain a gate in the wall ahead. Do not go through – instead, turn right along wall (arrow) with the dam of Booth Wood Reservoir to your front left.
At end of wall, negotiate the temporary gates ahead (we climbed them), step right through gap into field and turn left along fence – stay alert! - to arrive at two gates on your left at telegraph pole. Go through gate on your left (unhook the wire) and turn right along the wall. Go through a tiny home-made gate and continue to fence across the path.
Turn left down the banking and then go half right, past corner of a wooden stable, to spot a wooden step-stile to left of a big house. Cross it, turn left along house drive and descend to the A672. Cross it to the finish.