On Saturday last the family and I, along with Bethen's friend Olivia, went on a walk around Turton Moor - part of the West Pennine Moors north-west of Bolton. This is a 7 mile walk around the base of Turton Heights. Starting point is the Black Dog pub in Belmont (operating on the old military axiom - ...time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted! - the end of the walk will be at the self-same pub). The weather was superb. The sun was out, the sky blue (or would be, if not for all the high level contrails) yet it wasn't too hot.
The first part of the walk is to Belmont Reservoir which was looking about three-quarters full. Quite a few yachts were out on the water which is a little startling given the moors back-drop. After walking across the dam, and stopping to watch a Heron stalking for fish, we started the walk up towards the moors proper, the final approach being through a farm.
At the top of the farm, we joined the Witton Weaver's Way - an old path that we follow for about three-quarters of the way round the hill. Why it is called Witton Weaver's Way I don't know at present - perhaps it was a path used by weavers from Witton. I will investigate as it looks as if it could be one of the Pennine long paths. Just after Old Man's Hill; NOT named after me, we climbed up to the brow of Darwen Moor by a path called Tacklers Trail (again, no idea why its called that) this representing the highest point on the walk. Everyone was doing well, lunch had been eaten - even Olivia was looking good baring in mind that she doesn't do the mileage my family do.
Following the path down, this is where things started to go wrong. The path was good, but according to the guide, we needed to find a hawthorn bush and a gully where we would turn onto another path which would lead us close to the base of the hill. We saw hawthorn bushes, we saw gullies, but we didn't see a hawthorn bush, gully and path in close proximity to each other. So we just kept going on the main path until we reached the A666 having put on an extra 2 to 3 miles to the walk.
Everyone was tired at this point, but after a short break, we were ready to continue. Looking at the map, I could see a point along the road where we could regain the moor and continue the walk. So off we went. It was that tiredness that caused me to make a silly decision later on.
The path back onto the moor was well defined and fairly good walking - except for the boggy bits, and everything was going well until the path suddenly disappeared. It was at this point I made my mistake. I felt that we would regain the path if we continued on, so that is what we did. This could have been a serious mistake as the path did not return, but instead of retracing our route back the the path we had come along, I thought we could cut across the moor to where we needed to go.
This moorland consists of tussocks of grass that come up to the waist of an adult, - and up to Jaynes neck, and those tussocks are surrounded by very soggy mud and bog. This was very difficult to get across, and I became increasingly concerned that someone could twist or break an ankle requiring a call for help to the emergency services. After what seemed like hours, but was probably more like half-an-hour, we were stopped for a breather and a drink when from behind a small hillock came a horse and rider ambling along on what must have been a path. Immediately our spirits soared as we knew there was a path, and it was only about 20 meters away!
Once on the path, we knew exactly where we were and which direction we had to go. About 10 meters along the path, a track down from the moor joined it - the path we should have been following! The problem was that we just hadn't seen it within the sea of grass. Now it was just a case of following the path back down through the farm, across the dam and back down to the Black Dog. During this final part of the walk, a hot-air balloon came in close, and I got some good shots of it, I hope, as it skimmed the land before rising again. Spirits were still high as we got to the car and finally got our boots off.
All that was required was to get into the drinks in. I ordered 2 pints for myself - the first one didn't even touch the sides as it went down. At this time we could start to talk about the afternoon, and no-one seemed the worse for wear and attitudes were positive.
In retrospect, this walk will be remembered for its achievements. As a family we walked 12 miles across some quite difficult terrain, and got ourselves out of difficulty by pooling resources and keeping each other going - we really worked as a team during the last part of the walk and kept Jayne going even though she was quite frightened. I am exceptionally proud of them, particularly the kids who really did well. I now feel that we probably need to do the walk again, and this time get it right, but perhaps not just yet.
The main lesson for me is not to press on if unsure, but go back to where I know it was safe and re-assess. A strategic withdrawal is often the best decision when faced with uncertainty. Better to walk an extra mile than into difficulty. Moreover, I don't want the kids to get frightened each time we go for a walk, so the next one will probably be an easy walk around Upper Rivington and Anglezarke Reservoirs which is all well defined paths and bridleways and where the main problems will be avoiding the presents left by the horses.
Photo's will be on Flickr once they are developed.