South Pennines Walk - Hollingworth Lake and Littleborough
Keith Carter does like to be beside the seaside, but he's not beside the sea. He's on a walk at Littleborough
For the walker, Littleborough is synonymous with Hollingworth Lake, a great starting point for walks in the area due to its proximity to the Rochdale Canal, the Pennine Bridleway, the Rochdale Way and the Weighvers Way, some or all of which can be included in a day’s walk. Walking and rambling clubs love it since it has the three magic ingredients, a brew, a view and a loo.
Hollingworth Lake is practically the seaside, with all the attractions you get on a seafront without the waves. In fact, 100 years ago it was known as the Weighvers’ Seaport, attracting working people in their thousands. The pubs had open air dancing and three paddle steamers took visitors for trips. Nearly as grand as Blackpool.
The first man to swim the English Channel, Captain Webb, practised on the lake copyrightand on one occasion 6,000 miners assembled here for a conference. With the coming of the First World War, the Army used the area for training, most of the troops embarking for another beach, in Gallipoli. By then the lake’s heyday was over but recent years have seen a resumption of its popularity with huge numbers of visitors throughout the year. Just look at the large volume of parking available and the wide range of places to eat and you realize how popular it is.
The lake was dug in 1801 to provide water for the Rochdale Canal. You might have thought there was enough from the annual rainfall but not so. In its day this and the other seven reservoirs built by the canal company supplied four million gallons a day through a series of feeder channels one of which we visit on this walk. The canal was dug to link Sowerby Bridge with Manchester, 32 miles and 92 locks, three per mile, but it became blocked at Littleborough Summit and remained so for many years until the Millennium Fund provided the cash for the non-navigable section to be reopened, which it was in 2002.
We parked at Rake Wood Road car park where there’s a visitor centre, a caf�, a loo and a children’s play park. Leaving the car park, turn left and walk along the lakeside road as far as the first opening on the left signposted Pennine Bridleway. Climb this lane and where it levels out you should see a stone cottage with the name Hollingworth Fold dating from 1727 and now used by the Country Park warden. Turn left here and we join an elevated path that runs along the side of the canal supply channel. Don’t worry about the signs warning of sheer drops but I should keep out of the channel.
When reaching a building under restoration, follow the channel as it moves to the right and before long you come to a track that by turning right leads to a tidy farmstead called Syke. I think the red telephone kiosk in the garden is decorative only. Turn left past the farmhouse and go through a gate leading onto the open moor and make your way along an old rutted track. Ignore a fork to the left and continue until you meet a wall. To the left, a gate, locked, with no right of way, our path heading up over tussocky grass until a clearer way appears.
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Aim for the pylons ahead. They run in a line north to south and keep pace for several miles with the Pennine Bridleway, the newest of our National Trails designed for use by horse and mountain bike riders. Check out the gates, easily unlatched without dismounting. It’s good to walk along this fine open track with views westward towards Blackstone Edge and no route-finding difficulty either at least as far as Lydgate, a hamlet that would have once housed a community of hand-loom weavers. We come to the road, turn right and cross a bridge over the stream then take the next left, climbing away from the road.
Our path leaves the broad track and forks left through a field gate into pasture cropped close by sheep. The path is diagonal through two fields using gates and only gradually descending, our marker a white house in the distance on the A58 road. Don’t be tempted to drop right down to the stream in the valley to the left. We can get where we want to by sticking to our path which reaches the road up a flight of steps.
Turn right and you are soon at the door of the Moorcock Inn, a good place for a pint and something to eat. They do a ‘Little Breakfast’ for �4.50. See if it lives up to its name.
After leaving the pub return to where you joined the road and take the path on the right down some steps to a stream and follow it through a collection of factory buildings, not exactly home ground for us walkers but they are soon left behind. Look for a factory compound with a steel fence round it and the footpath is to the right of the entrance, passing by large piles of stone sets of a kind I have been wanting for a garden wall for ages.
Continue as far as the canal at Greenvale Mill and cross it to gain the towpath, turning left onto it. It’s straightforward walking now, past Pike House Lock, the bridge under the road at Durn and Littleborough Bottom Lock and before long Littleborough railway station is seen and passed. Stay on the canal as far as bridge 52 then leave it, turning left to bring us back to the road opposite Hollingworth Lake. Turn left and follow the road, keeping right at the Wine Press, formerly the Fisherman’s Inn and returning to the car park on Rake Wood Road.
Next time I come I’ve a mind to walk up onto Blackstone Edge and renew my acquaintance with the Pennine Way. There’s a beautifully preserved section of supposed Roman Road up there, but it will have to wait for another day.
Area of walk: Hollingworth Lake Littleborough
Distance: 6 miles
Time to allow: 3 hours
Map: OS Explorer OL21 South Pennines
Refreshments: Caf� at the Information Centre, Moorcock Inn on A58
Suitable for wheelchair/pushchairs? No.
The print version of this article appeared in the May 2012 issue of Lancashire Life We can deliver a copy direct to your door – order online here