Suma Walking Group – Chew Valley Horseshoe
(Reputedly one of the best ridge walks in England due to its accessibility and views)
Start location: Dovestones Reservoir, Off the A635 Saddleworth Road in the Pennines between Holmfirth and Greenfield.
The sky was overcast but with the promise of good visibility for the views that were to come on this walk, and with the possibility of sunny intervals we set off at a confident pace on this, the group’s latest venture.
This route is a personal favourite of mine, having completed it in all types of weather conditions, but it can be strenuous for some and I introduced my friends to it with uncertainty as we are a mixed ability group.
At around eight miles it is not the distance but the initial climb and the following hours of exposed moorland ridge that can deter some of the less hardy. True to form though everyone got stuck in and we were soon rewarded with views that compare well to some found in the Lake District.
The first leg is around a string of three reservoirs ending with Greenfield Res.
Oddly the middle one, Yeoman Hey, has a corner stone laid by the King of Tonga which has no doubt puzzled many passers by. In fact it was built by George Dews who also built Tonga’s main harbour, and the King was invited to lay the stone when visiting England for the 1981 royal wedding.
Then followed the main ascent of the day alongside the tumbling steam (in very wet weather sometimes more of a waterfall). As the path is worn away in places this involved crossing the river several times on wet and slippery boulders and despite chivalry and advice some good, some bad, unfortunately there were one or two incidents !!
A further clamber up a steep moorland slope and we reached the start of the flat ridge which we were then to follow for several miles. Visibility remained good and the views were, as always, spectacular and far-reaching, of the reservoirs complete with yachts, surrounding hills and over to Manchester (where we could see it raining as usual).
Continuing on Ravenstones Brow ridge we came to the Ashway Cross, a memorial to the “accidental” shooting of an MP in 1857. I resist the temptation to comment further except to wonder if they got expenses in those days……
Dropping down slightly following the contours to the head of Dovestones Clough then on the top of Dovestones Ridge with the wind picking up we came to Fox Stone with its plaque to two local climbers who died in the Italian Dolomites in 1972.
After sheltering from the wind behind a large wind eroded boulder for a quick lunch break and photo call we made for the partial remains of a curious structure built from shaped stones which cleverly appears to morph out of the surrounding rock. We chucked a few theories out about this and agreed on a Victorian Grouse Shoot shelter as the most likely and perhaps this explains the MP shooting too.
Passing the prominent Dish Stone we reached Chew Reservoir, claimed to be the highest in England at 1600ft.
With the finish in sight and a choice of routes back to the cars, it was decided that two of us would continue on the ridge across the aptly named Wilderness area to descend beyond Wimberry Rocks or “Indian’s Head” as it is often called due to resembling a chief’s headdress and face, and the others would take the more direct lower level path. Wilderness Gully has a fearsome reputation – in January 1963 an avalanche there consumed two well respected Saddleworth climbers, Graham West and Michael Roberts.
Taking the longer option Matt and I route-marched the ridge so as not to delay the others at the end, resulting in a close finish for us all.
It must have been our lucky day as it began to rain just as we got in the cars to set off home.