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An accessible adventure on magnificent moorland — hiking the Rossendale Way

Matthew Hartley (CC BY-SA 2.0)

An accessible adventure on magnificent moorland — hiking the Rossendale Way

Hiking Collection by Alex Foxfield

4

Tours

19:57 h

45.3 mi

4,300 ft

The Rossendale Way is a 45-mile (72.4 km) high-level, circular traverse of the wild moorlands above the Rossendale Valley in South East Lancashire. Separating the West Pennine Moors from the main chain of the South Pennines, Rossendale is excellent hillwalking territory. Yet it is on the very threshold of Greater Manchester.

The route circumnavigates the borough, taking to the high ground above the mill towns that jostle for space in the narrow valley below. Highlights include: the quarries and reservoirs of Haslingden Grane; the astonishing panoramas from Holcombe Moor’s gritstone spurs; the windswept high point, Top of Leach, with huge views to Manchester and the Pennines; the mill town of Whitworth and the majestic Healey Dell Viaduct; and the wild, northern moors that form the border with the borough of Burnley.

Both Rossendale’s landscape and heritage have been shaped by water. Through its heart runs the River Irwell. Over time, the river and its many tributaries have cut through this ancient land, creating steep-sided valleys capped with flat-topped gritstone sentinels and vast, high moors.

The region boomed during the Industrial Revolution, becoming known as the ‘Golden Valley’. Fast flowing water powered the mills, leading to the mechanisation of the wool and cotton industries. The valley towns of Haslingden, Rawtenstall, Bacup and Whitworth grew to fill the Irwell Valley and villages sprung up alongside its subsidiary streams. As well as this, extensive quarrying and coal mining took place. Rossendale flagstone became a highly sought after commodity.

Today, ruined textile mills, crumbling chimneys and ancient coal roads pepper this magnificent moorland landscape, testaments to the history of this unique era. Wind has replaced water as a prime source of energy. The Scout Moor Wind Farm dominates the high moorland to the south, representing a new era of industry. The modern borough was formed in 1974 and the Rossendale Way launched eleven years later.

In this Collection, I have split the Way into four stages of between 8.9 and 14.1 miles (14.3 - 22.7 km) in length. Each stage ends at a town or village where you can seek accommodation and a meal (I have named specifics in the stage descriptions).

Officially, there’s no set direction or start/end point. I’ve started at the Clough Head Visitor Centre, as it is easily accessed by car, has parking, good facilities and a wealth of information about the region. From here, I’ve headed anti-clockwise.

My itinerary is a good introduction to hillwalking. Each stage involves at least 1,000 feet (305 m) of elevation change and the terrain underfoot can be rough, rugged and marshy. There are also pathless sections across the open moors. However, there are around 650 bright green way markers across the route to help point you in the right direction.

Regardless of the season, the Way is exposed to the elements. Whilst doable all year round, a winter round is for experienced hillwalkers, especially if under snow. The presence of wind turbines suggests that it is often likely to be gusty. This is also one of the wettest parts of the country.

Warm layers and waterproofs are therefore essential, including waterproof boots. You will need to carry plenty to eat and drink, as most stages stay to the high moors, only visiting settlements at their conclusions. That said, this is not a wilderness hike; you can deviate from the route and head for the comforts of the valley at any time without much difficulty.

The region is not particularly touristy and accommodation is in short supply. Advance booking is recommended for both lodgings and evening meals. Some accommodation providers offer assistance with getting to the start and end points along the Way, returning you to the trail the next morning. Don’t assume this is the case though, ring ahead to enquire.

The Way is best accessed by car and is a stone’s throw away from many of the North West’s population centres. From Manchester city centre, you can catch the X43 bus service to Rawtenstall, which takes about 45 minutes. The borough has only one minor rail link: the East Lancashire Railway. It is a heritage line that runs for 12.5 miles (20km) from Bury, terminating at Rawtenstall. See eastlancsrailway.org.uk for more information.

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Rossendale Way

43.7 mi

4,250 ft

4,250 ft

Last updated: November 24, 2021

Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

    Stage 1: Clough Head to Stubbins — Rossendale Way

    Intermediate
    03:59
    8.99 mi
    2.3 mph
    675 ft
    1,225 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The first stage loops around the head of Haslingden Grane, above its quarries and reservoirs, before traversing the north and east-facing flanks of Musbury Heights and Holcombe Moor. A descent through delightful woodland brings you the end point at Stubbins.

    You start high, at an elevation of about 950

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Difficult
    05:29
    12.1 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,450 ft
    1,125 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This stage takes you to Rossendale Valley’s spectacular highest point, Top of Leach. You also discover a quaint memorial to a poet, an intriguingly circular moorland summit and spellbinding views back into the valley and south to Greater Manchester’s urban sprawl.

    With 1,450 feet (442 m) of elevation

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Difficult
    06:10
    14.3 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,200 ft
    1,050 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The penultimate stage takes you onto the high moorland at the eastern end of the Rossendale Valley. A short detour to the majestic Healey Dell Viaduct kicks things off, before a high, wild traverse of the hills above Whitworth and Bacup.

    At 14.3 miles (23 km), this is the longest stage and there’s 1

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Intermediate
    04:19
    9.90 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,000 ft
    875 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The final stage is characterised by two high sections of moorland, before you reacquaint with Haslingden Grane and its industrial remains. There’s 1,000 feet (305 m) of elevation gain to overcome, but with just 9.9 miles (16 km) to cover you can take things at your own pace.

    The Way ascends onto the

    by Alex Foxfield

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    4
  • Distance
    45.3 mi
  • Duration
    19:57 h
  • Elevation
    4,300 ft

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