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.
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 feet (290 m). This means you have little ascent to tackle in order to earn those spectacular moorland views. However, there is 1,200 feet (366 m) of descent to negotiate, with most of it coming at the stage’s conclusion.
From the visitor centre, you skirt the western edge of Jamestone Quarry, before turning left onto a track, passing above woodland and descending back to the road through the scant remains of a farm. Cross the road and stride out, following the clearly defined path.
You spend the next 3 miles (4.8 km) on tracks above Haslingden Grane’s quarries and reservoirs, enjoying the blend of rugged scenery and the fascinating remnants of industry. There’s an atmospheric section through woodland above Calf Hey Reservoir and a few open moorland sections to negotiate. After rainfall or in winter, the terrain is likely to be boggy.
Above Ogden Reservoir, you suddenly come across a conspicuous scrubbing mill chimney — a photogenic sight against the valley backdrop. From here, the Way leads south, looping around the head of the Musbury Valley and making for the distinctive flat-top of Musbury Tor, a favourite with the locals. Next, you arc around the head of the Alden Valley and gradually ascend across the flanks of Bull Hill.
The views along this section are some of the grandest on the Rossendale Way. On a clear day, the iconic Yorkshire duo of Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent can be spied in the distance. You descend through the beautiful Buckden Wood by a series of cascades and arrive at the village of Stubbins.
Stubbins has a couple of guesthouses and a glamping facility. There are a number of places to eat in the village and in the nearby market town of Ramsbottom, which also has more extensive lodging options.
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 gain, this is quite a strenuous outing. It is also longer than the previous stage at 12.1 miles (19.5 km). It is worth packing lunch and some snacks as, once you’re up on the moors, the next settlement is Whitworth at the end of the stage.
From Stubbins, head east on Leaches Road and take the bridge across the motorway. Ascend towards Scout Moor on minor roads past Riding Head Pond and walk along Rochdale Road temporarily before joining a green lane on your left.
This is the old Coal Road, once used to transport coal down from the Scout Moor collieries. Today, Scout Moor is adorned by wind turbines. Their hum and swish accompany the more natural sounds during this section of the Way.
The Coal Road arcs north and meets an access road for the turbines. Beyond this, the Way discovers a memorial to local poet Edwin Waugh and circumnavigates the intriguing plateau of Cowpe Low. The summit is an almost circular, shallow bowl of around 3,000 feet (914 m) in diameter. A lone trig point adorns its centre.
From Cowpe Low, you join the broad Pennine Bridleway and ascend to the Way’s highest point: Top of Leach at 1,565 feet (477 m). The views are extensive, with Rossendale laid out before you and Manchester’s distant skyscrapers to the south. Next, you traverse Rooley Moor, before descending east into the town of Whitworth.
Accommodation wise, Whitworth has a couple of inns, whilst neighbouring Healey is home to a bed and breakfast. There is no shortage of places to eat and drink in the village. Whether you’re after Italian, fish and chips or a traditional Lancashire hotpot, you should be able to find something to satisfy your cravings.
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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 1,175 feet (358 m) of elevation gain to contend with. There are no pubs or cafes until Weir, which is about 12 miles (19 km) in, so it is best to carry provisions with you.
After a quick visit to the Healey Dell Viaduct’s eight tremendous arches, the Way skirts around the flanks of Rushy Hill, passes a couple of disused reservoirs and starts the long climb to Brown Wardle Hill.
Once its 1,312-foot (400 m) summit has been gained, you continue to traverse high ground, first summiting Middle Hill and then Hades Hill. After each high point come the intervening cols, which, having collected the runoff from the summits, are liable to be sodden. The section across Reaps Moss can be very marshy indeed, a passage that requires a good degree of concentration.
I’ve plotted a short detour to the white-washed summit pillar of Freeholds Top and then the Way continues across the high moors to the north, with very little elevation change. Above the village of Weir, there’s the option of visiting the First World War Memorial, otherwise you begin your descent to Water, with good views of the Clough Bottom reservoir.
The valley of Whitewell Brook only has a few accommodation options. Peers Clough Farm has bed and breakfast rooms, as well as self-catering facilities. There is also the Rossendale Holiday Cottages and Glamping site. You can seek dinner at the Hargreaves Arms, though advance booking is recommended.
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 broad plateau of Meadow Head above Clowbridge Reservoir. At a five-way junction of paths is Compston’s Cross, a striking monument that can be seen from many vantages. You head west, across the top of Meadow Head, before descending towards the small village of Love Clough.
After this, you ascend to the broad ridge of Goodshaw Hill. Views open up to neighbouring Hameldon Hill and its aerial masts, as well as back across the Irwell Valley to the familiar Bull Hill, Musbury Tor and Musbury Heights.
You descend on tracks and roads to the village of Rising Bridge, before heading south through farmland and along a wide, green shelf on the flanks of Thirteen Stone Hill. The ground here is liable to be very boggy.
The Way arcs around the south eastern flank of Haslingden Moor and continues along a track above the quarries and reservoirs of Haslingden Grane. After Jamestone Quarry, turn immediately left and make your way to the visitor centre to finish your journey.