Walk 2982 - printer friendly version
Bleaklow & Higher Shelf Stones from the Snake Pass Walk
Author - Jake Robertson
Length - 9.5 miles / 15.4 km
Ascent - 1550 feet / 470 metres
Grade - mod/hard
Start - OS grid reference SK109914
Lat 53.419291 + Long -1.8374581
Postcode S33 0AB (approx. location only)
This is one of the loveliest and wildest Peak District walks on Bleaklow, my favorite 2000ft'er, escaping quickly from the confines of the valleys for the sanctuary of high moors and traversing the main summit ridge. It's a rough, boggy, wild and lonely walk with tricky navigation in places - all that is best about Bleaklow.
Cross the road and drop down the path into the woods to a footbridge. Turn right and follow a marked trail up through the dense conifers of Lady Clough, a Scottish glen in miniature. Keep on the path once the woods end but eventually you are forced up the bank onto the road. Thankfully it is only a short hop along to the Doctor's Gate lay-by (Grid ref SK095928) where a signposted path leads up a hollow then across the moor to the junction with the Pennine Way at Old Woman. This sudden arrival onto the high moors is a grand moment; a wide view suddenly opens up with Kinder dominating to the south and Higher Shelf Stones rearing up to the north.
The usual way up Higher Shelf Stones follows the Pennine Way but a quieter and more scenic alternative can be found by descending slightly to a cairn above Crooked Clough then taking a trod on its lip. This gives tremendous views down the Shelf Brook to Glossop and over to Higher Shelf Stones, looking quite a mountain indeed. Keep heading up Crooked Clough until you near two waterfalls at its head (Grid ref. SK093942) then descend and cross the top of them before striking over the pathless slopes of Gathering Hill. By aiming slightly left of the summit you gain the south ridge and follow it spectacularly up to the summit.
At 2038ft Higher Shelf Stones is the third highest summit in Peakland and arguably the most "mountain like", with its massive drop into the Shelf Valley and airy rocky top. It's also a tremendous viewpoint with the Carneddau being visible on a clear day, to the east a succession of endless flowing ridges. Leave the top by aiming for the Hern Stones but veer right slightly to visit the famous plane wreck and pay one's respects. On a cold misty day there is a very supernatural feel to this place.
It's a slow walk over the plateau to the Hern Stones and it's usually excessively damp but glorious nonetheless, the true epitome of these wild Pennine moors. From the Hern Stones head uphill to the Wain Stones then follow a line of cairns to the huge cairn and stake on Bleaklow Head, at 2077ft the second highest summit after Kinder, though the highest point is actually an unmarked knoll to the west. A poor viewpoint that sadly does not do justice to this magnificent mountain, it is best to leave the safety of Pennine Way and begin the traverse to Bleaklow Stones where time is better spent.
Aim slightly south of east to pick up a line of stakes along the summit ridge towards Bleaklow Hill. In mist a compass is essential but in clear weather navigation is remarkably easy weaving around and over peat hags. Bleaklow Hill is a minor rise at 2066ft marked by a little cairn, a lonely and desolate spot in the heart of the Bleaklow wilderness. From here Bleaklow Stones comes into view and by following the stakes the top at 2060ft is reached quite quickly. Now this makes up for the disappointment of Bleaklow Head! With bizarrely eroded rock standing stark and exposed overlooking a phenomenal view stretching from Penyghent and the North York Moors to Crich Cliff and out over the Cheshire Plain with a foreground of empty moors. Here the unique "Bleaklow magic" is felt more than at any other place, it is a truly special spot, unashamedly remote and hostile. It is my Shangri La.
Descend from south-south-west from Bleaklow Stones, picking up a trod at about 1900ft which contours across Westend Head to Alport Head where you should turn down the infant stream following it down into the secluded bowl Grains in the Water (Grid ref. SK105947), one of the most enchanting spots on Bleaklow.
Ford the stream issuing from Hern Clough and climb up a rough pathless slope onto the open moor then aim south east towards a 541m spot height and a small but pretty little tarn (Grid ref. SK106944). Aim now for the 538m spot height on Over Wood Moss, a very rough crossing with no navigational aids, much harder going than on the main ridge of Bleaklow. Swinging around to the south, its top has a few small pools and a lovely retrospective view of Bleaklow straddling the northern skyline. Continue south over ground far wetter and slow going than the main summit ridge: it is these moors which are the real test. Eventually you'll hit the edge of the moor with a beautiful view over Lady Clough to Fairbrook Naze, descend slightly and pick up the path which leads steeply but most conveniently down to the lay-by and the car.
Note - an equally delightful return from Grains in the Water can be made be following the River Alport downstream then turning up Nether Reddale Clough onto the moor, rejoining the main route near the 521m spot height (Grid ref. SK112926).