Winter walks: The wizard of Whirlaw

Our reporter Jean has been off exploring in Yorkshire and recommends this walk if you’re willing to travel slightly out of Greater Manchester to find somewhere new, with lots of history intertwined too. 

Driving out of North Manchester, it’s not long before you enter West Yorkshire. The A6033 will take you through the Lancashire or Greater Manchester town, depending on your point of view, of Littleborough and into the West Yorkshire town of Todmorden.

The hills and moors that line this road from Littleborough have plenty of footpaths and bridleways that are great for blowing away the cobwebs but on Sunday my partner and I ventured a little way out of Todmorden along the A646.

After parking on the leisure centre car park up Ewood Lane, we walked back to the main road and turned left and crossed the road. Taking the third road on the right we were soon on a bit of a lung-busting climb.

We were aiming for the Stone Head Carving on Whirlaw Common. Although there are loads of footpaths on this hillside the signage is somewhat lacking but from the contour lines on the 1:25000 OS map OL21 it was obvious that we would be climbing for a while.

The OS map wasn’t very informative when it came to identifying boggy ground but Common Rushes are a good indicator of where not to put your feet.

Once past the Whirlaw Rocks we soon spotted the Stone Head or the Wizard of Whirlaw.

The head was probably carved in situ by William Holt of Todmorden 1897-1977. Like the stone walls, farmhouses and gate posts the stone is the tough moorland Millstone gritstone and unlikely to wear away for a while.

The way down wasn’t as challenging as the way up but it was somewhat wet in parts. We walked along the Centenary Way passing the brooding, magnificent Bride stones on the horizon.

Some of the route down was paved with Trods, slabs of millstone grit that pack horses once travelled along.

These would have been routes for wool and limestone for centuries. The limestone was used to reduce the acidity of the moorland soil. These improved fields are very visible, their rich greenness contrasting with the rougher pasture.

In earlier centuries these hillsides would have been more densely populated but now you can see the ruins of long-abandoned homes.

We soon found a left footpath which soon became paved with concrete heading to the main road.

Dusk was now falling on this late November day. The walk had been strenuous but doable for us two pensioners.

If you do this walk, walking poles would be a great help and waterproof walking boots or shoes are essential. If you can use a map get the South Pennines Ordnance Survey map OL21. And a word of warning even though you are not very far from civilisation the temperature is a lot lower on the hillside so don’t underestimate it and take adequate clothing and be prepared for the rain to come in.

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