After several days of damp, dull and dreary weather which wasn’t exactly brilliant for dog walking, last Wednesday was a complete contrast with bright sunshine and a blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. It was far too nice to spend the whole time doing housework so at lunch time I drove myself and the dogs three miles up the road to do something I hadn’t done for almost twenty years – walk up to the top of Winter Hill.
Winter Hill is part of the West Pennine Moors above my home town and close to Belmont village, and in years gone by has been the site of mining activity, murders and several air disasters. At 1,498ft above sea level it’s also been home to a broadcasting and telecommunications site since the mid 1950s; currently owned and operated by Arqiva (formerly NTL Broadcasting) the tv mast up there is the second tallest mast in the UK and can be seen from many miles away. There are also a number of other much shorter telecommunication masts around the summit for mobile phones, professional mobile radio users and emergency services.
My walk started from the car park of the San Marino restaurant on the A675 at the outskirts of Belmont village. About fifty yards along from the car park and across the main road a wooden kissing gate signified the beginning of the path and I was glad I’d changed into my wellies when I got out of the van – the ground near the gate was wet and very muddy and there was no way to avoid it, but fortunately it became dry just a few yards further on. Right from the start the route took me on a steady climb up the hill, and though I’d started off with my jacket on the warm sun and the uphill walking soon had me taking it off and tying it round my waist. It wasn’t long before I left any road noise behind, and as there was no-one else around the only sound came from various skylarks and lapwings as they flew above the moorland; it was lovely and quiet and I stopped several times to take in the views and enjoy the peace.
Finally at the top of the hill there was a fence and another wooden kissing gate to go through, and a tarmac road leading into oblivion down the far side of the hill. Just at the other side of the gate were the two original stone gate posts, one bearing a plaque placed there on the 50th anniversary of a plane crash near there in 1958. A Silver City Airways charter plane was flying from the Isle of Man to Manchester when, due to thick cloud and navigational error, it crashed close to the summit of the hill and disintegrated on impact, leaving only the tail section still recognisable as part of an aircraft; thirty five people died and seven, including the pilot and air stewardess, were injured but survived. Other crashes in years previous to that have included several Spitfires and Hurricanes, and in September 1965 an RAF De Havilland Chipmunk flew into the hill in low cloud, fortunately without serious injury to the crew. The last crash up there occurred in October 1968 when a Cessna 172 force-landed on the west side of the hill.
A little way down the road from the gate posts was the tall tv mast surrounded on three sides by single storey buildings, and on the wall of one of these was the original plaque in memory of the victims of the 1958 plane crash, which came just three weeks after the Munich air disaster. Almost opposite the tv station was Scotsman’s Stump, an iron post with a plaque erected in 1912 in memory of a young man who was previously murdered there. His killer, a 22-year old collier from Belmont, was originally found guilty at local court but at a second trial in Lancaster he was found not guilty.
Standing close to the tv mast and looking up towards the top I tried to hazard a guess as to how tall it was – at least 250ft I thought, but how wrong I was – it’s actually 1,035ft. No wonder it can be seen from miles away! The original mast, which came into service in May 1956, was much shorter at only 450ft and though it was eventually dismantled and removed it could still be seen on the hill for many years after the tv services were transferred to the current mast.
Now covering a population of about 6.3 million people across the North West and into North Wales the current mast was constructed in 1964/5 and came into service in 1966; tubular in design it’s 9ft in diameter and engineers can ascend the inside of it to carry out any maintenance work. It also carries a series of bright red aircraft warning lights which swing inwards for maintenance and these make the mast visible in the dark for miles around.
From the summit of the hill on a clear day it’s possible to see Manchester city centre, the airport, Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, Southport, Liverpool, Snowdonia in North Wales, the Irish Sea, Snaefell in the Isle of Man, Blackpool tower, the Cumbrian mountains, the Peak District, the Pennines and the Yorkshire Dales, but unfortunately it was rather hazy in the distance just then so visibility was limited. With nothing much on the west side of the hill other than a vast expanse of moorland, and knowing that the road down would take me miles out of my way, I left the tv station behind and made my way back down the hill by the same path I’d gone up. If anything going down was actually harder than going up; the path was extremely rough in places with many deep ruts and pot holes so I had to watch where I was putting my feet. A twisted ankle could have been a distinct possibility but luckily the three of us managed to get back to road level without any accident or injury.
Back at the van I changed out of my wellies and towelled the dogs down as they’d just got dirty going through the muddy patch of ground near the gate, then I drove the three miles back down the road to home. My walk hadn’t been a particularly long one but in the warm sunshine it had been very pleasant in spite of the steep and rough terrain, and as Winter Hill is more or less on my doorstep I’ll try not to leave it another twenty years before I go up there again. And of course, this being the UK it’s done nothing but rain since that day so I’m glad I took the opportunity to do the walk while the weather was nice.
This week Jo’s Monday Walk shows the delights of the charming Italian walled city of Lucca where there’s scenery, ceilings, and even a smiling lion – it looks lovely, and just the thing to brighten up yet another damp and dreary UK day.