A few days of gloriously sunny and warm weather just recently has seen me out and about again with the dogs and the camera, and for the second time in three weeks I parked in the San Marino restaurant car park three miles from home and walked up the rough steep path to the top of Winter Hill. Since my previous walk up there I’d found out about a couple of cairns which I thought might be worth a photo or two so I was on a mission to find them, but first I wanted to find the trig point on the highest part of the hill.
Just beyond the stone gate posts at the top of the path a tarmac lane on the right took me past a handful of single storey buildings belonging to the tv transmission station; the lane ended abruptly with another single storey building but just before it I spotted the trig point on my right about fifty yards from the lane itself. I had to negotiate a grass bank and a fair bit of sloppy ground to get to it – the whole area is, after all, mainly peat bog – then with a couple of shots taken and a few minutes spent taking in the views I returned to the lane and headed back towards the tv station.
The expanse of moorland stretching from Winter Hill itself has several summits which are classed as hills in their own right and the cairns I was looking for were on Crooked Edge Hill towards the south west of the moor. I’d walked quite a way down the road past the tall tv mast before I saw the cairns on top of the hill in the distance; they looked like they were miles away but in reality they were probably less than a mile from the mast so it didn’t take long to reach them, though I was rather disappointed when I got there as they looked nothing like I thought they would.
The cairns are actually known as The Two Lads, though just to confuse the issue for some reason there are three of them. I’d seen pictures of them on a couple of websites and they seemed to be well built with a good shape to them but in reality they were just three heaps of stone which looked like a builder’s wagon had dumped a load of rubble, although the larger one did still retain some of its shape. Presumably they have fallen down over time because people climb on them. Details of them were recorded in 1776 and 1883 and a local historian at the time described the two smaller ones as marking the graves of two orphaned children of a Saxon king who was killed in battle near there, but another story says they are the graves of two young boys who got lost in a snowstorm on the moor and died of exposure. No-one seems to know which story, if either, is true.
Concrete facts about the cairns are very hazy and seem to differ depending on who has written about them, and there seems to be little or no knowledge as to why there are three when they are known as ‘Two Lads’, but back in the late 1980s the larger one was the subject of a ‘battle’ between local people and the authorities. Over the years it had gradually collapsed and was in ruins but in 1988 a ‘mystery man’ started to rebuild it. This task was taken over by an amateur historian who restored it to its former glory and also added 4ft to its height, but the council claimed it was dangerous and pulled it down. Local people were up in arms about it and rebuilt it in 1989 but the council promptly pulled it down again, and thereafter it became known locally as ‘the Yo-Yo Cairn’.
Having completed my quest to find and photograph the cairns I made my way back across the rough ground to the lane and headed back towards the tv mast and the path back down to the van. I’d read somewhere that if you look up at the mast while walking past it looks like it’s actually falling down – I tried it but it didn’t move an inch!
The second part of my walk was a trek up to the top of Rivington Pike, another of the hill summits to the south west of the moors. I could have left the van in the restaurant car park and just walked right across the top of the moors but it was quite a long way there and back so I took the easy way out and drove part of the way via the moorland road from Belmont village to Rivington village. About half a mile from Rivington itself a short lane took me to a car park on the lower slope of the hill and from there I had a choice of two paths. Looking up at the top of the hill the left hand path seemed to be the more direct one but it wasn’t long before I began to wish I’d maybe taken the other one.
If I’d thought the path up the side of Winter Hill was rough this one, although a lot wider, was much worse. It was steep and winding, strewn with ankle-twisting rocks across its width and had high banks on each side, and it looked more like the course of a river rather than a public footpath. It didn’t seem to put off any cyclists though and a few of them went past me on their way back down. After quite a lot of climbing the path finally came to an end and joined a lane which crossed the side of the hill on the level, offering a welcome respite before I tackled the steepest part of the hill.
A short distance along the lane was the Dovecote Tower, known locally as the Pigeon Tower, which was built in 1910 by Lord Leverhulme as part of his extensive Rivington estate. A 3-storey building, with each storey being just one single room, the floors were linked by a solid stone spiral staircase running up the spine of the building; the first two storeys housed ornamental doves and pigeons while the top floor was Lady Lever’s sitting room/music room. This had windows on two sides giving views over a nearby boating lake, and an ornate fireplace with Lord and Lady Lever’s initials engraved in a circular pattern above the family motto.
When I got to the steepest part of the hill I was happy to see that as well as the stone steps going straight up there was also a wide path winding its way to the top so that’s the way I went. The summit of Rivington Pike is 1,191ft above sea level, giving far reaching views in most directions, and the Pike tower is Grade ll listed. Built in the early 1700s as a hunting lodge it’s 16ft square and 20ft high with three windows and a door, though these have been blocked up to prevent vandalism. The single room originally had wood panelled walls, a cellar underneath its stone flagged floor, and a fireplace and chimney, and although the chimney no longer exists the fireplace is still there.
Lord Leverhulme originally gifted the land and the tower to the local townspeople but it was later transferred to Liverpool Corporation as part of an agreement for water supplies. Unfortunately the tower was neglected and the corporation planned to demolish it in 1967 but after a public outcry and legal action the land was transferred to Chorley Council and the tower was restored in 1973, with further work being completed in the 1990s. The land, currently owned by United Utilities, is a very popular place for walkers and many local people still continue the old Easter tradition of walking up to the tower on Good Friday.
It was lovely on top of the hill in the warm sunshine and I could have stayed there for ages just looking at the views but time was getting on and I still had some shopping to do so reluctantly I had to go. The rocky path back down to the car park was no easier going down than it had been going up and I had to pick my way carefully in several places; it took a while but at least I got back to the van without twisting or breaking anything. Back at home the dogs curled up in their beds as soon as we got in and I didn’t hear a peep out of either of them for several hours – and I must admit that after all that walking about I slept well that night too.
I’m linking up again with Jo’s Monday Walk where this time she’s been enjoying some lovely spring weather on one of my favourite places, Anglesey – and her great photos are urging me to go back there myself soon.