• Neil

Dovestone Reservoir Walk 03-02-19

As much as I'm an advocate for getting out into the middle of nowhere far from all signs of life, I get a kick out of places where there's a clash of nature and industry. Its a weird one, but it has always fascinated me. Take most major rivers in the UK for example. Sources are invariably up in the hills, but end up flowing through cities and towns and probably helped drive industry and trade in the areas at some point in history. The industries might have subsided, but the rivers haven't. So it isn't any wonder why I like Dovestone Reservoir. Nestled on Saddleworth Moor, despite it being part of Greater Manchester the area just sneaks into the Dark Peak part of the Peak District, around half way between Oldham and Holmfirth. Despite the slightly remote feeling you get whilst there, its not too far from the town of Greenfield (home of England's heighest church 'The Heights' and Standedge Tunnel on the canal).

The car park is just off the A635 Holmfirth Road, directly at the foot of the enbankment leading up to the main reservoir. Want a tip? Go early. The car park underestimates the popularity of the place, particularly at weekends. There's a main car park and then layby parking either side of the road into the car park. Want another tip? Park in the layby facing the way out back on to Holmfirth Road. It can get very busy, the road in and out is a car wide, so on nice days (or even wintry ones) there can be a queue to get both in and out with many a stand-off between cars. Throw into the mix walkers needing to get past (no paths in and out means people weaving between traffic) and it can be a nightmare. I've been a few times and been caught out, so I got there early and parked as near to the exit as possible.

Once the hassle of debating where to park is out the way, the path off the car park leads directly on to the edge of Dovestone reservoir. I'd come after that few days in early February where the North West had snow, and given that it had thawed on sunny Merseyside I thought it would be the case for everywhere in the North West. The reservoir was still rocking the Winter Wonderland vibes and it looked like there'd been another dusting the night before. I had a pair of crampons at the ready just in case things got a bit tasty. From the edge of Dovestone you can go either way around the main reservoir from here, the left taking you past the overflow (quite the spectacle when the water levels are high and you see it cascading away down a huge plughole type affair) or right past the boat house which takes you to the foot of the hill leading up to Chew Reservoir. The views from the top of Chew are spectacular, both across the peaks and out across Manchester, but given the ice and snow the path up looked like a cresta run so I avoided it and opted to head for Greenfield Waterfall at the head of the three reservoirs.

The three reservoirs diminish in size the further up you go. Dovestone at the start is the largest, then Yeoman Hey, and finally Greenfield which is fed by Far Rough Clough and Greenfield Brook which tumbles down off the hills above (or not if you go when the waterfall is frozen). Depending on how far you want to walk, you can do a loop of all three, or cut between the reservoirs to do smaller circuits which makes it popular with runners (of which their numbers increased throughout the day).

There were very few people about when I started, one or two dog walkers, a pack of five hikers, and one chap stood at the far side of the reservoir with a tripoded camera waiting for the sun rise to hit the slopes behind the lake. NB: It turned out to be this gentleman who by a funny coincidence of mutually liking photos on Instagram later that day led us to striking up a convo in the comments section about our days there. Check him out and you can see his sunrise shot (which is awesome).

Its well pathed along the Dovestone loop and most popular with dog walkers or families. Yeoman Hey has two paths along the northern edge - a tree lined path along side a man made tributary of Greenfield Brook with run offs feeding into it from the hills to your left, or the 'low road' along the water's edge. Both having their own merits in terms of aesthetics. The opposite side is more rugged, and having done that in the rain on New Year's day, a lot more slippy so wear good boots.

The further up the reservoirs I went, the icier and snowy it got as the paths were less trodden and fewer people there were. Your phone signal starts to fade and the wind drops as the sides of the valley get steeper. It also gets really quiet save for the odd plane heading into Manchester passing over. It is glorious. A great place to switch off and have a moment or two of mindfulness. There's an overhang on the tops which for years I've always thought was what was known as Indian Head. I'd utterly convinced myself mainly because of the shape of the rocks. To me, I see a wise Chief staring skyward. However, now I am more au fait with OS maps as opposed to just winging it, and like to know what I'm pointing my camera at, it turns out I've been wrong all these years. What I've been looking at is in fact Raven Stones Brow. Lied to by rocks for years. And now I can see both the Chief or two ravens huddled together. Like some rugged magic eye photo.

Once you past Greenfield Reservoir, the incline of the path picks up sharply and the water rushes down Greenfield Brook in mini cascades off to the side. There were huge sword sized icicles here, and it became noticeably more colder as you were out of the line of the sun rising low in the sky. Once you hit Greenfield Waterfall you've one of two options: Climb it up onto the moors or turn back. I remember arriving at the waterfall in summer once, and a man had made it about half way up. He'd also clearly regretted it as his internal debate about whether to carry on was clear to see as he stood looking up and down it. He saw me and decided he didn't want to lose face and carried on. It is doable providing you wear the right footwear, take your time and tread carefully. Given I slip on even the tiniest of ice patches, there wasn't a chance I was risking it in the snow, however it looked absolutely stunning as the sun peeked out over the ridge of it. All you could hear was the trickle of the brook under the ice, and I had the place to myself for a good 40 minutes.

After a quick stop for water and food, I headed back. You need to double back on the path you came up to the waterfall (unless you're climbing it that is in which you can take a path that leads back down to the opposite side of Yeoman Hey) back to the start point of Greenfield Reservoir. Here you can swing a left, coming down onto the opposite bank of Yeoman Hey and take the bumpier, rockier path back to Dovestone. The sun was up by now and casting its light out across the lakes that had been pretty grey and murky on the way up. On the way back down you could almost be forgiven for thinking it looked like the Canadian Rockies in places with the snow and conifer trees.

Coming back along the eastern edge of Dovestone, you pass the Life For A Life Memorial Garden set below the correct Indian Head, which allows for the planting of trees in memory of a loved one (sustaining the woodland in the area offsetting any deforesting of other areas along the banks deemed necessary by United Utilities who maintain the land).

Despite not being a huge fan of snow, it made a real difference to Dovestone which I've seen several times in other weather conditions, so it was quite a change and let you appreciate the surroundings all over again. And it was a clear day! A rarity for me so being able to mooch about without getting drenched or blown about the valley was welcome. Whether you want a challenge or a nice leisurely stroll, Dovestone has the best of both worlds equally in terms of views if you want the up high vistas or the waters edge serenity, all not too far from civilisation, motorways and public transport. Just go early. I can't stress that enough.

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