Bleaklow: Downed warplanes, UFO moorlands, and a spot of cake

Glossop is the next destination for our series of outdoor adventure videos. Again located within 90 minutes of the team’s hometown, this time we’re joined by Manchester Art Fair co-founder and famed foodie Thom Hetherington to explore air crash wreckages, barren wildernesses, and sweet treats.

By Manchester's Finest | Last updated 1 December 2022

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Difficulty: Moderate
Time: 2h 32m
Distance: 8.84km
Elevation: 619m

It has now been five weeks since Finest launched its new Weekend Walks video series. The preceding quartet of outdoor adventures has so far taken us to some truly iconic northern English landscapes, and this edition is no different. Not least as where we’re heading offers a spectacular glimpse of Manchester itself from afar, the city’s constantly growing skyline jutting out in the distance, foregrounded by serene surrounds.

For the next episode, we hit the outskirts of Glossop to explore the Bleaklow Bomber crash site. For those staring blankly, this is the Peak District spot where a US Air Force Boeing Superfortress hit the ground in 1948, pilots of the aircraft, which had been modified for reconnaissance missions, flying by rudimentary instruments due to thick cloud and mistakenly thinking they had passed the hilltop. All 13 on board perished.

Joining us for what promises to be one of the most unique hikes you’ll find in the region is Thom Hetherington, the man behind major North West events like Manchester Art Fair and NR&B. An avid foodie, en route this epicurean reveals some of his favourite eats in our hometown and his take on the art scene. He’s also local to Glossop, hence our guide Hanna asking him if he’d prefer to lead on the route when the pair first meet, on a sunny but windy morning.

Thom Hetherington and Hanna Outdoors

The walk begins at Snake Pass summit, highest point on the A57 which runs Manchester to Sheffield through jaw-dropping scenery. From here, it’s on to the Pennine Way path, heading north east, through seemingly endless moorlands littered with white wildflowers. You’ll be on this for 1.43km, which is good as it’s incredibly photogenic, whether you’ve a camera to hand (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?) or prefer a mental snapshot like the old days.

Soon, you’ll descend down some stone slab steps into Devil’s Dike, a rough track with grassy embankments either side which is popular with runners. It’s also around these parts some have claimed to spot UFO activity, although that’s a story for another time. You continue on the route for around half a mile, and don’t worry if things start looking unfamiliar. There’s a cairn up here to make sure you don’t get lost. That’s Gaelic for route marker, or something to that effect, just in case you’re not up on languages native to the British Isles, other than English.

The next waypoint is picturesque Hern Clough, which is essentially a great little picnic spot high on the moors on the northern bank of a stream, next to a charming little waterfall. A mixture of unbridled beauty and unfettered ruggedness would be one way to describe the view, and this place marks a literal turning point on our route.

As such, you’ll now follow the trail heading due west, and uphill, towards the site of that downed World War II plane we mentioned before. It won’t take too long before you start to glimpse what remains of the ill-fated aircraft, around 1.15km give or take.

Incredibly, there’s still pieces of the wreckage more than 70 years after the incident, which makes for a rather sobering but fascinating rummage. Fittingly, visitors have written messages in stones, visible from the air: specifically, “RIP” and “Lest We Forget”. As Hetherington explains, there are around 80 crash sites like this on the Dark Peak alone, from around the same era, giving an insight into how dangerous flying was before radar improved, reducing the need to judge distances, and depths, by eye.

Continuing west, Higher and Lower Shelf Stones are very close to the crash site itself, and perch preciously on the edge of a hillside that boasts quite the incline. The former has an elevation marker, showing you this is 618 metres above sea level, and spectacular panoramas, offering uninterrupted wilderness behind, and near-unparalleled views out to central Manchester. Beetham Tower and Deansgate Square’s skyscraper cluster provide a unique way to get orientated with what you can see of town.

Keeping the same bearing, James’s Thorn is the next standout point — a second crash site, this time from a Canadian Avro Lancaster Bomber that came down less than two weeks after the war in Europe finished, in May 1945. There’s nowhere near as much left from that tragedy compared with the first we encountered, but it’s worth a stop and think. Especially as that respite preps you for a rather steep descent into Glossop, and, before the village, Ashton Clough. An area popular with scramblers, the path climbs down before things level out a little at the serene Shelf Brook River. Ferns either side adding to the feeling of wild-life growing in abundance, indicative of how much more sheltered you now are compared with higher ground.

Soon, you’ll come to Mossy Lea Farm, an essential for families in warmer weather. And understandably so, given you can easily find a patch of comfy ground to sit on and kick back, even dangle a toe or two in the water. Whether there will be a host of playful little dogs to cuddle, like on the day our team visited, is another question. Hetherington again hits us with some local knowledge here, namely that you can see the hillside that was once home to Dog Rock, a huge outcrop of boulders blown up by an angry farmer and his dynamite to stop climbers marauding through his back yard.

Sadly, we’re almost at the end of the route for this week, with around 2km of track and Shepley Street’s historic terrace houses leading us from Mossy Lea to our finish point, the appropriately named Shepley’s Cafe. A vegetarian and vegan treasure, complete with elegant courtyard garden where you can hear sounds of the nearby stream. As Hetherington puts it: “the cakes are fantastic, the coffee is fantastic, and the tea is fantastic.” What more could you ask for?

More Weekend Walks…