Pennine Days – ‘Bridges in the Sky’

‘The Top Path’

The other day I took a ramble along the Pennine Way in the Wessenden Valley, deep in the Dark Peak. I set off heading south from the village of Marsden in West Yorkshire towards Edale.

A sparkling early spring day, I walked up the valley out of the village towards Wessenden Head and Black Hill beyond. This is truly the realm of the Huddersfield Corporation Water-Works. Past a string of magnificently constructed Reservoirs built to ensure a secure supply of fresh water both for industry and the general population.

From Butterley, up past Blakeley, then to Wessenden, and finally Wessenden Head Reservoirs. A chain of diamonds, all glinting in the sunshine on such a clear day.

On my return journey I decided to wander along what I’ve always called the ‘Top Path’ back to Marsden. The ‘Top Path’ begins as a steep narrow path from the valley bottom leading up the side of the Wessenden valley. It’s not so much a path more a sheep trod, so careful footing is always required. It almost feels like a secret path. If you didn’t know it was there you would probably pass it by unnoticed.  It runs high along the valley side all the way back to the village. The views are glorious.

Eventually this tiny path breaks out onto the moorland edge and the pathless expanses of Binn Moor and Meltham Moor beyond. It widens and for a mile or so follows the wonderfully named ‘Deer Hill Conduit’.

Built as a catch-water for these mighty moors, ‘Deer Hill Conduit’ was no doubt part of the grand water works scheme for the valley. Sadly, it has long since stopped running, and has begun filling in as the moorland slowly reclaims the land.

The builders of this waterway in the sky built the most beautiful bridges over their created torrent. Equally spaced along the conduit, and no doubt there to provide access to the moor for stock and travellers.

‘ A Bridge in the Sky’ – over the Deer Hill Conduit – on a road to nowhere

Simple and strong, these are elegant constructions of stone cut and dressed to fit together perfectly. Over the years their surfaces have weathered to a dark rich patina.

‘… elegant, simple constructions, blocks cut and dressed to fit together ….’

Today they are like ghosts, and in gentle decline. But they are glorious reminders of the effort and the pride that once went into our civic works, and of a tradition of builders and stone masons who were proud and satisfied with their efforts and acheivements.

Whenever I pass this way I stop and stand on each bridge. I think about the lives that built them and how beautiful they are. Today it is a secret silent world that few visit, but I hope that those who do appreciate these ‘Bridges in the sky’.

‘Today they are like ghosts; themselves in gentle decline’


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