Projects | Diary 4: A Walk with Jennifer Reid

Diary 4: A Walk with Jennifer Reid

The musicality of the moor

Additional note: this walk took place back in February 2020 with Jennifer Reid and much of the writing within reflects that time, rather than the circumstances society currently faces… revealing a range of interesting contrasts, things we perhaps take for granted. Together we walked the hill from Coal Pit Road, following the route of the 1896 Mass Trespass – stopping at the ruins of Smithills Shooting Hut to record our reworking of Allen Clarke’s dialect song ‘Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Morning’, incorporated into the recording below (warning: includes my version of ‘singing’!).

So much has changed since our February walk: social structures shifting into new configurations, a kind of topography we tread like eggshells. I am writing this on the 23 April; now countries across the world are facing the Covid-19 pandemic, another two weeks (at least) of ‘lockdown measures’ ahead for the UK. For me to go to Winter Hill would now be a different form of ‘trespass’. I do not have a car and to attempt to get there by public transport would likely constitute an ‘unnecessary journey’ – a countering of current health and safety measures that I could not, would not do.

Instead, I reflect on it – a great deal. For during the earlier months of the year, Winter Hill, for me, became a place I went to as if to also find my real reflection… the self I otherwise subsume under layers of distraction, attempting to blot out the dissonance here in the city. The hill was a place I went and walked, my own body meeting moorland and my mind meeting my self within that… a charged connectivity. That sensation feels distant now, days dredged with dissociation, perhaps the mind’s way of managing a situation it is struggling to comprehend – as is the case for many people at the moment. The terrain of my body feels taut, strange, palpitations burst under my chest, breaths in waves… like a chaos of contour lines on a crumpled map. My map of the West Pennine Moors lies battered on the shelf, a monument to a kind of past. Anxiety arches against a set geography. During these moments I look out of the window, onto the streets of Hulme.

And more often than not, there are people walking. During this time of lockdown measures – the limitation of one period of exercise outside the house per day – walking seems to be on the rise. I watch a range of people I would not normally see walking locally, noticing more people take the time to share a smile from a distance… an intimacy that intensifies a day when you have not seen any other human being. Walking is another instinctive intimacy, and I become even more tuned into it when I go out myself – the moulding of my foot to the floor, the feel of moving forwards not just as means of travel, but energy, embrace. A grounding for so many of us – in whatever way we move – at a time of uncertainty. Perhaps it was that sensation which surged between the Mass Trespass Walkers of 1896, themselves at the edge of a new century, society in flux as industrialisation continued to evolve in new ways in the north of England.

Now that instinctive urge to walk seems more acute than ever. It is even in the headlines, Captain Tom Moore raising over £25 million for NHS Charities Together as he is sponsored to walk a hundred lengths of his back garden before his 100th birthday; inspiring a huge surge of public connectivity.

And yet people haven’t always walked Winter Hill with conceptions of connectivity in mind. As will be expanded on in this diary entry itself, there are sad examples of fire outbreaks caused by human hands. This now includes examples within the ‘lockdown’ period. A fire, deemed to have been caused deliberately, ravaged an estimated 2km of moorland on 27 March, and, to add to the horror, as recently as last week there were reports of a BBQ on the hill. On the peat-rich moors, fire can so quickly spread, becoming uncontrollable, upturning whole ecosystems as it laps across land. Right now, at this time of pandemic, there are indeed some things we do not have control or choice over… uncertainty looms like an ungraspable peak. But we do have the choice as to how we treat the landscape around us, conduct ourselves within it and to connect in respect.

Connectivity with the land continues; Winter Hill will continue to exist long after I am gone, long after all of us have gone. I take solace in that. Respect of these places is something to reflect on, to listen to And just as negative occurrences have been a feature of the news recently, there are also some positives. As of early April, torching heather, a technique often used by gamekeepers on their grouse moors, has been outlawed in a number of places across the north. We live, as ever, in times of turbulence, difficulties…. but also a time of potential, understanding and progress.

Walking, moving, listening – whether that is indoors or in the local area – is in itself a progress. An embrace of life. And it is that we all hold on to, together, for as long as we can.

We too can listen to the musicality of the moor, even if we cannot travel there.

  • Emily Oldfield, 23 April 2020

Winter Hill has inspired a strange and wonderful array of creative responses over the years – from rousing folk songs and iconic-indie tracks to intense instrumental pieces. A play titled ‘Winter Hill’ written by Julian Wertenbaker was published in 2017, a ‘Lancastrian metal’ band Arendia have recorded a large range of music inspired by the surrounding landscape, and the place has even inspired the name of an Adidas training shoe.

Yet across the country – though particularly in Greater Manchester where the bands originate from – people may know ‘Winter Hill’ in relation to tracks of the same name from both Doves and A Certain Ratio. Song lyrics sit in our minds like place names, markers of familiarity, at home in the ear.

Whilst the piece by Doves (released in 2009 on their album Kingdom of Rust) is notable in its repeated refrain of ‘I’ll see you back on Winter Hill’, evoking a sense of inevitable return over guitars, soaring synths and loops, the A Certain Ratio track is a more experimental affair. Released in 1981 on Factory Records, A Certain Ratio’s ‘Winter Hill’ contains no direct mention of the landmark, instead a plunging percussive instrumental…evocative of rich, varied terrain.

The moorland moves us to musicality. Even down to shoe-level, the slap of a sole on a gritstone slab is the start of a beat, the dissipation of dirt and earth echoing in its own timbre, even if beyond the frequency of human hearing. When we walk, there is an element within ourselves waiting on the surge of the next sound, our craving to listen; whether that is the wind like a burst of birds in flight, or the sigh of water easing out of the most saturated peat and over rock. Or something altogether different. People bring their own percussion to place – on a cold day the breath catches the back of the throat like the seethe of a snare drum.

The trail and tramp and tread of thousands of feet over the hill on the first Winter Hill Mass Trespass procession of 1896 – Sunday 6 September – must have almost been a music in itself. But who was behind it? Although the committee Smithills Parish Council did form an inquiry into landowner Colonel Richard Ainsworth’s decision to close public access to Coal Pit Road (as he did in Summer 1896), this was rather limited considering that Ainsworth was the Council chairman!1 The hustle and bustle of concerned conversation was already emerging in the local meeting places and pubs, though it was two socialist party branches that actually brought together the trespass itself. As Professor Paul Salveson records in his pamphlet Will Yo Come O’ Sunday Morning: The 1896 Battle For Winter Hill (one of the few detailed studies of the event) ‘it was the joint decision of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) and the Bolton Socialist Party’2, with prominent members being Joe Shufflebotham and Matt Phair (both who led the Bolton branch of SDF), with their support of trespass joined by many influential local people including William Hutchinson.3

The planned trespass for the Sunday 6 September 1896 – the call for which was declared in a local newspaper – started at 10am at the junction of Halliwell Road and Blackburn Road with an estimated 1,000 people coming to first listen to speeches, before the procession set off. Yet over the course of the next couple of miles, it has estimated that the walking crowd had grown to 10,000 people.4 On a further march the following Sunday 12 September, estimates of numbers involved are as high as 12,000 and marches also took place on Saturday 19 September, a walk on Sunday 20 and even a Christmas Day 1896 demonstration, although the latter avoided Coal Pit Road.5 A huge body of people clearly was involved in events, a real swell of sound and energy… so why has so little ‘noise’ been made about it in historic record over time? People are quick to cite the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass of 1932, which of course also deserves attention, but what about this act of more than 30 years previous?

Perhaps it is its politicised origins that have caused the trespass events (which continued over further days during the month) around Winter Hill to be marginalised in media and historic coverage both then and now… a concept I find deeply troubling. Or perhaps it is because the Mass Trespass events did not succeed in re-granting public access to the moor at the time. Instead, Ainsworth pushed for a trial (March 1897) involving many of the prominent figures involved in the marches… ultimately falling short of winning the freedom to access the road and beyond they strived for. Yet surely there is significance in the huge number of people involved, their determination to show their solidarity in walking, with moorland and each other? Solomon Partington continued to campaign for public access to the moors throughout his life, even issuing a series of ‘Truth Pamphlets’ about the history of the area, including some rather debatable ‘truths’ about the origins of Coal Pit Road, including that it was an ancient causeway of the 16th century!6 However, what it does show is a determination to defend edgeland space and the instinctive power it holds within us, like that deep urge to connect through walking.

Paul Salveson further states in his pamphlet ‘certainly a branch of the Footpaths Preservation Society was formed by James Bleakley and a Mr. Brown, as a spin-off from events’7 in relation to the 1896 Mass Trespass, highlighting that although it did not directly succeed against Ainsworth, there was significant appetite behind the access movement. Paul himself has been a significant proponent of improved access and cultural awareness of Lancashire tradition for many years… and it feels strange now to hold his pamphlet -published in 1982 – and therefore read of his expression of frustration during earlier decades: ‘even in the leisure conscious 1980s access to the countryside remains a major problem for thousands of walkers’.8 Even at this time, there continued to be a lack of clarity over public accessibility to the moors around Bolton and Winter Hill, the risk of charges of trespass very much alive.

The commemorative stone to the trespass on Coal Pit Lane therefore holds a bittersweetness, its final line:

‘The path is now dedicated as a public right of way for the enjoyment of all. 6th September 1996’

Highlighting how full use of the road was only granted to the public a whole century after the trespass itself. The fight for access and recognition of the walking tradition had carried on over the course of the twentieth century, with Paul a significant figure in the movement by the 1980s, even organising a commemorative procession to the trespass on the 5 September 1982, aiming to raise recognition of the event as well as the rich Lancastrian culture surrounding it. This was a time when many felt Lancashire identity was being pushed to the ‘edge’, the creation of metropolitan boroughs such as Greater Manchester swallowing up Bolton and disrupting the notions of place.

Paul spoke to me about his fascination with the mass trespass and why it is perhaps so under-covered historically:

“It seemed to be a story totally forgotten, something I came across via a fleeting reference in Allen Clarke’s Moorlands and Memories from the 1920s. And yet it was one of the biggest public rights of way campaigns of its kind… and local to me! I grew up in Bolton, and as a boy I would often get the bus to Rivington to walk up the Pike and see the hill.

“Why the lack of recognition? The First World War which followed not too long after drew a veil over so many things, attentions were elsewhere. Another thing is that the 1896 trespass was very much consisting of local people and organisations, rather than part of a mass movement like that behind the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass of 1932. The local press covered the events of 1896 extensively, but perhaps not so the national press.”

There wasn’t just one mass trespass march either – and links to musicality continue. The following Tuesday (8 September), as plans to restage the march on Sunday 12 September were circulating, the Bolton Socialist Party (BSP) met and decided to support it; with one gesture of this being to commission a song specially for the occasion. Written by a J Bell, it is believed that 5000 copies were printed and likely circulated amongst an excited swell of walkers – and yet sadly, no printed copies seem to have survived.9 I wonder of the musicality of the moment, passions pouring over the lyrics and held on the tongue… now an echo, the edge of possibility.

What does still exist however, is a dialect sketch by Allen Clarke, recorded in ‘Teddy Ashton’s Journal’ (‘Teddy Ashton’ was Clarke’s pen name). Clarke, as aforementioned by Paul, was a prominent local writer and dialect poet, evidently keen to sing the praise of place. That the lyrics form a kind of rallying cry, an invitation to be part of it, is evident:

“Will yo’ come o’ Sunday morning’,

For a walk o’er Winter Hill.

Ten thousand went last Sunday,

But there’s room for thousands still!”10

Music unlocks the potential to merge our voices with the volume of place, to put ourselves within its depth and drive. A kind of communication with the contours… soundwaves spooling like line-markers, taking the human spirit upwards.  

In this diary entry, I am walking Winter Hill with Jennifer Reid – a singer of 19th century broadside ballads and dialect song – hoping to explore our own reworking of Allen Clarke’s 1896 piece. ‘Will Yo’ Come o’ Sunday morning’ stands out in its inbuilt invitation, extending the potential for connection with others through people and place. Perhaps this is a point more crucial to address than ever – reconnecting with locality (by that I mean the personal elements in place) and landscape. As is seen in the case of the Covid-19 pandemic, more people are ‘revisiting’ their ‘local’ areas, in different ways.  

Yet as was discussed with both Vicky Entwistle of The Woodland Trust and Andrew Michael Hurley in our previous walk (Winter Hill Diary 2 – parts 1 and 2) – fewer people now seem to tread these moorland paths, exclude themselves in the assumption that it is ‘not for them’. Jennifer tells me that her own family don’t have much of an interest in walking on the moors, and on the drive from close to Horwich Parkway station – where brightly coloured shopping outlets stand stark on a vast tarmac carpet – she reflects on the retail parks she would often be taken to as a child.

“They are a place where I feel safe too.”

Retail parks could be considered their own kind of edgeland – as is elaborated on in Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts’ book Edgelands11. Perhaps there is something about feeling the fringes, stepping out of the everyday routine and entering the edge that has a slick buzz of freedom about it – a kind of self-safety. Perhaps this feeling played a part underpinning the walkers of the Winter Hill Mass Trespass all those years ago in 1896. In the industrial age, the moors offered a self-safety, a solace, a step out the routine of shift-work. Now, in the over-acceleration of the 21st century, retail parks offer another form of escapism – semi-surreal spaces where time seems out of joint.

The topography of time jolt seems to surge under the soils of Winter Hill’s surrounds, as well as the hill itself. We drive on beyond the retail parks, past the Ainsworth Arms where the Mass Trespassers would have gathered and head along Smithills Dean Road, towards Coal Pit Road… the start of our walk.

Jennifer’s little car, ‘Elvis’, chugs hungrily. I can’t help but notice the bright pink clogs on the back seat. Jennifer is a keen clog-dancer and is often involved in heritage events around Lancashire and West Yorkshire. The front of the car is also adorned with crocheted seat covers she has made, fantastic thread works of colour, luminous almost. We’re around the same age, and a little like the cross-overs of the crochet itself, we end up talking about rooms we have potentially shared in the past and never known about it… cramped gigs in Manchester, sweaty basements, line-ups featuring the band she is also in, JEUCE.

Pulling up in a lay-by, the weather outside seems to knit itself into a thicker, foreboding grey. A group of horses stare from a mud-deep field on one side, eyes glinting like conker-shine. It feels almost uncanny. We set off.

As we walk, I ask Jennifer about her experience of the hill, when and where she first heard more about it. She reflects on the work of Paul Salveson, whose aforementioned pamphlet about the Mass Trespass has beenreferenced throughout this walking series.

The continuing connections through song and musicality here are also clear for not only does Paul’s pamphlet title take inspiration from the Allen Clarke verse, but a brass band was even brought over the moor during the commemorative procession in 1982! This is a fascinating process of revisiting – as although a brass band was apparently arranged for the 12 September 1896 Winter Hill procession, they never materialised. I wonder if there is a term for it… the process of turning past potential into actuality. Bringing the band that should have been. To step onto Winter Hill seems an act of re-walking rather than just walking, each individual somehow bound to bring the past to the surface again.

During my research, I have also spoken to Dr Nat Clare, who was also involved in the Winter Hill Mass Trespass 1982 commemorative event:

Paul Salveson played a pivotal role in organising the mass procession over the original 1890s trespass route from Halliwell in Bolton, up Coalpit Road (where the memorial route marker is now positioned) over what was Colonel Ainsworth, the local land owner’s grouse moor, to Winter Hill. This was where Paul gave a rousing speech, on a cold and windy day, through a megaphone!I think this took place on Sunday, September 5, 1982.

The event was very well supported with local celebrities and musicians are joining in (I seem to remember Mike Harding and Benny Rothwell from the Kinder Scout trespass) and the procession was led by Bolton’s Eagley Brass band.”

Nat also told me more about a play that had been developed to mark the Mass Trespass commemoration, written by the local Les Smith, and also incorporating song. Within this, Nat put music to Allen Clarke’s Will You Come o’ Sunday Morning, which the cast sung as an ensemble. He also played the romantic lead, performing a track titled ‘A Bolton Mill Lad’s Lament’ – the lyrics emphasising the industrial workers’ bold connection with Winter Hill, the feeling of it both as a place of release and a right.

A mysterious relationship that, the human surge of right to be in a place. For what does that mean? I have thought about this a great deal. Perhaps this is particularly the case for edgelands… we feel bound to places with human traces, standing on the edge of identity, the past pulling our feet down and yet not divulging a full answer. We are drawn to the compulsion to revisit and revisit. To find. Perhaps now, more and more of us will find place – and part of ourselves – in thought.

For the hill holds a lesson for all of us; it is a place of findings. In the previous diary entries, I recall my wonder at the webwork of mosses, root systems, soils swirling under human tread, all rendering a footprint a mere moment in such a magnitude. As it should be. For learning to integrate, rather than interrupt, to embrace the landscape we are part of is a point of increasing conversation; headlines of climate change, ecological destruction.

Perhaps it is finding that rhythm in ourselves to release us from routines and make music with rather than from the landscape which is necessary. Dialect song could be considered an example. Field recordings attempt another angle: listening to the voice of place rather than reducing it. Richard Skelton’s beautiful album ‘The Complete Landings’ is a fine example. A synchronicity with the surroundings, described as ‘colluding’ – finding common ground – with, rather than collecting or taking from.

Interesting then, that Winter Hill has also allowed so many to ‘find’ the audio-visual worlds of modern escapism – television, radio… unfurling from the transmitting mast near its summit. In this way, Winter Hill has been the edgeland underpinning personal creative discovery over many years – teenagers tuning into Rock FM for the first time, picking up stations that shaped their development – and still do… with the hill the source of them. It is from here so many pick up the signals of bulletins, breaking news, stories both brilliant and tragic. Winter Hill is the unseen place underpinning it all… haunting almost in its edgeland-ness: connecting countless individual epiphanies across the North, yet so often unseen, unvisited. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why feeling its physicality very much mattered to me.N

Jennifer and I feel the granulations of gritty peat shift, scattering like coffee grounds under our feet, before merging into the thicker thud through bursts of open bog as we leave the road of Coal Pit Road and onto the track towards Winter Hill summit. Bursts of orange moss flame through a deeper green and feel like a fur upon cold fingers.

“It’s beautiful,” she muses.

Sounds and sensations emerge at intimate proximity here, the wind wielding a complete touch… and always with the wonder to take your breath away. It makes me think of the sonic similarity of ‘wonder’ and ‘power’. And it grows.

Tuning in to the place of source, feeling its frequencies – Winter Hill itself – matters. ‘Matter’ is apt; for it is also physical matter, scale and mass, texture and tensions. Matter runs through my fingers as I clench into grass, down into earth. A clump is so tightly tethered, its firmness seems to grip back at my grasp.

But something else is tethered on Winter Hill. The towering mast of the transmitting station looms ahead, starkly strung up in a series of wires – tightly lashed supports, along with dampening chains, a determined attempt to withstand the wind. Today it is half-shrouded in mist, an almost cinematic shot of a raised staff coming out of the smoke. This strange tethered tower tells of a lesson learned from something more sinister; the mast on West Yorkshire’s Emley Moor collapsed in conditions in 1969.

Yet this very month – February 2020 at the time of our walk – human connections to the Winter Hill mast will be changing… a relationship shifting eerily below everyday acknowledgement. Why? On the 10 February, Winter Hill’s 700MHz clearance was due to end, meaning that the transmitter will serve A group aerials – transmissions tuned to new frequencies.12 Eerie almost, how our own tethering to place can alter, often without our knowing… a sense of sadness.

Relationships with television, radio, are changing too. For so many, terrestrial television is no longer punctuation – the ‘television time’ I was accustomed to in childhood, the strange comfort of a certain programme at a certain hour, now fading. Streaming – an interesting word for an artificial process – turns time to liquid, in this era of handheld, portable technologies that alter our connection to place yet again. We can tune out of real time and take ourselves elsewhere. According to the Ofcom Media Nations report of 2019, whilst almost half of people in Britain have now signed up to a streaming service, the consumption of linear broadcasting is falling by more than 40 minutes a day at least.13 The Winter Hill transmitting mast stands in front of us – one of the first in the UK to broadcast high definition digital television – and yet somehow a totem to a relationship in strange decline. I wonder what it will signify in ten years, fifty? Winter Hill, after all a place of markers, icons to past intensity, past connections. A place where movement becomes monument.

This makes me think about the countless number of places in everyday life from which communications stem and yet we will never see or touch: the point where a phone call was made from, the location of the sender of a text, in which office and where did an automated email first start its chain? Indeed, these could be considered ‘chains’ – the weird unspoken unspooling of place. Perhaps it happens even more in isolation. Edgelands of our convenience, disconnection drumming under connection – an irony aching. It is this which drives me to Winter Hill, to give back to a place that gives, to experience the edge.

And perhaps musicality is a key example of a human method to experience the edge. To take objects, voices – and push them beyond, to meaningful stirrings of sound, edges. And these edges we hold onto, elsewhere, like I sit and listen now.

Hence the decision of Jennifer and I to not only consider the dialect song of the past, but to create a verse that could apply on an ongoing basis. Interesting that ‘verse’ and ‘versatility’ share so much similarity… perhaps a suggestion that through song we can shift, adapt, change, learning to listen to place. Winter Hill is a place of possibility for that fusion – the past and present after all passing each other at close range.

Here is the first stanza of Allen Clarke’s 1896 verse, along with a stanza Jennifer and I have written:

“Will yo’ come o’ Sunday morning’,

For a walk o’er Winter Hill.

Ten thousand went last Sunday,

But there’s room for thousands still!”

“O the moors are rare and bonny,

And the heather’s sweet and fine,

And the road across this hill top,

Is the public’s – Yours and mine!”14


But will you come in the current

And walk the hill so recent burnt

There are new paths to be taken

The ways of Winter Hill relearnt.

Let our feet touch on its language

Hear the wind with the land’s call

For regrowth we only help with

This hill with rights beyond us all.

As the new stanza suggests, caring for the land rather than cultivating it for human means, is crucial. Colluding with it. Yet so often, ‘land’ is a term used to suggest status and ownership. In the case of the Mass Trespass of 1896 for example, it was Richard Henry Ainsworth, based at Smithills Hall, who determined that his status as ‘landowner’ entitled him to close Coal Pit Road to public access.

We pass the Mass Trespass commemorative stone and stop for a photograph, before shortly coming across the shell of a building to our right. Dug into a dip in the terrain, this was once Smithills Shooting Hut, used by the owners of nearby Smithills Hall and their wealthy friends for game shooting. It is a bizarre site, its foundation stones still firm and rain slicked, forming a border for the roughly-hewn pile of rubble at its centre – giving the impression that the building has been collapsed in on itself, swallowing the space where shooters would have stood, as if ashamed. Yet the landscape holds no such shame, only witness.  

Now we stand at its edge and I reach out to touch a chunk of the rubble – grey stone shot through with pebbles like rock salt studded through meat.

“I love places like this,” Jennifer reflects – suggesting that the song could be recorded here, the dip of the ground sheltering us from the swirling seethe of the wind.

For we have ascended the hill in anticipation of Storm Dennis – the latest major weather event in the forecast. Jennifer currently lives in the West Yorkshire town of Todmorden and reflects on how just the weekend before, Storm Ciara hit the town heavily; businesses and homes ruined by the dark roll of the water. The area has been subject to a number of flooding incidents in recent years – and peatland is part of the discussion. The article I read (closer to the time) by George Monbiot comes to mind: ‘If we want to cut flooding we should stop burning the moorland’ – in terms of the outcry to stop the burning and draining of Calderdale’s Walshaw Moor.

Winter Hill and the surrounding moorland holds uncanny connections with the Walshaw Moor story. For Walshaw Moor contains a grouse shooting estate of over 6,000 acres – with the landowner choosing to burn and drain its peatland yet again in 2020 with the aim of increasing the numbers of game birds. Yet this intervention through fire not only causes habitat destruction for other species, but increases erosion, meaning that the hills cannot hold water as effectively – leaving them overwhelmed in flooding conditions. This was seen in the case of Storm Ciara.

Yet if allowed to naturally flourish rather than burn, peatland can effectively hold back water for longer, emphasised by the Journal of Hydrology X paper published last year. The irresponsible decisions of landowners and their apparent disregard for the communities living close-by strikes a similarity with the circumstances around the Winter Hill Mass Trespass – landowner Ainsworth blocking the right of way in the interests of his grouse shooting.

Winter Hill has also seen devastating fires over the years, though one of the most tragic in recent times being the fire of June 2018, which raged for 41 days and saw up to several square miles burn. Although this was not landowner-inflicted, people were arrested in relation to the blaze – and the lesson lasts: preserving peatland is crucial.

I asked Moors For The Future, who are working with the Woodland Trust on the restoration of the area, to comment. According to Conservation Quality Manager, Chris Fry:

During the summer of 2018, a significant period of dry weather led to very large-scale wildfires across the southern and western Pennines, the iconic Winter Hill in Bolton was one of the most severe of these.

 “Moors for the Future Partnership has since worked alongside the Woodland Trust with stakeholders to form a restoration plan that will set the land on an upward trajectory to get the best blanket bog we can.

We are hoping to restore the really wet conditions of a healthy, waterlogged blanket bog to achieve a multitude of eco-system service benefits. These include improved stores of carbon owing to halted erosion of the peat, slowing the flow of water from the moor to help to reduce flooding downstream, improved water quality that will filter into drinking water reservoirs, enhancing the habitat for moorland wildlife and a landscape that is more resilient to wildfire.

Work is already underway at the top of the hill, with mini dams slowing the flow of water and creating wetter, more stable conditions for sphagnum moss (the key bog building plant) and other bog species to grow. Pools of water created by the dams have already been naturally colonised by sphagnum moss, an inspiring demonstration that the works are creating the right conditions for bog species and they are returning.

Rewetting Winter Hill is crucial for several eco-system services reasons, particularly as the landscape is such an iconic landmark that links communities to their peatlands and, therefore, their welfare”

Today we have watched the clouds clot to a grey-black, bursts of sunlight seeping through towards the horizon like a ripening bruise. Much of the view of Bolton and Horwich is blurred, the towers of Manchester diluted into pale silhouettes of themselves, like condensation on a screen of glass. At the shooting hut, stone and moss, the surging clumps of marram grass, feel close and raw.

I rifle through my rucksack, degloved hands clawing in the cold as I reach for the notebook. I lay the lyrics down on the side of the shooting hut – narratives of old and new coming together, a place of past deaths approached with current life.

It is the sudden surge of Jennifer’s voice that strikes me.

Her vocals vie upwards, creating their own tune as if opening the valves of instrument. I want to ask her; how do you work out the pace? How do you find the melody like that?

For this is a place of findings – as I discover for myself. After the first rendition, Jennifer invites me to join in. I stutter and attempt to protest: I’ve never been taught to sing, who am I to try this, it will be awful. That teenage era flush of shame starts under my skin like hot water. But she is insistent.

It is something that Jennifer reflects on later as we make our way down the hill, later; her passion for self-learning rather than being taught.

“You can learn through just doing it,” she says, “And that applies to most things.”

Unconvinced by imposed educational authority and society’s tendency to tell us that we need to be taught to do things rather than discover for ourselves, Jennifer celebrates the path of self-discovery, learning by doing. Singing, poetry reciting, crocheting.

In this way, the landscape itself is a place of learning, immersion – it does not dictate or instruct. We understand through encounter and reflection, whether that encounter is physical or metaphorical. Finding that rhythm in ourselves to release us from our routines.

And so, we start. My voice veers at first, a sheep stumbling away from the flock – woolly and dazed. But as I listen to Jennifer and feel my mouth meet the surge of the sound, I allow myself to fall into it, the path of the song. The musicality of the moor wraps up with moment; I roll on the soles of my feet as we make our way through the lyrics for a third time… the resonant ring of two voices rising together suddenly raw in my ears – finding a place of hope.

Findings certainly is a subject that scatters the slopes of the hill and its surroundings. In the previous diary entry, Vicky Entwistle (of the Woodland Trust, and an inspiring figure in the area) told us of the strange discoveries made by Woodland Trust Volunteers; abandoned children’s toys in Walker Fold Wood still stirring with their own strange sounds. I think of the scud and swirl of earth, as travellers have reached into it, fumbling for the music of memorability, finding our way.

Jennifer has never been to the top of Winter Hill before – and yet we both find ourselves angling towards a strange sod of earth just to the right of the mast. The human tendency perhaps, to create our own summits? As we stand there, the growing rain rinses our faces, as if asking us to look at the lie of the land through altered lenses. Colours cavort into each other – a sensory explosion searing with water; rough mauves and reds, dark browns, ripening greens.

“I feel alive.”

Our shared awe at the sense of openness, exposure, is almost palpable. The cold keeps our fingers closed, as if grasping. I think too of the difference, the obstruction faced by the Mass Trespass marchers of 6 September 1896 – as much earlier on Coal Pit Road they would have encountered a gate, intended by Ainsworth to cut access to the moor. On the day, it was reported that some of Ainsworth’s gamekeepers and a small number of police – under the orders of a Sergeant Sefton and Inspector Willoughby – were also present. I try to think of the tension there, the sheer physicality, the body of crowd blocked and agitated… only slats of manipulated wood between them and the moor. According to reports as recorded in Paul Salveson’s pamphlet, shouts started up, socialists such as Entwistle and Joe Shufflebotham using the opportunity to speak out, in a similar vein to the soapbox speech of Solomon Partington earlier on the march.15

And then, they charged. I imagine it, the synchronised surge of feet and hands like a tide, turning the barrier to history, underlined physically – with Sergeant Sefton apparently hit by a stone and Willoughby thrown over a low wall! The force of it, that deep place-craving, coils and lashes back… the rain now like long lances levelling our every exposed pore. Jennifer and I stand as the rain builds, looking out over an edgeland people have held at their centre, for centuries.

The procession on the day then carried over towards Scotman’s Stump (the commemorative post for George Henderson), before dropping into the village of Belmont – on the other side of the hill.

We walk back down with the rain rather than against it, embracing the force of the water as it drums the dark earth around us. For in the afternoon we have meeting at Horwich Heritage Centre, just under the hill – where we are met by a group passionate about the place. Derek Cartwright has co-authored the latest edition of a Winter Hill Scrapbook with Dave Lane and Gary Rhodes, the latter who was also there to meet us. Gary is an ex Rivington/West Pennine Moors Ranger and retired Leader of the Bolton Mountain Rescue Team, therefore having witnessed some of the harshest conditions, the perils of putting self into place. There is also Tony Greenwood, who is involved with the Woodland Trust on the nearby Smithills Estate and has written about the area.

The men are crowded around a table draped with what I initially see as a white tablecloth – quickly realising it is a huge map of mine workings.

“The hill is practically hollow, so many stories under there….” One voice rises.

I am handed newspaper cuttings detailing reported UFO sightings. Around us, the heritage centre is a hive of displays and exhibits, as if reflecting the density of discovery up on the hill. Tony talks me through the extraction of fireclay, extracted from the area – at a time becoming more popular than coal – and used for chimneys and brickmaking. He hands me the example of a handmade brick, its bulk rough and shock-heavy in my hand. A brick and tile works once existed up on Winter Hill, various functioning mines… now gouges and gutted remains.

The heritage centre in itself explores Winter Hill as a place of findings, it exhibits experience. I think of personal findings too – new perspectives. Historical: the finding of flints, shards, shrapnel, the chassis of machinery. The A Certain Ratio track was apparently built around a finding up on the moor – an unusual item of electronic equipment capable of creating a drone sound, high-pitched and haunting, flickering between the two notes that provide a telling basis for the actual song.

The Doves track is also inspired by experiencing the hill, according to the band’s own Andy Williams:

“Winter Hill’s lyrics were inspired mainly by seeing the hill every day from my bedroom, so I suppose it’s never far from my mind, I also can see the TV Transmitter there lit up most nights. I was aware of a little of the history of the hill as regards the air disasters and the UFO sightings etc too… but really the song is just about a simple walk and chat up there with a friend who might be moving away.”

Winter Hill is never far from so many minds. Closing that distance with our edgelands through closeness, the musicality of movement with it – reconnection through thought and reflection – is a concept so crucial it cries to be heard.

With thanks to The Woodland Trust, Moors For The Future, all at Horwich Heritage Centre, Dr Nat Clare, Professor Paul Salveson, Doves and of course Jennifer Reid, who during the course of the Covid-19 Pandemic has been working as a care worker – I’m sending all the very best to her. You can find out more about Jennifer at her website and buy her music too!

Photographs 3 and 6 by Emily Oldfield, the rest with thanks to Neil Winward. Sound editing with additional thanks to Mark Corrin.

1 Salveson, Paul. Will Yo Come O’ Sunday Morning: The 1896 Battle For Winter Hill. Red Rose Publishing (1982). Pp.13

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid. pp.11

4 Ibid. pp.14

5 Ibid. pp.24-28

6 Ibid. pp.10

7 Ibid. pp.27

8 Ibid. pp.39

9 Ibid. pp. 9

10 Clarke, Allen. Cited in Salveson, Paul. Will Yo Come O’ Sunday Morning: The 1896 Battle For Winter Hill. Red Rose Publishing. Pp20

11 Farley, Paul. Symmons Roberts, Michael. Edgelands. Vintage (2 Feb. 2012)



14 Clarke, Allen – cited in Salveson, Paul. Will Yo Come O’ Sunday Morning: The 1896 Battle For Winter Hill. Red Rose Publishing (1982) pp. 43

15 Ibid. p.16-17