The boiler had broken at work and we were sent home, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to satisfy my growing curiosity about this place. Last time I was up here it was raining and the visibility was very poor, so it being a clear and crisp winters day I just had to come. It seems to me that Winter Hill and Rivington Pike are the focal point for most of the monuments in this area. Cheetham Close and Round Loaf have an uninterupted view, as would Pikestones if it wasn't for the forestry commission trees. Other cairns and stones dotted all around are either in plain site of the hill or actually on it.
This visit was excellent, a friend from work came with me, and we strolled around the top of the hill, looking at all the TV masts. As much as they definitely ruin the hill, a part of me can't help digging the Star Wars feel they bring to the place, especially in the snow. I even got to thinking about the unbroken lineage of this place - from neolithic sacred hill (if my thoughts are correct) through to beacon hill and on to TV broadcasting... a definite thread there I feel!
While walking around the top we couldn't help noticing a hang-glider hovering around between the masts. One time as we walked past the guy, we were close enough to see his face, he shouted down to us:
"What time is it?"
"Half past three", I replied.
"Cheers!", he responded.
We had a good laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. Only round Bolton, we concluded.
I had expected more here. The cairn is pretty small, and lies scattered. The eery sci-fi TV station aerials dominate the immediate area. The view from here is quite something though, stretching from the Lancashire coast over to Bury. Local landmarks within view include Darwen Tower on Darwen Hill(itself once a beacon hill), Rivington Pike, Round Loaf and the Anglezark & Belmont reservoirs.
It was only within a few days of my first ever visit to Winter Hill that I was already plannning my second trek onto the moors. Having found Winter Hill cairn easily enough, I scanned my map and decided that it's closest neighbour, Noon Hill cairn, should provide the focus for my next trip. I had found the ancient archaeology on Winter Hill extremely fascinating, though, despite being a teacher of history, I realised that this period of prehistory was quite beyond my previous academic experience.
Throughout the next week at work, during coffee breaks and lunch breaks I unfolded my OS map and tried to find the most accessible route up to Noon Hill. On the day of my first visit I had tried to cross directly from Winter Hill cairn across the hilltop to the black dot in the distance which I recognised as Noon Hill cairn (SD647150). However, having had only limited experience of moor land hiking I made a hasty retreat when the mud reached my knees and the cloud cover obscured my view completely. In the days that followed I considered the route from Rivington Pike (SD 644138) following a North - North Easterly line to Noon Hill, but eventually I abandoned that potentially soggy idea in favour of a more direct approach.
The following Saturday began with a bitterly cold January morning, but the sky was perfectly clear, and at least I could expect the mud to be frozen solid! I drove along Sheep House Lane from Rivington and parked opposite Horden Stoops (SD655158), planning to scale the steep NW slope of Winter Hill diagonally and emerge on the summit of Noon Hill.
No sooner had I begun the ascent from Belmont Road than I realised that my intended route would probably be impassable. The existing pathway cut diagonally away from Noon Hill towards the summit of Winter Hill (SD651153) and I felt sure that to deviate from it, and then scramble up the steep overgrown hillside of Noon Hill Slack would prove extremely difficult and very time consuming. Therefore, rather disappointedly, I followed the seemingly vertical track way up the hillside. When I eventually reached Winter Hill cairn (SD656150) I found myself once again staring across the boggy moor land at the same black dot in the far distance.
However, resolute in failure, I headed off across the wind swept hilltop, determined to reach Noon Hill cairn, and remain undeterred by the icy mud and gathering gloom.
Surprisingly, I succeeded in this second attempt to reach Noon Hill by crossing Winter Hill Spring, with relative ease. After perhaps only 30 minutes I arrived at the cairn site, numb and exhausted, but triumphant! (SD 647150). And I was not disappointed. I found the site incredibly compelling in terms of it's archaeological significance but also as a deeply evocative link with the ancient past, and despite the biting cold I remained on top of Noon Hill for much of that afternoon. Having researched all the information I could find on this location it was truly fascinating to actually reach and explore it at last, and as with every site I have subsequently visited in this incredible area, it was definitely worth the effort.