Hadfield to Penistone (15 miles)
After a very restful night in Glossop, I board a train for the short ride to Hadfield. Here the train terminates in the old westbound platform; the eastbound platform was closed when through passenger services ceased in 1970.
It is quite sad to see the buffer stop at the end of the platform. When I was last here in 1979, the track continued eastwards into the distance. With all the trees behind the buffers, it is difficult to imagine now that this was once a main line stretching towards Sheffield and on to London Marylebone.
Before I leave the station, I watch the Class 323 that has brought me here disappear under the bridge as it begins its journey back to Manchester. I remember taking a photograph of a Class 76 at the same bridge on my first visit.
Back in April 1979 we had arrived at Hadfield station around 10am. Our plan was to cycle the six or seven miles up to Woodhead, get some photographs of the Class 76s coming out of the tunnel, and then return for the train home in the late afternoon.
We were still on Hadfield station getting our bikes ready when the first Class 76 appeared. We were quite surprised to see that it was hauling empty passenger coaches. That was quite rare by then; no regular passenger trains had gone east of Hadfield since 1970. Since then, the line through the tunnel had been almost exclusively used by Class 76s mostly hauling freight trains or sometimes travelling “light” on their own.
Now I leave the station and skirt around the little diversion between the end of Hadfield’s platform and the start of the section of Trans Pennine Trail over the old track bed. It is six miles by this route to Woodhead.
This first part of the trail is enclosed by trees; the views are restricted but it is nice and shady on this hot day.
Before long though, I am out in the open and there are great views over the valley. Down on my left is the Longdendale chain of five 19th century reservoirs. When they were completed in 1877, they formed the largest artificial expanse of water in the world at the time. They still provide Manchester with a lot of its water today.
The contrast between today and my earlier trip in 1979 could not be greater. Back then the clouds were getting darker, and we were fighting the heavy traffic as we cycled up hill on the A628 on the other side of the valley.
Today the weather is idyllic: hardly a cloud in the sky and a temperature of around 20 degrees. I am on a quiet track, still going uphill of course, but at a much more gradual pace.
Back in 1979 our intention had been to use the A628 to get to the tunnel as fast as possible. As we cycled, we were encouraged by the sight of heavy coal trains being double headed by pairs of 76s in the distance, but we didn’t stop to try and take any photographs.
The images included here were all taken later on the way back from the tunnel. On our return journey we used the B road that took us closer to the track that I am walking along now.
I keep walking, covering the first 3 miles from Hadfield in just under an hour. On the way I cross the point at Torside where the Pennine Way meets the Trans Pennine Trail, and I am reminded of all our experiences on that footpath a few years ago.
I reach the site of Crowden station (1861-1957). This is another place we stopped at on the way back from the tunnel in 1979. I try to use the electricity pylon in the background to match a picture (above) I took back then with the scene today.
Although by 1979 the railway was down to double track here, as the extra-wide electric gantries suggest, there were once four tracks along this stretch. In fact, much of the line between Hadfield and the tunnel was three or four tracks.
After Crowden I continue walking and I walk alongside Woodhead, the last of the five reservoirs. A line of electric pylons, part of the Stalybridge to Doncaster chain, comes closer to the route. Just as the mouths of the Woodhead tunnels come into view, the pylon line stops and the high voltage cables they carry descend towards the ground and disappear under a concrete path that heads for the 1954 tunnel. The last time I was here in 1979 they went into the 1853 tunnel.
Back in 1979 we had eventually made it to the tunnel mouth. We parked our bikes, unpacked our sandwiches, and went onto the platform of the old Woodhead halt to eat them. The whole place had quite a foreboding atmosphere. There was the remoteness and the very overcast sky to start with; then the mouth of the railway tunnel from which a train could emerge at any time that seemed to spell danger; in the background were the two disused tunnels which looked equally threatening with the high voltage electric wires buzzing down from the pylons into one of them.
Today, especially in the nice weather, the scene looks a lot more benign. The National Grid people have done a good job tidying things up. The old tunnels are sealed and look harmless, and the 1954 tunnel has a gate across its mouth and various warning notices about the extremely high voltage cables flowing through it.
In 1979, as would-be rail photographers, the lack of any passenger services on the line presented us with a problem: we had no idea when a train would pass. Although we knew that freight trains ran to a schedule, we had no access to it. We had no option but to wait by the lineside hoping that something would come along.
Unfortunately, it seemed that we had arrived at Woodhead just in time for a lull in the traffic. We waited around for what seemed like ages; there were no trains, and we had no way of knowing if there would be any more that day at all.
Eventually It began to rain and after talking shelter for a while, we decided to call it a day and head home. Then, just as we had finished packing up, we saw a lone 76 approaching from the west. I managed to unload my camera quickly and I got a shot of it coming towards us.
As I pressed the shutter, I heard a horn behind me and turned around just in time to get a picture of two 76s emerging from the tunnel with a coal train.
Our cycle ride back was downhill and a lot easier. We had a break at the little church yard which contained some of the graves of the navvies who died digging the first two tunnels and then we went back slowly via Torside. Suddenly the 76s began to pass again and this time as we were closer to the railway, we were ready. We managed to get quite a few more photographs before heading back to Hadfield contented.
Shaft No 2
I continue my walk. I now intend to climb over the top of Woodhead to reach the point where the tunnels emerge 3 miles to the east. At first, I follow the Trans-Pennine Trail heading up the steep path until I am over the tunnel portals looking back in the direction I have just come. I then climb higher and the views off in all directions are quite spectacular. It seems I am all alone up here today too.
I turn off the main trail on to a side path that takes me past an old quarry and eventually I come to a tower-type structure. This is the second of five air shafts built for the original tunnels. Only three of them still appear on OS maps today and this is the first. It is also the most substantial edifice connected with the tunnels remaining on the surface. Like the other four shafts it has been completely sealed now, but the tower remains.
Work commenced on the first tunnel in 1839. To facilitate its construction five shafts were dug at approximately 22%, 38% 50% 64% and 78% of the distance between the entrances. The shafts were originally 10 feet in diameter, although the one here was doubled to try to increase ventilation in the early 20th century.
The plan was to sink the shafts to the intended tunnel floor level and then create headings in each direction. The distance down from each shaft to the base of the tunnel differed with the terrain but the one here had a drop of 560 feet.
Work on sinking all five shafts commenced in late 1839 at the same time as digging from both faces began. The excavation, using gunpowder and pickaxes, was slow and hazardous. More than 25 workers died from rock falls and other accidents.
It took the first of the shafts two years to reach the tunnel floor, but the one here had issues with flooding and was not completed until March 1844. All the headings from the shafts and the entrances finally met up in March 1845 and the tunnel was opened in December of that year.
As I head back towards the A628 to cross Salters Brook (the watercourse that flows on the surface across the line of the tunnels) at the road bridge, I am stunned by the amount of traffic. It is a very complicated issue, but the long line of articulated lorries on the single carriageway road leads me to wonder whether closing the modern electric railway beneath here really was the best decision.
I pass the sign welcoming me to Barnsley. I am now in Yorkshire.
Shaft No 3
I head back over towards the place where the third shaft was, roughly at the tunnels’ halfway point. It has been completely sealed and there is nothing but a pile of bricks where the tower used to be.
When the first tunnel was constructed, it was already envisaged that a second would be needed. It had also already been decided it would be separated from the first by about 17 feet. In anticipation of this, the shafts for the first tunnel were dug in the centre line between the intended tunnels so they could be used to ventilate both bores.
Construction of the second tunnel, between 1847 and 1852, was also facilitated by 25 side arches that had already been dug from the first bore. Working conditions were much easier, but sadly a cholera outbreak killed 28 navvies.
The single shaft used to construct the 1954 tunnel is also close to here. It is also sealed with nothing remaining. Nevertheless, there is a building, once used to store gelignite, that dates from the late 1940s still standing close by.
Work on the third tunnel began in early 1949 from both faces and the central shaft here. A smaller pilot tunnel, about of a fifth of the eventual size, was dug first and completed in May 1951. With modern methods, conditions were nothing like those encountered 100 years previously, yet progress was marred by collapses and there were 6 fatalities. The tunnel work was completed in October 1953, ready for track and overhead cable installation.
Shaft No 5
I continue walking east along the line of the tunnel for about a mile. I pass a couple of small pillars that looks like OS trig points. These are part of the measurement system that the 1950s tunnellers used to make sure their line was correct. Their Victorian predecessors used a series of taller observation towers that have now been removed.
I finally reach No 5 air shaft. It has also been sealed and its tower has also been destroyed, but here it has been replaced by a square squat brick structure. Although built for the original tunnels, this shaft was also linked to the 1954 tunnel to provide it with one extra source of ventilation. If you look online there is a picture of the old tower from a few years ago with a Class 76 mural painted on it.
Now I finally begin my descent. In the distance I can see Winscar reservoir. The River Don, which I will now follow all the way to Sheffield flows from the foot of Winscar Dam at its eastern side.
I walk quickly down the hill onto a B road and soon arrive at the hamlet of Dunford Bridge. I am now standing on a bridge looking towards the eastern portal of the 1954 tunnel.
Unlike at the western end, the 1954 tunnel here is separated from its predecessors and has its own approach cutting. This can be seen clearly in the picture below. The original tunnel portals are obscured by National Grid buildings but are just behind the white structure on the right.
Whilst the original two tunnels are perfectly straight, the 1954 bore has a slight curve in it just before it emerges at the western end. This is because it maintains the separation distance of 70 feet from the original pair (as seen below) for almost all of its length. It only turns towards them just before the western portal.
The summit of the line from Manchester to Sheffield is inside the tunnels, although it is in a slightly different position in the later one than in the first two.
I re-join the track bed path of the Trans Pennine Trail at the point where Dunford Bridge Station used to be. There is a lot of work going on here to bury more of the electric cables underground and remove the pylons to the east of the tunnel as well. It is all part of a project to beautify the area.
I have around 4 miles left to complete. It is a bit of an anti-climax after the exertion of climbing over Woodhead and quite a lot of it involves walking along the path enclosed by trees.
But there are plenty of little distractions that include displays of wildflowers, wooden sculptures and mile markers shaped like old signals. There are good views off to the sides every now and then too.
I come to the site of Hazlehead Bridge station and there is an information board that tells of its history. It was opened in 1846, closed in 1847 and then reopened again in 1850. It finally closed in 1950.
The board is filled with lovely little stories from local newspapers, including one that explains that the station was often misspelled “Hazelhead” in timetables and another that describes the theft of items from the station master’s office in 1853.
The board is well illustrated too with images of tickets, signs, and old photographs, including one that shows that along with all the sidings for the station there were up to seven tracks here in the 1950s.
A little further on there are two press cuttings from 1973 pinned to a tree and surrounded by flowers. They tell the heart-warming story of Mr and Mrs Beever, both in their early 70s, who used to live in a small cottage right next to the tracks. They had no electricity or neighbours, but they claimed to get comfort from the noise of the passing trains.
Towards the end of my walk, I come to another impressive information board. It tells a sadder story and marks the spot where the 1884 Bullhouse rail disaster happened. 24 people died when a train heading from Manchester to London and Grimsby plunged down an embankment after its locomotive suffered a broken axle. The accident was the first in a series of several mishaps in and around Penistone that led to it gaining a reputation as being a very unlucky place for trains.
Before long I have covered the distance from the eastern portal to my destination for the day: the little village of Millhouse Green on the outskirts of Penistone.
I have booked into a pub for the night and after a full day’s walking I am looking forward to my first pint.