Power, beauty and (dead) lambs!

Spitting distance from once-industrial Rochdale, and nestled at the foot of the Pennines, Ogden Reservoir and surrounding paths, waters and idyllic stone farmhouses make for a fabulous ramble…

May announced its intentions with glorious sunshine. On a Bank Holiday, that invariably means those lucky enough to be off work or college/school head for the nearest stretch of water. In the towns and villages that surround Rochdale, a day by the seaside is out of the question unless you are prepared for several hours on the motorways.

The nearby hills, however, offer a range of waters that come hand-in-hand with gorgeous walks, stunning scenery and roadside pubs and restaurants that lure you in. It was a fleeting moment of indecision, but we decided not to fight the pull of a pint that washed down a delicious cheese and pickle combo!

The trekking options around Ogden Reservoir are numerous. A quick one lap, up-and-over nearby summits to other feeder waters, or off-track rambling along stone walls and the occasional marked path of yesteryear.

Along the way, you are greeted by refreshingly ramshackle buildings, barns and mish-mash machinery in various states of distress. Fields stretch as far as the eye can see, cattle roam, birds soar through clean air, and horses flick disparaging looks hopeful that you won’t bother their little get-together.

Ogden (a2)

We chose a rough-and-ready route to enjoy the unexpected heat wave. The precautionary coats were soon peeled off, and the single bottle of water didn’t last long as the testing gradients pulled hard on the soon weary leg muscles.

The perfect watering hole

Luckily, a gem of a pub-cum-restaurant/deli appeared on the horizon. We’d followed a bridle path, taken snaps of the imposing and, in my opinion, majestic wind turbines while horses passed by, and realised that the pub in question – the Ram’s Head Inn – was on a road we regularly use en route to a favourite coffee shop called Toast, in Delph. You often drive in a trance, focused on the winding roads and miss the hidden treasures as you concentrate on getting to your destination. This time we hit gold.

The pub offered something for everyone. Warm and friendly staff, a quaint bar, cosy dining areas, and a coffee shop that oozed rustic charm and overflowed with deli delights. It was a popular stop-off for travellers, with a steady flow of regulars already enjoying the food and drink. We grabbed a spot with a stunning window view of rolling hills and chose the cheese board as a midday snack to fuel-up ahead of our yet unknown route home.

Already a mile off one of our usual tracks, with four wonderful cheeses, breads and relish easily polished off, we gazed over stunning countryside and guessed at the best way back. There was no rush, so an adventure of sorts beckoned. We tackled a couple of narrow and rocky lanes that would have delighted mountain bikers, a rickety wooden style and another bridle path before another splash of inviting aqua-tinged reservoir appeared (Crook Gate, I believe). Now we had a marker, as water flows downhill (I know, astounding observation) and was sure to link up with Ogden at some point. That was the plan.

Ogden (a1)

Ten minutes later we followed a sign that suggested you could cut across a farmer’s field. It’s usually okay, especially if you avoid crops, livestock and try to follow fences and walls. That way you don’t damage the land. This time, however, we encountered a potential problem. Two hundred yards away, sat on the floor and seemingly wrestling a sheep was a ruddy-faced farmer. He was far too busy to brandish a shotgun so we took our chances and wandered over for a closer look.

Life’s beautiful but brutal cycle

As we approached a warm smile greeted us. The man, easily in his 70s, was grappling with a pair of legs, elbow-deep in blood, while the sheep uttered noises that were far removed from the rhythmic bleats usually associated with such woolly bundles. The poor thing was in agony. For the farmer, it was all part of life on the land. It was lambing season. This birth hadn’t gone to plan. On closer inspection, we noticed the lifeless body of another lamb – tiny, crumpled, splattered with blood. The legs dangling awkwardly from the sheep were that of another baby that would never walk the green fields.

“They’d grown too big,” the farmer told us. “I’ve delivered 80 this season but these two were never going to make it. I’ve just got to get them out, preserve the sheep.”

A farmer of 40 years, even amid such apparent trauma he had time to chat. There was no animosity, no need to chase walkers off his land. He was going about his business. It was a brutal but incredibly captivating scene. Like a front-line photographer wanting to convey the grim reality of war, I too felt the need to capture that ugly, shocking and literally life-death moment. I always prefer to ask permission when I point the lens, but this time my request was denied. “It wouldn’t be proper,” he told me. He was right, so we offered our assistance – not that we could have helped in any useful way. He politely refused.

We left with fresh directions with the farmer digging his boots into the sheep’s rear end and pulling hard on the scrawny legs of a life that had never begun. “I might have to saw them off, spin it around and then get it out by the head,” he called out, very matter-of-fact and cold – at least to a vegetarian uncomfortable with a leg of lamb in the freezer, let alone one about to be hacked with a blunt farmyard saw.

Ogden (a4)

The fresh air, unblemished blue sky and hedgerows bursting with colourful life cheered us along the final miles back to our starting point. Even the sight of Rochdale’s much-criticised Seven Sisters tower blocks in the distance made for a great picture.

Then another boozer, the Bulls head, bathed in sunlight that flickered through cherry blossom was also a sight for sore eyes as we ended the trek, although another pint wasn’t part of the plan. That would wait for another day, probably with a huge slice of perhaps the best cheese pie served anywhere in the North West…

Ogden (a5)

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