Winter solstice walk

YOU can see Hartshead Pike for miles observed one of the hikers taking part in the winter solstice walk to possibly Tameside’s most iconic landmark.Not today, though, as the monument, enveloped in seasonal mist, only came into sight from about 50 yards away, a contrast to the panoramic views six months earlier on a glorious sunny evening for the summer solstice.

This time was an altogether different story after one of the wettest autumns on record and on another damp morning which meant a revised route of roads and tracks with the usual public footpaths across squelchy farmland abandoned.

The winter solstice walk, organised by Tameside Council’s Greenspace team, signified the winter equinox when it is the shortest day and longest night.

It meant an unearthly early starts as the adventurous souls had to be at Park Bridge Heritage Centre for a 7.15am departure so it meant setting the alarm for 6am. It must be madness on a Sunday morning!

And driving to the start, it was appropriate on the radio there was a report from Stonehenge where the stone circle is the setting for the country’s most famous solstice events twice each year.

The early start enabled a leisurely two-mile stroll by an estimated 50 walkers for sunrise at shortly after eight o’clock at the Pike. Sadly on my winter walks of the last two years the weather has been miserable so there was nothing to take the breathe away. John Courtman, the Greenspace development officer, gave his usual address to the assembled walkers in the courtyard at the heritage centre.

We headed off in darkness towards Alt Hill Lane with a sea of torchlight beams piercing the gloom shortly before sunrise and helping avoid numerous puddles and muddy sections.

Shortly after crossing the usually busy Lees New Road, which has eerily quiet, we had our first stop by a tithe stone on Twirl Hill Road where we were given an explanation by John about this form of rent.

It was then a steady climb, with one further stop for a history lesson, as we snaked up to the Pike where hikers upheld an ancient tradition of walking around it three times in an anti-clockwise direction, something known as widdershins.

The fencing, recently placed around the Pike for safety reasons, had been removed but scaffolding was still in place as work continued on repair work to the summit.Nigel Dix made his customary appearance at the Pike attired as a Roman soldier, complete with helmet, tunic and sword.

John again demonstrated his musical talents with the flute and there was poetry and verse delivered by John, thanks to borrowed reading glasses, and Greenspace’s Lesley Bardsley and Anne Dickinson before a leisurely return to the heritage centre.

The 2020 summer solstice walk, arrangements for which have yet to be finalised, will be special as it will be its 25th anniversary as it began in 1996 with the winter walk introduced four years later, initially to mark the new millennium in 2000.

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