Mill Hill and the Liberator Sunday 29th July 2012

Well, once again, I’ve been out in to the Dark Peak, wreck hunting with Chris.

After a spell of seven day weeks at work since my last excursion to the Peaks, I’m long overdue a good days hill walking.

This walk was to start from the Snake Pass, where the Pennine Way crosses, heading in a south westerly direction towards Mill Hill, then on to the Liberator crash sites, yes two sites for one aircraft.

Then to backtrack from Mill Hill summit, heading towards the north west face of Kinder to pick up the Snake Path along Ashop Clough to visit the sites where two F86 Sabre’s crashed.

Depending on time and conditions, as to whether we carried on to the Snake Pass Inn, cut across the Featherbed Moss to Featherbed Top or backtrack to Mill Hill and the Snake Pass.

Draft showing our route options

There are too many route variations using the word 'Snake' here! But we’ll continue.

This walk was going to be an interesting comparison to a similar walk back in May 2011 when, an ascent to the Kinder Scout plateau via William Clough had to be aborted due to bad weather.
Did I say bad weather?

Well, it was more than a shower, it was low cloud and visibility was less than a couple of metres on the plateau!

Just digressing for a moment, one of these days, I will have another attempt at ascending Kinder via William Clough from Bowden Bridge, the site of the mass trespass back in April 1932.

Anyway, back to the blog.

The start of our walk, the Pennine Way heading south west towards Mill Hill and Kinder

I’d already checked the weather reports, keeping an eye on the weather movement, as I always do, for a few days leading up to any walk.

On arrival at the parking spot on the Snake Pass, I had a good look at the sky to see what the weather would imminently throw at us. Especially as the initial first kilometre plus was going to be just flat and exposed and very likely, wet under foot.

Cloud covered Kinder Plateau

I was expecting showers and being exposed, expected the wind to add its two pennyworth, so nothing would surprise me, not even snow, especially as the temperature was expected to be 8ºC..

But the sky was darkening fast, low cloud was streaming in, so I said to Chris, my walking buddy;
I’m going to put my water proof trousers on before we start.”

So we kitted up, ready for whatever the weather was going to throw at us.

One thing I will say at this point, if the temperature did get much above the forecasted 8ºC, we would have been wetter inside than out!

This is where keeping a watch on the weather leading up to the days walking assists good planning for what gear you are going to take in preparation for the days walking and what gear you are going to wear at the outset.

The wind certainly did its job blowing a nice fresh 8 – 10ºC at around 4mph. Not a lot you would think, but there was a nasty little bite in that wind.

We set off along the Pennine Way from the Snake Pass, heading in a south westerly direction, heading for Mill Hill.

Walking along this nice stoned path, we noticed stakes in the ground alongside the path at random intervals.

You may recall from two earlier blogs, “Bleaklow and the Bristol Blenheim Crash Site” where I first mentioned these stakes on Bleaklow (and also a hint that we may ascend Mill Hill some time) and “Bleaklow and the Defiant, on a hot day in May!” we used the stakes as a navigation aid to find the Boulton Paul Defiant wreckage.

How the stakes are identified on an Ordnance Survey map

I will add at this point, the stakes must only be used as an aid to navigation and not as a guaranteed part of navigation.

Studying the map, it appears the Pennine Way follows an old staked route in places, which would probably be the old Pennine Way in many places, now with a stone laid path to make walking easier and safer.

The current path will follow the old stakes and at times, where necessary, the path will no doubt veer off the old route to enable safe passage and firmer ground for the large stones to stay a reasonable height above the water table.

As we continue along the Pennine Way, we start to seriously gain height. But it’s not a steep slog, just a nice pleasant gradient as you start to ascend Mill Hill properly.

Eventually, we arrive at the summit cairn on Mill Hill, where you will see a marker post pointing the way to continue along the Pennine Way towards the North West face of Kinder Scout.

While at the summit of Mill Hill, we took in the superb views around us, Bleaklow, though cloud covered, Mount Famine, Kinder and Ashop Clough looking towards the Snake Inn.

Mill Hill Summit Cairn and a Pennine Way Marker

A rain soaked and cloud covered Bleaklow.

The rain beginning to fall over Manchester, but destined for Bleaklow!

Looking over towards Mount Famine

Kinder from Mill Hill

The path from Mill Hill summit, down towards the site of the wreckage

However, we were going to visit the Liberator crash sites. The main fuselage is located just off the path down to the Grouse Inn while what appears to be the port wing with the undercarriage still retracted, is on another point about 500 mtrs to the north east and off path.

Our first view of the Liberator B24 wreckage, close to the path

Closer view of the Liberator's fuselage

More fuselage and an engine

Closer view of the engine
To help preserve the ground, where reasonably possible, please try and stick to the main stoned path between Mill Hill and the Grouse Inn.

The crew of the Liberator B24;
2nd Lieutenant    Creighton R. Houpt      Pilot
Staff Sergeant     Jerome M. Najvar        Flight Engineer

The story is the aircraft, a Liberator B24, with a two man crew; on 11th October 1944 at 10:32, was being flown from Burtonwood, near Warrington, to Hardwick at an altitude of 2800 feet.

While in cloud and turbulence, 2nd Lt Houpt spotted a small gap in the cloud and noticed the ground was actually only 150 feet below them!

Full power was applied to try and pull the aircraft clear of the ground, to no avail, resulting in impact with Mill Hill.

The two men, both injured, managed to get free from the wreckage, walk down Mill Hill and from a nearby pub, managed to contact Burtonwood and alert the base to the incident.

Just a short distance north east from the wreckage close to the path, is more wreckage from the Liberator

This looks like the starboard undercarriage.
You can see the wheel just buried in the ground.

The port wing with under carriage

Another of the engines.
There were originally four engines on the aircraft, but only three seem to be remaining!

The port wing with under carriage
The general condition of the damper on the port undercarriage, was incredibly good,
considering how long it had been there!

There is no memorial plaque at either of the two wreckage sites, nor are there any poppies or Remembrance Wreaths.

Unlike the other crash sites I’ve visited so far, this is one where the crew have walked away and lived to tell the tale.

I’m sure there are other crash sites where some of all of the crew have lived to tell the tale; however, a lot of crash sites, the crew have not been so lucky.

Once we had finished having a look around the two crash sites, we returned to the summit of Mill Hill, with the intention of visiting the site where two F86 Sabres crashed.

The rain beating down on Bleaklow!

The wreckage from these two planes covers quite an area. Part of which is close to Ashop Clough with many pieces of wreckage located on the Kinder Plateau, some 150 mtrs higher up!

It was that area I was attempting to reach on that wet day in May 2011……

We reached Mill Hill summit cairn, then headed downhill towards Kinder’s North West face where William Clough meets the Snake Path. It was at that cross roads, marked by a very clear and prominent (but not obtrusive) sign post, where we would head in a north easterly direction, along Ashop Clough.

Looking down the path towards Kinder Scout
The marker post, showing which way.
Another view of the marker post, showing which way.

Kinder Reservoir

This starts out as a reasonable path, but quickly becoming a bit of a bog fest and mud track in many places.
The path along Ashop Clough, starts out as a reasonable path

Once you get to Ashop Head, the path quickly changes from reasonable, to exciting!

As we continued along Ashop Clough, it was lunch time and we were able to find a few good wind only sheltering spots, but the rain made an appearance, once again, delaying our lunch break for a good while.

The path through Ashop Clough, is one long grough.
Yes, there is a path in there, somewhere!
While walking outbound along Ashop Clough, we met up with a couple of lads with trainers on and tiddly little day sacks that wouldn’t hold many school books for a school student!

Eventually, a suitable wind break came up and the cloud was clearing, the rain stopped, so we stopped and had lunch.

After a nice break, the cloud started to become grey and rain bearing, time to pack up and start moving along.

Continuing along Ashop Clough, Chris had an old foot injury start to niggle him. After a brief discussion, we continued for a short way, along a very uneven path which followed the water course.

We then met up with a walk leader for a Cheshire based rambling club, who stopped to have a chat before continuing to check out a route.

I hope the walk goes to plan for the Cheshire based walking group.

At this point, Chris felt his foot might not hold out on the terrain we were walking along, which was not the most even, with lots of dodging loose ground and mounds.

At this point, considering where we were and how accessible it would be, we had to stop and assess the situation.

As with any walk, the safety and comfort of all has to be paramount, no matter what. The Sabre wreckage will still be there for a future visit.

We decided that the best option was to return back to the cars rather than continue any further with the risk that Chris’ foot could get worse.

The assessment started with consulting the map to assess exactly where we were. From there, we looked at three possibilities, which were the original route options;

1. Continue to the Snake Inn. But that was going to be a long trek!
2. Cut across Featherbed Moss to Featherbed Top, a more direct route, but likely to be riddled with groughs and water logged ground
3. Back track the route we had just completed, which was a solid route that would be longer than option 2, but known terrain.

Needless to say, option three was Chris’ choice and a wise one in my opinion.

This was what we had to contend with while walking along Ashop Clough

or groughs like this to be traversed

against a known reasonable path like this
Chris always carries a single trekking pole with him and I always carry a pair of trekking poles. Mine, I carry for two reasons, first as a walking aid, though its rare I need them and more importantly, as part of my first aid kit.
So with that in mind, I suggested Chris used his single trekking pole, which did make walking easier for him.

So we set off back tracking along Ashop Clough, to the cross roads where we would pick up the path back up to Mill Hill and the Pennine Way to Bleaklow.

We reached Mill Hill and Chris kept a very good pace up, so we stopped to enjoy the views, looking over to Bleaklow, around Ashop Clough and over to Kinder and Mount Famine, before descending and continuing on our way along the Pennine Way back to the cars.

While walking along the final stretch of our part of the Pennine Way, there was an organised walking group coming up behind us, so we stopped to allow them to pass safely, briefly chatting to them as they continued their way.

Finally, back at the cars, we had a great day out, I bagged Mill Hill, we had visited the Liberator crash site, I’d got a good look at the side of Kinder that back in May 2011 all I could see was cloud and rain and most importantly, we got back safe and well.

Our route for the day

With any walk of this nature, in this terrain, please make sure you are prepared for what the weather can throw at you. It is and exposed in places and in other places, a little more challenging and secluded, so you can get cold and the rain, or even snow, and could see you get wet and cold.

Oh, not forgetting the risk of low cloud and poor visibility!

Finally, happy rambling and thank you for reading,

Peak Rambler