By Simon Donohue
There’s something truly spiritual about Winter Hill and the towering television transmitting station mast which scrapes the clouds above it, spreading signals of the region’s creativity to every corner of the north west.
Built in 1966, this place literally helped to define the region still known affectionately to many as “Granadaland”. It is said that the borders of this semi-mythical land were defined by how far signals would reach from the hill at its heart.
At times otherworldly and unwelcoming, Winter Hill is at odds with the region it has come to represent.
But it’s incredible to contemplate the vibrant cultural personality which has been channelled through that mast, reflecting the lives and loves of diverse communities. It’s as if workers accidentally drove a stake into the ground and struck a rich vein of creativity which it’s been impossible to cap ever since.
Walking up Rivington Pike on the way to the Winter Hill Transmitting Station provides a view which comes closer than any other to making sense of the North West itself.
Turning from left to right at the stone brick Rivington Pike Tower, it’s possible to look out and across to Manchester city centre, framed by the Pennines to the rear; across the Cheshire plains, over to Merseyside, and then up to the Lancashire coast, where Blackpool Tower appears as a matchstick-high landmark in the distance.
The Winter Hill walk is brilliant with kids, with loads to see along the way too, including signs of north west extravagance in the days long before Sidney Bernstein started the Granada franchise in Manchester. The now faded grandeur of the pike’s Japanese Gardens provide a tantalising glimpse into what must have been a magnificent era in the hill’s history. Built by Lord Leverhulme, it was recently suggested that the gardens might be saved by lottery funding. Let’s hope it happens.
There are a number of starting points but the most popular is the long drive up to Rivington Barn, where dozens of motorcyclists can be seen drinking tea and coffee most weekends.
A number of paths and stairways take walkers up the pike itself, although there are no clear signposts to the top, meaning that it can be tricky to choose the most appropriate route. Be warned that some are tricky under foot.
Once parked up, make your way towards the barn and then veer right, where you’ll find a path that will lead you up the pike. Around 100 metres or so on you’ll come to a farmer’s field with a couple of gates, and then the path gets steeper. Here you can choose to take the path or one of many stone staircases. Here you can choose to pass through the Japanese Gardens, which are riddled with intriguing ponds and pathways, buildings and constructions.
It’s a fascinating glimpse at what this place might have looked like in the middle of the last century. An alternative route to the top takes you through the Rivington Memorial Arboretum and Pinetum, a moving place where people have marked the passing of loved ones by sponsorship trees.
Sweep back left before reaching the top and you’ll take the route past the Pigeon Tower before picking up the path to the Rivington Pike Tower itself. Here the path becomes rocky and steep before reaching a set of challenging steps up to the tower. It’s worth the effort because it means that you’re near the top, where a stunning view of the North West awaits. This is a good time to turn back or opt to go on further to the Transmission Mast, which you’ll see clearly across the moor. It’s further than you think and the moor can be boggy in places, especially in autumn, winter and spring. This is where the moor opens out and you’ll begin to get that feeling of solitude, the stark metal of the various radio transmitters ahead luring you on.
It takes around half an hour to reach the mast and a number of buildings which have a vaguely militaristic, forbidden feeling about them. There isn’t much to do here other than look up and marvel at the most meaningful means of communication in the North West, but it’s well worth the effort.
Another thing worth taking a look at is the Scotsmans Stump marking the “barbarous” murder at the age of 20 in 1838. From there, you can retrace your steps or follow the road back down towards the bottom, cutting right and back across to the Rivington Pike Tower.