Marsden Moor part 3 – Reservoirs of the Wessenden Valley

Having walked up from one end of Marsden Moor, around the catchwater path around Holme and Binn Moors, it was time to navigate my way somewhat trickily (see parts 1 and 2) down onto the footpath which follows the reservoirs the length of the Wessenden Valley.

I came down from the moor about half way along, and went up to the top of the valley first, before heading back down the full three miles onto the road that leads to Marsden, the village at the very bottom.


The first of the four reservoirs down at the bottom of the valley is Butterley. In recent times it has been the centre of much controversy over its beautiful spillway. Yorkshire Water in their infinite wisdom, decided to replace the iconic Grade II listed spillway with a concrete one, improvements, they said, to bring it in line with legislation. I take that to mean the whole health and safety hoohaa we must abide by these days as we now live in such a compensation-based society. Awful, but true!

Work began a few years ago, disrupting access for a while, and is due to finish at the back end of this year. Campaign groups had been busy and thrown their best efforts at protecting the spillway, but sadly to no avail. The project is supposed to cost £5 million. The original spillway was a marvel of engineering, designed by Thomas Hawksley and completed in 1906 to control the flow of water from Butterley, and protect the embankment from erosion and overspill. It has been described as ” the largest,  most impressive architecturally-detailed Victorian overflow in the country”.

Now engineering really isn’t my thing, but the original spillway was designed from local stone to absorb water and let any excess sink back to ground. Won’t water slip down a concrete ramp and likely bung up at the bottom, flood outlets into the river etc??? Please put me right on this if my thinking’s a bit muddled here.

I took this picture on a bright day last November when I went to have a squint at the work
Butterley from the pump house. I hope they don’t mess with this building
Utterly Butterley. Taken from higher up the valley. The houses in the bottom are part of the village of Marsden


The second of the four reservoirs is Blakeley, which has its own cascading staircase of water. Again, this picture was taken from up on the moor. The footpath can be seen winding its way up the Wessenden Valley.

This valley was formed by retreating glaciers at the end of the last ice-age, which can account for its bleak and rugged terrain. Two long distance footpaths run through here and connect; the Kirklees Way and the Pennine Way. The name Wessenden originates from the Old English, meaning ‘Valley with rock suitable for whet-stones’. That’s about right.


Here is Wessenden Reservoir, the third of four, where I had to slide down from the top to reach the bottom footpath, (in a most undignified way – but that’s not new for me!) The footpath, though well defined, becomes slightly less accessible as it climbs up the valley and loops round the gorges and over little streams which run down from the moor into the reservoirs.


Wessenden Res from the head of the Valley looking North-west(ish). Pule Hill rises in the distance.


And finally, Wessenden Head Reservoir. The March sun glittered on it as I went to the other end of the embankment to have a sit-down by the water’s edge. It got quite chilly and I had to roll back down the sleeves of my fleece and put my hood on for a bit. When I got the pictures I took up here back home, although the brilliance was glittering on the water, the surrounding landscape seemed quite colourless, so I wondered what it would look like in monochrome. Does it work?

I’m planning another walk up part of Wessenden, and across the moor past other reservoirs, and back to Marsden via Close Moss, later in April. Hopefully it won’t rain! So there will be other parts to come.

Part 4 will be about some of the wildlife I encountered on Marsden Moor.

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