I walked from Rochdale to Rawtenstall so you don’t have to.
This was a lovely commission from October last year, billed by The Guardian as “A moorland walk to a temperance bar: Mr Fitzpatrick’s, Rawtenstall”. It’s part of their Pub Walks series.
That’s not to say it wasn’t hard work, but shifting weather, landscape and the sense of purpose that only camera can bring, kept me motivated.
My journey started in Rochdale Town Centre. I love this mural marking Rochdale’s industrial history and present – shame it’s half in the shade opposite a loading bay.
Setting out across Market Square, with gorgeous low sunshine on my back and moody cloud in my eyes – an earlier shower having left the pavement shiny and bright – leant itself to a naturally colourful photo and the hope of a sunny climb.
Aaaand it’s raining. A person wraps up against a downpour as we pass a mural on The Baum.
Seven Sisters tower blocks are a famous feature on Rochdale’s skyline and provided a consistent anchor on the Greater Manchester side of the landscape.
Spotland Road took me wending in to the suburbs. This could be anywhere.
Past the spooktacular Crystal Wash Laundrette on Rooley Moor Road. It’s 28th October.
As I left the last of the town behind me, I spotted what I later identified as a firefighters’ red line flag, flown outside a house off Ings Lane.
The route, defined by the writer, took me North West out of the suburbs and along historical Shawfield Lane. I wouldn’t have known it was there.
And then I crossed in to Lancashire, along a high line north east of Shawfield. That’s Scout Moor Wind Farm visible in the distance. More from there, later. That low winter sun really lifted my photos.
Looking back over my shoulder, Seven Sisters a constant presence and the first time I’ve photographed all the blocks so cleanly lined up in a single photograph.
And, over the same shoulder (the left one) as my route turned, a view south towards Manchester, framed by a cairn.
The centuries old surface of Rooley Moor Road, beaten in time by horse and man. And dirtbikes, probably.
A final view of Manchester City Centre’s skyline – and Naden Higher Reservoir – helpfully framed by a passing cyclist. This photograph would be nothing without him.
The route’s many features sustained me. A burned out van beneath Scout Moor Wind Farm. But how did it get there? To shoot at 1/6th of a second and capture some motion blur on the turbines, I had to stop down to f/22. I’d much rather have used an ND filter, but I was carrying as little as possible and it was that or a protein bar. I had lots of dust and grit spots to clean off the photo in the edit. A fast lens and an ND filter would’ve saved me a ton of time.
Another abandoned vehicle – a fossil-fueled pick-up truck rusting amongst the turbines. Maybe it was dropped from a passing helicopter?
As I reached the top of Scout Moor, another cyclist – one of only half a dozen people I passed outside of the suburbs – provided the perfect topper on the cratered landscape. I wish I’d shot this a bit wider, from a bit more to the left, from a bit lower and with the cyclist a bit closer.
I was travelling light: one camera, one lens – Canon’s 24-240mm super zoom on their r5 camera. This enabled me to switch from very wide to telephoto in the blink of an eye and get this second, nicely silhouetted shot of the same cyclist wending past the turbines. This photograph is cropped from a shot at the 240mm end of the lens.
Another at 240mm, with no crop, showing just how much the camera’s high resolution frees me to shoot a photograph looser, whilst framing it tighter in my mind. I still got a pixel-packed crop out of the edit.
Passing over the top and at the start of a gentle decent, I met a couple of friendly sheep hanging out with a rusty barrel.
This warm sign kept me from straying off the path.
The weather constantly shifting, from rainfall to slices of sun, here illuminating houses in Cowpe as I landed on the Lancashire side.
The eternal wheelie bins of life. Reassuring proof I’d landed back in civilisation.
Cowpe nook diorama.
I’d definitely get my hair cut at Jemma’s Shear Shack, if I lived in Waterfoot.
And I’d buy my shoes at Kidderminster Footwear. Shooting RAW makes photos like this possible, enabling me to point my camera directly towards the sun, expose for the skyline, then push the shadows in the edit. When you shoot for a deadline you don’t have the luxury of waiting for better weather at a more favourable time of a different day. You take what you get.
Bend or bump? I really wanted to stop for grub, but I had to complete the route before last orders, and time and light wait for no man.
Bonfire night preparations? Pallets stacked up on the pitch at Rawtenstall Cricket Club.
This shop on Bank Street knows its customers.
I could demolish the lot. Bank Street was actually a wrong turn which, after five hours, I could’ve done without.
And finally, just five and a half hours after I’d set out, and despite a misguided three hundred metre detour around the final fence, I arrived at Mr Fitzpatrick’s Temperance Bar, and the end of my route. K N A C K E R E D.
It’s an alcohol free bar that dates back to the industrial revolution.
The narrow staircase between upper and lower bars is lined with photos telling tales from a long history. It’s also a permanent challenge for staff.
I received a friendly welcome from Ashley, owner of Mr Fitzpatrick’s. Definitely some pulling and pushing required to bring out the detail in the highlights and shadows of this photograph. I had no flash with me and worried on the day, but it turned out fine. I just wish I’d parked at the end of the route, instead of at the start.
>There’s more interest to be found in the route on The Guardian’s website
>Want more? 67 photos from my journey are in my archive!