THERE WAS a time when up to 1000 horses a day arduously trudged their way along the major pack horse trails that straddled the wild, hill country of the Pennines.
And if you stare out the window of Sue Hogg’s farmhouse in the remote east Lancs hamlet of Mankinholes, you can almost conjure up a picture of the horses and men that hauled goods along these routes that connected the towns and industrial centres of the north and beyond.
Pack horse trails were once the primary trading links across northern England and some can trace their beginnings back almost 3000 years.
So it’s all credit to the hard work of Sue Hogg and her team that the historical importance of these routes has been recognised.
Through meticulous detection work and tireless campaigning, the South Pennine Pack Horse Trails Trust has now opened up 100km of trails across Lancs and west Yorks.
The work of the Trust has achieved some of the most significant historical detection work ever undertaken in the north west – and it all came about when Sue inherited a pony and moved to this hamlet near Todmorden 30 years ago.
“When I started to ride out, I discovered stone causeways on the hills and they fascinated me. I began to investigate their history and that’s how it all started,” she says.
This area of east Lancs, which now takes in the old boundary of the West Riding of Yorkshire, is bleak, stone-walled country – its wild beauty still relatively undiscovered. And it’s the industrial towns like Burnley, Rochdale, Colne, Keighley and Halifax that were once key locations in the network of trading centres at the heart of the creation of the pack horse trails.
“We have evidence that there were even pre-historic routes crossing the Pennines,” says Sue. “At the time, they were the fastest way to travel from Ireland into Europe via Britain.”
Further investigations have shown an intricate route system in the hill country area around Trawden in east Lancs which can be traced back to the Bronze Age.
“How fascinating it is to imagine Bronze Age people moving about on these tracks as they transported goods between remote settlements across this wild, hill landscape,” says Sue, whose work now means that riders can again take the same journeys as those Bronze Age travellers.
Pack horse trails – some follow gradients as steep as 1:3 – enjoyed their heyday during the 17th and early 18th century. They were used to transport a host of goods including coal, lime and wool and were also part of a much wider transport system linking traders as far away as London and the Midlands.
“Pack horses would come north from Staffs carrying pottery and china. It must have been very hard going for them; the land was often very heavy and horses could have been up to their bellies in mud as they struggled on their very long journeys north.
“Records show over 1000 pack horses a day passed along one trail near Clitheroe which was used to transport lime; the trails would have been very busy places and as important as our modern day motorways.”
The true identity and historical significance of many pack horse trails was lost in 1949 when the Countryside Act classified them as footpaths on OS maps. In many cases, stiles were erected and their value to horse riders was lost.
Sue Hogg’s campaigning has sought to reinstate the trails as rights of way. In many cases, it has meant meticulous research into historical records to prove the existence of a particular pack horse trail. Having done so there follows the time-consuming job of applying to the local authority to have the route re-designated.
Although some pack horse trails have been re-discovered after being designated as a public footpath, others have required more detective work.
lie of the land
“You get to know how to look at the lie of the land; and if there’s a pack horse bridge or a stone causeway you’ve a pretty good idea there’s a route close by. You just have to piece the clues together on maps and it’s surprising how things fall into place often across many, many miles of open country.”
The driving force behind the opening up of the pack horse trail routes was the late Mary Towneley, the international endurance rider. It was through her efforts, and the on-going work of the South Pennine Pack Horse Trails Trust, that horse riders can now follow the Towneley Loop – a circular route of pack horse trails through many miles of stunning Pennine hill country.
“We”ll be continuing our work to discover even more pack horse trails and have them re-instated,” says Sue. Our submissions to local authorities involve a lot of research into maps, deeds and even road repair records, but when you succeed in opening up a new stretch of pack horse trail you’ve got the satisfaction of putting a piece of history back into its rightful place.”