Packhorse roads

Packhorse Bridge at Eastergate

Packhorse Bridge at Eastergate

Packhorse roads, also known as packhorse trails or packhorse routes, were historic routes and paths that were used for transporting goods and supplies on the backs of packhorses. These routes were prevalent from medieval times where roads were unsuiatble for wheeled vehicles. Packhorse roads played a crucial role in the transportation of goods, connecting remote areas, villages, and markets.

The Packhorse road (more of a track) went from Clough Lea to Hey Green and Easter Gate. Then it went over Clowes Moor to Rochdale. There are packhorse bridges at Clough Lea and Close Gate Bridge, from where it went up Willykay Clough to Denshaw and Ogden.

In 1908 Marsden Council went to court to defend the rights of Marsden Citizens to use the Packhorse Road. The general opinion, which was opposed by the lord of the manor, was that this was a public right of way and had become so under what is described as 'public by user'.

Read about the Packhorse Road Trial.

It is not easy to find the road without a guide, but the following instructions will be sufficient to lead the stranger along the road in question. Leaving Marsden Station, the pedestrian takes the road on the top side of the line. This is followed past a wayside hostelry, named “The Junction,” then along the road on the top side of the reservoir belonging to the L. & N.W. Railway Co., and used as a feeder for the canal. The end of this road lands the visitor at Hey Green, the charming summer residence of the late Mr. Joseph Crowther, who lost his life in a motor accident when leaving this place for Slaithwaite.

The traveller then follows the footpath protected from the river Colne by iron railings, recently erected by the Council. Here is a relic of the past in the shape of an old bump-backed pack horse bridge that spans the river Colne, or rather one of its tributaries, not far from its source. This bridge takes the traveler on to the edge of the moor, where the old pack horse road is now observed. After scaling the rocks and proceeding along the path for some distance, one comes upon a well-made path, and a little further on the Council’s workmen are to be seen engaged in making the path, bridging the "gruffs" or gullies, and laying stones where the ground is marshy.

One of the most commendable features of the undertaking, and at the same time the one that is most open to criticism, is that the Council has ordered nearly a dozen stone posts on which are hewn the following hieroglyphics, "P.H. ROAD.” To the average wayfarer this post may suggest something connected with a prison or he may conclude that the road leads to Halifax or some other undesirable place. Obviously the posts should have had “Public Road” inscribed on them, in order to allay the public fear of tres­passing. However, they are not all erected and we would suggest that the posts be made more intelligible by the following addition:


The road leads over the moor within a stone’s throw of the scene of the Marsden Moor murders. The path is followed past the foot of March Hill, with its cone-shaped summit, and a clearly defined line of formation on the Marsden side. This, we understand, is caused by the crumbling process that is constantly going on that side of the hill. The path then continues up the steep incline, and is merged into the Buck road, at a point near the Marsden and Saddleworth boundary.

This is nothing but a plain, unvarnished tale of a road that was in danger of being lost to the public, restored and repaired, and left as a goodly heritage to posterity. The approach to this road is through a bit of the choicest scenery that the Colne Valley can boast. In skirting the reser­voir there is more than a passing suggestion of the road and scenery that are to be seen when passing through the Lake District. No words are needed to indicate the natural beauties of at Hey Green and the river, which at this point is of that dark brown colour that indicates its moorland origin.

The old bridge is in a fine state of preservation, but bears unmistakable signs of ages of exposure and wear. What a picture this old bridge conjures up of an almost forgotten past. ‘The weary traveller on his faithful steed ambles along the village street, until he reaches the end of Eastergate, and crosses the old bridge. As lie enters upon his solitary journey across the moor his hand instinctively seeks his belt and the protection of a pistol. At almost any stop of his journey he may be sur­prised by a masked gentleman of the road and demanding “your money or your life.”

Just now the moors are seen in one of their best moods. The heather had turned a rich, golden brown, and is transformed into a gorgeous picture by the rays of the afternoon sun, or softened into shadow by the passing of some fleecy clouds. There is a spirit of the moors as distinct as that of the town or the country, but it to exacts as the toll of its manifestation the devotion mind and friendship of a Charlotte Bronte. In these days of barter and money-making there is need and for us to get on the moors, listen to their message, and learn something from their ever changing moods and habiliments. And this has been male easier by the restoration of the old pack horse road.

Huddersfield Examiner (Sept., Oct. or Nov. 1906)