Packhorse Trails in the South Pennines

The South Pennines contain the cotton towns of Lancashire and the woollen centres of Yorkshire. Between them lie windswept moors of millstone grit and rolling peat moor-land.
A characteristic feature of the area is its ancient network of packhorse trails, the old trade routes. The earliest date back to Anglian and Saxon times, when salt for curing meat was brought from Cheshire over the rough moorland tracks. The first stone causeways were built in the Middle Ages to serve the needs of monastery and manor, linking the old centres of Whalley, Clitheroe  and Rochdale in the west to Kirkstall, Wakefield and Pontefract in the east. During  the time of enclosure of lands in the 1700's, walls were built along  both sides of some of  these paved causeways such as at Mankinholes near Todmorden.


Packhorses near Midgley
 A woodcut showing a packhorse group travelling from Burnley to Halifax on The Stoodley Long Causeway near Heptonstall

For centuries all the necessities of life such as salt, milk, coal and lime were carried over the Pennines by packhorses,whose agility and strength enabled them to negotiate slopes too steep for wheeled vehicles. The convoys consisted of 30-40 pack ponies led in single file by a few men. These pack horse trails were used until the early 1900's. One pack horse driver who died in 1879 was Ailsa O'Fusses a  lady who used Galloway horses on the Limersgate (for carrying lime) which ran from Bacup five miles from a route coming over the hill near Mankinholes.
The Stoodley Long Causeway  formed part of the 'Salt Road' from Cheshire which passed through Heptonstall and Midgley to Halifax where it met with the "Magna Via" running north-south.Today these once busy trails are largely neglected and forgotten, superseded by the roads of  later times which were built along the valley floors.

The Weavers' Rhyme
A rhyme from the 1700's or 1800's records the route from the Roche valley via the Long Causeway that the weavers took between their homes and their markets at Halifax and Wakefield.

          Burnley for ready money,
          Mearclough noa trust,
          ye're peepin in at Stiperden,
          But call at Kebs, ye must,
          Blackshaw Head for travellers,
          and Heptonstall for trust,
          Hepton Brig for landladies,
          and Midgley near the moor,
          Luddenden's a warm shop,
          Royle's Head's cold;
          and if ye get to Halifax,
          ye mun be varry bold 


                                                             Packhorse Trails across the Pennines


                                                  Wycoller Packhorse Bridge
                                           Clapper Bridge at Wycoller



1. South Pennine Packhorse Trails, The Barn, Mankinholes, nr.Todmorden, West Yorkshire.
2. The Pennine Bridleway, The Countryside Commision, Sue Hogg, Mankinholes near Todmorden.
3. Early Trackways in the South Pennines, Margaret and David Drake.

Copyright © Tim Midgley, 1999. Link revised July 2023.