Hidden at the top of the Yorkshire moorlands just outside of Manchester is a secret beach that offers stunning views across the open countryside.
A twenty-five-minute train ride (or hour’s drive) from Manchester, it’s no Formby, but it’s well worth a visit if you like a good hike and are brave enough to take a dip in its pretty chilly waters.
A 187-year old embankment dam situated on top of Langfield Common between Todmorden and the village of Walsden, Gaddings Dam is actually somewhat notorious amongst nature lovers for being the highest beach in England. This means it can get windy up there.
Sitting at 800m high, its surrounded by similar reservoirs but Gaddings’ little sandy stretch is somewhat unique – created by the weathering of the sandstone used in its construction nearly two centuries ago.
Its straight edges and stone edge definitely give away its human-made nature though.
First built in the 19th century to supply water to the area’s booming textile mills, in recent years it’s become a popular day out for keen walkers and intrepid wild swimmers.
It is quite a trek to reach this hidden beauty spot and, admittedly, tackling the steep, rugged footpaths does deter many from making the trip. If you’re willing to put in the effort, though, you’re in for quite the treat.
The reservoir can be reached via two official footpaths, the most popular accessed via Todmorden – another, with a sharper incline, can be taken up from neighbouring village Walsden.
If you are driving, you’ll need to park in Todmorden or Walsden and make your way on foot, as there is no real parking higher up the hill to speak of. We told you it was a trek.
The easiest approach is along the Pennine Way, heading north until just past Warland Reservoir, where another public footpath turns off westwards to reach Gaddings Dam.
Approaching from Lumbutts is strongly advised against, as the footpath here is dangerously eroded. There’s also very minimal car parking space (perhaps one or two spaces for maybe several hundred visitors on a busy summer day).
As you hike up, there are lots of rocks to rest on, with breathtaking views to drink in along the way.
Just make sure to wear proper walking shoes – flip flops are definitely a no-no. It’s not ‘that’ sort of beach (if you are looking for something easy to do with the kids, you’re probably better off going to nearby Hollingworth Lake instead).
At the top, you’ll be greeted with a shimmering expanse of water with a footpath running around it and a small, sandy beach.
As has been the case with quite a few areas of local beauty since COVID, of late, there have been some issues up here with a minority of visitors parking illegally on double yellow lines and blocking access for buses, emergency vehicles and local residents.
Local police have stepped up in response, and those visiting should be aware that, if they do park illegally, they will be hit with fines and their car may even be towed away.
For this reason, the mayor of Todmorden has appealed to those visiting the dam to do so on foot only – which is absolutely the best way to experience it.
In a public statement, mayor Ruth Coleman-Taylor said that ‘walkers are of course welcome’ but that blocking access to local residences and essential services is ‘simply not acceptable’ – which seems like simple common sense to us.
Be aware that there are no facilities to speak of – no toilets, changing rooms, lifeguards or bins – so come prepared, be responsible for your own safety, and remember to take your rubbish with you when you go.
We’ve shared the secret with you – don’t let us down.