The north side of Bleaklow is a dark forbidding hulk which looms over the Longendale valley. The edge is uneven and broken, with streams cutting deep gashes in it - the three Black Cloughs at the eastern end, then Shining Clough, Wildboarclough and finally Torside Clough, the largest and most westerly of these streams.
There is no reasonable path along the edge but a circuit of the northern half of the hill is possible by ascending the Pennine Way - which goes up the side of Torside Clough - to Bleaklow Head and then descending one of the Black Cloughs to emerge near the entrance to the Woodhead Tunnel. Unfortunately this is rather a long way from your starting point, so you have to be prepared to walk back along the Longendale Trail - which is pleasant enough, though rather flat - or perhaps leave a bike near the Woodhead Tunnel and cycle back.
Start from Torside car park, which is half-way along the south side of Torside Reservoir, opposite the sailing club. A path leads out of the car park up onto the old railway above - in fact it continues uphill on the far side of the railway, but this will only lead you onto heavy and uneven ground, so it is better to turn right (west) and walk for a kilometre along the old railway track to reach the road by the old level crossing.
Fifty metres along the road there is a gate through which the Pennine Way makes its way up onto Bleaklow. Follow this farm track for about 500 metres until the footpath branches off uphill just before the farm entrance and climbs steeply and unrelentingly to the crest of Torside Clough. As you grind upwards you can console yourself with the thought that this is the hardest part of the day - and at least the path is well-trodden and easy to follow, even if it is a little uneven in places.
The climb begins to level off after perhaps a kilometre and the path continues above the west bank of Torside Brook for about a further two kilometres, still climbing but not so steeply. Look out for Torside Castle on your right - this low earthwork is a Bronze Age fortification which lies approximately 300 metres from the path - it's a surprising to think that 3000 years ago this area was fertile, probably wooded and certainly inhabited.
Above Torside Castle (at GR SK081965) the stream divides and so does the path. The left branch leads directly to Bleaklow Head, the high point of the hill, but the right branch is preferable as the more 'scenic' route since it leads you to the Wain Stones first. Essentially all you have to do is follow the main branch of the stream uphill, which is usually relatively easy since the stream bed is wide and sandy and has quite a reasonable path along it. When the stream eventually peters out, the Wain Stones (GR SK092959) should be no more than 200 - 300 metres uphill to the east. They shouldn't be too difficult to find even if the visibility is poor.
From Wain Stones head north-east (in bad weather take a bearing of 045 degrees) for 200 metres to Bleaklow Head, which is marked by a large cairn (GR SK093961) at the edge of a sandy area where the peat has been eroded. The route then makes for the headwaters of Near Black Clough, one of the main streams heading down to the northern edge of the plateau. From Bleaklow Head follow a faint path in an east-north-east direction (bearing 060 degrees) for about 300 - 400 metres to reach the head of the stream system and turn slightly towards the north to follow it.
Near Black Clough in deep snow
Near Black Clough is one of the three Black Clough streams which flow down this side of the hill. It's quite shallow at first and twists and turns somewhat, but eventually straightens out into a deep-cut little stream with a narrow but good track along its left (west) bank. It should be fairly straightforward to find from Bleaklow Head even in poor visibility, though it would probably be necessary to walk on a compass bearing if the cloud is down. Certainly once you have found it it's then difficult to get lost whatever the weather.
After its first section Near Black Clough flows like an arrow north-east all its length and the six kilometre walk down the stream is pleasant but uneventful, and of course it's downhill. Near the end the other two streams join it - Middle and Far Black Cloughs - and a small patch of birch woodland (perhaps a remnant of the birch woods which once covered the whole hill) marks a steep descent to the Etherow valley, which is followed around the corner to the Longendale Trail.
It's another six kilometres along the trail back to the starting point and if you are the sort of walker who enjoys this type of circuit then walking on the flat must seem a little tedious. However, on a good day it's a nice view, so try to enjoy it and avoid the cyclists!