The hill farms on the pasture land between the moors and the valley bottom date mainly from the 18th century. It was difficult to make a living from these small-holdings, and most families made woollen cloth at home to supplement their income. The buildings ware often sited near natural springs to provide a constant supply of pure water.
Many of the wells which stored the water can still be seen; they are open troughs carved out of massive blocks of stone. Sometimes the houses were built over springs, with stone vaulted cellars and stone flagged floors. The design of the farm buildings had probably developed from the Scandinavian longhouse, with the barn on the weather side.
The upper floor of the farmhouse, with stone mullioned windows, was generally the weaving workshop, often with direct access round the back to the workshop and the barn at top floor level. Many of the older buildings have hood mouldings over the windows and carved lintels over the doors.
The date stones often display the initials of the heads of the family alongside the date of construction. Because of the scarcity of suitable oak trees, the roof timbers were often taken from older buildings, or sometimes perhaps even from ships. They had to be strong to support the weight of the thackstone roofs. Some of the farm buildings were rebuilt or extended during the late 18th century to take advantage of the expansion of domestic cloth manufacture.
The local stone was formed some 320 million years ago, long before the appearance of man, when the area was part of a vast river delta. Sand and mud were deposited and transformed into the sandstones and shales which are now the basis of our landscape. The plants which grew in the swamps of the ancient delta have left their impressions as fossils in the stone. The marine bands, formed when the sea flooded the delta, contain the fossils of sea creatures.
The old quarries on the hillsides all around the Colne Valley were the source of stone for most of the buildings in the district. The dry stone walls which enclose the farmland were often built of stones collected from the land itself. In the 19th century, stone quarrying became an important industry in the Colne Valley, with long-distance transport provided by the canal.
On the Pennine moors above the Colne Valley the rock has a thick covering of dark brown peat – the half-decayed remains of cotton grass. The cotton grass started to grow about 5,000 B.C. among the birch forests which had covered the high ground since the end of the Ice Age some 3,000 years earlier.
Well-preserved remains of the old trees can be seen wherever the peat layers have been eroded by wind and rain. Cotton grass grows on the wet moor-land, indicated on the map by the name ‘Moss’ – for example Close Moss and Old-gate Moss. The drier land, indicated by the names ‘Heath’ and ‘Moor’, generally supports patches of heather where red grouse can often be seen.
Cloudberry grows in places on the higher ground. Rabbits, hares, stoats and foxes live at the edge of the moors, where the calls of curlew, skylark, twite, meadow pipit, ring ouzel and golden plover can often be heard.
The cloughs are the narrow sheltered valleys which run down into the river valley. The fast-flowing streams form waterfalls where the hard sandstone meets the softer layers of shale. Being too steep for agriculture the cloughs now support the only remnants of the oak and birch woodland which once covered much of the district, and in places the ground is covered with heather, bilberry and bracken.
The resident birds include blackbirds, thrushes, robins, green-finches, wrens and hedge sparrows. Willow warblers and pipits visit the cloughs in summer to make their nests in well-hidden places on the ground.
The best examples are Green Hill Clough, Cat Holes, Drop Clough and Wool Clough also known as Park Gate Clough.
Cupwith Reservoir on Slaithwaite Moor was built by Slaithwaite mill-owners to improve the water supply to the woollen mills on the Merrydale stream.
Deer Hill Reservoir, constructed between 1870 and 1875, was the first reservoir to be built by Huddersfield Corporation. It was built on the site of a small disused reservoir which had been constructed by mill owners to supply their mills down in the valley.
Butterley Reservoir was built by Huddersfield Corporation between 1891 and 1896. A temporary railway from Tunnel End to the reservoir site brought puddle clay from Greenfield; remains of the railway viaduct can be seen by the river.
Wessenden is an attractive and almost uninhabited valley stretching for three miles to the south of Marsden. A well-maintained track alongside the reservoirs provides an easy walk to Wessenden Head and the Pennine Way. The valley lies within the boundary of the Peak District National Park.
At 1,400 feet above sea level, Pule Hill attracts geologists, naturalists, industrial archaeologists, rock climbers, and even hang-gliding enthusiasts. The name Pule refers to a pool at the top of the hill. From here it is possible to trace the routes of the three turnpike roads and the earlier packhorse road across the Pennines.
The western edge of the hill has been quarried for building stone, revealing an impressive rock face which can easily be reached from Manchester Road. The ventilator shafts and spoil heaps here mark the line of the Standedge Tunnels. To the south of the shafts is a channel which supplied the water-balance system for raising spoil from the canal tunnel. Bronze Age urns containing human ashes, found on Pule Hill in 1896, are now preserved at the Tolson Memorial Museum in Huddersfield.