A long walk home – Sunday

Hilleberg Akto at Fieldhead Campsite, EdaleAs much as I love to camp, preferring it to a B&B even in the depths of winter, sometimes you have one of those nights that make you wonder when you’ll get too old for it.

Saturday night was a miserable continuation of the day. The rain drummed relentlessly on the flysheet and winds shook the whole shelter, constantly dragging me from a fitful slumber. My little Hilleberg tent was caked in mud and I fought to keep the damp from my down bag in a vain attempt to keep it cosy.

In a final two fingers from the camping gods, I forgot to change my watch in accordance with the celestial shift to British summer time. So, my wake up call at 7am was therefore 8am, and an early start became a late-ish one once I’d wrung everything out.

However troublesome the night, though, the experience was sweetened by a clear morning and sunshine as forecasted. The Vale of Edale was in its Sunday best.

Two coffees helped to shake off the grogginess of the night and I was keen to get underway and warm, if not dry, my still soggy socks and trail shoes.

The start of Jacobs LadderI hit the Pennine Way in good spirits. The valley was bathed in sunshine and the sky a vivid blue. The walk to Upper Booth was accompanied by bird song and the sound of water, either from a stream in spate or squelching underfoot in the sodden ground.

I reached the foot of Jacob’s Ladder, a superbly engineered staircase to the plateau of Kinder Scout and the start of the peat.

Passing the rocks of Swine’s Back, the path vanishes just for a second, which would prompt the tingle of excitement in bad weather. It is soon found, though, and the trig point of Kinder Low passed to my right as I made for the rocky perimeter of the plateau.

As forbidding as the interior of Kinder is, walking its edge is exhilarating and relatively easy. Views to the right on this clear day gave a retrospective of yesterday’s tussle with the wind and rain.

The western edge of Kinder is a popular path, too. In addition to members of the mountain rescue team on exercise, the numbers of walkers increased as I progressed.

As the wind followed the pattern of the previous day, I was pleased to see that Kinder Downfall was defying its name and being Kinder ‘Upfall’. The winds were just strong enough to blow the waters back up the hill.

After enjoying a soaking in the spray, I continued north leaving the plateau via a steep descent on an engineered path to a busy junction at the head of William Clough. I headed west on the Pennine Way to Mill Hill, and then north to Bleaklow, now visible ahead.

Slabbed path heading towards the Snake Road and Bleaklow beyondWalking across Featherbed Moss you get the first taste of proper Pennine slabs. These are a divisive addition to the Pennine Way, conveying the walker precious inches above the bogs and keeping feet free of mud and moisture.

Hardy, sado-masochistic individuals with little pleasure in their lives claim this dilutes the Pennine Way experience and that all who walk it should be reduced to tears by constant diversions, leaps across groughs and soggy socks.

As much as I have enjoyed bog trotting, I’ve no sympathy with this view as it fails to acknowledge the pressures the ‘Way and our national parks face. These purpose-built paths contain the damage caused by thousands of boots year on year – better a thin line of slabs than a five metre-wide, soupy scar. Used in the right places, they are essential addition to the modern national trail.

The winding ‘highway’ afforded me fantastic views of Kinder’s northern edge, giving the hill true form which is lost when following compass bearings across it’s lumpy top.

I pressed onto the crossing of the Snake Road, revealing itself in the moorland by sunlight glinting off car windows as its traffic noise was carried on the wind to the north east.

I figured this was the half point of the Pennine Way element my trip and, consequently, had a Snickers to celebrate.

The landscape became more alien once I entered the maze of proper groughs on Bleaklow. These two metre deep trenches provided a pleasing solitude today but can seem claustrophobic if the clag comes in.

This terrain would present a tricky exercise in navigation were it not for the occasional section of slabs and boot prints. There are also subtle way makers, which just seem to come along at the right time.

The intervention of the trail managers has not anaesthetised the experience entirely, though. There’s plenty of gunge and obstacles to occupy the walker here, solace being found by walking directly up streambeds where the water is not too deep.

Bleaklow... looking a bit bleakWalking in the groughs led to pleasant introspection and soon Bleaklow Head appeared with its ugly peat mound and cairn. A couple were consulting their map and arguing about which route to take. Not altogether surprising. A maker may point Pennine Wayfares in the right direction, but this is a focal point for boots coming from all directions, confusing those who have not kept an eye on the map.

I was looking for a Wildboar Grain heading west and then along Torside Clough, providing my route down to the reservoir of the same name in the Longdendale Valley.

The path lining the western flank of Torside was stark contrast to labyrinth of Bleaklow. The views were expansive, with reservoirs dotted with sailing dinghies towards Crowden and the impressive declivity of Crowden Great Brook.. I reached the bottom of the clough with the legs now confirming that I’d trekked 15 miles.

Torside Clough looking towards Torside Reservior in the Longdendale ValleyI turned left and followed the Trans Pennine Trail along the Longdendale reservoirs to Tintwistle. Traffic now increased considerably, as folk exercised dogs, rode mountain bikes and children splashed with excited giggles in puddles.

If the increase in people suggested I was now closer to civilisation, so did people’s reluctance to acknowledge my ‘hellos’ as they passed.

Tintwistle is a pleasant enough village, perched mercifully above the main Woodhead Road, but I was glad to be leaving it along Arnfield Lane to quiet valleys once more. The Pennine Bridleway then conveyed me to the Brushes Valley.

Despite the proximity of Hadfield, Stalybridge and Mossley, this three and half mile trek out of the Longdendale just about manages to shake off the unseemly influence of these settlements.

Monstrous electricity pylons aside, a sense of solitude can be found here and wildlife, too, as I stopped to watch a hawk working the adjacent fields. I have also been lucky enough to disturb large Blue Mountain Hairs, which turn white in winter, that skip over the moors to the north.

Once in the Brushes Valley, I followed the water company road alongside reservoirs and watched fly fisherman on Walkerwood reservoir battle with the wind to catch their tea.

Bored kids loitering in Stalybridge Country Park and the rather ugly modern housing of Millbrook served as the finishing post.

The 21 miles, or so, took seven-and-half hours. Satisfaction was mine.

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