In recent years the festive season has been marked thus: a ‘stolen day’ on Christmas Day when the other half and I get the chance to spend some time together, juggling various family commitments, making a festive pie and other ‘delights’ from leftovers, riding my bike as much as possible and getting into the hills (all the rest permitting).
The latter usually comprises some grand plan in the Peak or Lakes with an overnight camp. However, the weather and other commitments invariably get in the way and I settle for a trip around Dove Stones reservoir. Every year I grumble to myself that this is second best, every year it seems to offer something new.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a frequent flyer to the Dove Stones complex. This place is not without its problems (unthinking litterbugs and dog owners at lambing time) but get beyond its well ploughed byways onto the tops and you can lose yourself on bleak moorland and among green and brown stained hillsides.
This year, I ventured onto these slopes in gales. This weather was the main reason I abandoned my wild camp… other backpackers did try though.
To add a bit of excitement, though, I revisited a favoured route and clambered up the shattered slopes of Birchen Clough to gain the tops. This requires you to cross at the mouth of the clough. I normally achieve this a little further up the valley but far too much water was pushing through the stream today and I crossed gingerly at the mouth, glad I decided on boots and gaiters.
Although no path is marked on the Ordnance Survey map, a well-worn trail has been blazed on the easterly bank of the clough. It traces a haphazard line across broken slopes and, at times, causes nerves to jangle as loose ground falls away under foot. It demands you proceed with care.
Perhaps half way up the clough and I reached a precipitous rock wall. Although I’ve walked this route many times, this obstacle always makes me pause for a split second until I see the platform of slabs which sit above the waterline and provide easy passage for pedestrians.
From here, the route becomes far more straightforward, although you need to cross the stream again in order to head west and south back to the car. More adventurous folks can continue on an easterly bearing to Black Hill on the Pennine Way.
I considered a few options for crossing, but chickened out and carried on upstream until things got much easier. Contouring the slopes of the clough I found the well-used trail at Raven Stones and paused to admire bizarre gritstone formations.
Having been sheltered from the wind on my ascent, the easterly gale now made itself keenly felt. Zip pullers and the fabric of my shell jacket snapped violently in the assault while my trousers billowed and flapped above gaiters. Progress was tricky into the wind and especially with it to my right… a times snatching air from my lungs, at others, puffing out my cheeks as I tried to inhale.
I found other walkers at Ashways Stone hunkered down and munching sandwiches. They bade a grim good morning. I didn’t feel like lingering and pressed on.
At the upper reaches of Charnel Clough, this inconsequential stream had delusions of grandeur and started to perform the Kinder Downfall trick of ‘flowing upstream’ in wind.
I was showered with spray as another wall of wind pummelled me.
By now, the right side of my face stung from the onslaught. I was keen to get down and soon found the Chew Reservoir and the service track to the valley floor, joined other well-wrapped up folk as they strolled off the excesses of the festive season.