A perfect Peak District wild camp – Going up west

The aim of a wild camp is, surely, to find somewhere remote, allowing the participant to connect with their surroundings. On our relatively crowded islands, and certainly south of the border, this requires backpackers to aim high and increasingly off the beaten track.

A wild camp spot on the banks of the West End River, Derwent ValleyHowever, factors governing the remoteness of a particular spot are not confined to location. This Easter, the unseasonable Arctic air stream which has dumped considerable snow on our usually wet land has had the advantage rendering the accessible inaccessible… inaccessible for those unprepared to put in a bit of effort.

On the week leading into Easter, I’d been keeping in touch with conditions in the Derwent Valley, that busiest of Dark Peak attractions. The snowfall had been so extensive, even the Fairholmes visitor centre was closed. With the cold persisting, my hope was that conditions would be tricky further up the valley and that my planned camp spot – the forested valley of the West End river -would be at peace. Continue reading

Advertisements

Fairfield first timer

Saturday morning and I was on the train to Windermere. The plan: to spend 24 hours (or so) in Lakeland and camp up high.

I’d no idea where to go. It would be busy, but if I could avoid the nine to five of most hill-going folk, I might experience some solitude even on a busy weekend.


So, location… I’m not consumed by bagging peaks, but scanning my eyes over the map, I realized there was an obvious objective. Despite spending many days in the Ambleside area, I’d never climbed Fairfield.

Come to think of it, I’ve never climbed Great Gable, either, but will be rectifying that one later in the year.

Fairfield it was to be, then, via a horseshoe and a wild camp.

Ambleside was hot, sticky and packed with folk… just as you’d expect. I ambled, wasting time waiting for the temperature to drop.

I grew impatient, though, and headed off to the slopes of Low Pike. Amazingly, they were deserted. Perhaps the heat was too oppressive?

I was in no rush so could climb slowly, stopping frequently to take in views and mark off familiar summits to the east.

I entertained myself further clambering over the numerous rocky outcrops of High Pike and was greeted with a refreshing breeze the further I climbed… a sign of what was to come perhaps.

It was only on the approach to Dove Crag that I met my first walkers of the day, all going down. I crossed Hart Crag and my objective came into view.

Pressing on, I scouted Rydal Head for possible camping spots. It was early but the broad grassy tops provided plenty of options, even if water was sparse.

I made a note of a few areas and carried onward to Fairfield’s similarly flat top, if a little more boulder strewn. Unseen crags to the north give the hill a more sinister edge, although everything felt rather sedate on this approach.

The weather then bit back.

A strengthening wind was accompanied by rain, and lots of it. I had to get down. But the only obvious option was Grizedale Tarn where many surely would be spending the night.

Negotiating a perilous path off Fairfield, I dropped down to Grizedale Hause and, peering through cloud, spotted four tents along the tarn’s shores. I found a perch on the lakeside and made a brew.

The heavens opened in earnest again and forced my hand. I would try to find a secluded, sheltered spot in this natural bowl, out of site and out of the wind.

I located a rough, but flat, plateau on the eastern slopes. Small streams bubbled and gurgled around me but their waters were hard to reach.

Despite the proximity of others, I was out of the line of sight. The changeable weather brought a brief interlude of sunshine and I took photos and dried out my kit on a steaming rock.

Indeed, such was the power of the sun, I stripped to my boxers to dry them too!

Later, the rain and wind returned but I was snug in the bag. Heavy showers and wind persisted through the night and I awoke early to more rain and thick cloud.

Eight Herdwick’s sat in a circle around the tent and blankly watched me brew up and break fast.

I got moving quickly. The rain stopped again and I took the opportunity to finish drying my clothes while wearing them. To regain the horseshoe route, I climbed Fairfield again, this time via Deepdale Hause and Cofa Pike… a far more pleasant ascent.

It was early, and I had the hills to myself.

Great Rigg was remained cloudy, but the views opened up as I reached Rydal Fell and met my first walkers of the day just after Heron Pike.

Rydal Water looked stunning from the vantage of Nab Scar, now under blue sky, and I made my way back to Ambleside via the Rydal Hall path.

Time for… some tents

I’ve got a problem. It’s taken me a while to realise, admittedly, but at least I’ve taken ownership of it now… I’ve metaphorically attended the AA meeting and ‘fessed up.

Some people are addicted to nicotine, some to alcohol, some to sex, some, even, to classic BMXs. I’m addicted to tents. How badly? Well, I have some measure of this failing in that I don’t own too many.

I saw them all stacked in the garage in their stuff sacs and counted five, including my bivvy bag.

All of them have different uses and I cling onto these applications to justify the purchases…

Sunncamp APS 3004 in actionSunncamp APS 3004 (no longer available): The family tent, even though there are only two of us. This four- man had the immediate appeal of being able to park our car in the living area – although we haven’t tried it – and having enough headroom for me.

For such a large tent, the external frame of this monster and heavy material means it’s pretty sturdy, having withstood some hefty storms in its life.

I picked it up for £180 about five years ago and it’s been a faithful servant. It has its problems: a flappy door, poor ventilation, almost non existent bug protection but the other half and I have spent many a happy night in it.

Vango Equinox 450: This is my car camping tent, when I’m looking to escape to the Lakes for a few days and can’t justify big bertha.

Vango Equinox 450 at Langdale campsite after enduing -10 deg C overnightIt’s pretty big, really, and quite storm proof as it’s a tunnel bolstered by Vango’s APS bracing straps.

I spent the coldest night I’ve ever camped out in this tent. I was at the Langdale campsite in November and stable high pressure had gripped the north.

The days were clear, the nights freezing.I woke up to ice on the inside of the tent and warden informed me that the temperature had plummeted to –10 deg Celsius during the night. Before I got out of my warm sleeping bag, a couple had walked by the tent and wondered, aloud, if ‘someone was alive in there’.

Bug protection is good on this tent and it’s going to be home for a jaunt to Scotland next month.

North Face Westwind: This is a classic Himalayan tent, which has been around for years. It’s very well made and tough as old boots.

I bought it, perhaps naively, as a backpacking tent as it the inner is long enough to house my cumbersome frame. It’s relatively heavy and bulky, and a few trips lugging it around soon convinced me that I needed something lighter.

It does get used, though, and I know I can rely on it for winter trips.

Hilleberg Akto: My backpacking tent, and I love it for a whole range of reasons outlined in other posts on this site.

The Hilleberg Akto during a trip on the West Highland WAYI’ve got one problem with it at the moment, though. The black fabric at the ends of the tent, where the vents are located, is starting to pull at the stitching. This happened when I fist used the tent, and Hilleberg patched it for me. At first I thought I was pitching it badly, but I purposefully do not peg this area too taught to relieve pressure.

I’m going to contact Hilleberg for a second repair. I hope the turnaround is not too long.

Big Agnes Three Wire Bivy: No more to say on this for now. I’m looking forward to using it again soon.

As you might have gathered, I’m rather fond of all of them in their own particular way but I’m in the market for more now.

This should never be rushed… tent buying is akin to buying a car or house. The emotional involvement is just as high, it’s just less injurious to the wallet.

The Suncamp, although still going strong, has a number of disadvantages that I need to remedy with the next purchase.

Considering the aforementioned drawbacks of this tent, I am looking for something that has good big protection and ventilation, a good door but will still handle the elements as it will be used ‘off season’.

After much searching, two tents fit the bill.

The first is a Cabanon Biscaya. Some of you might not be familiar with this French manufacturer but it is the Rolls Royce of family camping. The company makes superb canvas tents, including the flowery-curtained frame tents that you sometimes see on sites. Although not everyone’s cup of tea and seemingly modelled on a Wendy House, their owners know that frame tents are far superior to the cheaper nylon models, both in terms of durability and liveability.

Indeed, they tend to be wearing smug smiles during campsite storms, as other campers are kept awake by flapping nylon and rain thunderously drumming on flysheets. Canvas is quiet. The Biscaya is Cabanon’s incarnation of a tunnel tent, but still made of canvas.

I’ve seen one of these up and the quality of material is superb. It should be, though, as this retails at a jaw-dropping £900. Sadly, this is too rich even for a fanatic like me.

Almost as impressive, and a bit less expensive, is the Outwell Bear Lake. Again manufactured from a canvas-type polycotton material which benefits from wetting out (like canvas), this is another tunnel design and again the workmanship is of a high standard.

It has a zip-out, tarpaulin-weight groundsheet, which allows you to let the ground breath and the grass recover on long stays.

For it’s size, this tent is incredibly sturdy. I checked it out against more standard nylon models at a windy tent expo in Cumbria and it didn’t budge. It has superb bug protection, a good door, and a front porch/sun visor included in the price. It’s still expensive, though, retailing at around £650.

This may still seem like a lot of money, and it is, but these tents should last a long time. The canvas, or canvas variant material, is considerably tougher than cheaper nylon. It has additional advantages, too. It breathes and therefore offers a more pleasant living environment than nylon. Also, if you use it for a couple of weeks each year, the costs over a few years are easily reconciled against the expense of hotels, self catering etc.

Plus, camping’s more fun… even in the rain and… err….snow!

Despite weighing in at a crushing 40kg, the Outwell may well be joining the family of tents soon. A good home will need to be found for the Sunncamp… perhaps a Scout group?

So, is that it? No. I’ve got my eye on another. A bell tent with a wood-burning stove and flue for winter camping… watch this space.

Time for… some gear

If you think that outdoors blogs and websites shouldn’t tackle the subject of gear then I’m going to disappoint you I’m afraid.

My garage is filled with all manner of stuff but I maintain that all of it gets used, be it for lightweight backpacking expeditions or luxurious, fortnight-long car camping forays to the mountains.

Recently, though, I have read widely about lightening up and, like many, have systematically tried to cut the fat from my backpacking kit. This process is on-going, but my approach is not based on out and out minimalism. There are other criteria that are just as important: I am 6ft 6ins tall, which restricts the gear that I can use, and I look for equipment that is adaptable so I can tailor my approach to weather conditions etc.

If nothing else, I hope what follows will appeal to folk out there who, like I, am keen to read the experiences of others before parting with pennies… well pounds, really, and usually lots of them.

Hilleberg Akto pitched at Crowden CampsiteTent: Hilleberg Akto (£260 if you’re lucky, 1.5kg, lighter if you strip it back, change stakes etc)

So much has been written about this fantastic little tent that I’m not sure I can add much. Costly, yes, but it’s superbly made, light, and very strong if pitched correctly.

Internal sleeping space is excellent for us mutants and I can stretch out with no fear of touching the ends of the inner. It’s wide enough, too, and has a great porch for cooking in bad weather. And having spent a week in it on a trip along the West Highland Way last year, I can say with confidence that it is midge proof. One wild camp along the shores of Loch Lomond was in the middle of a midge convention, but the little blighters couldn’t find a way into the inner tent despite the swarming around the tent’s ‘chimney’ vent at the top of the door.

The other appealing thing about this shelter is the option to pitch the outer only. So, when wet, the inner can be stowed separately in your pack, and the outer can be used as a single skin shelter.

It does have a few drawbacks, though. Condensation can be a problem. I can’t really sit up in the inner at the central apex without ultimately troubling my chiropractor, and things are only marginally better when the inner is unclipped and rolled back.

All things considered, though, it’s still the best all round solution on longer trips when I may be presented with a range of conditions.

This year I will be looking at alternatives… possibly a bivvy/tarp or tarp tent combination. I’m sure I’ll be able to save weight with such a set up and increase the flexibility.

On those starry nights we all yearn for, I can use the bivvy alone, or use the combo should conditions be poor.
A tarp tent allows the rig to be used in campsites too should I fancy a bit of civilisation and a shower.

I’ll do some more research on this and post with my conclusions later.

Mountain Equipment Co-op Merlin Sleeping BagSleeping Bag: Mountain Equipment Co-op Merlin, large. 730g (£100, depending on exchange rate, and if you’re in Canada as you won’t want to pay the import tax)

Another tricky one it you’re lanky as lightweight bags from major manufacturers seem to shrink to save those all importnt grams .

However, my MEC Merlin bag was a real find when I was on an RV trip in Canada last year. The Mountain Equipment Co-op is a great store and it’s a great shame we have nothing like in the UK. You have to join for a nominal fee to make purchases and their own gear is good quality – from what I observed in the Calgary store – and great value for money.

The Merlin bag shell is polyester (now a recycled material) and is filled with top quality down – it lofts brilliantly. It’s rated to –3 deg C although I think it will go lower (I am a warm sleeper).

The extra large version fits me perfectly and weighs in at 730g. Not ultralight, granted, but a good compromise for warmth, weight and comfort.

Go Lite Pinnacle reviewPack: GoLite Pinnacle. (£90, 710g)

Packs are (yet) another area where being tall is a pain. Adjustable backpacks, like my old, heavy Berghaus, were always a compromise and if the back was long enough, the harness was never right.

For those of you not familiar with the GoLite Pinnacle, it’s very minimalist. There’s no frame, very thin padding and no lid, having just a drawcord closure.

However, after a bit of e-mail tennis with the guys at backpackinglight.co.uk, I took the plunge, not least because the large version of the pack seemed to fit my back dimensions.

The Pinnacle is made from super tough Dyneema fabric and has a capacity of 72 litres. It’s very adaptable, though. The volume can be reduced by a simple system of clips, so it’s my daysac too. There’s a pocket on the front that’ll swallow waterproofs and the two capacious mesh side pockets for maps, Mars bars and water bottles (although there’s also an ample hydration bladder sleeve inside). And, yes, you can access the side pockets easily when the pack is worn, meaning that the lack of hipbelt pockets is not a real problem.

The Pinnacle weighs around 700g, which is about a third of my old Bergy. It won’t carry massive loads, but is adequate for the kit outlined here, and then some.

The only warning I would give for this pack is that it takes a bit of thought and experimentation in packing. Bob at backpackinglight.co.uk was keen to point this out before I parted with the cash.I tend to fold my full-length Thermarest in three and slide this down the back of the pack. This not only increases the padding, but gives the pack a little more structure. The remaining gear can be packed in a conventional way, by and large. The lack of lid and pockets may feel curious at first but you soon don’t miss them.

Sleeping mat: Thermarest Prolite Regular(680g, £70)

This is a bit of a luxury, I guess. I know I could probably manage with a ¾ length or one of the even more minimalist options that are now available. It’s not a priority on my kit change list though. This mat has never let me down and keeps me warm in the winter. I can sleep on my side on it too in relative comfort. I might consider a shorter mat if I go for the bivvy option as placing it inside the bag will keep things in place.

Clothing:

Waterproofs:

Montane Superfly (I think!). (£100 in a sale, approx 300 g)

This jacket is quiet old and Montane have now changed the spec, improving on some of the minor quibbles I have with this.

All things considered, though, I’m happy with this jacket. It has a slightly unsual fit but is OK for me in XXL (yes, double XL!) The Event material breathes extremely well, better than my Mountain Equipment Goretex, and it’s light and packs down very small. The drawcord hem has snapped, sadly, and the ‘waterproof’ zip has no storm flap so is prone to leaking in driving (and I mean driving) rain.

For such a minimal jacket, the hood is really excellent.

Mountain Hardwear Epic Pant (£80, 205g)

I’m not a fan of waterproof trousers and didn’t own any for many years. However, they can act as a useful crud barrier on a multi-day trip, meaning that I only have to take one pair of trousers with me and still look presentable in the pub.

The Epics are long enough for me, just, are light, and have good venting zips down the side. This latter feature is important as they are not particularly breathable. Storm resistance is very good though.

Mountain Equipment Co-operative Primaloft vest. (£35 In Canada, 300g)

Another cracking product from Canada. Packs down to nothing but is a great warm layer in the tent.

The North Face TKA 100 fleece. (£20, 300g?) I’ve got a couple of these. Like all North Face gear, they fit well and are pretty well made. I got mine for £20 each, again in the sale, and I don’t really have cause to use any other fleece. Not sure what the weight is, but it’s pretty minimal.

Base Layer: Icebreaker Oasis Crew 200 (£40, 150g)

This was a Christmas present and I think it’s a fantastic! Spent the whole week in it when backpacking across Scotland and it didn’t stink… the Merino fabric is amazing. It’s comfortable when damp and dries in no time.

You can roll the sleeves up and generally abuse it and it never seems to stretch and lose it’s shape. I’m about to invest in boxers and leggings from this manufacturer, despite the expense.

Trousers: The North Face. (£40)

These convertibles are a bit too baggy from my taste but are long enough. I like to open the leg removal zips for ventilation and they dry in no time.

My pair don’t seem to be listed on TNF’s website anymore. I hope the new incarnation is just as functional.

The North Face Hedgehog GTX XCRFootwear: North Face Hedgehog GTX (£80, 900g, pair)

I became a trail shoe convert about 18 months ago when my trusty Scarpa SL’s gave up the ghost after more than 10 years’ service. My first shoe was a Keen Targhee Low, which has a fantastic sole unit, but they started to stink (I mean really stink) after four or five month’s use.

TGO’s editor Cameron McNeish had a similar problem with a pair of mids he’s tested. Keen have just released a non-membrane version, though, the Voyageur, and I will moving over to these in the summer.

The Hedgehog is a good shoe, though. TNF footwear tends to have an elongated toe box, which is good for me as I have rather odd shaped feet and long second toes (quite a bit longer that my big toe).

The XCR membrane is very waterproof (having tested many times in the gloopy peat of the Pennines) and the grip from the Vibram sole as good as you’d expect it to be.

The area where the Hedgehogs are not as good as the Keen’s is in the support. The sole unit is more geared to running than load carrying. Hence, my weight and a full lack means that the EVA wedge used in their construction is bearing many scars despite being fairly new.

I use my hedgehogs with small Goretex ankle gaiters, which I bought from Blacks…. I think they are TrekMates. They keep my trouser hems clean and the grit out of the shoes, if nothing else.

Socks: Smartwool in various thicknesses, grades. (£20 a pair)

I find these socks to be always comfortable, but the wool can make my feet itch after a long day. This is remedied by applying aloe vera cream at the end of the day. I tend to take two pairs on multi-day trips… one to wear and one to air.

Pocket Rocket, Mug and Mug Mate in an MSR Titanium PotStove: MSR Pocket Rocket. (£30, 86g)

This is pretty battered now and has been a faithful servant for a number of years. It gets very hot and sounds like a small jet aircraft when at full power! It weighs nothing and the only maintenance I’ve had to do in the time I’ve owned it is squeeze the hinges of pan supports as they’d come loose.

I know there are lighter versions of canister stoves available along with the new breed of alcohol and ezbit cookers. I haven’t tried them and it’ll take a lot for me to move away from the’Rocket.

The only drawback with this stove is the stability. I’ve knocked it over a few times, which is annoying, but I take it as a reminder not to be such a clumsy oaf.

Pot: MSR titanium. (£70 – yikes – for the set. 150g for the bit I use)

This is the larger pot out of a titanium pan set and was a present as I doubt I would have spent £70 on this kit. Seems like this will last forever, though.

Cup: Snow Peak Titanium. (50g, £20)

Does what it says on the tin! I realise that I could leave this at home and use a kettle/mug container but I like the flexibility of having another cup.

MSR Mug Mate (£14, 28g)

Another top bit of kit from the guys at backpackinglight.co.uk and now more widely available. This small filter means I can have proper coffee in the morning and, boy, is this a treat to savour! You can also use it for making proper tea (out of pine needles, perhaps!)

I was a little worried about the durability but it’s still going strong after nearly two years. Lives inside my cup when in the pack.

Spork: I’ve got titanium and plastic ones of these, both presents. I probably wouldn’t have bought one myself , but there you are. It’s the only bit of cutlery I take (save for a tiny Swiss Army Knife that lives on a cord around my neck at all times).

Accessories:

Exped Dry sacs: up to 70g, £15

I’ve got two of these, one large for food, frist aid kit etc, and one small for my sleeping bag. They are genuinely waterproof and light and are more durable than plastic bags which I have used for a number of years. They can be quite fiddly to close sometimes as you have to get as much of the trapped air out as possible before rolling and clipping the closure.

Platipus bladders

One large (2ltr) bladder and one (1ltre) bottle. I like these and they seem pretty indestructible (they can be frozen and used as hot water bottles). Can be fiddly to clean though. But I tend to only carry water in them rather than squashes etc which would make the cleaning process even more protracted.

Backpacker Pillow, Stormlight (100g)

Got this in the sale form Field and Trek for about a fiver I think. It fits the hood of a sleeping bag and provides that little bit more comfort.

Thermarest seat (£20, 100g)

Keep this in my pocket for the bum during the day and serves as a mat extension for my head at night.

Petzl Tikka Plus headtorch: (£20, 80g)

Light, economical with batteries, and just good enough to walk at night with in emergency. Hasn’t let me down. ‘Nuff said.

UCO Candle LanternUCO Candle Lantern (200g)

A luxury on short trips give a nice comforting glow but that’s about it. There are reflectors available which might make it suitable for reading. I will replace the hanging chain with lighter wire trace when I get round to it.

Lifesystems Trekker first aid kit (£20, 240g)

An off-the-shelf kit. I’ve added a few bits and bobs to this but it seems to have everything I need (and more) on the trail. I appreciate that I could save 100/150g or so on this.

Navigation:

Garmin Geko GPS, Maps, Silva Compass, map case. I’m not a big GPS user but like to have it for confirming position. All of this weight about 300g I think) However, I am interested in the Satmap 10 idea having seen one in action. This is a pricey bit of kit though.

Luxuries!!!

These items I may take depending on the kind of trip.

Wind up radio: (150g) Fab little item this. A Chrismtas pressie from Boots, I think. Great for a fix of the Today programme in the morning and nice at night with some lightweight earphone buds is to lull me to sleep in a storm. Tend to only take it for longer trips and use it only when I am not upsetting others.

Small children’s aluminium drink bottle filled with Lagavullin: Generally for over nighters. A wee dram before bed is as good as the morning coffee! (150g)

Book: Something light and evocative. ‘The Book of the Bivvy’, perhaps, ‘The Call of the Wild’ or some racey account of climbing Everest.

Journal: This goes in the pack ahead of the book. A small Moleskine book and pen. There’s loads of nonsense in mine, which I’m now trying to knock into shape for this blog. It’s fun to look back on and it locks experiences in the memory more vividly than a camera any day.

Camera: (Canon Sure Shot A95 in a very tough CCS case) I remember taking a large Canon SLR and small tripod on a national three peaks trip once (we did it over three days and did ‘classic routes on all three mountains). The gear weighed heavy and since then I tend to forget the camera as I find photography gets in the way of the walking. However, I do use the camera on my phone quite a bit these days. It’s adequate for illustrating posts online if the light’s good.

Think that’s about it. I’m not too worked up about weighing stuff precisely, but totting this up it comes to 5.5 -6kgs base, which I guess is heavy for some of you.

As I said, the lightening up is work in progress but this is a comfortable load for me, and when water and food is in, I can go for 20 miles with no real discomfort.

You’ll note that I haven’t totted up the combined cost of all this…

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.

A long walk home – Saturday…

With a relatively short walk planned that afternoon, I caught a train that arrived in New Mills at noon.

As the suburbs of Manchester and Stockport slid by, I could hear music. Not the tinny annoyance of i-pod, this was real full-bodied sound with rich tones, bass and… voices.

It was a folk band, letting rip in the next carriage. I craned my nick to see the ensemble but an appreciative, gleefully clapping crowd blocked my view.

A chap sitting next to me filled in the blanks. Seemingly coming for the ride, he bellowed into a mobile phone that he was on the ‘folk train’ heading towards Whaley Bridge to, and I quote, to ‘get pissed’. It would be ‘a top day out’, he added. Providing the soundtrack were members of the Chorlton Folk Club. My unwitting informant was getting into the spirit of things, too, by working his way though half a bottle of Scotch neatly concealed in the inside pocket of his leather jacket.

New Mills Newtown came too early and I watched as the band departed, in the full throes of another number. Saturday afternoon in the rain and wind suddenly lost its appeal.

My route out of New Mills followed the Sett Valley Trail. There are one or two reasons to linger in this former mill town, not least because it is the starting point of the trespass trail onto Kinder Scout, which marks the 1932 Mass Tresspass . This event is largely acknowledged as a major catalyst of our right to roam over moor and mountain and the creation of the UK’s national parks.

Not in rebellious mood today, though, I eschewed this commemorative route and followed Sett Valley Trail on a former rail bed past industrial units to the attractive village of Hayfield. I continued beyond the campsite following the Pennine Bridal Way up Elm Bank and onto South Head.

Now fully encased in waterproofs and teeth gritted again a hairy south westerly that was stripping the landscape of any appeal, at the path junction I headed east, then northeast, to Brown Knoll.

The going here got tough, and bogs sodden with rain sucked at my trail shoes. Tired of the gloop, I made for the bed of a streambed, or ‘grough’ as they are known in these parts. These channels tend to be a firmer underfoot as much of the peat has been washed away. They can also provide much needed respite from the wind.

I followed as far as I could, until the ditch became too narrow. My path met the route from Edale Cross and I turned left headed towards the summit of Brown Knoll at 569m.

Despite the clag, I could just make out the ‘steam’ rising for the squat turret of the ventilation shaft serving the Gowburn Tunnel, still providing fresh air for rail line between Sheffield and Manchester some 300m below.

Not a time to linger, and I pressed on to Chapel Gate, the broken course of which led me safely to Barber Booth and ultimately the Fieldhead Campsite in Edale.

The folk at Fieldhead always seem cheery and I struggled to hand the warden the money for the night as my fingers were rigid with the cold.

‘Pitch anywhere that’s dry’, she said, with a smile.

I found a spot on the lower field where my feet didn’t sink too alarmingly and threw up my one-man tent in the rain. Peeling off the waterproofs, I beat a hasty retreat to the Nags Head for a pint and the fire.

As I reached the pub, members of the Edale and Buxton mountain rescue were bringing an unfortunate soul off Kinder in a stretcher. A nasty fracture, apparently, and reminder, if needed, that care is needed in the hills of the Dark Peak despite their modest elevations…