Paying attention to Lantern Pike

Many a time I have driven from home into the Dark Peak and ignored Lantern Pike. The focus has always been Hayfield and the rocky fringes of the Kinder plateau, rather than the softer landscape to the west. My only reminder that the Pike exists is the pub that shares its name.

I resolved to change this today. I was after an easy ramble with the camera… a walk to work up an appetite for Sunday lunch. The weather was very kind, a period of calm before promised snow was due to ruin the Monday morning commute.

I strolled along the Sett Valley trail and gained ground via the Pennine Bridleway from Birch Vale. At the National Trust sign marking the Pike, I following a rocky path climbed steeply to the left and to the small ridge to the Pike’s summit and marker.

The views to higher ground were impressive, and I traced the route of a classic Kinder Scout Walk. No doubt there were plenty of walkers trampling its slopes today, yet I enjoyed solitude on this no-longer ignored hill.

Rolling out the bivvy bag above Edale

I’ve written a fair amount about Kinder Scout on this blog, but I’ve never ‘overnighted’ on its boggy plateau or, perhaps, more agreeable shoulders.

I remedied this at the weekend. I had some free time, although not as much as I’d hoped, so jumped on a train with a light pack. The forecast had been dreadful all week, but the prognosis had improved late on, with periods of extensive sunshine and rain later. I took the bivvy bag.

I had no plan… this was going to be a slow pootle over familiar ground. A trip to Edale and Kinder is like seeing old friends, and it’s a friendship that requires little maintenance. Like the enduring circle of soul mates gained during childhood, I reconnect three or four times a year, but I have the ever-present reassurance that it’s there if needed.

My route took me east along the valley and up on the plateau. Occasional showers gave the evening light a keener edge, throwing sometimes-stark contrast across lush fields bloated by a week of downpours.

I found some clean water and boiled it for my dinner. Kicking back above Nether Tor, I watched the evening progress.

Rolling out the bivvy beyond Grindsbrook Knoll, I had a fine view down the vale. My satisfaction was short lived, however, as a stiff northerly wind snaked around the surrounding hills and rattled the bag. I found a small, dry-ish depression and turned away from the view.

The wind remained all night, and rain drummed on the bag at dawn. I was warm and dry though, and felt a strange sense of comfort in my exposed bedroom.

Slide rules

Gravity: a physical body’s ability to attract with a force proportional to its mass. But classroom definitions pale when these forces are making themselves felt in actuality.

I ruminated on this as I slowly slid over ice en route to the Kinder Plateau on Saturday. My hefty winter boots had no answer on this surface and the faintest gradient ensured gravity was in gear and working with my mass, or on my ass.

Up to this point, I’d avoided the ice on the Snake Path. Plenty of firm snow fringed the frozen footway, which provided much needed purchase. My four-season Raichles felt over specified for the journey in hand. In retrospect, footwear choice proved to be sensible later.

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A classic Kinder Scout walk

Kinder Scout from Hayfield – 9.5 miles. 3 –5 hours

Climbing Kinder Scout from Hayfield is one of the classic routes of the Dark Peak.

It gives walkers relatively easy access to the wild expanses of the Kinder plateau and includes the wild declivity of Kinder Downfall. Add to that at least one agreeable pub for post-walk refreshment and a decent – if busy – campsite, and it’s easy to understand why this route attracts so many boots year in, year out.

View from above William Clough

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I’m afraid I am succumbing to my Summer distractions.

Cricket is now occupying a hefty chunk of my leisure time.

I was at Lords on Friday for the opening rubber of the T20 World Cup. It may have the traditionalists grumbling, but there’s clearly a role for this wham-bam, thank-you-mam form of the game.

The result may not have gone our way (what were you thinking, Stuart Broad?) but the Champagne and pies were most welcome.

I’ve also coughed up for Ashes tickets (and it was quite a cough) so weekends will be spent travelling to Wales and Edgbaston in the hope that England can dig deep and be true competitors in the long form of the game.

So that’s cricket, but the summer is also synonymous with long vigils by lakeside not catching any fish.

The season on the Cheshire lakes I fish is only a week or so away and the gear is nearly ready.

All this does not leave much time for the hills, so I was dismayed to find all my local camp sites booked to the gills this weekend. This is not confined to the weekends, either, as friends report that their favourite quite campgrounds are now being swamped, even on a mid week overnighter.

Is this a product of the recession and people shifting from cheap charters to the great (British) outdoors? Great for our domestic tourism, no doubt… not so great for those seeking a quiet corner.

I could risk a wild camp in the Peak District, I guess, but I know that landowners and rangers are proactive when it comes to policing the peat.

Who’d have thought nights under canvas would become quite so popular.

You can have any colour… as long as it’s grey

I’ve tied up some loose ends at work and everything else can wait until I get back to my desk on the 5th.

I’ve bought all the gifts I am going to buy and even went to the modern-day horror that is the Trafford Centre and witnessed a fist fight between a Liverpudlian mother and daughter (‘Goodwill to all men’?).

The Snake Path out of HayfieldSo, now all this crap is out of the way for another year, I got the chance to get out onto the hills today. Given that I’m now on leave, the weather was dreary (hence the title of this post), but I was determined today… I wouldn’t waste another day of precious holiday.

Just the other side of the winter solstice, daylight is a bit a luxury in these parts at this time of year – a sacrifice worth paying for long summer evenings. The short window of opportunity got me looking closer to home and a well know route I’d never tackled before – Kinder from Hayfield via the Snake Path.

The mountain weather forecast was optimistic with the promise of clear tops, light winds and good visibility in High Peak. The weather blew a raspberry, though… a cold clammy, cloud-ridden one that accompanied me over the tops all day.

The pretty cottages of Hayfield looked inviting as I trudged up the Kinder road to find the start of this famous ‘trespass path’. A fell runner skipped by me and disappeared into the mist as I climbed and I tried to visualise the view.

Crossing the National Trust boundary, the path turned to a sandy track over moorland and suddenly the weather completed the scene. Up high, alone, I waited for the Hound of the Baskervilles to tear my head off, or for Richard Hannay (always Robert Powell, for me) to skip across the heather en route to London to foil some dastardly plot. As geographically awry as both these examples may be, you get my drift.

I skirted the edge of Kinder Reservoir, its sinuous arms barely Up high on the moor above Kinder Reservoir and not a view in sightvisible in the mist, and I reached a junction of paths, all headed to the high ground obscured by a smudge of grey above.

I opted for the ‘official’ route of William Clough and the gushing stream provided a visual focus for the trip upwards. The climb is rough in parts, and depending on which path you take, there are chances to get your hands dirty and you clamber over clumps of gritstone.

The work was over too soon and I found the marker post for Pennine Way-farers and those seeking the protection of the Snake Inn. I turned right and headed southeast along the Pennine Way to Kinder. A steep path climbed the western snout of the plateau and I began a familiar trip along the edge towards Kinder Downfall.

But with visibility at 10 yards or so, this section felt very different today.

The lack of view forced me to appreciate my immediate surroundings and the tongue in cheek title of this post is inaccurate as I counted shades of green, sandy yellow, brown and pink in the peaty moonscape.

Other senses were more acute today, too. I climbed above two large anvil shaped stones and I heard the rush of the wind as it forced passage between the concave faces. Aeolian process at work, perhaps.

I passed the Downfall, lacking its usual drama in the gloom, and pressed onto the trig point at Kinder Low. I found it easily with the aid of the ever-accurate Satmap.

At Edale Cross, I picked up the Oaken Clough path and veered right onto the footpath to Hayfield. I reached the village again in three and half hours.

I hope to be out again soon to work off the excesses of Christmas. Until then, may I wish you and yours a restful Christmas and all the best for the New Year.


Muddy boots in the peat near Kinder Low

Cruel to be Kinder

There are numerous ways to test the resilience of your limbs in Edale.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting outside the Ramblers Inn enjoying the sun’s last rays, you’ll have witnessed folk with pained expressions seeking the solace of their cars after battling with the tops for a day.

Some will have slightly incredulous looks on their faces that the last descent had been so tough, some will be tip-toeing on ruined feet, as if creeping around the house after a night on the beer so not to wake the better half.

Two ‘classics’ have to be the complete circuit of the Vale of Edale – taking on the Mam Tor Ridge and the southern Edge of Kinder Scout – and the complete circuit of the Kinder plateau itself. I had unfinished business with the latter, and had a crack during the first weekend of April, when spring should have sprung.

Which way now? Snow in April on Kinder ScoutWhenever possible, I try to use public transport on walking trips, and Edale has the advantage of lying on the Sheffield to Manchester cross Pennine route. This turns it into a fleshpot in the summer months, putting it within easy reach of two major conurbations.

Off-season, things are quieter and it means that people who like to leave the car at home have relatively easy access.The train deposited me at Edale station in sunshine. The cliffs of the plateau looked enticing and I walked north through the village admiring well-tended gardens filled with daffodils. A reminder that work needed doing on my own meagre patch at home.

Passing the Nags Head and several walking parties about to embark, I headed for Grindsbrook Clough but veered right as I fancied a bit of low key scrambling on the rocky spine of Ringing Roger. Following the path as it contoured up the side of The Nab, low cloud suddenly spilled over Grindslow Knoll and hail peppered my jacket. Hood up, the hail turned into an exhilarating snowstorm.

April showers to the power ten? Perhaps… but I shouldn’t have really been a surprise. The weather systems were due to come from the north all day, promising an interesting cocktail of conditions.Visibility was now 25 yards and the clumps of heather that I could see were sugar frosted with snow.

With gritted teeth, I pressed onto the foot of Ringing Roger and started to climb. This lumpy outcrop of gritstone provides easy scrambling although the swirling clouds of snow injected a frisson of excitement.

Passing cairns north of the I realised that the weather could ruin my plans for the day. After all, I could see nothing, save for the white noise of a badly tuned television framed by my jacket hood and the vague outline of a path.

I poked around in the snow for a while until I found the edge path heading east. I would carry on but remained focussed on the map waiting for stream beds indicated by the Ordnance Survey to appear under my feet. I continued this way until reaching Madwoman’s Stones, slightly off the edge to be fair.

The ominous name of this outcrop was qualified by a bizarre becalming of the conditions. Suddenly, an eerie stillness fell on the plateau and I had the quite sublime sensation of being completely alone.

The View to Woodlands Valley opened upA golden pool of light then revealed the northern slopes of the Woodlands Valley as the hole opened in the heavy, dirty cloud. It expanded and migrated toward me, causing frosty heather tips to sparkle. The unpredictable weather, however troublesome, was not going to spoil this outing, only enrich it.

The wind retuned and served as a weather vane as I headed east, the compass and map now holstered in my pack side pocket.

Kinder’s northerly rim feels that bit wilder than its southern counterpart, despite the A57 suggesting the proximity of civilisation and safety. The edge is dotted with grit outcrops that preside over the Woodlands Valley, grim faced against the wind. Progress along this side is also complicated by the deep ravines of numerous cloughs and brooks which drain some of the water from the peat.
Deep ravines cut into Kinder Scout's northern edge
Once the view along the edge became clearer as the cloud continued to dissolve, what appeared to be moderate distances were doubled by the need to switch back up these clefts. And although relatively flat, this section of the route should not be underestimated as it requires walkers to wade though peat paths and jump from tussock to tussock. Views to the north are worth the protracted toil, though.

I found a comfortable outcrop on Seal Edge, refuelled and watched a team of fell runners making good progress from the Snake Road, their spindly limbs making easy work of brown hillside. They were to be only people I would see on the northern edge of Kinder on this changeable day.

Perfectly on cue, hail stung the side of me face again and then turned to snow. Time to press on.

The rockiness of the landscape increased as I passed Fairbrook Naze and worked my way long The Edge. I opted for stone over peat wherever possible – an admittedly small gesture to contain the footpath erosion along this stretch.

All too soon, people became a feature of the landscape again as I reached the junction with the Pennine Way, a route travelled in the other direction on my Long Walk Home.

A procession of pedestrians plodded to Kinder Down Fall and found sheltered spots amid the rocks to munch on sandwiches and gaze out towards Hayfield. Determined to follow the true edge of Kinder Scout, I resisted the temptation to stride across the plateau on a boggy path to Crowden Tower, instead taking the long way via Kinder Low and Edale Rocks.

Here, I headed due east again and entered the rock gardens of Woolpacks, a natural adventure playground for kids (and adults, maybe) who enjoy clambering over and conquering these outcrops.

Grindsbrook Clough - an exciting downward scramble in the sunshineCrowden Tower and the mouth of Crowden Brook soon passed and after another half a mile or so I cheated a bit. Rather than taking the track off the hill at Grindslow Knoll, I fancied completing my circumnavigation with a bit more excitement by way of a scramble down Grindsbrook Clough.

The rim of this ravine looked suitably intimidating, the ground rubbed to bare earth as thousands of walkers pause to weigh up the route’s steepness.

I made my way tentatively down and, not wishing to trouble the ever- patient folk of Edale Mountain Rescue, placed feet and hands very carefully. Once past the initial drop, things become much easier and you can appreciate the fine views to the Vale of Edale, framed dramatically by a solitary tree.

At the base, I followed the path through woodland and back to the starting point. With the sun high and warm again, I made for the grassy front lawn of the Ramblers Inn and sat alone as diners and drinkers cheered at noisy televisions showing the Grand National.

Then it started to snow…

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…

A long walk home – the idea

Being fortunate enough to work from home most of the time, and being able to wistfully gaze out of the window when I should be ‘strategising’ or whatever is it I do for a living, the mind wanders on to more agreeable subjects.

And as the view from my office window has a few hills in it, however blackened they may be by decades of industrial punishment, grand days out in wild places are a common thread for the daydreams.

During a rather lengthy mental discourse one afternoon over my regular 4pm brew (one must have routine in the working day), I happened on the idea of walking to Edale.

Looking at the map that evening, this would be a trip of some 20 miles or more and include the first section of the Pennine Way from Crowden, only in reverse.The first section of the ‘Way is meant to be an easy introduction to the bleak miles that follow to the Scottish borders.

Easy it may be, but it still takes in the lumpy wastes of Bleaklow and the rocky edge of Kinder before dropping into the lush valley that was once a regular haunt of my university days in Manchester.

So what about tough outward leg and marry it to valleys and villages on the way home?

The best made plans of mice and men oftern go awry, though. The forecast was bleak for the Saturday of the trip: 70mph winds, heavy rain, walking on the hills would be ‘very difficult’ the mountain forecast said.

Change of plan then, as forays into the hills are meant to be fun after all and not purgatory (although the grim days always seem to linger sweeter in the memory).

Map down, then, and ‘Trainline’ tapped into the web browser. I’d get a train to New Mills, walk to Hayfield, skirt Kinder and eat some peat by way of Brown Knoll and Colbourne, which constitute the Edale valley’s south western rim.

Sunday, when the weather was reported to be better, would now be a long walk home, which kind had a nice ring to it.

The idea was then given more appeal when my other half promised Sunday roast if I made it home before five. If ever there were an incentive…