I have spent most of my life escaping into the Peak District National Park, I have grown to love the solitude it can bring. I also have an interest in the growing field of psychogeography particularly, in post-industrial landscapes. I am the author of Dark Peak Walks published by Cicerone Press. I am also studying Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University.
My first wild camp took place last night in a wooded area on the edge of the Peak District National Park. It is illegal to wild camp in England and Wales with the exception of the Dartmoor National Park, without the permission of the land owner. So I sought permission from the land owner. As this was my first experience I ventured out at 6pm and walked for an hour until I found a suitable spot, quiet, out of the way, and protected from any wind. The spot was below and away from a rock outcrop, within a wooded area that was set above the main landscape and gave fine views across the valley, whilst maintaining privacy from unwanted visitors. I have to admit to being a little nervous and somewhat apprehensive about being found by young revellers or worse people up to no good. So being out of the way was important. I found a nice dry flat area protected by large rocks from the wind, which only needed a little clearing of twigs, then I set to work putting up my Terra Nova Laser Photon tent, which after a little practice earlier on in the day, went well. There are a few things that could be improved with the tent and I will review these in a later blog on equipment. The next step was to make a good brew with the Jetboil Flash and this provided a nice cup of tea. Then it was off into the tent as the light was fading.
This produced the first problem. How to get into a sleeping liner and a sleeping bag. First take off boots and socks, this proved to be relatively easy despite the limited head room in the tent. Then into the sleeping liner and bag. This meant some flexible movement of limbs, which I am singularly un-equipped for, and after much grunting I managed some semblance of the right pose with most of my body, but not all in the bags. I was laying on top of the Thermarest NeoAir mattress, which seemed strong and did provide good insulation. I had taken a book, radio and earphones as well as my head torch, so settled down to read for a while as it was a little too early to sleep.
I first noticed the thumping of bass music when I took my headphones off and was immediately ripped by fear the youth had arrived and I was about to be discovered and unsettled. Nothing happened and slowly it dawned on me that I had spotted an outdoor wedding function taking place across the valley and in the night air the music must be coming from there. Eventually sleep overcame me and I must have slept for a few hours although it was uncomfortable at times and seemed to be a little lacking in space. I suspect this is my lack of experience and i do not yet have the skills to have a prolonged nights sleep under canvas.
The weather was kind with only a slight drizzle in the morning. I boiled water for tea and sat looking out over the valley drinking tea and feeling rather pleased and changed by the whole experience. I seemed to have walked through a door that led to calmness. It was strange, moving and likeable all at the same time.
It took less than an hour to break camp and I walked through woods and across fields to reach a small village where my wife collected me. So a successful learning experience with good knowledge gained for the next step which will be a two day hike with overnight stay.
When I was fourteen years old a class mate and I decided we would go hiking in Derbyshire. I have no idea where the thought came from or who first had it, but one saturday morning I finished my paper round and dashed home to get ready for hiking. I had a pair of boots, the soles heavily re-inforced with segs, ( metal studs that were purchased from a cobblers shop near Robert Jenkins Company boiler shop and then hammered in to the soles). Segs made you feel more genuine and also warned anyone within a mile that you were coming due to the noise all this metal made on metalled roads. I also had an ex army surplus gas mask bag or havesack as they were known. This was quite a bag to sling over your shoulder as it contained a myriad of pockets that you could while away hours trying to work out what they were for. Into mine went sandwiches, a bottle of pop and a guide book detailing our route. I also had a kagoule, a wooly jumper and some money. You didn’t need much money as it only cost ten pence to travel anywhere in South Yorkshire back then, thanks to the innovative bus policy the local county council had. My mate and I got the bus to Sheffields Pond Street Station and then caught the bus to our destination. There were lots of walkers on the bus and we felt part of something, even though we were trying not to get noticed. We had chosen a route which seemed a good challenge. From Crowden we would walk across Kinder Scout to Edale and get the train back to Sheffield. What could possibly go wrong. The bus journey to Crowden Youth Hostel does not inspire confidence if you are two young walkers with absolutely no experience of the outdoors. The bus travels along the Woodhead road, a desolate and forbidding strip of tarmac that was, back then, still one of the main trans pennine routes for heavy frieght lorries. It is a black line surrounded by black peat and brown moors and dirt. Lots of dirt from the thousands of vehicles that pound the road every day. It also rains, a lot. Not the kind of start to a walking career you would choose, but that’s what you get for not knowing what you are doing. We arrived at Crowden expecting to find a small town of shops and houses. Nothing, there was just nothing, except a long low row of stone cottages and a phone box, and the roar of the lorries thundering by. We studied the guide book and tried to work out how to get to the start of the walk, which was situated in a village called Charlesworth. We managed to work out that following the Woodhead Road would take us to a junction where we turned off and then walked into the village. So we set off walking down the Woodhead towards Glossop. I would not attempt this walk now. The folly of youth blinded us to the risks inherent with walking along a major transport route with lots of blind bends and no footpath to walk on. But our confidence had been encouraged by the success of working out which direction we had to walk in. We simply followed the sight of the dissappearing bus over the horizon to Glossop. We were stupid!
Walking along the Woodhead is a surefire way to get killed and some people manage that every year, but it was a less frightenening prospect than walking away from the road, i.e, moorland, which looked forbidding, desolate and had no signs of life. Bearing in mind we were going to cross Kinder, this attitude towards the moors did not bode well, but protected by the veil of blissful youth, we did not know this at the time. At some point we saw civilisation in the form of Tintwistle. A small gathering of buildings that formed a village that to us looked like a metropolis in the midst of the moorlands looming over us. In the sunlight we walked in to the village and began the search for the road to Charlesworth, our starting point. We must have been given directions by someone as we were soon turning south to pass through a series of industrial era villages, the houses characterised by stone blackened through the years of heavy industrial acivity in an area known for dyeing, smelting and textiles. We were still walking along roads, albeit now on pavements. Our spirits had been lifted in the small victory we had achieved navigating our way from Rotherham, to Sheffield then Tintwistle and finally Charlesworth, the start of our expedition across the moors.
Entering Charlesworth we looked around for the sign post to Edale. There was none. The guide book gave very little detail about the start, except a drawn map which we could not relate to the land our feet stood upon. I have a recollection of walking back and forth along streets, with no real idea what we were looking for. Eventually we decided on asking for directions to Edale. The person we chose was a newsagent, probably on the basis that they delivered newspapers to houses and therefore should know where places were. In hindsight this was a wrong move, but we were’nt to know that then. “Excuse me. Could you tell me how to get to Edale?” “Edale. You want to go to Edale?” “Yes” “You’ve no chance of reaching Edale today from here. It’s too late. Where have you come from?” “Sheffield” “It would be quicker and easier to walk back to Sheffield. You don’t want to be setting off to Edale now.” “Oh. Right. Back to Sheffield you say.” “Much easier and quicker” So that was it. This font of all navigation matters had spoken. He was an adult and a shopkeeper, which in our young eyes meant he knew more than we did. Which in retrospect he probably did. After some deliberation, a packet of crsips and a bottle of orangeade we decided to take the adults advice and walk back to Sheffield. It was coming up to midday so we thought we had plenty of time. We chose to return via the route we had arrived and follow the Woodhead Road all the way back in to Sheffield. The distance would be 28 miles!!
Only the naivety of youth would attempt such a walk and we fitted that description perfectly. All was well at first. We retraced our route with a slight feeling of failure but also one of relief. We were in new surroundings so it didn’t seem too bad, even if we had never so much as stepped one foot on to grass, let alone moorland. It was when we started to walk back along the Woodhead road that things started to go wrong. Anyone who knows the Pennines will know it has a high rainfall. This is not the same for Rotherham where we lived, so it was one heck of a surprise when the heavens opened and God threw buckets of water down upon us. It was also very dark and very windy. To two young boys, (note we are young boys now and not intrepid adventurers!), unprepared for such weather it was a frightening experience. At one point we became so scared, what with the rain soaking us through, the wind howling around us, the skies as black as night and the lorries thundering past us, we attempted to seek refuge in a lonely house situated at the side of the Woodhead road. We banged on the door and when opened by a man shouted to be let in out of the storm. The door was slammed firmly shut leaving us outside dejected and forlorn. If ever that house owner needed help I hope he received the same response he gave to two young boys seeking protection in a storm. Even today when I pass the house I think it was, I feel a sense of loss in the human spirit at that mans actions. We had no option but to keep on walking back to Sheffield. We trudged in horrendous weather back along the road, fearing being hit by either vehicle or lightning, heads down, unresponsive we moved along through the storm which seemed to stay with us every step of the way.
Suddenley we came upon a phone box, the red standing out against the blue black of the storm clouds. Behind the phone box was a building. Refuge. It was the Crowden Youth Hostel and we weren’t members. For no reason I can explain today we decided not to go into the YH but instead packed ourselves into the phone box to seek protection from the storm. My friend phoned his dad and pleaded to be picked up. From listening to my friends side of the conversation his dad was not a happy bunny to be called out on a Saturday afternoon to rescue two halfwit boys who had got themselves lost. But he agreed to come and pick us up, what else would a father do.
We waited in the phone box, hoping no one would want to make a call. At some point the rain stopped and then we experienced one of those glorious special days when the rain clears, the sun comes out and heats the land so quickly steam rises from the sodden roads and also drenched boys. We sat outside, still not daring to enter the YH and waited for my friends father, basking in the bright 70’s style colours that are only available after a storm has passed.
He arrived in a great woosh, his large car turning round in the layby. As soon as he got out the tirade started. What did we think we were doing, how stupid could we both be, etc, etc. Bundled into the back of the car we were driven home whilst receiving lectures on various points of being responsible, not being idiots and not calling a dad out during the Saturday afternoon footie. We were relieved and dejected. A sense of adventure and of failure all in one.
I cannot remember what my parents said, not much probably as they had no connection with the outdoors and no inclination the danger their son had actually been in. I didn’t at the time, but looking back I can see how lucky we were. Amazingly, a few weeks after, we went for another walk, this time on a more gentler route, within easy reach of public transport and with lots of people around. It was a success and led on to a lifetime of walking.
I look back now on that day and fancy I see the gates to a future which I could not discern as a boy back then. We were coming to the end of our school days. My friend would go onto college, university and a distinguished career as a scientist. I would enter the steelworks as an apprentice, fed into the steel mills like thousands of others before me. I often think, what would have happened to me if we would have walked in to Crowden Youth Hostel. Would I have met someone who would fan the frail embers of outdoors interest into a career outdoors or a more adventurous life, rather than one of steel mills, pubs, unwanted marriage, mortgages, careers and responsibilities. I type this as a fifty two year old man, thrown on the scrap heap by bankers greed, trying to make sense of this new world and how I can fit into it. Maybe I am trying to reach backwards to that boy and to tell him there is another way of life, it isn’t money you need to concern yourself with its doing something you enjoy, something you want to do.
It’s the end of August 2012. The big news is that this summer has been the worst for rain, lack of sun and cold, for 100 years. No news to those who have been out and about walking and climbing. As I write this on the last day the sun is shining and there is a coolness in the air, the heather is in full glorious purple bloom and I am starting to think about purchases of winter walking clothing. All of which portents autumn just around the corner. Looking at my walking log I see that I have completed just short of 150km of walks with 5100 meters of ascent. I’m quite pleased with this, and how my body is starting to respond to all this exercise. Following my little mishap in February whilst descending Levers Hause in the Lake District National Park, (you can read about that here), my body has slowly and sometimes painfully rehabilitated itself to its new way of walking. More importantly my mind also seems to be growing stronger as there was a time when I was very apprehensive about where my feet went and probably made things harder for myself mentally. With lengthening and ever more adventurous walks this mental attitude seems to be receeding, replaced by a more robust “can do” attitude which is more useful out on the hills.
I have had the good fortune to be assisted in my recovery by my wife Alison who has been a tower of strength and superb support and by friends who have accompanied me sometimes on walks. The Peak District National Park Ranger Service of which I am a volunteer has also been crucial in helping me along the road to recovery.
I started the month wanting to put together a series of walks that were both challenging in length and terrain, not necessarily within the same walk, but certainly extending the boundaries on a progressive basis. I looked at some of the National Trails and was enticed by the Yorkshire Wolds Way & Cleveland Way as both are reasonably near where I lived, but time was a constraint so I looked around for a trail that offered distance along with the ability to do it in sections on a come and go basis. I settled on the Derwent Valley Heritage Way which is much nearer my home and is reasonably flat, meaning I could put in some mileage to strengthen my muscles, whilst at the same time not have to worry about ascents and descents. I have now completed the first 2 sections totalling 30km and have to say I have enjoyed the route tremendously so far. I will post a more comprehensive account of the walk when it is completed. Following the injuries there was a great deal of muscle wastage in my ankle, knee, leg and lower back as a result of being laid up, coupled with a refusal of the NHS to provide physio, due to cut backs and the fact that I was active before the accident and therefore capabale of getting myself active again in recovery. So walking distances over reasonably level ground is fine but doesn’t stretch the joints to produce strong ligaments and tendons. The answer for this is moorland walking over rough paths and across moors with no descernable route other than through tussocks of grass, heather, bracken and bog. Add a good ascent and descent and you have enough ankle, and knee turning opportunities, thigh building and hamstring stretching movements to strengthen any wastrel.
My walking log says that there have been several Peak District National Park Ranger Service patrols across moorland and up narrow cloughs, crossing streams, swearing profusely and generally regretting my choice of route. But it is having a beneficial effect with muscle build up, strengthening of ligaments and tendons and a reduction in body fat which built up over the period of incapacity. There is still plenty of room for improvement and muscle tone is still seriously lacking but confidence is increasing and this has been a serious issue, especially on descents, down rough paths and tracks. The walking has brought with it it’s own issues especially pain in the knee joint and lower back, this has lessened over the weeks with ongoing use but still flares up if I extend a walk beyond the limits my body has become used to. A day or two after is then required for recooperation. I am fine with these bouts of pain, they are nothing compared to the weeks of inactivity and I have learnt about vitamin (I) or Ibruprofen.
On a recent walk along Derwent Edge in the Upper Derwent Valley I was showing a walking friend the trig point at Back Tor. You have to climb up on to the top of a gritstone rock to get close, which I managed to do with a little grunting. I noted that my body was not helping the climb by being out of balance and instead of leaning into the rock which sloped upwards, it seemed to over balance backwards. I managed to correct this but it was a tense moment and a little fear reared its ugly head. On the descent there was a greater problem. How to get down? The rock seemed to move in my eyes and my mind could not grasp where to put my feet, there being no real handholds a very real panic started to gnaw at me and I could visualise myself falling. My friend asked if I needed help, that’s how bad I was. I ended up sitting myself down and shimmying across the gritstone until I reached a ledge I could use for a descent to ground level. It was disturbing to note how my mind had very quickly built up a doomsday scenario.
My body was responding to exercise and progressing well with good ascents being made in reasonable time. Descents were a little more precarious, both poles being in use and a heel pronounced gait very active in evidence. I needed to add a little more toughness to the walks and was finding it hard to achieve that in the Peak District, so we booked a few nights over the bank holiday weekend in the Lake District. Opting for Langdale as a base I prepared two routes, Coniston Old Man and Pavey Ark. I use OS maps and compass to plan out each leg of the route, noting times, distance and ascent. All this then goes on to a route card which also carries contact information, start time and most importantly when we would expect to return. Preparing the card helps me focus on the area and highlights any problems we may encounter. The card would be left with the National Trust campsite manager so should anything untoward happen help would be at hand. Monday came and brought rain, wind and a flat battery, so a walk up onto Pavey Ark was in order. It proved to be quite a testing walk in more ways than one, and was both good for the soul, mind and body. I will write it up later, but suffice to say the experience had all the elements of a thriller. Due to the flat battery we did not continue our holiday and so did not get to Coniston, something I have to put right.
So that has been August 2012 and the rehabilitation programme is in full swing. The muscles, ligaments and tendons are building strength, perhaps next is to increase the range of movement. What is more important or worrying depending on your point of view is my mental strength. I am still hesitant, not entirely trusting my body to stay upright, something I think will recede with time and effort. But there is also a degree of fear that was not there before, it can show itself when crossing the top of the stairs and I look down, the image of what could be flashing through my minds eye. There are also the dreams, which wake me up in a sweat, heart racing as I look around to find I am in the safety of my bedroom.