Trigpoint Walks 4

Lady's Cross, Salters Brook Packhorse Track

Do you go walking on your own or with friends?  If you go walking on your own, how many people do you take with you?  I ask the question because I sense a feeling of being alone in spending time on the hills with people who aren’t actually there.  Never have a conversation with someone who is not in the room, goes the old maxim.  Well by that standard a good proportion of my walking day would be spent in absolute silence.  Am I mad, do you think?  Or, and this is where I ask you to be courageous, do you, like me rant and rave at people who you probably haven’t seen for a decade or more, with me it can be up to five decades, that’s how long back my resentments can go.  I only ask, that’s all.  You don’t have to fess up, although if this were to become a platform for long held resentments being outed then I am happy to provide the service.  Call it Resentments Inc.

Surprisingly there were very few time wasters on the latest trig walk.  It wasn’t a walk I was particularly looking forward too to be honest. Natural beauty would not be a phrase you could connect with the landscape. It was within the National Park boundary, towards the northern tip of the park.  The setting off point was the cross Pennine route of the Woodhead Road.  A thundering line of heavy goods vehicles transporting wonderful things made by the clever people of Yorkshire to be sold to the not so clever people of Lancashire and Greater Manchester, told you old rivalries run deep.

I set of along the old original cross Pennine route, the packhorse track of Salters Brook.  It was used to transport goods to and from the east coast to the west and vice versa.  Near where I joined the route are the remains of an old public house and lodgings for the Jaggers and drovers, you can still enter the cellar, but be careful.  On a high point of the route heading east is another old cross.  Lady’s Cross still has part of the column intact, it must have been a welcome sight after the pull up from either valley each side of the summit.

SE 1562 0031 South Nab 461m
SE 1562 0031 South Nab 461m

Back across the Woodhead to my first trig South Nab, sounds like a whaling station in the Antarctic.  A sign told me I could not use the bridle way due to severe flooding, no surprise really, and no problem.  My route lay north east of the trig, with Emley Moor transmitter as the aiming point.  Lots of windmills on the hills to the east, which to my mind look quite nice.  There is a great debate going on at the moment re wind turbines.  The fors and agins both have valid arguments and I for one would not want to see great plantations of the things, what’s wrong with out at sea anyway.  But the odd cluster I do not mind and if it helps make us cleaner then all to the good.

I headed across moorland, past grouse butts and dropped down to the Trans Pennine Trail.  On my way down I could be heard, if you had been there, arguing with someone I haven’t seen for more than a decade.  They probably have forgotten all about me, but I am made of much sterner stuff.  It’s not that they did anything to me, it’s that I didn’t win, or they didn’t do what I thought they should have done.

SE 1319 0331 Snailsden 476m
SE 1319 0331 Snailsden 476m

Skirting round a couple of reservoirs I made my way to Snailsden trig. The track winds round the hillside of out of sight of the trig, so I took the opportunity to do a little pacing exercise.  When I reached my estimated number I climbed up the hill to find nothing.  Not a sausage, never mind a trig.  I can’t have been that far out I thought as I scanned the land in front of me.  Turning round the other way, there it was less than a few metres away.  What a pillock.  Just remember to turn round next time.

Had my lunch here with fine views across the Peak District and on up to the Dales and North Yks Moors.  I’m trying out some new lunch time tactics.  Soup in a soup Thermos, with small sandwiches to dunk.. Today it was Mulligatawny and cheese with Branston.  Very nice it was too.  Monty and Ollie munched away on some twig sticks they seem to enjoy and then sat staring me out, willing me to give over the sandwich or anything else I had going.  Not a chance.

Whilst doing all this I plotted the route to my final trig.  Stay high I decided, lets not lose height just to gain it again.  Remember last week all that ascent and descent and the cost on energy levels.  At the end I had almost nothing left, in conditions that were pretty atrocious.  Lesson learnt there.

I decided to use a shooting track to get me up on to the saddle over looking Longdendale.  This did mean a descent at first, but avoided bog trotting and working my way through thick heather whilst ascending the other side of the valley I was looking down on from Snailsden, that was the direct route, but not necessarily the quickest.  This proved the correct plan, and although the line was longer it was easier going and saved hugely on time and energy levels.

SE 1244 0172 Dead Edge End 500m
SE 1244 0172 Dead Edge End 500m

The route to Dead Edge End, where do they get these names from, followed a fence marking the line of several parish come county boundaries.  Naturally I tried to remain on the Yorkshire side for as long as possible and only had to hop across to Derbyshire once I reached the trig. There were wonderful views from the trig, Kinder, Bleaklow, Black Hill, some great walking country and with plenty of Trigs some great walks to come.

Back to base now following the last leg of the triangle, heading for South Nab.  I passed over the Woodhead tunnel and saw that there was smoke coming out of the air vents. Apparently this is condensation evaporating and not ghost steam trains, personally I prefer the latter.

I enjoyed this walk, even though the landscape was not picture book.  After the previous walk, I took more care about route and timing and energy levels and that made a huge difference to the enjoyment.  Have you noticed I left all those people in my head behind some while ago, well before Snailsden trig.  That’s the beauty of walking in to a landscape, the land itself becomes my companion.

Trigpoint Walks 3

SK 2802 3813 Ox Stones Trigpoint 420m TP 5267
SK 2802 3813 Ox Stones Trigpoint 420m TP 5267

I knew I had made a mistake as soon as I set foot on to the snow, it was blindingly obvious that I had the wrong boots on.  The thing is we haven’t had that much snow in the Peak District this winter and so I was totally unprepared.  My Altberg boots, superb as they are, are summer boots, flexible and with a slightly more than worn sole.  No match for snow, slush and tussocky grass hiding deep holes in the peat bog. What I needed was four season walking boots, with a firmer sole, good grip and high thick ankle cuffs.  Just like the Scarpa SL Active boots that were sat at home on a shelf warming themselves in the central heating.  These boots heavier and with thicker soles would have come in handy later in the day as well but for reasons so left field no marketing man would ever think it up.

So Thursday 12th February was definitely a day not to be out doing long walks along grit-stone edges, which was exactly where I would be heading, cunningly timing my arrival for the start of the gale force winds.

The first trig, Ox Stones, shown above was some way away from my start point, across a peat moorland covered in a nice blanket of snow.  My route would take me off track and across open moorland.  Ever walked across moorland and heather that is covered in snow.  Gets the thighs burning I can tell you, a pair of stiff ankled boots is also an advantage to protect you from those ankle breaking sink holes that appear in the peat.  Once clearing the moorland I hit a track and my first sign of other mad people walking in the hail that now peppered my face.

As I drew alongside the lady who was trailing the man I announced my arrival with a strong “Good Morning”.  It was good to see her suddenly galvanised into movement, jumping so high from a crouching position, head bent in to the wind was very impressive.  “Jesus Christ.  You made me jump out of my skin.  Someone did that to me yesterday as well.”  I laughed, saying that I was sorry, but I have to admit I did find the whole episode amusing, and worthwhile.

Ox Stone trig sits just of the Houndkirk Track.  Its quite a nice trig on open moorland with interesting grit stone rock formations nearby.  After taking the pictures I headed off back along the Houndkirk.  The weather was starting to pick up and I could see some nasty clouds taking up a battle formation over towards the west.

SK 2899 81251 Blacka Plantation Trigpoint 259m TP 1435
SK 2899 8125 Blacka Plantation Trigpoint 259m TP 1435

The second trig pillar wasn’t that far away, but was a pig to get too.  I chose to eschew using a road as the direct route and wove my way through a broad leaved plantation full of tracks and undergrowth and mud. Lovely. This trig sits on private land.  There is a sign guarding the land informing anyone that the land is private and there is no entry.  Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your point of view, the sign was in French. Why? Who knows but I suspect  pretentious prats may have something to do with it.  Anyway I cannot read French, hated the subject at school, so I didn’t know what it said, therefore I scrambled over the gate and made my way to the trig.  It was really hammering it down now so I didn’t hang about with the photos.

I was in need of some lunch after all that slogging through woods and sapping across private land, so I chose the quick route out which was a public road.  As I headed up a small river which used to be a footpath across the moorland for the horizon and Burbage Edge a hole appeared in the sky.  It was coloured blue and had a watery yellow sun beaming down warmth and goodwill, right where I chose to have lunch.

Alison, my wife, you can see her work here it may be of interest, bought me a dinky little Thermos soup flask for Christmas. I have been filling it with hot water and then adding cup o soup type noodles.  Today I had some Batchelors packets.  Sadly they were rubbish.  Tasteless, lacking nourishment and lacking enjoyment.  One of the things I have learned when on a hard walk, is to have something nice to look forward too for lunch, something that keeps me going in wind, rain, sleet and snow. Next time I will try a Heinz Big Soup with chunks of bread.

By the time I got to Burbage Edge, the wind was really starting to gust strongly.  So fierce was it, that water from the river below was blowing up the crag and over the top, just like Kinder Downfall.  By the time I got to the western end there was significant buffeting.  People were stopping their cars by the roadside and taking photos of the spray and no doubt the idiot stumbling through it.  By the time I reached the final trig at Stanage Edge the wind was so strong I had difficulty standing, hence the blurry picture.

SK 2509 8301 Stanage Edge 457m Trigpoint TP 6150
SK 2509 8301 Stanage Edge 457m Trigpoint TP 6150

At one point I was knocked down by the force of the gusts as they raced over the top of the edge.  Some youths appeared and started to surf the buffeting wind, arms out stretched, squeals of delight coming from them.  I wish I could have done that but age has crept up on me and I chickened out.  Bidding them safe fun I set off along the edge only to see my hat fly off into oblivion, followed immediately after by myself.  Safety is the better part of valour I decided, as I once again hit the deck.  I moved away from the edge path and headed across a moorland depression.  Big mistake and one to learn from.  Moorland depressions contain boggy ground, especially if marked blue on the map.  Add to that a months worth of rain and it becomes an energy sapping soul destroying boot clawing quagmire that no one should enter.  In future I shall study the map before jumping at the nearest supposed escape route.

So there you go.  It was grim, cold, wet, exhausting and once it was over I had had the hardest walk I have had in many a month.  I am so glad I continued and did not give in.  It was bloody marvellous.

Trigpoint Walks 2

SK 24532 94653 Broomhead Moor Fundamental Benchmark TP0526 Spot Height
A fundamental benchmark on Broomhead Moor. Now used as part of the GPS network. The witness states “Height Above Datum”

Every Christmas when I was a kid mom and dad would drag my brother and I across town to visit Uncle Frank and Aunty Iris. It was a walk of 3 miles or more through suburban housing and odd open spaces.  We walked because we didn’t have a car, this was back in the sixties and walking wasn’t a pastime then, it was how you got about.

I looked forward to the walk because when we got to the Colin Campbell pub we had to cross some open land, that had a pond with stickleback fish in, weird dry grass and even more strange black hills about twenty feet high.  It was a very odd place. I now know it was an old coal pit, closed long before that whore of the city Thatcher got her hands on the school milk, never mind whole mining communities.

In one corner was this sinister obelisk.  It stood on one of the small hills, like a pyramid, the white bright against the black coal spoil.  It always freaked me out a bit because it sat there throbbing, a deep hum seemingly emanating from the inner core.  Of course this was in the days of the first Dr WHO programmes which I watched from behind the settee so perhaps it could have been my imagination.  I always looked out for the pyramid but never thought to ask what it was.  Such are the seeds of a future life wasted on trivialities and other such important stuff in life.

The latest triangulation walk covered ancient routes, astronomy, the global positioning network and the legacy of the privileged classes, quite a menu for a days walk.

Rain has been a constant companion for quite a lot of us lately, I see they are now calling the current weather a conveyor system, a pretty descriptive term as we seem to be getting massive pulses of rain interspersed with a day or so of cold blue skies. I had not chosen one of the blue sky days, more to the pity.  At least it didn’t bucket it down or freezing cold.

The first trig was at the top of a hill, so no surprises there then.  To get to it I had to walk up through two villages, first Low Bradfield and then High Bradfield along a lovely old stone paved trail, the gritstone slabs dished with hundreds of years of passing feet.  At High Bradfield a sign told me the church was open but as I vigorously rattled the door like one of Henry’s  boys from the monastic cleansing department, it clearly wasn’t.  Peeved me a bit that did as I wanted to use the porch to put on my waterproofs, as it was I had to don them beside an opened stone coffin which thankfully only contained an empty crisp packet, salt and vinegar flavour, and a chocolate bar wrapper.

Onwards and upwards through the most sodden ground I have seen in a long time.  There has been so much rain the ground cannot take any more.  Water sits in great lakes across the landscape, cascading off fields and down roads in sheets of rippled silver.

SK 27723  92949 Kirk Edge Trigpoint TP4248
SK 27723 92949 Kirk Edge Trigpoint TP4248

Kirk Edge trig point is pretty un-glamorous surrounded by grotty fields, a water board pumping station and broken down walls.  The view wasn’t even any good today as you can see.  There is some compensation though in the rather sinister and newly refurbished buildings to the east.  These belong to Sheffield University Astronomy department.  I have no idea what they do up there, but it does bring back similar feelings to my childhood forays to Aunty Iris.

Onwards then to a special trig via Rocher Edge a wonderfully isolated wooded area with towering cliffs just asking to be scaled.  My goal was a very special triangulation point, so special it had a special fence and a plaque.

SK 24532 94653 Broomhead Moor Fundemental Benchmark TP0526 Chamber
SK 24532 94653 Broomhead Moor Fundamental Benchmark TP0526 Chamber

This strange trigpoint is still in use as part of the GPS system today.  The picture at the top of the blog is of the top of the stone obelisk shown here.  It is odd isn’t it that today’s GPS hi-tech units still have to rely on a piece of technology built in the thirties.  It is called a Fundamental Benchmark because it was one of the first trigs established and is set on bedrock so is highly unlikely to move and therefore very reliable.’

Lunchtime and I found a sheltered spot from the wind and rain along a shooting track that led onto the moors.  It was quite a nice place, I was very comfy with my flask and pot of noodles, I rather enjoyed myself.

The final trig was only about 750m away from me but I decided to avoid the steep clough, didn’t fancy clambering down and back up again in all that wind and rain.  I followed the track round then turned east before cart wheeling head first in to a peat bog, the first of three that day. It is a part of Peak District moorland walking, peat bogs, and you just have to accept that at some point you will be sucked in.  There’s one born every minute as Sam used to say.

This was my little bit of nav practice in a howling gale with just the use of the map.  My objective was marked on the OS map as “New Cross”, which sat on a small featureless plateau.  I focused on a point on the skyline and headed for it through thick heather, peat grough and waterlogged marsh land, arriving bang on the cross with no time wasted looking for it.

SK 21550 92887 Remains of New Cross Hollings Dale nr Broomhead Moor
SK 21550 92887 Remains of New Cross Hollings Dale nr Broomhead Moor

I am unsure what the crosses were for, there are a few of them in the Peak district and I assumed they were some form of ancient way markers.  They always have a base where the post must have fitted, but is now long gone and always in a remote location in relation to today’s transport routes.  They do warrant further study, perhaps they were a form of trig point, albeit without the triangulation.

A simple bearing and some pacing took me across moorland to the final trig on a small hill over looking the Bradfield Valley.

SK 23987 93366 Emlin Ridge Trigpoint TP 3060
SK 23987 93366 Emlin Ridge Trigpoint TP 3060

The light was starting to fade now, time to get off the hill and out of the wind and rain.  As I headed back to the village the rain softened, big drops landed gently on my coat and made for a pleasant end to the day.

Trigpoint Walks 1

Stanage Pole Trig Point
Stanage Pole Trig Point

For some reason, I could not tell you why it is so please don’t ask, often I like to have a purpose to a walk. Its a simple mechanism I use of getting from A-B by convincing myself that there is a higher motive, than merely spending hours away from society, that feels like skivving and my working class upbringing definitely did not condone skivving.

So this year, 2014, I have concocted a ruse to get me out and about without the concomitant guilt. I will attempt to walk to every trig point in the Peak District National Park and surrounding areas. Don’t ask me how many there are, I have no idea, but if you do know then please get in touch. Whilst doing this I can also get fitter, I need that for sure, practice my navigation, feature spotting and route planning for my Mountain Leadership training, and learn a lot more about the Peak District especially areas I have never visited. It will also be enjoyable.

So here are the rules:

1. The trig points must be in the Peak District National Park

2. There must be a least three trig points on a route. Three is the minimum number for triangulation, but you already knew that.

3. A photo of the pillar and the benchmark plate must be taken, even if I am being chased by a cow, or wallaby.

4. All trig points must have been visited by the end of the year!

That’s it, pretty simple.

My first day out was on Thursday 16th January. A simple walk almost from my front door, taking in four trig points with a total of twenty kilometers of walking and five hundred and seventy meters of total ascent. The route would cross common lands, industrial relics, old track ways and turnpikes, grouse moorland, Victorian engineering works and the home of British Climbing. Not bad for a day’s walking.

Trig pillar number 1

(Loxley Common Triangulation Pillar SK 30969 90690 Altitude 239m.  Benchmark plate number 11505)

The pillar stands amidst old quarry workings and gannister mines. The quarrying was for Derbyshire Gritstone to build walls and buildings. Gannister mines produced “Ganni” a clay like substance used in the manufacture of furnace linings for the steel and glass industry that surrounded Sheffield.

Setting south from this trig, via a series of old Gannister factories and villages now quiet but once were thriving industrial mining centres, decanted me on to the old Sheffield to Manchester Road, long forgotten and abandoned in places for the Snake Road that runs along the valley floor.

From this road a track runs to the right up onto the high moorland above Sheffield. Leaving the track and heading for the corner of a private cemetery, I never knew such a thing existed, I came to the second trig point on Rod Moor.

Trig pillar number 2

(Rod Moor Triangulation Pillar SK 2626 8841 Altitude 384m. Benchmark S2299)

This trig point is clearly not so frequented as others, despite a very well made shooting track taking you to within a hundred meters or so. I have to admit though that the trig is a rather secondary attraction. The main being a large sign telling you to keep out of the walled cemetery on pain of prosecution for trespass. Peering over the wall the prospective trespasser can see a tantalising glimpse of old tombs, stacked grave stones and what appears to be a crematoria. All very Hammer House of Horror. Why all this is out here on the moorland away from any major community remains to be explored. Just to add to the weirdness, three white albino peacocks appeared from nowhere, a common site on any Peak District moorland!

Onwards towards the south and heading for the mecca of Stanage Edge and High Neb trig point. It’s a nice walk up through woodland and moorland on to the high tops. My route followed the water conduit built by Victorian engineers to bring water to Sheffield. The conduit fed the Redmires reservoirs to the east. Dressed stone, beautifully detailed by craftsmen line the water coarse route and a small house like structure stands alone against the skyline.

The little house makes a great bivvy spot and seems to have been used as such. It even has a fire place for added cosiness.

Heading south I followed the coarse of the river upwards to reach High Neb trig point. A good spot for navigation practice. I calculated that my attack point was seven hundred meters away on a set bearing. This would lead me to a bend in the stream from where I could gain the trig point. Using the stream as a handrail I arrived at the attack point having paced the distance out over the rough moorland. I was just five paces short which pleased me no end.

Trig pillar number 3

(High Neb Triangulation Pillar SK 2281 8534   458m.  Benchmark S2157)

High Neb trig point sits right on the edge of Stanage in the center of a well worn path and with great views north, south, east and west.

The views from this vantage point are magnificent. Mam Tor, The great Ridge and Kinder Scout lay to the south west. Bleaklow and the Alport Valley fill the north west skyline, whilst Derwent and Howden edges run north. Below to the south and east lay the great grit stone edges famous to millions of climbers around the world. Pick a sunny day and theses edges are festooned with orange and red dots, the helmets of aspirant Don Whillans and Joe Browns. The names of the climbs conjour up emotions, Quietus, Right Unconquerable, Goliaths Groove, Chip Shop Brawl to name but a few on Stanage. You are stood on the balcony of climbing history and what better view could you have.

Head east along the edge and you come to The Long Causeway a ancient Pack Horse route for the transportation of grit stone mill wheels and salt to name but a few commodities. It has recently been the centre of some controversy, as it is legally a road and this means that any vehicle can travel along it. The four wheel drive brigade have done just that and ripped it apart. Where once there were beautiful stone sets paving the entire length, now there remains huge gouges, crumbling retaining walls and flooded mud baths. It is a crime and the only people responsible are the irresponsible four wheel drive and trial bike users, who have had no regard for this historical right of way, and only wanted self centred pleasure. Thankfully the Peak District Authority have acted and obtained a closure to all mechanical vehicles. Lets hope that it stays that way forever and hopefully the four by fours will be content with running the shopping to and from from Tesco’s.

P1010961

The Long Causeway on Stanage Edge.  History ripped apart by the pleasure seekers.

If you carry on along the edge you eventually come to a strange pole. This is Stanage Pole and the final trig point. Yes it is a trig point as marked on the 1:25000 OS map. Did you know that. Not all trig points are pillars.

The Long Causeway on Stanage

Wild Ash trees in Bole Hill Quarry
Wild Ash trees in Bole Hill Quarry

I took a walk along Stanage Edge the other day.  A friend, Mark Richards and I set off from Grindleford station, bypassing the bacon butties and pints of tea and climbed up the old rail incline to reach Bolehill quarry.  It’s a strange looking place as you view the quarry through the vertical blinds of wild ash trees that have colonised the area since working ceased.  It makes for wonderful views and eerie monochromatic photography art galleries in London would probably pay handsomely for.   Light showers had put paid to most climbers attempts on the quarry face, but there were a couple working their way up towards the top.  On fine weekends it is just like a school yard, with lots of people milling around, climbing, trying new techniques, taking instruction, a hive of activity that is nice to sit and watch. 

We moved on past the abandoned millstones, these always make me wonder if the people who ordered them are still waiting for delivery, and crossed over to skirt the bottom if Millstone edge before claiming the top and a fine view down the Hope Valley, with the ribbon of the Sheffield to Manchester Rail line taking the eye on to Mam Tor and Kinder.  Another group of kids tried some bouldering on Owler Tor and as we passed them I pointed out a superb bivvy spot for future reference.  I know that wild camping and bivvying is illegal in England and Wales, but if it leaves no trace then I cannot see the harm.  I accept there are those who trash a place, there will always be thus, but the vast majority of people do it so that they can enjoy the seclusion and majesty of a night spent out on the hills and a welcoming sunrise to enjoy.

The rain had stopped by the time we reached Stanage, a few people were around, none climbing so we pretty much had the place to ourselves.  It’s a wonderful edge walk, with fine views down the Hope Valley, and across to Kinder.  Descending The Long Causeway we could see recent damage caused by motorised vehicles, I guess 4×4 or trail bikes or maybe a granny in a Toyota Yaris!!  Huge great gouges in what is left of the surface with clear scraping marks on the rocks.  This is not responsible use of a green way, how can this destruction be seen as right.  Then again on Stanage we had walked across man made stone pathways placed there to alleviate the erosion caused by thousands of pairs of feet, so what’s the difference between tyre and boot??  Been up Black Hill lately of Torside Clough and seen what happens and what needs to be done to arrest erosion caused by our own need to demonstrate our legal right by walking where we want when we want and never mind the consequences.  A few days after our walk along the ancient pack-horse route a decision by the Peak District National Park was taken to close the route to all motorised vehicles.  The blue touch paper has been lit, it now remains to be seen how quickly the rocket goes off. 

We dropped down into Hathersage, narrowly missing tea at the café in Outside and caught the train back to Grindleford to pick up the car.  It was a nice days walk and a good way to explore the grit-stone corridor that abounds the rail line.  Leaving the car at Grindleford and returning by rail meant we could allow our route to unfold, taking direction as the will took us, with no worry about how to get back to our vehicles.    

Odd isn’t it that we used public transport to access wonderful countryside whilst at the very same time vehicular access was being removed to protect a ancient way.   

Maybe that’s how it should be.

Dark Peak Moorland

Peat Grough, Ronksley Moor, Upper Derwent Vally, Peak District National Park
Peat Grough, Ronksley Moor, Upper Derwent Vally, Peak District National Park

I have been spending a lot of time in the Dark Peak these last few months.  It’s a place I feel more drawn to each year, the more I see the more I want to understand.

It is grit-stone country, high moorland, peat groughs, small deep sided cloughs and long narrow valleys. Being on top of the southern end of the Pennines it is blessed with wind and rain at most times of year, as the weather rolls in from the west over Manchester and then has to climb to gain access to Yorkshire.  This makes for, what some may call, grand days out, on desolate, windswept and rain-sodden featureless moorland.  The, grand part, meaning no one else was insane enough to venture up on to the tops and you have the place to yourself.

The moors, weather permitting, give un-broken vistas across the Peak District into several other counties and Wales as well if you really scrunch your eyes up and believe..  Moorland colour is brown, from the grass, as there is no bracken above a certain point, I must make an effort to find out what the bracken line is, perhaps it is just like the tree line in mountain ranges?  Brown is broken up by clumps of heather a dark racing car green which sprouts purple-pink heads in summer.

Heather is deceptively difficult for walking across, it is ankle breaking thigh burning terrain that quickly saps the energy of any walker.  It comes in different heights, depending on age.  The lowest is the freshly burnt patches the quilt the moorland, burnt not as an act of vandalism, but to generate new growth, this is the easiest to walk across, you can see the holes in the ground.  The highest, used to provide cover for the oldest birds, entails having to either force a way through with stiff legs, not pleasant in shorts, or lift the leg high to keep striding over the clumps.  A good thigh workout, better than any gym and a lot less expensive.

The browns and green are interlaced with a dark black ribbon, glossy at most times of the year, with pools of oily water sitting on the surface.  This is the peat that swallows legs whole and is the repository of many an expensive walking boot.  The surface threads are the most pleasant to walk along.  You can see where you are going for one thing and avoid the soft quagmire of peat and water.  The worst part of the moor and this is an integral part of the peat and come to think of it moorland walking are the infamous peat groughs.  The groughs are where peat has been eroded away through, wind and rain and left a steep sided deep gulch, with soft deep peat at the sides and bottom.  Some can be 20 to 30 feet deep, which makes for interesting navigation tests, the map being completely useless if you cannot see where you are going.  Entering a grough is easy, you just step off the firm moor and slide your way down the grough side until you reach the bottom.  With skill you can achieve this whilst remaining upright, but it may take practice and a lot of peat in your boots before you become proficient.  Gaiters are a must!

The bottom of a grough may be firm with signs of the bedrock which the peat is built upon, or it may be a deep soft mass of thick black ooze that will not support the weight of a child, let a lone a fifty something mildly overweight (ok, overweight), man carrying enough gear in his backpack that people may think he was  a mobile outdoor shop.  The bottom is not your major problem.  The problem has not yet been encountered and the inexperienced will be blissfully unaware what has yet to come.  A good navigation test is to try and get to a known point whilst remaining deep in the network of inter connecting groughs.  It can be done, I am told, with excellent pacing and the use of compass, I have not tried this yet, but one day I will.

It is once you come to exit a grough that your manliness will be called in to question, this is the problem.  Exit may be immediate if you are traversing across a moor and have many groughs to cross, or could be after some time when you have reached  a destination or, more probably, panic that you may never get out of the grough has now firmly planted itself in your increasingly frazzled mind.  Only when you decide to climb up the 20 foot wall of peat, angled at approximately 80 degrees do you discover just what you have cornered yourself into.  The peat is no respecter of experience and cares little for how much you have spent on gear.  You immediately find that soft squashy peat on a near vertical surface does not support the weight of a Sparrow.  Kicking steps into the peat only produces a greater amount to slide down with.  After 10 minutes of trying panic is starting to rise and from the back of the mind comes some real or imagined story of a man found face down in a peat grough, dead from exhaustion and with his fingers covered in peat from trying to climb out.  Decorum at some stage will leave, replaced by a panic stricken flailing and grunting up the side until fingers manage to touch a grass tussock and, no matter if it will take the weight, it is a life line which only the desperate will grab hold of with full confidence.

Many a time I have walked across the moors and seen men, it usually is men, appear from some unseen entrance to hell.  First a very red head is seen, this is covered in sweat and peat and has the countenance of real fear.  The hands reach forward and amid much noise reaches forward grabbing anything that seems solid, the arms pulling behind a body, the legs of which are flailing in mid air trying to gain purchase.  Eventually the body lays prone on the brown grass, the side of the face flat against the grass.  There is slimy peat thick and gooey covering most of the legs, when the body turns over a wide strip of peat runs down the front of the body.

There is no way back to manliness from this ignominy, the grough has won, it wasn’t a contest really.  The best you can do is try and pretend that everything that did happen was supposed and you were in control the whole of the time.  You can also walk away as quickly as you can, rebuffing all attempts at eye contact or worse, conversation.  Nothing need be said and you can sneak you peat encrusted gear back in to the house when no one is watching.

Such are the joys of walking on the high moors in the Peak District.

Hidden Valley

Towards Whinstone Lee Tor and the Derwent Edge
Towards Whinstone Lee Tor and Bamford Edge

Just off a vehicle track in the DerwentValley is a rotting finger post pointing up a grassy incline that disappears into some trees, if you’re not paying attention as you pass it by then you wouldn’t even notice it, few do, not even National Parks maintenance teams, hence the rotting finger post.

If you do stop and wonder where the finger points to and decide to follow its direction you are in for a real treat for this is one of the valleys hidden secrets, rarely visited by walkers and of course almost never visited by the thousands that park at the visitor centre about a mile away.  So you have the place to yourself, go and enjoy it!

Follow the incline upwards, working your way along a tree lined, and grass covered farm track.  Coming to an old abandoned farm that once formed just one of the many that tended these hillsides through beautiful spring and summer and into horrendous winters when the valley could be cut off from civilisation for months, the track veers left and narrows into an ascending path, enclosed by dry stone walls erected hundreds of years ago.  At the top you come to a farm, which seems odd as there is no way you could get farm machinery up the path, but the farms access lays north of the buildings and unseen by the walker.  As you pass the farm stop awhile and take in the first of the expansive views of the Derwent Edge.  South lays Whinstone Lee Tor, a nob of a hill that sits as a gatekeeper, with Crookhill on the other side of the UpperDerwentValley.  The Tor offers fine views across the valley, with Bleaklow, Kinder and Mam Tor forming the western skyline.  Below you is a solitary barn set in lush green pasture, this is a good place to stand and stare a little, watching the buzzards soaring above the gritstone edge, whilst below, stoats work their way through the stone wall labyrinth.  If you look closely at the fields in front you can detect boundaries and footpaths long gone now save for a depression in the ground and the odd marker tree showing the line.  Centuries old these remnants remind us that man leaves his footprints where ever he goes.

Take the shooting track that heads towards the skyline and works its way round the hillside in front of you, descending in to a seemingly lost valley complete with stream and cloughs. The stream has to be crossed without the aid of a bridge and is no real obstacle.  It is a quiet place, rarely frequented and has the beauty of the rugged Peak District moorland, without the windswept desolation or indeed the destruction caused by man. Having crossed the stream take the feint path left that works its way up through the bracken, in summer this is hard to see and you have to look for a break line in the thick bracken to ascertain its course.  It is a narrow path until near the top where it meets a boulder field and then opens up making the final few meters easy.

You pop out and that is the most descriptive word I think fits the situation, on to a flat seemingly featureless moorland sitting directly below a Gritstone edge, to the right on the horizon is the Salt Cellar a prominent gritstone feature, useful for navigation.  This is where the fun starts for the way forward lies across the bog soaked moor with the attack point being a rectangular walled enclosure marked on the map that hardly exists on the ground.  Take a bearing from where the path brings you on to the flat part of the moorland, this is a highly subjective starting point and good map work is required which means it is the perfect practice area for navigation exercises.  Aim for the centre of one side of the rectangle and calculate the paces needed to reach it, and then start to walk on the bearing.  This is where the funny walk starts as you try to keep on the bearing, keep an even pace for counting and avoid bog, tussock and peat holes.  Soon you will have reached you number of paces meaning you should have reached the wall, but none is to be found.  You stand on a flat ish plain with no wall in sight, looking around you can detect nothing.  Spotting a small rise in the land near to you, you decide to use this as a vantage point to locate the now offending enclosure. None can be seen and it gradually dawns on you that the small rise you are stood on is in a very straight line and seems to extend to right angled corners at each end.  As your eyes follow the rise you realise, a little sheepishly that you are in fact stood on top of the enclosure wall which over the years as now being reclaimed by nature and forms part of the moorland land mass.  There is a mixture of joy at having found it and depression at realising the navigation skills still need some work.

From here the way is easy. Straight up to the edge and on to the top, you can choose to do a little light scrambling to ascend the edge which adds a frisson of adventure.  Once there it is a matter of following your nose, left or right and just enjoying the views.  On a clear blue sky day the views are extensive and magnificent, stretching in to several counties at all points of the compass.

A beautiful little walk best kept a secret.

Hidden Valleys

Upper Derwent Valley
Upper Derwent Valley

I find myself in the Upper Derwent Valley most weeks of the year, it helps being a Ranger in that area for the Peak District National Park, which gives me a reason to be there, other than loving the beauty of the place.  I first came across the area back in the 70’s when Mick Dyson and I cycled from his home at the side of Tinsley viaduct to the summit of the Snake Pass.  Some feat for a couple of kids and even bigger feat for me, Mick had a 10 speed bike with go faster handle bars, I had a cast off sit up and beg Raleigh with no gears and a saddle that cut you in half.  We cycled up the A57 stopping off at Philips little garden shed where he sold bacon butties and mugs of tea at the side of the road.  We didn’t know it then but we were in the presence of a legend, the hut being Philips precursor to his cafe at Grindleford station.  I don’t recall any scrawled signs giving strict instruction not to ask for mushrooms, because he doesn’t do them and how many more times do people need telling that, but there probably were some.  Dropping down from Moscar Top and crossing the Ashopton Viaduct with the road entrance into the valley on the right I was awestruck by what I saw.  I had never imagined there could be such a wild place, the moors seemed brooding, oppressive and menacing, especially to a skinny lad from Rotherham who had only ever seen the woods at the bottom of the street and, once a year, Blackpool Tower.  It would be a long time before I ever ventured up that road but when I did eventually drive up to the Ranger centre I was captivated by what I saw and experienced.  The first impression of that drive was one of grandeur, majestic trees and towering ridges.  It was, for me, an epiphany, I had come home.

The valley is conjoined by a series of cloughs, miniature secluded valleys, the joy of which is their isolation from the outside world.  You never know quite what you will find or indeed if you will ever emerge once you have stepped down from the rim off the moorland that sits above the clough.  This action is often the first part of the adventure for there is rarely a path down and you have to find the best way, often a scramble over greasy, moss encrusted gritstone.  A frisson of fear shivers through the body as you hold on as tight as can be done with cold fingers and an unsure step.  Grabbing at clumps of grass and fern probably isn’t the most sensible way to achieve descent but then who ever said walking had to be sensible?  Reaching ground a decision has to be made where to go for there are no human signs to guide you.  The clough is thick with bracken, waist high and smelling fresh and green.  It makes walking difficult, your feet cannot be seen so you trust in touch, judgement and luck and the bracken wraps around your feet so every so often you need to stop and force your legs through the tangle.  Working along the sides I start to gradually descend until my eye is caught with some feature that looks interesting.

Best are the old quarry workings now engulfed by nature they fascinate me.  Man was here before I was and he wasn’t having fun he was hewing stone from these ancient rocks.  How did he arrive in this isolated place, did he walk, was there a form of transport.  In winter was he drenched in sweat and rain or snow, cold hands working colder tools to break rock and for what, what was so special about this place that it needed to become an industrial site, where did the rock go to, what was it used for.

You can stop and sit here for hours; no one will disturb you it’s yours for as long as you want.  Find a rock or a grassy shelf and just take it in.  Once the clough has got used to you being here it goes back to its normal life.  Birds flit about eating, collecting, and the odd rustle in the bracken indicates some creature going about its business.  At times I think I can here voices and steel hitting gritstone and fancy I see men working away whilst in the background a stream bubbles away running along the floor.

One day for whatever reason the men left and no longer was the stone required.  Why is lost now, no one thought to document these places and so they slipped back to nature who re-claimed them and continued on the process of millions of years.

Let it snow.

Olly and Monty two Beddlington / Lakeland dogs who just love to be outdoors.
Olly and Monty two Beddlington / Lakeland dogs who just love to be outdoors. Here they are below Higger Tor in the Peak District National Park

January 2013 has brought a welcome change in the weather, no more rain day after day, but clear blue skies and higher temperatures. It has made for some good walking and we have enjoyed several fantastic days out. The ground is completely saturated after the almost constant downpours and water sits on the surface in large languid pools. Moorland is particularly testing to navigate through, with the peat groughs the consistency of a semi liquid, once you accidentally step in to a bog there is only one way your foot and leg are going and that’s downwards. Best to make sure you have one foot at least on dry firm land so that you can extricate yourself from the quagmire. In no way is it elegant but at least you will be able to save yourself from the humiliation of being pulled out, sans boots and socks. The other day I went in with both feet, sinking in to my thighs. I had to throw myself forward on to my chest and basically swim across the surface, grunting with effort and a little fear. Anyone looking on would think I was some strange sportsman possibly from Lincolnshire.

They say bad weather is on its way with everyone on Twitter and Facebook who has any interest in the Peak District posting up words of excitement at the thought. We’ve missed out on the snow and have only been able to look longingly at all the photos of the Lake District and Scotland covered in white powdery snow, that have been posted on any number of sites. For some reason we all seem to love walking in the stuff. I think for me the changes that the landscape goes through after a good snowfall is one of the things I like. There is a purity about all that snow with all those curves as it falls across moor and rock like a huge white cotton sheet. There is the quiet as though for a time snow has removed all sound from the world. The only sound that can be heard close by is the crunch squeak of boots moving across the surface. For the first time last year I wore crampons and this gives an amazing feeling of confidence. No longer did I have to walk with a swing of the pelvis and a twist of the foot to gain traction forward. Falling snow is nice to walk in too. But snow driven at high velocity directly in to your face is another challenge altogether. Walking in blizzard conditions, trying to stay upright, trying to navigate and stay on the right track is one which requires skill and a certain mindset, especially if visibility and daylight are almost non-existent.

Of course walking on fresh snow means you are the first human to do so. No one has come this way before you, its Shackleton’s expedition being the first people to see James Caird Island. You are alone and before you, a smooth pristine carpet of white, untouched by human feet, the sense of exploration being heightened by the odd set of prints from some unknown as yet undiscovered animal.  The cold, if very cold, burns the cheeks and snow stings when it hits the face.  The best days are the ones where the sky is a deep blue and the air positively cracks with the cold.  You can see for miles on such days and the quiet just adds to the ethereal sense the world has taken as its mantle.  This is the best winter walking, moving along warm but not wet inside, the crampons helping forward motion and the air still, clear and biting.

Rockandfell Guided Walking

Gourmet Walks

Rud Hill Moor

The other day I sought a few hours solitude out on the moors near to where I live. Within 20 minutes I was setting off on the faint track that leads up on to Rud Hill, a place few people will know of but many have walked across and passed by on their way up to Stanage Pole and the edge.

The last few weeks have seen even more rain fall on already sodden ground and this was very much in evidence on the moor. Surface water lay in great pools across the peaty landscape. Much of the moorland grass bordering the track had been worn away by countless boots in an attempt to avoid the peat bogs that had developed as a result of the moor being unable to absorb anymore rain. In places the ground was so sodden it was near impossible to avoid being sucked down in to the peat and in fact on two occasions I experienced just that. The second was more comical and a little bruising to the ego as I sank up to my thighs into the bog and could only release myself by laying myself face forward across the bog and pulling myself out. The sight of a 50 year old man floundering on the moorland surface would have been a joy to watch, fortunately there were no spectators around to appreciate the spectacle.

I wanted to find a small pool marked on the OS map, just as an exercise in navigating by contours. Unfortunately this proved a fruitless endeavour, not because the pool could not be found, that wasn’t the problem. The difficulty lay in the number of pools around the location, there were at least a dozen, all formed by recent rains and all of some depth. I eventually chose a pool that both matched the co-ordinates and had signs of being established for some considerable time, it having a depth that was deeper than others and signs of lichen and moss growing around the edges.

As I was searching for the pool the cloud came in and enveloped me without my realising it was happening and I found myself on a moor with limited visibility and a worsening aspect all round. No need for compass, navigation was simple by following the track, but it did make me realise it would not be difficult to become disoriented in such conditions even on a moor within sight of Sheffield and only a few hundred meters from a roadway. Checking my map for directions I realised the fence shown on the OS map was not the same length as the one on the ground. The real fence had been extended recently and the new shiny wire was a clear indicator of this. Another reason why navigation by contour and not just features is a good idea.

I eventually worked my way back to the car which was sat in clear skies, just a few hundred meters from the cloud covered moorland. Covered in peat I must have looked quite a spectacle to the dog walkers.