Alport Dale – Peak District

You don’t get many dales in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park, it is more of a White Peak thing. There are some, Small Dale and Hollings Dale over near Strines, but they are nothing much to speak of. For the best dale in the Dark Peak you need to be in Alport Dale.

It is long, narrow and deep. The steep sides of the dale magnify the sense of isolation that surrounds you as you walk up its six kilometre length from Alport Hamlet to the foot of Hern Clough. There has never been a road or track so it has not suffered from man’s fumbling with nature. You become immersed as you walk up the dale, it draws you in, the sides narrowing options down, so that you become part of the landscape, going only where it will allow you to walk.

The realisation that you are on your own slowly dawns on you. If something should happen who would know. There are sections where you have to climb up, short scrambles, one near a beautiful waterfall twice the height of the average man. A fall there would bounce you down rock and into the river, it would be a long, long time before someone found you. No phone signal here.

The dale is often the site where lost walkers are found, only a few months ago, a search for two missing walkers on Bleaklow resulted in the pair being found by a search dog in Alport Dale. It naturally leads people in and down into its folds. At night it is a difficult journey, in winter with deep snow and darkness it is an extreme challenge.

Walking up the dale you come to a simple stone memorial to the Rover Scouts who lost their lives in this place in the winter of sixty-four during the Four Inns Walk event. Lost on Bleaklow they had become trapped in worsening weather in Alport Dale. It must have been a desperate night, filled with fear and panic, exhaustion eventually taking its toll as they fought to get out. Sitting there at that stone you see the weather, snow swirling around their heads, covering the river so that they must have fallen in many times. The narrowness of the dale causing the snow to lie deeply, making walking almost impossible, try post holing for many hours in the dark, in a storm. Did they think they would die? You think of the panic and the desperation, tears streaming down their faces as they fought to gain freedom, but becoming more exhausted, the trap closing tighter. Using the brute force of youth to extricate themselves from that terrible place, only to  finally be beaten. Did they give up, sit down, lay down and let the cold take them. Did they fall and become unconscious. In those last moments were they alone, friends now separated each dying without human comfort, sobbing as finally the realisation of their own imminent death punctured their fear.

I know of no other place in the Peak District that is so emotional.

Moorland Walking

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Looking from Westend Trig to Barrow Stones

Yesterday was a Ranger Patrol day. The first duty was to marshall road traffic whilst the Remembrance Day service was being conducted at the Derwent Village War Memorial. It always stirs something when I hear the bugle reaching out across the valley to the sunken village below Derwent Reservoir.

After with a trainee Ranger we walked up to Hagg Guide Post for a spot of lunch, whilst we looked out over the Woodlands Valley up into Blackden Clough. No matter what perspective you look from, Kinder Scout always has something to offer. We sat and traced the old routes, from Hope Cross some say a Roman Road, the shooting track up to Jubilee Lodge, the best shooting lodge in the area and always locked. The aqueduct path following the course of the water stolen from the River Ashop and poured into Derwent Reservoir just by the dam. We could see the line of Jaggers Clough where, sitting above and a little up in to the Vale of Edale sits a small cairn that used to be named on the 1850 maps as the site of an altar.

Below us lay the Snake Road, and between us a landscape not often explored. The track going down passing by Hagg Farm and across to Haggwater Bridge on the River Ashop. Another track leading down to Rowlee Farm, one of the oldest and passing Bellhagg Barn on the way, with the Alphabet Stone opposite, a favourite for navigation assessments. Hagg is an old word meaning clearing, where the farms were situated in forest clearings.

We left our lunch spot and ascended to Bellhagg Tor, on our way walking by a bronze age barrow, letting sleeping ancients lie. Then on to Pasture Tor, moorland taking over now, opening up, below us and ahead Alport Dale gradually coming into view, the scene of the worst of tragedies when young lives were lost and still today the scene of many a find of a lost walker as they take the wrong turn off the Pennine Way coming down from Bleaklow Head. An easy thing to do when conversation or visibility take the mind away from the path.

As we walked along the Dale edge the wind picked up a little, but amazingly still quite warm for November. We meet a large group from Lockerbrook and I regale them with tales of the Love Feast at Alport Hamlet and one of the Dark Peaks great daughters Hannah Mitchell who escaped cruelty from that Hamlet and her mother to rise in prominence in Manchester and become a light in the Suffragette movement. On we go, the ground becoming wetter after the recent snow and rain. We can just see the West End triangulation pillar gleaming in the sporadic beams of sunlight.

At Ditch Clough we turn into the moor and begin our descent. The shooting cabin has now returned and I show my companion. We sit inside and feel the warmth and I tell him of bringing a young couple and baby in there to warm up, one harsh winter ago. Ill dressed for the terrain and the weather, the baby struggling in the conditions, the father holding it inside his coat, looking frightened. Then out and past the grouse butts and through the gate into the forest. I noticed the wall, with crenellations and marvel at the neatness, even after all these years, the wall being at least one hundred years old.

They laid a new track up Ditch Clough, to get the landy’s up there with their expensive cargoes of shooters. It makes for a nice descent down in to Westend coming out on the track nearby the remains of Westend Farm, now long gone.

A good days moorland walking. One to remember.