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.