I am starting to get a little enamoured by old churches that are still in use but seem to be abandoned. There is one on the Snake just before Alport Bridge. A plain church building with no adornment. The reason why it was plain is because it is on the protestant side of the Derwent Valley and therefore on Chatsworth Land, and the Duke of Devonshire wouldn’t put his hand in his pocket to build a church for his tenants so they had to pay for it themselves.
I recently visited St James Church in the village of Woodhead. If you didn’t know there was a village then its just past the Crowden car park as you are heading east over the A 628. Don’t pay attention and you can miss it, up that little lane that’s a bit of a dance with traffic death to get out of.
It’s a nice church from the outside, do not know about the insides as it was locked and had no door handle to even rattle.
The graveyards are always the best. Lots of graves with just initials on a sandstone headstone, probably poor people, of whom there were a great many. Some rich as well, people from Crowden Hall, several times in fact. Some one from Woodhead Station too.
Some graves were tended, which seemed a bit odd, most were well overgrown. I spent a good hour there mooching around, rattling the church door and looking at the land behind the church where navvies who died of cholera whilst building the tunnels are buried. Their graves are unmarked, lending a hierarchy to the graveyard. immigrant workers no head stone, poor plain headstone, rich ornate. Nothing much is new I guess.
Peat got me thinking the other day and then a post on Facebook about a dog disappearing down a sinkhole on Kinder got me thinking more. I guess it all has to do with the guidebook now it is nearing completion. Wanting people to get some pleasure out of a walk, one that they are doing because I have written about it, puts questions in a writers head. The main question on Saturday was how do you teach someone about peat and all its devilish incarnations.
I was walking from Crowden to Chew and back, a nice walk across moorland. How I thought do you explain what peat to walk on and what not. The grough in the picture above is a nice example of one to walk on. Milk chocolate brown, dry and a bit of springiness too. No problems getting out of that grough. The slick oily black peat often found at the bottom of deep groughs is the stuff to watch out for. Its deep and has terrific suction, once in you are not going anywhere too quickly. That’s the two ends of the spectrum I guess.
I like the dark brown, bordering black peat that looks like one of those puddings with the melting centers. It has a consistency of a sponge pudding with lashings of chocolate custard, little lumps and a glistening surface. Getting down into a grough when this is on the sides is easy once you know how. Basically, you allow the peat to ease away from under your boots as you descend. It is remarkably stable. Getting out requires a different plan. You have to take a run and do not under any circumstances stop. Bit like a motor hill climb even except no one is bouncing on your back. Hands quite often come in to use, desperately clutching on to a piece of heather. Go for the stalks not the leaves. Failing the availability of heather it is often jabbing fingers into the soft gooey peat and clawing your way out.
Then there is the peat slick. As flat as a snooker table and completely smooth. It looks beautiful. But it is the wild mistress of peat. You can tip toe across it sometimes and others you are going in. The only indication which way it will treat you is the presence of foot marks. Surface ones and its fine. Deep churned up footprints and its a bunny boiler. Keep out.
Peat with water on top. Stick to the tufts of grass. Step on these and you can skip across. I always find its best to hold my breath as well, just to reduce the overall weight pressing down on the delicate platform.No grass, then its trouble. A long walk around or a gazillion to one chance that it isn’t knee deep. You take your pick.
But the worst is the stuff that looks ok. Years of walking in the Dark Peak have honed your ability to spot a trap from 50m. You pick your way across the moor in a weird little bee dance, connecting minute islands of firm ground into a trail. You scout for any footprints that might lead the way and it works, until you come to that last grough. congratulating yourself before getting over this last obstacle is the fatal error. You have to stride, just a little too far and the peat has you. One leg sinks in up to your thigh, whilst the other remains behind you on the surface.
This walk was a bit like last minute Christmas shopping, recovering my tracks several times, it’s what comes of leaving one triangulation point out on its own. There was another odd thing about this walk, two of the triangulation pillars were not even shown on the map, but did appear in the definitive list, one has almost completely disappeared but the other still sits there all forlorn and unloved. I’d also made the mistake of parking my car in the wrong place, leaving it miles from my first point and my last whilst passing it during the course of the day.
I started off in Old Glossop a village on the edge of the Peak District. I guess its heyday is long past now, the textile, chemical and engineering works now a fraction of their former self. Glossop is trying to re-invent itself as a gateway to the Peak District and it is well placed geographically to make a viable future on this basis.
I headed across fields to meet up with the Longendale Trail, a 6.6 mile section of the coast to coast Trans Pennine Trail, that runs along the now defunct Woodhead rail line. It is a pleasant walk, with bikers and horse riders all enjoying the easy terrain. The trail follows an old pack horse route that still retains much of its history if you have the time to explore and also leads on to the original Road to the Isles, which must have been a massive journey in the days before the car.
I was heading for the last triangulation pillar, Hey Edge, left on the north side of the Woodhead Trans Pennine Road. This is an odd pillar in more than one sense. Firstly it does not appear as a triangulation pillar on any OS map, but is denoted as “Pillar” on the OS 1:25000 map. Secondly it is surrounded by much higher pillars that would have been more use in the survey, so its a bit hard to understand why it was erected, perhaps they got it wrong and found they had put it in the wrong place.
Its a simple walk up from YHA Crowden on the Pennine Way, through old quarry workings and onto a plateau that sits below Westend Moss and looks across to Laddow Rocks and Featherbed Moss. There are some glorious views from the pillar with wide panoramas stretching far in to the distance.
Head west from the pillar, dropping down into the clough bottom and you pick up The Pennine Way at Crowden, a stopping off point for many long distance walkers on their first day on this classic walk along the spine of England to Scotland. Follow the trail, crossing the Woodhead road, I told there was much re-tracing of steps, and staying on the Pennine Way ascend Torside Clough towards Bleaklow, heading for the second ford on the OS map facing Long Gutter Edge and Torside Naze. Readers of climbing history will know the significance of these rocks and the part they played in the lives of Manchester climbers in the 60’s particularly Don Whillans and Joe Brown. The Peak District in general was the birthplace of a new generation of climbers in the post war period. Working class men and some women, with no real experience of climbing began to put up new, exciting and daring routes along the gritstone edges around the Peak, advancing techniques and skill way beyond the then levels, and leading to many Himalayan conquests in later years.
Turn right at the second ford ascending a small gully, following a fence line until a track is reached. It may well be a noisy walk and do not be surprised to see helicopters constantly ferrying large white bags through the skies. This is Moors for the Future a government-funded project reversing 150 years of destruction of the moorland habitat. The idea is to return the moorland to its natural wet state full of wild flora and fauna, thereby increasing the production of peat aiding more growth. You may agree with the aims, but rest assured as you sink up to your thighs in the latest peat bog, those thoughts will be the furthest from your mind, so console yourself with the fact you are struggling to get out of a good cause!
The final leg led me past the car and over to the other side of Glossop to reach the final triangulation point on the plateau near Cown Edge Rocks. It was a journey through the town and out the other side walking up through horse manured fields with a final short scramble on to the plateau. The biggest problem was finding the remnants of a triangulation pillar that information stated had been removed at the land owners request. Why would you want to do that I wonder, especially when it is in the middle of a field with no real economic value. Doesn’t make sense.
After stumbling around in fading light I eventually found the remains hidden in the grass and was able to call it a day. The long trudge back to the car was, well a trudge. This was the longest day with 32 kilometres of travel and 1332m of ascent and 9 hours of foot pounding.
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.