Someone mentioned the other day that they thought that Cottongrass was more prevalent over in the far north of the National Park than anywhere else. I had just finished two walks across Saddleworth Moor and South Clough Moss, both in the far north and a third along Derwent Edge in the centre so could make a reasonable judgement if indeed there was more Cottongrass in the north. I think there is.
Moors For The Future have been hard at work for a few years now, changing the moorland landscape from one of desperate black oozing peat to one of soft grass and a wealth of fauna and flora. It is, I think, one of the reasons why the moors of the north have such an abundance of Cottongrass. Unlike the moors in the central Peak area where management of the moor to provide a tightly controlled environment for grouse shooting seems to have resulted in less Cottongrass and also fewer numbers of other species too.
The photo above was taken, rather ironically, on the Cotton Famine Road heading out to Broadstone Moss from the A 635 over Saddleworth. The whole area is awash in Cottongrass and this is a direct result of the work MFTF have been carrying out. The moor itself is becoming less bumpy too, witness the two photos of groughs after a dam has been inserted.
See how the peat builds up against the dam and then the grasses take over, smoothing the levels out. That is actually watching the landscape change over time, pretty rare experience for mere mortals, usually it take millions of years for the land to morph into something different. Out on the moors now its taking just a few years.
It’s a simple process, backed no doubt by clever minds. Block up a grough, let it fill with water add sphagnum moss, introduce natural plant species and hey presto new peat, new moor,new landscape, new experience.
Walking across these moors is no longer a process of grit and determination, a load of gear to hose peat out of when you got home. It is a walk of wonderment, pleasure, joy.
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.