A mention recently about the difficulty of walking across heather moors in the Peak District at this time of year prompted me to dig out a photo of a typical moorland scene.
Common heather is the most widespread in the Dark Peak and has four stages of growth, pioneer, building, mature, and degenerate. Most moors are a patchwork of all four making a walk a bit of a logistical challenge. The easiest is pioneer, short in height its great for cleaning boots, see how polished they are when you have walked across a patch. Building heather is relatively easy but you need to start watching where you put your feet as the ground is starting to get covered and difficult to see. Mature is the hardest, thigh high, thick and with little movement, this is tiring walking. The ground has now disappeared so the chance of a twisted or broken ankle has increased dramatically. Degenerate is much the same but the height is getting lower as the weight of the plant is dragging it down.
If you look at building and mature heather there are fissures in the cover, these make for wonderful pathways and make it easy to walk across. A walk across a moor should not be a straight line, but rather a meander trying to keep to the low heather patches and the burnt areas, this makes it less tiring and lowers the opportunity for a Mountain Rescue callout.
Take time and enjoy the scenery as you zig zag your way down. Having tight laces, with the heel held well reduces the chance of a painful ankle twist. Watch out for holes too. The worst are where the peat has been eroded and a deep hole has formed, generally known as leg breakers. Keeping your pace slow and choosing where to place feet can avoid this. The golden rule is, if you cannot see where your foot is going to land, do not put it there. Occasionally you will Step on a grouse hidden in the heather, this is one of the true heart stopping experiences of the Dark Peak.
Boulder fields covered in heather and bracken are a nightmare and best avoided. They sap the energy increase the risk of injury and are basically unpleasant.
Walking across moors develops new skills. Picking a line across a heather moor to the objective without the walk sapping energy, breaking a leg, twisting an ankle and not gaining or losing height unnecessarily is a skill well worth developing. It is part of hill craft and the more experience gained leads to greater adventures.
I had a wonderful walk recently up onto gritstone edges then home across moorland, no more than 8 miles with less than 200m of ascent over the whole route, this gentle saunter gave me time to appreciate a unique aspect of this particular landscape.
Alison dropped me at Moscar on a Snake road cloaked in low cloud so that I could get easy access onto Stanage Edge. This is the easiest way in, with little ascent and a good view across the Moscar moor to Derwent Edge and Win Hill to keep the eyes occupied. I got on to the Edge by the old quarry, passing the boundary stones marking Mr Wilson and Mr Mappin land ownership. Didn’t they trust each other I wondered, Stanage Edge is a pretty obvious boundary line surely.
By the old quarry are some fine grouse water bowls, carved by George Broomhead, no relation of the Wilsons of Broomhead Hall, who are no relations of the Wilsons of Moscar Moor who didn’t have a hall but did have and to my knowledge still have a snuff mill in Sheffield. Wilson, the snuff one, had young George carve out great long lines of these bowls to, it is said, provide water for the parched grouse that were the moors only inhabitant. They say there are 108 of them, how long it took I don’t know. These are little works of art in a way. Beautiful bowls of all shapes and sizes carved into the gritstone boulders of Stanage Edge and the moor beyond. Each bowl has one or more runnels, exquisitely chased into the stone to channel water into the small reservoirs. The skill to produce these flat-bottomed ‘Vees’ and the lozenge-shaped bowls is evident to see. What is not so apparent is the choice of boulder and the position of the bowl. George Broomhead must have watched during downpours to see which would be most efficient at collecting the water, for these are not like the dewponds of the White Peak, these rely on rain water. And then have worked out the best position and shape of the collecting bowl and where to position the feeder runnels.
Each bowl is numbered, although these are not consecutive so I suspect the whole were not completed in one go, but in stages as the moor was developed for grouse. As yet I have not found one that bears Georges name or initials or that of his employer, but I live in hope. Many of the ones away from the edge are overgrown with heather and moss, making it difficult to locate them, which all adds to the day out, a bit of detective work and a frisson of excitement at a find. I have spent a good few hours in such activity and as a consequence have covered the moor more deeply than I would normally, which has brought other delights too.