Clouds on Bleaklow – Peak District

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I set off from the tiny car park at the bottom of Doctors Gate. Storm Hector was battering Scotland and had its tail curled around Bleaklow shoving great volumes of warm damp air across the moor.  In these parts ‘Gate’ means ‘Way’, coming from the Norse people who inhabited these lands, their Wapentac, administrative districts connected by ‘Gates’ that often followed the old Roman ways and before that Neolithic man, who used the lay of the land, commuting between settlements and hunting grounds. It is rare to be the first in this land. Time and the land mark this animal’s progress.

In my mind I see a vicar, Doctor Talbot, travelling along this ancient path on horseback. Why would you travel from Glossop to the Snake Pass up a steep Clough and across windswept moorland? What was there to visit?

Tracking a stream northeast, skipping across sphagnum moss, a patchwork of yellow, lime green, grass green, dark green, trying to make sure that I step on the dark green and hoping for it to be solid. I follow a shallow grough, shallow enough to step down into, the water has not yet cut its way to bedrock, the floor of the clough is soft tussocks of grass. Where the grough climbs out of the landscape I find a strange device sticking out of the ground. Aerials and solar cells festoon its tiny structure. A board tells me it is part of a project by a University to log the levels of peat erosion on the moors that surround the Peak District. Moors for the future, the EU funded body that is restoring the moors had planted billions of sphagnum across the moors in a bid to soak up water, a tiny plant that could save a city and restore peat growth.

This monitoring station sends data about theUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_88e0 teeming clouds via the clouds in the ether.
How many drops of CO2 does this make to calculate how much CO2 we generate?
Data centres are now a major contributor to CO2 emissions and who knows, climate change, global warming.

I think back to Doctor Talbot walking along his gate to see a patient in some remote farm on the flanks of Kinder Scout. See him battling the wind and rain. Breathing out his CO2 that is immediately dispersed by the wind and rain to be captured by the moorland grass. Perhaps he was heading to the tiny chapel at Gillott Hey.

I was walking on the eastern watershed; this water would eventually work its way via the rivers Derwent and Trent into the Humber and then out past Spurn Point into the North Sea. Hundreds of millions of years ago the water had flowed the other way and brought silt and sand from what is now the Rhine and deposited it at my feet for it to become gritstone. Later as trees and vegetation rotted and piled up layer upon layer, the gritstone disappeared below hundreds of feet of peat. A millimetre at a time for hundreds of millions of years.

I navigate between groughs, some with water; down narrow spits of land that curve down towards the Cloughs that run north-south in these parts. My aim is to keep my feet dry and not waste energy climbing out of the groughs. I’m heading east so the wind swirls from behind curving around my body as I move, a cylinder of water, carbon, data moving eastwards towards the water’s destination.

For a time I sit and watch the Cottongrass UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_88e9heads swaying in the wind. Large tufts of white candyfloss indicating wind direction. I’m amazed that they don’t fly off but they tenaciously cling to the slender stalks. Sometimes the air is filled with salt from the Irish Sea, but not today. Today it is laden with moisture, the sky filled with Mares Tails stretching for miles above my head.

I’m not far from Hern Clough and Alport Dale. It makes me think of Hannah Mitchell. Is this the way she came when she escaped the tortures of her troubled mother in Alport Valley and walked across the moors to a new life? Did she tread the stones of Doctors Gate, of Doctor Talbot, of the Roman Legionnaire, of the Norse warrior? Am I going not where I want, but where others take me?

Microsoft subsea data centre

https://news.microsoft.com/features/under-the-sea-microsoft-tests-a-datacenter-thats-quick-to-deploy-could-provide-internet-connectivity-for-years/

Data Centre Power

https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/collateral/data-center-virtualization/unified-computing/white_paper_c11-680202.pdf

Moors for the Future

https://paulbesley.blog/2017/04/27/moors-for-the-future-peak-district/

Hannah Mitchell

https://paulbesley.blog/2015/12/04/alport-hamlet/

 

Black Hill – Peak District

Black Hill Triangulation Pillar Peak District National Park. Dark Peak Walks. Author Paul Besley. Publisher Cicerone Press
Black Hill Triangulation Pillar Peak District National Park

If you want a visual explanation of environmental damage, you could do no better than a walk up to Black Hill triangulation pillar in the north of the Dark Peak, Peak District National Park. This weekend take a walk; PB Walk 29, Dark Peak Walks 

The trig base sits a good metre above ground level. This is not for dramatic effect; the trig is in exactly the same place that the Ordnance Survey surveyors levelled it in 1945, it is the ground that has shifted.

The Manchester and Lancashire cotton mills dumped all their heavy metal laden fumes out on to the moors. This simply killed any plant life, turned the soil to solid acid and prevented any further growth. Wind scoured the surface, stripping away any roots systems and then the job was finished by rain, which washed away the peat, down into the valley below. Considering the base of the pillar was at ground level, looking around it is hard to imagine the amount of peat that has been removed.

Black Hill was famous of course for the hell of its peat bog, made all the more famous by Alfred Wainwright who got stuck in it, because he was good at walking up hard rock and bits of grass, but crap at walking across a peat moor. A quote from 1975 on trigpointuk puts it thus;

A mess. Stands in acres of peat on Black Hill’s summit. Visited during Pennine Way walk.

Today the trig pillar stands surrounded by cotton grass and a healthier moor, thanks to Moors for the Future and its work. It is no longer approached through a thigh squelching peat bog, but along stone slabs retrieved from the derelict cotton mills that spewed out the poison all those years ago.

The pillar now sits surrounded by a stone plinth, courtesy of the Pennine Way rangers from the Peak District National Park. The pillar still sits on its concrete base which extends down well below the peat to bedrock where the lower centre mark sits.

Black Hill in winter

Black Hill in summer

Moors for the Future

Trigpoint Walk

Dark Peak Walks Book by Paul Besley, published by Cicerone Press. 40 walks in the Dark Peak with detailed route descriptions, maps, photos and points of interest.
Buy the Book

 

Moors for the Future – Peak District

Westend Moor across to Grinah and Barrow Stones
Westend Moor across to Grinah and Barrow Stones

The Dark Peak is a beautiful wilderness, where solitude can be found and where if we try, we can see some of the most evocative natural wildlife in the country.

Anyone that has walked in the Dark peak for a number of years will have seen the transformation taking place. From a smelly oozy peat bog that made a walk a test of endurance and reduced grown men to tears, the landscape is now all soft grasses, ponds, wildflowers, mosses, bird life and mammals.

It really is a joy to walk across the moorlands, Yes its wet, but so is Manchester on any given day of the year. Man up and put on the waterproofs.

There is a great community of people who love the Dark Peak, I am one of them Our help is needed. Not money. What is needed are your eyes. What wildlife can you observe when you are out in the Dark Peak. What wonderful encounters can you record. Here is a memory of one encounter I had….

The thrill and awe of sighting a Mountain Hare in its winter cloak, white against the gritstone and dark skies. To stand there and just look at the beauty of that creature, not daring to move lest it take flight and the vision would be lost.

Dark Peak Walks

Moors for the Future (MFTF) need our observations about what we see. It really is important that they can record what is happening on the moors. The organisation is responsible for the regeneration of the moorlands we love. To help achieve this they have asked for walkers, runners, bird watchers, anyone who visits the moors to send them details of the life they see each time they are out. MFTF have produced apps to help anyone identify plants, birds animals mammals, reptiles and have developed an easy interface where you can log your finds.

This makes us all central in the development of the moors, you can even have your own monitoring site, volunteer to help, how good is that.

I for one am up for it and I would urge you all to join me. If anyone wants help then just contact me here, paulbesley@gmail.com

Below are some websites and pages in my blog that help explain everything.

The Mountain Hare

Red Grouse

Cotton Grass

Moors for the Future Apps

The Moors for the Future community website has all the information you could want and explains how we can all take part in the surveys. Click the links below

Moors for the Future Community Science

Right now MFTF are really interested in Hare sightings. If you see any then go here and log the details.

Hare Log

Survey instructions. How to take part.

This is fun and helps a great cause. I might even put in for my own monitoring site. You can volunteer for loads of different tasks the team needs doing.

Summer on the moors

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The Pennine Way across Dean Clough and on to Black Hill

I think they predicted a wet June which so far has been spot on. I’ve been tying up some loose ends for the book Dark Peak Walks and the weather has not been helping. The main objective was to try to get some nice moorland pictures with blue skies and lots of colour. It’s mainly been grey skies and dull colours, perhaps that’s how it should be.

I do like a bit of theatre above, dark brooding skies threatening some cataclysmic event. I haven’t been caught out in anything like a good storm which is a pity. Its been more like boil in the bag walking, hot and wet and sticky. Not my favourite type of weather, I’m more a cold and dry walker.

This weather has had some beneficial effect on the plants though, especially the Cottongrass which has been resplendent in western parts of the Dark Peak and positively regressive everywhere else. Certainly around Chew Valley the Cottongrass is superb. Great carpets of white bobbing heads sweeping across the moor. I have seen Common Mouse-Ear a delicate small flower, Heath Bedstraw, lots of Sedges, Cloudberry and Bilberry. Birds are in abundance especially Curlew, Lapwing, Snipe and Golden Plover. I have heard the Skylark but never been able to see it as it has blended in against the grey sky.

One thing that I have noticed is that I have not gone knee deep into too many peat bogs. Maybe I have my eye in now and can spot and navigate my way around them easily, except when I do go in of course, then its full-blown 1970’s bog hell.

So few real standout landscape pictures to be had. the last two walks have been in the Goyt Valley and the views from the tops have been very disappointing. I was hoping for a glimpse of Snowdonia but no such look and Jodrell Bank was visible but not the sharpest of views.

Still I can’t complain, days out on the moors. Lots of memories and the hope that the sun will shine.

 

Cotton Grass

 

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Hare’s-tail Cottongrass on the Cotton Famine Road

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.

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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.

 

The colour of peat

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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.

The peat once again is victorious.

Moors For The Future

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Moors For The Future Apps

Yesterday I went over to see Moors For The Future, the partnership organisation that is transforming much of the Dark Peak through a huge project of restoration and renewal. I wanted to talk to them to get some background information about their work for the Dark Peak book and Debra Wilson the communications manager had very kindly agreed to give me some of her time and expertise.

Moors For The Future are tasked with restoring the moors from centuries of damage brought on by the industrial revolution and all that Manchester, Sheffield and elsewhere could throw at the moors. You might think that the moors are supposed to look like a giant black peat quagmire, capable of disposing of a boot and more in deep groughs that once you were in was never going to be an exercise in elegance getting out.

Over the last 13 or so years billions, the number was so big I couldn’t even work it out, mosses and grasses and plants have been spread over the peat to begin the restoration. Each year the moors can lose peat to the tune of 25mm in depth. It regenerates it at a rate of around 1-2mm per year. Thats a big discrepancy. Carry on at the rate and all that will be left will be rock. Debra told me about Soldiers Lump the trig pillar on Black Hill. The base of the pillar used to be level with the ground, now it stands several feet above the level of the peat, which is a vivid illustration of how mans activities impacts on the environment.

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Evidence of peat erosion on Black Hill

Walk on the moors where work has been carried out and you can already see the effects of the work. I walked around Bleaklow one night in summer and the tall grasses were an absolute joy to walk through. Yes it is getting wetter, but its also getting more interesting. Cotton Grass, cloudberries, lizards, mountain hares, Ring Ouzel, all these I have sat looked at over the last few years. There is more colour too. Not just black.  Bright greens of the mosses, reds and browns of the grasses, the winter coat of the Mountain Hare, dots of vivd red of the berries.

A thought occurred to me one day on Holme Moss. I am so privileged to be around to see this enormous change in an environment. Not often do you get to see a landscape restored to its natural beauty, too often what we see is destruction.

Have a look at the Moors For The Future website via the link above and add some new knowledge to your next walk in the Dark Peak.

High Moorland

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Years ago I was afraid of the high moorlands, they struck me as places to be avoided lest I got lost, there being no markers and few landmarks around.  It isn’t like that now.

I spent a day on a moor a week before last, a whole day just looking, exploring, experiencing something of the nature that makes a seemingly featureless place abound with possibilities. Taste, touch, smell, see.

You can still find the odd Crowberry tiny little ampules of juice that sit low to the ground. I once ran out of water on a moor and these saved me until I could reach a stream and recharge. In winter they shine out against the white snow as dots of colour against the white and green backdrop.

Scrambling to get out of a peat bog is one of the more challenging past time for moorland walking. Peat has a consistency of one of those chocolate puddings with the gooey centres. As soon as you start to try and climb out, whilst berating yourself for being such an idiot in getting in to the grough in the first place, your feet start to slide down and the peat bank dissolves in to a shiny black sludge. You jab fingers in to the bank, trying for purchase, boots kicking steps as if on snow. It is not elegant. The peat smells of mustiness, rotted vegetation and has a slight chemical smell like a disinfectant. Of course this matters little whilst you are desperately trying to reach the top.

I sat on the moor after a storm had passed over the country, we seem to have more and more of these now. The tail end of the storm was still travelling across the moor and I suddenly became aware that I could smell the sea. The wind came from the west so the sea was probably the Irish sea. It was heavily ladened with salt, so much so that I could taste it on my lips. It was wonderful. I stood still, my face held in to the wind with my nose high to get as much of the sea air in to my lungs as possible. The odd thing was, I became transported back to my childhood, summer holidays on Blackpool central pier and the green sea and the salt.

There is a large channel on the moor, noted on the OS map as a drain. A pool stands at its head, the pool much larger now since the Moors for the Future project has stopped up a lot of the groughs and made the moor much wetter. a narrow ribbon of water works its way down the channel and soaks away in to the moor at the bottom. I am unconvinced it is a drain. There is evidence it may have been caused by peat cutting and if you stand on the opposite side of the valley you can detect sledways working up the valley side all leading to the channel. This would seem a more plausible reason for the channel. The channel has vertical cut sides and is not consistent in width, the top end being wider and also having access to vehicle tracks back down the hillside. I like to imagine people cutting peat and stacking it for drying, a hard days work in desolate land. My mind always says it is winter for some reason when the peat cutting is done, but this cannot be right, surely you would cut in summer and autumn to help drying.

 

 

Trigpoint Walks 7

Moors for the future helicopters on Bleaklow
Moors for the future helicopters on Bleaklow

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.

SE 0803 0044 Hey Edge 423m
SE 0803 0044 Hey Edge 423m

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.

SK 0593 9618 Cock Hill 427m
SK 0593 9618 Cock Hill 427m

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!

SK 0215 9203 own Edge Rocks 411m
SK 0215 9203 Cown Edge Rocks 411m

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.