Trigpoint Walks 1

Stanage Pole Trig Point
Stanage Pole Trig Point

For some reason, I could not tell you why it is so please don’t ask, often I like to have a purpose to a walk. Its a simple mechanism I use of getting from A-B by convincing myself that there is a higher motive, than merely spending hours away from society, that feels like skivving and my working class upbringing definitely did not condone skivving.

So this year, 2014, I have concocted a ruse to get me out and about without the concomitant guilt. I will attempt to walk to every trig point in the Peak District National Park and surrounding areas. Don’t ask me how many there are, I have no idea, but if you do know then please get in touch. Whilst doing this I can also get fitter, I need that for sure, practice my navigation, feature spotting and route planning for my Mountain Leadership training, and learn a lot more about the Peak District especially areas I have never visited. It will also be enjoyable.

So here are the rules:

1. The trig points must be in the Peak District National Park

2. There must be a least three trig points on a route. Three is the minimum number for triangulation, but you already knew that.

3. A photo of the pillar and the benchmark plate must be taken, even if I am being chased by a cow, or wallaby.

4. All trig points must have been visited by the end of the year!

That’s it, pretty simple.

My first day out was on Thursday 16th January. A simple walk almost from my front door, taking in four trig points with a total of twenty kilometers of walking and five hundred and seventy meters of total ascent. The route would cross common lands, industrial relics, old track ways and turnpikes, grouse moorland, Victorian engineering works and the home of British Climbing. Not bad for a day’s walking.

Trig pillar number 1

(Loxley Common Triangulation Pillar SK 30969 90690 Altitude 239m.  Benchmark plate number 11505)

The pillar stands amidst old quarry workings and gannister mines. The quarrying was for Derbyshire Gritstone to build walls and buildings. Gannister mines produced “Ganni” a clay like substance used in the manufacture of furnace linings for the steel and glass industry that surrounded Sheffield.

Setting south from this trig, via a series of old Gannister factories and villages now quiet but once were thriving industrial mining centres, decanted me on to the old Sheffield to Manchester Road, long forgotten and abandoned in places for the Snake Road that runs along the valley floor.

From this road a track runs to the right up onto the high moorland above Sheffield. Leaving the track and heading for the corner of a private cemetery, I never knew such a thing existed, I came to the second trig point on Rod Moor.

Trig pillar number 2

(Rod Moor Triangulation Pillar SK 2626 8841 Altitude 384m. Benchmark S2299)

This trig point is clearly not so frequented as others, despite a very well made shooting track taking you to within a hundred meters or so. I have to admit though that the trig is a rather secondary attraction. The main being a large sign telling you to keep out of the walled cemetery on pain of prosecution for trespass. Peering over the wall the prospective trespasser can see a tantalising glimpse of old tombs, stacked grave stones and what appears to be a crematoria. All very Hammer House of Horror. Why all this is out here on the moorland away from any major community remains to be explored. Just to add to the weirdness, three white albino peacocks appeared from nowhere, a common site on any Peak District moorland!

Onwards towards the south and heading for the mecca of Stanage Edge and High Neb trig point. It’s a nice walk up through woodland and moorland on to the high tops. My route followed the water conduit built by Victorian engineers to bring water to Sheffield. The conduit fed the Redmires reservoirs to the east. Dressed stone, beautifully detailed by craftsmen line the water coarse route and a small house like structure stands alone against the skyline.

The little house makes a great bivvy spot and seems to have been used as such. It even has a fire place for added cosiness.

Heading south I followed the coarse of the river upwards to reach High Neb trig point. A good spot for navigation practice. I calculated that my attack point was seven hundred meters away on a set bearing. This would lead me to a bend in the stream from where I could gain the trig point. Using the stream as a handrail I arrived at the attack point having paced the distance out over the rough moorland. I was just five paces short which pleased me no end.

Trig pillar number 3

(High Neb Triangulation Pillar SK 2281 8534   458m.  Benchmark S2157)

High Neb trig point sits right on the edge of Stanage in the center of a well worn path and with great views north, south, east and west.

The views from this vantage point are magnificent. Mam Tor, The great Ridge and Kinder Scout lay to the south west. Bleaklow and the Alport Valley fill the north west skyline, whilst Derwent and Howden edges run north. Below to the south and east lay the great grit stone edges famous to millions of climbers around the world. Pick a sunny day and theses edges are festooned with orange and red dots, the helmets of aspirant Don Whillans and Joe Browns. The names of the climbs conjour up emotions, Quietus, Right Unconquerable, Goliaths Groove, Chip Shop Brawl to name but a few on Stanage. You are stood on the balcony of climbing history and what better view could you have.

Head east along the edge and you come to The Long Causeway a ancient Pack Horse route for the transportation of grit stone mill wheels and salt to name but a few commodities. It has recently been the centre of some controversy, as it is legally a road and this means that any vehicle can travel along it. The four wheel drive brigade have done just that and ripped it apart. Where once there were beautiful stone sets paving the entire length, now there remains huge gouges, crumbling retaining walls and flooded mud baths. It is a crime and the only people responsible are the irresponsible four wheel drive and trial bike users, who have had no regard for this historical right of way, and only wanted self centred pleasure. Thankfully the Peak District Authority have acted and obtained a closure to all mechanical vehicles. Lets hope that it stays that way forever and hopefully the four by fours will be content with running the shopping to and from from Tesco’s.

P1010961

The Long Causeway on Stanage Edge.  History ripped apart by the pleasure seekers.

If you carry on along the edge you eventually come to a strange pole. This is Stanage Pole and the final trig point. Yes it is a trig point as marked on the 1:25000 OS map. Did you know that. Not all trig points are pillars.

The Long Causeway on Stanage

Wild Ash trees in Bole Hill Quarry
Wild Ash trees in Bole Hill Quarry

I took a walk along Stanage Edge the other day.  A friend, Mark Richards and I set off from Grindleford station, bypassing the bacon butties and pints of tea and climbed up the old rail incline to reach Bolehill quarry.  It’s a strange looking place as you view the quarry through the vertical blinds of wild ash trees that have colonised the area since working ceased.  It makes for wonderful views and eerie monochromatic photography art galleries in London would probably pay handsomely for.   Light showers had put paid to most climbers attempts on the quarry face, but there were a couple working their way up towards the top.  On fine weekends it is just like a school yard, with lots of people milling around, climbing, trying new techniques, taking instruction, a hive of activity that is nice to sit and watch. 

We moved on past the abandoned millstones, these always make me wonder if the people who ordered them are still waiting for delivery, and crossed over to skirt the bottom if Millstone edge before claiming the top and a fine view down the Hope Valley, with the ribbon of the Sheffield to Manchester Rail line taking the eye on to Mam Tor and Kinder.  Another group of kids tried some bouldering on Owler Tor and as we passed them I pointed out a superb bivvy spot for future reference.  I know that wild camping and bivvying is illegal in England and Wales, but if it leaves no trace then I cannot see the harm.  I accept there are those who trash a place, there will always be thus, but the vast majority of people do it so that they can enjoy the seclusion and majesty of a night spent out on the hills and a welcoming sunrise to enjoy.

The rain had stopped by the time we reached Stanage, a few people were around, none climbing so we pretty much had the place to ourselves.  It’s a wonderful edge walk, with fine views down the Hope Valley, and across to Kinder.  Descending The Long Causeway we could see recent damage caused by motorised vehicles, I guess 4×4 or trail bikes or maybe a granny in a Toyota Yaris!!  Huge great gouges in what is left of the surface with clear scraping marks on the rocks.  This is not responsible use of a green way, how can this destruction be seen as right.  Then again on Stanage we had walked across man made stone pathways placed there to alleviate the erosion caused by thousands of pairs of feet, so what’s the difference between tyre and boot??  Been up Black Hill lately of Torside Clough and seen what happens and what needs to be done to arrest erosion caused by our own need to demonstrate our legal right by walking where we want when we want and never mind the consequences.  A few days after our walk along the ancient pack-horse route a decision by the Peak District National Park was taken to close the route to all motorised vehicles.  The blue touch paper has been lit, it now remains to be seen how quickly the rocket goes off. 

We dropped down into Hathersage, narrowly missing tea at the café in Outside and caught the train back to Grindleford to pick up the car.  It was a nice days walk and a good way to explore the grit-stone corridor that abounds the rail line.  Leaving the car at Grindleford and returning by rail meant we could allow our route to unfold, taking direction as the will took us, with no worry about how to get back to our vehicles.    

Odd isn’t it that we used public transport to access wonderful countryside whilst at the very same time vehicular access was being removed to protect a ancient way.   

Maybe that’s how it should be.

Dark Peak Moorland

Peat Grough, Ronksley Moor, Upper Derwent Vally, Peak District National Park
Peat Grough, Ronksley Moor, Upper Derwent Vally, Peak District National Park

I have been spending a lot of time in the Dark Peak these last few months.  It’s a place I feel more drawn to each year, the more I see the more I want to understand.

It is grit-stone country, high moorland, peat groughs, small deep sided cloughs and long narrow valleys. Being on top of the southern end of the Pennines it is blessed with wind and rain at most times of year, as the weather rolls in from the west over Manchester and then has to climb to gain access to Yorkshire.  This makes for, what some may call, grand days out, on desolate, windswept and rain-sodden featureless moorland.  The, grand part, meaning no one else was insane enough to venture up on to the tops and you have the place to yourself.

The moors, weather permitting, give un-broken vistas across the Peak District into several other counties and Wales as well if you really scrunch your eyes up and believe..  Moorland colour is brown, from the grass, as there is no bracken above a certain point, I must make an effort to find out what the bracken line is, perhaps it is just like the tree line in mountain ranges?  Brown is broken up by clumps of heather a dark racing car green which sprouts purple-pink heads in summer.

Heather is deceptively difficult for walking across, it is ankle breaking thigh burning terrain that quickly saps the energy of any walker.  It comes in different heights, depending on age.  The lowest is the freshly burnt patches the quilt the moorland, burnt not as an act of vandalism, but to generate new growth, this is the easiest to walk across, you can see the holes in the ground.  The highest, used to provide cover for the oldest birds, entails having to either force a way through with stiff legs, not pleasant in shorts, or lift the leg high to keep striding over the clumps.  A good thigh workout, better than any gym and a lot less expensive.

The browns and green are interlaced with a dark black ribbon, glossy at most times of the year, with pools of oily water sitting on the surface.  This is the peat that swallows legs whole and is the repository of many an expensive walking boot.  The surface threads are the most pleasant to walk along.  You can see where you are going for one thing and avoid the soft quagmire of peat and water.  The worst part of the moor and this is an integral part of the peat and come to think of it moorland walking are the infamous peat groughs.  The groughs are where peat has been eroded away through, wind and rain and left a steep sided deep gulch, with soft deep peat at the sides and bottom.  Some can be 20 to 30 feet deep, which makes for interesting navigation tests, the map being completely useless if you cannot see where you are going.  Entering a grough is easy, you just step off the firm moor and slide your way down the grough side until you reach the bottom.  With skill you can achieve this whilst remaining upright, but it may take practice and a lot of peat in your boots before you become proficient.  Gaiters are a must!

The bottom of a grough may be firm with signs of the bedrock which the peat is built upon, or it may be a deep soft mass of thick black ooze that will not support the weight of a child, let a lone a fifty something mildly overweight (ok, overweight), man carrying enough gear in his backpack that people may think he was  a mobile outdoor shop.  The bottom is not your major problem.  The problem has not yet been encountered and the inexperienced will be blissfully unaware what has yet to come.  A good navigation test is to try and get to a known point whilst remaining deep in the network of inter connecting groughs.  It can be done, I am told, with excellent pacing and the use of compass, I have not tried this yet, but one day I will.

It is once you come to exit a grough that your manliness will be called in to question, this is the problem.  Exit may be immediate if you are traversing across a moor and have many groughs to cross, or could be after some time when you have reached  a destination or, more probably, panic that you may never get out of the grough has now firmly planted itself in your increasingly frazzled mind.  Only when you decide to climb up the 20 foot wall of peat, angled at approximately 80 degrees do you discover just what you have cornered yourself into.  The peat is no respecter of experience and cares little for how much you have spent on gear.  You immediately find that soft squashy peat on a near vertical surface does not support the weight of a Sparrow.  Kicking steps into the peat only produces a greater amount to slide down with.  After 10 minutes of trying panic is starting to rise and from the back of the mind comes some real or imagined story of a man found face down in a peat grough, dead from exhaustion and with his fingers covered in peat from trying to climb out.  Decorum at some stage will leave, replaced by a panic stricken flailing and grunting up the side until fingers manage to touch a grass tussock and, no matter if it will take the weight, it is a life line which only the desperate will grab hold of with full confidence.

Many a time I have walked across the moors and seen men, it usually is men, appear from some unseen entrance to hell.  First a very red head is seen, this is covered in sweat and peat and has the countenance of real fear.  The hands reach forward and amid much noise reaches forward grabbing anything that seems solid, the arms pulling behind a body, the legs of which are flailing in mid air trying to gain purchase.  Eventually the body lays prone on the brown grass, the side of the face flat against the grass.  There is slimy peat thick and gooey covering most of the legs, when the body turns over a wide strip of peat runs down the front of the body.

There is no way back to manliness from this ignominy, the grough has won, it wasn’t a contest really.  The best you can do is try and pretend that everything that did happen was supposed and you were in control the whole of the time.  You can also walk away as quickly as you can, rebuffing all attempts at eye contact or worse, conversation.  Nothing need be said and you can sneak you peat encrusted gear back in to the house when no one is watching.

Such are the joys of walking on the high moors in the Peak District.

Bradford Dale and Lathkill Dale

River Lathkill Weir 4

The first time I came across Bradford Dale it was a revelation. I hadn’t expected the view that met me as I walked along the route of the Limestone Way. Descending from the road I saw before a vista of the true English countryside, a clear gentle river threaded its way through a limestone gorge, trout jumped out of the water to secure a tasty morsel, dippers weaved up and down as the proceeded along the river gathering food and coots sat nesting awaiting a new brood.

The path down winds its way past a series of pools flanked by limestone outcrops and tree lined slopes. This is a highly managed environment, it doesn’t look like this by a fate of nature. The river is renowned for its trout fishing hence the pools which create a calm water for the fish to lay i wait for any dinner that floats by. The pools are connected by sluice gates and weirs, this regulates the flow and also introduces faster flowing water rich in oxygen.

2012 saw the complete disappearance of the water due to drought conditions and a fly fisher friend tells me the trout would have migrated down stream following the water. Lack of water is a common sight in the limestone rivers, many have seriously porous beds and a drop in flow due to drought conditions means the water finds and easier course underground, often absenting itself several miles away from where it re-emerges.

Take binoculars with you on this walk and be prepared to stop frequently and look at the play nature is laying on. Birds are in abundance as are dragonflies, newts, toads, fish, wildflowers appear in abundance. As the path and river wind their way down the dale all of this is on display.

At the bottom of the dale the landscape opens out and crossing an old stone footbridge it is possible to rise up into Youlgrave and explore the village which has lots of interest for the historian. Continuing down the dale eventually brings the walker to the village of Alport with its neat limestone houses topped with elaborate chimney pots set on a hill above a flood plain and a limestone gorge.

Lathkill Dale has an inauspicious start from its confluence with the river Bradford, you don’t realise that you have started following the Lathkill until you enter the dale further upstream.  We walked across fields from the village of Alport then struck up hill to meet an unmarked lane which led us to Conksbury Village a medieval site now long deserted, you need to look hard for signs of human habitation but they are there.  Further on we came to a strange set of farm buildings.  Strange because they were so large, with a big farm house and had in the past obviously been a major site of farming activity.  This is Meadow Place Grange, the Grange an indication of its past and for all I know present owners.  Abbey’s were major land owners in the area and used the dales and pastures for extensive sheep grazing for the wool that they became justly famous for.

Dropping down into Lathkill Dale  we meet one of the clearest rivers in the country.  The River Lathkill is the only river in the Peak District which rises and flows entirely through limestone and as a consequence is filtered to crystal clear clarity.  The river and dale is a national nature reserve, site of special scientific interest and has wildlife in abundance, this is home to some rare plants such as Jacobs Ladder, which needs special conditions to continue growing and these are only found in the dale. There are 3 major caves associated with the dale all situated slightly off the main tracks but well worth a visit.

Exiting the dale we made for Monyash, now mainly a commuter village but with a good pub and facilities, sadly the church was closed, this being a Sunday!! so we could not explore the interior nor leave a donation!!  Picking up the Limestone Way we started back to the beginning of our walk and passed through One Ash Grange Farm which is a must if just for a view of the most perfect set of medieval pig sties in existence.  They are exquisite, if a pig sty can be such a thing and once again the “Grange” tells us we are in the presence of an old farming operation of the Abbey’s.

This is a really good walk with lots of interest for everyone and one that requires further explorations.

Lathkill Dale

Hidden Valley

Towards Whinstone Lee Tor and the Derwent Edge
Towards Whinstone Lee Tor and Bamford Edge

Just off a vehicle track in the DerwentValley is a rotting finger post pointing up a grassy incline that disappears into some trees, if you’re not paying attention as you pass it by then you wouldn’t even notice it, few do, not even National Parks maintenance teams, hence the rotting finger post.

If you do stop and wonder where the finger points to and decide to follow its direction you are in for a real treat for this is one of the valleys hidden secrets, rarely visited by walkers and of course almost never visited by the thousands that park at the visitor centre about a mile away.  So you have the place to yourself, go and enjoy it!

Follow the incline upwards, working your way along a tree lined, and grass covered farm track.  Coming to an old abandoned farm that once formed just one of the many that tended these hillsides through beautiful spring and summer and into horrendous winters when the valley could be cut off from civilisation for months, the track veers left and narrows into an ascending path, enclosed by dry stone walls erected hundreds of years ago.  At the top you come to a farm, which seems odd as there is no way you could get farm machinery up the path, but the farms access lays north of the buildings and unseen by the walker.  As you pass the farm stop awhile and take in the first of the expansive views of the Derwent Edge.  South lays Whinstone Lee Tor, a nob of a hill that sits as a gatekeeper, with Crookhill on the other side of the UpperDerwentValley.  The Tor offers fine views across the valley, with Bleaklow, Kinder and Mam Tor forming the western skyline.  Below you is a solitary barn set in lush green pasture, this is a good place to stand and stare a little, watching the buzzards soaring above the gritstone edge, whilst below, stoats work their way through the stone wall labyrinth.  If you look closely at the fields in front you can detect boundaries and footpaths long gone now save for a depression in the ground and the odd marker tree showing the line.  Centuries old these remnants remind us that man leaves his footprints where ever he goes.

Take the shooting track that heads towards the skyline and works its way round the hillside in front of you, descending in to a seemingly lost valley complete with stream and cloughs. The stream has to be crossed without the aid of a bridge and is no real obstacle.  It is a quiet place, rarely frequented and has the beauty of the rugged Peak District moorland, without the windswept desolation or indeed the destruction caused by man. Having crossed the stream take the feint path left that works its way up through the bracken, in summer this is hard to see and you have to look for a break line in the thick bracken to ascertain its course.  It is a narrow path until near the top where it meets a boulder field and then opens up making the final few meters easy.

You pop out and that is the most descriptive word I think fits the situation, on to a flat seemingly featureless moorland sitting directly below a Gritstone edge, to the right on the horizon is the Salt Cellar a prominent gritstone feature, useful for navigation.  This is where the fun starts for the way forward lies across the bog soaked moor with the attack point being a rectangular walled enclosure marked on the map that hardly exists on the ground.  Take a bearing from where the path brings you on to the flat part of the moorland, this is a highly subjective starting point and good map work is required which means it is the perfect practice area for navigation exercises.  Aim for the centre of one side of the rectangle and calculate the paces needed to reach it, and then start to walk on the bearing.  This is where the funny walk starts as you try to keep on the bearing, keep an even pace for counting and avoid bog, tussock and peat holes.  Soon you will have reached you number of paces meaning you should have reached the wall, but none is to be found.  You stand on a flat ish plain with no wall in sight, looking around you can detect nothing.  Spotting a small rise in the land near to you, you decide to use this as a vantage point to locate the now offending enclosure. None can be seen and it gradually dawns on you that the small rise you are stood on is in a very straight line and seems to extend to right angled corners at each end.  As your eyes follow the rise you realise, a little sheepishly that you are in fact stood on top of the enclosure wall which over the years as now being reclaimed by nature and forms part of the moorland land mass.  There is a mixture of joy at having found it and depression at realising the navigation skills still need some work.

From here the way is easy. Straight up to the edge and on to the top, you can choose to do a little light scrambling to ascend the edge which adds a frisson of adventure.  Once there it is a matter of following your nose, left or right and just enjoying the views.  On a clear blue sky day the views are extensive and magnificent, stretching in to several counties at all points of the compass.

A beautiful little walk best kept a secret.

The art of walking

The art of walking

What is it about walking that is so appealing? By walking I don’t mean the walk that takes me from the kitchen to the table or from the sofa to the bed at night. By walking I mean the walk that means a journey, of more than one kind, into a wilderness type area, with or without populated communities, and that involves the use of skills in navigation, route selection, landscape interpretation, clothing and gear selection. I have been walking now for almost 40 years and looking back there has been a process of development in walking. At first it involved little equipment and poor weatherproof clothing, poor nourishment and hydration, a bottle of Tizer or orange squash sufficed along with crisps and a ham sandwich, all held in a WWII gas mask sack. Woolly jumpers, the ubiquitous cagoule, gabardine trousers and an old pair of boots with steel nails in protected the body and provided sweltering walking conditions in summer as well as wet, cold, heavy clothing the rest of the year.

A walk back then would involve a 20 mile storm from A-B in lands that were new and interesting, but were blasted past like a closed railway station on a mainline. Little interest was shown in the surroundings or indeed in navigation. The use of map and compass was secondary to oblique maps drawn in cheap guide books and carried in hand the whole length of the walk. When a map was consulted it was a bewildering array of colours, lines and writing, none of which bore any resemblance to the surroundings in which we stood. But, and here is a big but, we never got lost, well only once or twice and we never engaged with the countryside or any of the people in it. Except that is on a Sunday morning in Pond Street Bus station in Sheffield waiting for the No.272 bus to take us out into Derbyshire as we knew it then. There were dozens of people waiting with us, I cannot remember anyone talking to us, nor we to them. What I do remember is with our mediocre gear and clothing, we didn’t look out of place, although it has to be said that I did covet one of those map cases that hung around the neck and made anyone look as though they knew what they were doing. Walking back then was simpler, cheaper and exciting.

As the years of walking experience grew so did my range of walking as well as my gear. Once you have walked in the same area a few times you need to move on to paths new. Adding new walks then became the game along with more advanced gear. A rudimentary rucksack was added along with a thermos flask, which always broke, the coveted map case and T shirts. But we still trudged from A-B, still took no real interest in our surroundings and still used the guide books, doing someone else’s walking and paying them for it. At some point a girlfriend and a camera were added, the girlfriend was blond, slim and open to certain suggestions. The camera was at first a Zenith SLR which was quickly superseded by a Canon AE1. Now the walk was more about taking pictures and becoming a landscape photographer. Strangely, walks never ventured on to moor lands or tops of hills, except Mam Tor, for fear of getting lost, so walks always involved valleys and clear, very clear footpaths. The photography gear increased but sadly not the landscape photographer’s career. This was extinguished by a father who knew the best thing for a 16 year old in Sheffield to do was to get a job for life in the steel works; such was his ambition for his son and his foresight come to think of it. Ten years later there were very few steel works left.

Then came the next phase of walking. No longer was the camera taken on walks, too much to carry. Gone was the girlfriend, she’d got fed up of all the suggestions. Now I walked with a wife and children. It is still a mystery how I ended up with a wife, the only thing I can think of is that she was at first open to certain suggestions, but quickly followed up with a wedding and children and ending of suggestion activities. The walks didn’t really change. Same routes, more gear, more crying from children, more panicking as I got lost, this time with a young family in tow. Walks back then were more like expeditions and always involved tears and arguments and a gladness to get back home and a resolve never to do it again, but if we do, not to do it the same way, which we always did.

Eventually, family and career took over and walks stopped, except for the odd bank holiday walk, amongst thousands of other families all whishing they had chosen to go to the seaside instead. I never looked upon walking as an escape from everyday life and yet that is just what I should have been back then. Career developed, children grow up and all was followed as night follows day by divorce.

It was at this time that walking came back in to my life. Only now walking was different. It involved highly technical clothing, boots, weatherproof maps and joy of joys, GPS. For a gadget mad male with time on his hands this was heaven. Saturdays were now spent in the new outdoor shops that had sprung up, looking at gear, the more exotic sounding names, the more expensive, the more it made me look like mountain man, the better. A whole range of compasses were purchased, not the new fangled GPS, which seemed expensive and unworkable and not purist. So now I could walk the same walks I had always walked, with same guide book, but have all the correct gear for an expedition in Patagonia, with all the correct unreadable maps and more importantly, look the part when trudging from A-B. It was at this point that my now wife came in to my life. Alison inhabited a different world to me, one of art and design as opposed to mine which was of business. She also came from a very different background. Posh voice, very beautiful and very simple outlook on life. Use what you have to hand, use time to experience new things and don’t blast past what’s going on around you. Enjoy the moment and relax. This was her unspoken philosophy and I had trouble getting in to step with it.

Yet over the years my walking has changed. Perhaps it is a consequence of time and age, my wife’s influence, whatever, but walking is now more about learning and experiencing. Sure there is still gear, which Alison has also succumbed too a little in the clothing department. My gear is now more selective and of higher quality and chosen by necessity, sometimes! I have three GPS devices, don’t know why, each one seems to promise ever more nirvana like happenings, but essentially they all tell me the same thing. My skills have developed hugely. I can now read and use a map and compass, even navigate with them and interpret the landscape. Ironically, I hardly ever use a GPS except to record my routes for my log book, which is an anorak part of walking that I like. I became a National Park Ranger volunteer for the Peak District National Park, something I never thought would have happened to me. This then morphed in to becoming a walking guide for a walking holiday company, another thing I never thought would happen.

Lately a strange thing happened on a solo walk. I now spend more time walking in the uplands, moor lands and mountains of Britain and on a recent walk around the Kinder Plateau; I stopped for a drink and a snack, and having consumed the food quickly started to rise to carry on with my march from A-B only to suddenly think why am I moving. I am camping out, so do not have to meet a bus or train, why am I in such a rush. Relax, take in the scenery, watch and learn. So that is what I did and that has made all the difference to my walking. I now walk within the landscape, being part of it at that moment in time. It has made all the difference and now I really do escape from the world. As John Muir put it.

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

The climbers apprentice

Winter on Carl Wark in The Peak District National Park

The first fall of snow in the Peak District National Park found us at the National Trusts Longshaw Estate car park just past the Fox House Inn preparing for a walk up the Burbage valley below Burbage Edge and taking in Higger Tor and Carl Wark. Christmas trees were on sale but sadly there was no discount on the parking for a day at a rate of £4.00. Is that expensive? it sounds expensive for a car park with very few cars in on a winters weekday, but then £4 doesn’t sound a lot. Maybe the spirit of christmas scrooge has become part of me. It was snowing a little as we started to get ready and there was a bit of a cold breeze. I was wearing some new gear so was interested in how it would perform. The Scarpa SL Activ boots which I talked about in the latest gear review. After a session on lacing with Lee at Foothills I was hoping that the boots would have now settled in to my foot shape and I need not worry anymore about heel lift with my left foot. I was also trying my new pair of Paramo Gaiters, along with winter Craghopper trousers, Paramo shirt, Odlo Base layer, Paramo top, Berghaus Windstopper gloves and Marks and Spencer thermal long johns.

I was joined by Alison Counsell from Wapentac and her two Bedlington / Lakeland Cross Terriers, Monty (brown) and Olly (black), who had never seen snow before and were clearly excited at this new environment. After a little struggle getting all the clothes ready, running round the car park after the parking ticket which had blown out of the car, we were ready for the off. It was clear and the snow was holding off as we walked out of the car park and onto the drive that leads away from Longshaw Lodge to the Grindleford Road.

Walking down the drive you look across a pasture, part of the Longshaw Estate, which is separated from the house by a Ha Ha, a victorian landscaping device formed by digging a trench so as to allow an uniterrupted view from one side whilst placing a livestock barrier between the house and pasture. A favourite of su ch landsape designers such as Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown the Ha Ha is quite common in Victorian landscapes and parks. The pasture is also significant in that it is the home to the Longshaw Sheepdog Trials which take place each year. Founded in 1898 the trials are the oldest in the country and there is no nbetter way of spending a relaxing day watching the competitors coaxing the dogs to round up the sheep.If you can also at the same time work out what is happening then you have become, in my mind an expert, as I have yet to understand the marking system or what the different whistles mean. Soon another road is met, this one needing care to cross as this is the main road to Hathersage and the crossing point is not far from a bad left hand 90 degree bend. Take care!! You then find yourself with two options, the high route along the top of Burbage Edge or the low route walking on a well made track below the edge. As the wind was quite strong, there had been gales in Scotland and Northern England that last few days, with much damage and even one death and the skies were looking somewhat ominous I chose the lower route which offered some protection. It also meant that Monty and Olly could be let off the lead without fear of being blown off the edge by a gust of wind and they could explore the new environment and this white stuff that coated everything in safety. The track winds its way up the valley between Burbage Brook and Edge and offers fine views of Carl Wark and Higger Tor to the west. The valley itself is managed by the National Trust and has a covering of heather in which the occasional sheep can be found as well as the grouse. Several paths lead across west but we take the track heading north up the valley.

You are walking in Dark Peak or Gritstone country, you take your pick on the names. The land is identified by hard gritstone rock, peat moorland, heather grouse shoots, bog, groughs and cloughs in permanent shade. Gritstone country is wild and at times dangerous and attracts those who are enlivened by such environments. The gritstone itself dates back to the carboniferous period when the valley formed a basin in a tropical climate. Seas and rivers flowed in to the basin depositing sand and sediment which formed the millstone grit rock we see today. To think that 300+ million years ago we would have been in a tropical setting takes some believing when today it is zero degree temperatures and starting to snow.

It was starting to snow now, with dark clouds hanging low over the landscape. The dogs were enjoying running around the rocks and diving in to snow clad heather, their coats collecting powdery snow which collected in long lines along their backs. Olly the black coat would disappear from view in to the heather then re-appear like a shadow in some horror movie, moving across the heather under the black sky. The walking was easy and we talked about Alisons recent developments with Wapentac. Alison Counsell is a metalsmith of world renowned, how many people do you know who are on permanent exhibit in the Victoria and Albert Museum, one of the top five design museums in the world. A few years back Alison had produced a body of work for an exhibition which included a stainless steel three dimensianal sculpture of an Ordnance Survey map complete with rivers, valleys and contours. This led to a smaller version based on National Parks produced as gifts, they are known as Wapenmaps and a fledgling business was born. The range has expanded now to include maps, lights and botanical sculptures and is being sold in high end shops as well as online. It is nice to be involved with such a business, even on a superficial basis.

The snow was now coming in blustery gusts, interspersed by bright sunshine then moving on to wind, darkening skies and more snow. Passing Burbage Edge I pointed out different climbs and the sometimes anarchic names given to them. The edge is one of the major climbing areas in Britain and is often used for training. On weekends the edge is to found bedecked in colour from ropes, helmets and bodies crawling over every centimeter of it’s surface. Hands and fingers jamming in to crevices, limbs being coaxed and forced in to positions humans were not meant to be got into. Burbage Edge provides climbs for all skills from the easy Byrne’s Crack to hard Equilibrium. The edge is split into areas with names such as Nosferatu, Pebble Mill and the descriptive but innocuous Left End. There are over 600 climbing routes on the edge, enough for anyone and everyone. Today there were no takers, rock and snow and wet not being of particular attractive appeal. Bouldering is also a major pastime in the area and there is bountiful opportunities strewn all across the valley and up towards Higger Tor and Carl Wark. Our track had now led us to the head of the valley, a road blocking the tracks northwards march gave us the chance to try a little danger. So we crossed Burbage Brook tributaries twice to gain the western side of the valley. This was a good test for the Scarpa SL Active boot soles and their adhesion to wet rock. They passed with flying colours and I remained dry, with dignity intact. The Paramo gainters were also performing well and I could detect no build up of heat and moisture so evident in my old less technical gaiters. The dogs were a little reticent at first in crossing the rivers which were in spate, albeit a little one. Eventually they worked out what to do and after the first stream crossing the second was achieved with an air of ease, as though they had been doing it for years and nothing phased them. They have such characters.

We stopped for rest and coffee, taking in the scenery. On the road a man with two youths was pointing to a map and then the landscape. It transpired the youths were to be sent off on an exercise in navigation possibly. They did not look happy. Hands in pockets and heads down they looked as though this was some penance they were having to perform. A sad view, especially from the advantage of age. Cloud was starting to descend now, making visibility poor so we packed up and headed for the summit of Higger Tor. There is a clear path in good visibility that was now shrouded in cloud so we hugged the edge, keeping a few meters inland as it were. The snow was falling harder now, but the ground was still soft so you had to be careful where you put your feet or you could find yourself up to your knees in peat bog. A man we spoke to on the track told us how he had lost his boot by doing just such a thing on the ascent of Higger Tor. We managed to avoid such disasters and soon found ourselves on the summit plateau.

So here is some navigation advice, take it or leave it, to be used in very poor visibility in driving snow. First thing is don’t walk with your head down, trying to avoid the snow. This means you are focussed on your feet and not on what is around you, especially obstacles or worse, nothing at all!! Second, don’t just follow a path, in snow it may not be the path you want or a path at all. Third, keep walking legs short. Stop frequently and study map and compass and uses these to establish your position. Then calculate the next leg. Use pacing to establish how far to walk, compass to establish distance and eyes to discern any identifiable features you can use as handrails and attack points. Fourthly, take your time and do not panic. Stop if you need to and confer with other party members. Fifth and last. Do not attempt short cuts, if you become lost, try and work backwards to a known point or identify a major feature such as a road that you can get access to. Never split the party up. Stay together and stay safe. If visibility is zero and you do not feel confident in navigating find shelter and stay where you are until conditions improve. Do not go beyond your own or the parties limits.

Having said all that, because we were talking I missed our path towards Carl Wark and had to back track when I took my compass out to take a bearing only to realise we were heading north instead of south. I didn’t quite believe it, but chose to put trust in my compass and low and behold it delivered us with pinpoint accuracy combined with some good pacing. Moral. Have faith in your map and compass.

We were now in a whiteout, having to use map and compass to navigate from Higger Tor to Carl Wark a distance of no more than 400m. To anyone who knows the area and I include myself in that group, it seems ridiculous to suggest you would need navigation to walk such a short distance. A few miles from Sheffield, within sight and sound of a road and yet dis-orientation occurred before we knew it and then we were off course. I guess that’s why Mountain Rescue Teams get called out in such circumstances and the person or persons being rescued cannot quite believe they have managed to get themselves into such a situation. All in all a good lesson and I was glad that my map and compass work combined with accurate pacing worked just as they should.

Having reached Carl Wark we lunched whilst watching the whiteout clear and then descend again. Carl Wark is a Iron Age hill fort on a millstone grit outcrop amongst the moorland of the Burbage valley. A sign erected there tells us that the fort was built around 2500BC. That’s some time ago and there is still a wall there built out of gritstone blocks the size of a small garden shed. It’s not certain whether or not people lived here or were stationed here in times of trouble. Inside the wall is a an area strewn with boulders so living quarters would have been haphazard to say the least. It does have commanding views, when there is no whiteout, across the valley and down towards Grindleford. Any enemy approaching the fort would have been seen long before they arrived, which must have made attack difficult.

We descended from the fort and worked our way back over to the track we first walked up in the morning. Along the way we crossed back over Burbage Brook, Monty making it whilst Olly took an early bath, which to his credit he took in his stride. The snow was closing in now and traffic was having trouble getting up a moderate hill past Fox House Inn towards Sheffield. Once over the brow of the hill Sheffield came in to view. There was no snow on the road, no abandoned vehicles, no sliding cars. Such is the vagries of the weather in the Peak District.

Here is the thing that astonishes me. People were here in 2500BC that’s 4500 years ago and they have left an imprint on the landscape that we see today. I have walked where Iron Age man has walked, fought, eaten, slept. Based on four score years and ten, i.e seventy years of life and I know we are told that iron age man did not live to that ripe old age, then there are just 64 generations between me and the people who built this fort. There are five generations in my family now. That is the amazing thing about walking through this landscape we call Britain. We walk where others have and will walk. We are merely a spec of time upon time.

Wild camping

Terra Nova Photon Laser tent
Terra Nova Photon Laser tent

My first wild camp took place last night in a wooded area on the edge of the Peak District National Park. It is illegal to wild camp in England and Wales with the exception of the Dartmoor National Park, without the permission of the land owner. So I sought permission from the land owner. As this was my first experience I ventured out at 6pm and walked for an hour until I found a suitable spot, quiet, out of the way, and protected from any wind. The spot was below and away from a rock outcrop, within a wooded area that was set above the main landscape and gave fine views across the valley, whilst maintaining privacy from unwanted visitors. I have to admit to being a little nervous and somewhat apprehensive about being found by young revellers or worse people up to no good. So being out of the way was important. I found a nice dry flat area protected by large rocks from the wind, which only needed a little clearing of twigs, then I set to work putting up my Terra Nova Laser Photon tent, which after a little practice earlier on in the day, went well. There are a few things that could be improved with the tent and I will review these in a later blog on equipment. The next step was to make a good brew with the Jetboil Flash and this provided a nice cup of tea. Then it was off into the tent as the light was fading.

This produced the first problem. How to get into a sleeping liner and a sleeping bag. First take off boots and socks, this proved to be relatively easy despite the limited head room in the tent. Then into the sleeping liner and bag. This meant some flexible movement of limbs, which I am singularly un-equipped for, and after much grunting I managed some semblance of the right pose with most of my body, but not all in the bags. I was laying on top of the Thermarest NeoAir mattress, which seemed strong and did provide good insulation. I had taken a book, radio and earphones as well as my head torch, so settled down to read for a while as it was a little too early to sleep.

I first noticed the thumping of bass music when I took my headphones off and was immediately ripped by fear the youth had arrived and I was about to be discovered and unsettled. Nothing happened and slowly it dawned on me that I had spotted an outdoor wedding function taking place across the valley and in the night air the music must be coming from there. Eventually sleep overcame me and I must have slept for a few hours although it was uncomfortable at times and seemed to be a little lacking in space. I suspect this is my lack of experience and i do not yet have the skills to have a prolonged nights sleep under canvas.

The weather was kind with only a slight drizzle in the morning. I boiled water for tea and sat looking out over the valley drinking tea and feeling rather pleased and changed by the whole experience. I seemed to have walked through a door that led to calmness. It was strange, moving and likeable all at the same time.

It took less than an hour to break camp and I walked through woods and across fields to reach a small village where my wife collected me. So a successful learning experience with good knowledge gained for the next step which will be a two day hike with overnight stay.

The first walk

The former Crowden Youth Hostel

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.