This trip to the Peak District (most often referred to with fond familiarity as just ‘The Peaks’) was pretty special despite my familiarity with this area of the country. It was special because a) I was taking my Trailstar on its trial run, b) I was making my first solo trip in many years and c) because it will most likely be my last wild camp of the year.
The fact that this was the first time I had gone on a solo trip since my wife Issy and I had met had her a little worried and so I was even more meticulous in planning than usual. This was due mainly to the fact that I had written a fairly detailed set of Route plans and possible contingencies for her in case something bad befell me. Always a wise decision, particularly when going out alone but it also helped to set Issy’s mind at rest.
I got off to an early start on Saturday morning yet still managed to miss my bus into the town centre and the train station. Damn! The next bus wasn’t going to get me to the train on time and I’d have to wait another hour or more for the next one, which would mean not being able to go to Go Outdoors as I’d planned. It would also mean missing the bus from Sheffield to Fairholmes that I wanted to catch. Switching on my phone to ring the wife I read a text she had sent me several minutes before informing me that someone had broken into our shed! I quickly marched home, set the shed to rights as best I could (luckily the thieving scum didn’t manage to make off with our bikes because I always double shackle them even though there is a substantial lock on the shed door) and then the wife drove me to the station in her pyjamas. Bless her she does look after me!
The journey to Sheffield was uneventful. The walk to Go Outdoors was a little more interesting but only because I had only ever been there once before and that was when it was still CCC. I still possess the GoreTex bivi bag and Berghaus microfleece that I’d bought there some 12 years before and in fact I was wearing the microfleece on Saturday morning. Its an old favourite and despite the broken zip toggle its just as good as when I bought it new. I went to Go Outdoors in the hopes of buying myself a Montane Featherlite smock but it was out of stock so I came away with a Rab MeCo long-sleeved Tee which performed brilliantly over the weekend (obviously not as a windshirt!). Its my first piece of Merino kit and also my first purchase of anything Rab. It certainly does all it said on the tags: kept me warm when it was damp with sweat and mist, kept me cooler for longer when I was exerting myself on a long climb and dried fairly rapidly. Not to mention that it is very comfortable to wear.
Luckily I didn’t have long to spend browsing the store otherwise I might have spent long hours poring and pawing over the large selection of goodies to be had in there and made myself sick with not having the cash to buy those things I’d like to try out on the hills and in camp. Its all very well browsing online as I often do but there is no substitute for actually getting your hands on the kit in person. Millets is the best, no the only outdoor shop in Grimsby and all I buy from there are my gas canisters.
The bus to Fairholmes only runs once a day and on this occasion it was rammed full of Chinese students (most of whom were inappropriately dressed or equipped in my opinion for an outing in the Peaks) so I had to stand up for the 25 minutes it took to get there.
I grabbed my dinner from my pack, watching a rather bemused group of colourfully attired teenage Chinese boys and girls wander aimlessly off toward the Visitor Center and then I headed for the track up through Lockerbrook Coppice, onto Lockerbrook Farm and Rowlee Pasture.
The sky was overcast but bright and cool with decent visibilty for the majority of the early afternoon. Lockerbrook Coppice was wonderfully peaceful and scenic. A welcome relief and taste of the outdoors that I had been craving for the previous few weeks. Stopping half way up I sat down to have my lunch, a ham, cheese and olive filled tortilla wrap washed down with good old Council Pop. On the walk up to Rowlee Pasture I saw a solo cyclist and a bunch of friendly guys doing surface repairs on the track beyond Lockerbrook Farm but no other walkers. There were plenty of cars parked at the Farm however from where could be heard the buzz of voices, so I assumed the farm was a shop or cafe or something; I didnt stop to find out. There were still plenty of miles to cover. When I got onto the path heading for Alport Castles I rang the wife to let her know I’d made the bus to Fairholmes and was heading for Bleaklow Stones so she would know which Route plan to look up.
There were expansive and good views all around today, the overcast broken intermittently by bright sun giving great depth to the scenery and bringing out the lovely colours of late autumn on the surrounding hills and valleys. Again there were very few people about and only one couple going the same way as I was toward Alport Castles. Striding along the slabbed footpath which forms a section of this stretch of path I was reminded of the last time I was there with my mate Marcus. Then as now there were plenty of puddles covering the slabs and Marcus stepped in one thinking it was as shallow as all the others but which happened to be at least knee deep judging by the muddy water reaching up to that point on his cream trail trousers. Of course I found it highly amusing and now it also served as a reminder to not trust appearances out there. Marcus has a tendency to find the least solid footing out on the moors and I was determined to avoid such an unfortunate incident as he was not there to act as an unwilling detection aid!
Shortly after bypassing Alport Castles I felt a hot spot on my right heel so i stopped and took a few moments to air my feet and put some tape over the hot spot. Looking more closely at my socks I saw a small know of material that had formed right where the hot spot had appeared. Its about time I had some new hiking socks but this christmas will likely be unusual in that I wont be receiving any! Not with the Trailstar being Santas gift this year.
The couple who had been strolling on ahead of me since Bellhag Tor came back along the path as I was getting my pack back on. The wind had picked up slightly and the temperature had dropped a couple of degrees as a result. The couple were well-equipped day hikers but they had their hard shells on and thick hats and to me looked to be fleeing back to civilisation… With a wry grin i carried on along the mucky path toward the Trig point on West End Moor.
Somewhere shortly after Alport castles I missed the direct path to the Trig Point and found myself wandering along the steeper contours above Alport Dale, traversing the higher moors on a narrow winding trail. The wind turned suddenly fierce and cold. Keeping my footing steady and myself upright was proving to be a bit of a challenge in this errant wind. Where had it sprung from? The forecast was for slight winds, not this battering gale. Even removing my pack and donning my waterproof jacket (as my sole windproof layer against the chilly wind) proved to be a task as the wind tried to knock me off balance and rip the jacket out of my hands. I frequently had to untangle the twisted straps of my map case as they threatened to strangle me. Maybe it was the spirit of my poor deceased mother trying to make me turn back, away from the haunted mooorland of Bleaklow, my over-active imagination whispered to me. Or perhaps the spirits of Bleaklow wanted to keep me away. Laughing to myself, shouting defiance like a madman into the wind, I stepped off the vague trail I’d been following and set off across the open moor on a bearing that led me eventually to the Trig Point. Once there I stopped to remove some packets of dried fruit and nut snacks from my pack, transferring them to the belt pouch on my hip belt, and setting my compass on a bearing for the 535m summit that lay between the TP and ‘The Ridge’ which was my chosen route up on to Bleaklow hill. It was shortly after 3pm so I had a little over an hour and a half daylight left. I was prepared to walk in the dark but I’d rather not have to do so, so i picked up my pace. The grough’s at this point got deeper, wider and sloppier so my progress wasn’t forward so much as it was from side to side. Still, I cant remember enjoying myself quite so much as I navigated through the boggy landscape as I did today. I could see my destination and I was determined to get there before the light faded and finding a decent pitch became more difficult. Trotting through the bogs requires a certain amount of experience at recognising the different tones, apparent textures and types of growth in and around the groughs and bogs and carefully choosing a path through them, whilst always remaining aware of your desired direction. It can be frustrating or great fun depending on your disposition. I was ‘in the zone’, happily grough hopping.
The wind had died down a fair bit but was still blowing chilly with a fine mist of precipitation that wasn’t quite bad enough to warrant stopping to don my Precip over-trousers. I only had one unfortunate incident on the way up to Bleaklow. I’d not long before cheerfully congratulated myself on avoiding much more than sinking halfway up the side of my boots when I carelessly put my foot down on a fresh green patch of mossy type foliage that I’d identified as being uncertain footing. Sinking up to midcalf I cursed myself heartily but chuckled at what Marcus would have to say when he found out after all the ribbing I’ve given him over the years!
Soon after, I was up on the Hill. No sooner had I done so than I spotted my first mountain hare of the trip closely followed by a second. both were far too skittishly quick for me to get my camera or phone out to get a shot though. The first time I ever saw a live hare was up on Bleaklow about 7 or 8 years before. On that occasion this particular animal appeared directly in front of me and Marcus when we were trying to find our way through the deep groughs to Bleaklow Stones and it led us all the way, disappearing only to reappear directly ahead every few moments for atleast a kilometre. We convinced ourselves that the lovely creature was guiding us. So seeing those two hares brought a smile to my face.
I had a half-hour of daylight remaining when i got to Bleaklow Stones and found the perfect spot right in amongst them. The wind was stronger up here after having died off a little back down on the moors below and there was a fine spray of gathering mist as the sun set and the temperature dropped. It was with great satisfaction that I pulled out the Trailstar from the mesh pocket on the back of my pack and in short order pitched it almost perfectly on my first attempt. Although I had to double peg the guy-line for the door due to the ground where this line fell being made up of the ‘sandy’ grey-white soil found amongst the rocks in the Peaks. This stuff doesn’t make for a good strong hold on a taut guy-line. This meant that one midpoint tie-out didn’t have a peg but this was on the side of the TS sheltered from the wind by a sizeable boulder so I considered it a minimal risk. I’ll pack a Y-peg or two for next time out in the Trailstar or possibly purchase a Clamcleat titanium spear.
I swiftly setup my bed and got the stove on for a brew, daring to fire up the Primus Express Spider inside the shelter to heat up some water for a brew. Again the size of the Trailstar impressed me. It really is a palace for one person. Even with two there would be ample room for sleeping and all our gear but to be honest I really like having all the extra room. Whilst the stove roared away I got out of my damp trousers, t-shirt and socks, and put on my nice new Rab Tee, spare socks and got into my sleeping bag to warm up.
The wind was still blowing quite strongly outside but I barely felt a draft of it inside the Trailstar, although I did have to sort out one side of the door due to a lack of tension causing it to flap a bit and tighten all the guy-lines as the evening got damper and the silnylon stretched. Once that was done however the TS was drum-tight and barely moved. I passed the rest of the evening reading from the Kindle app on my phone and with a large bowl of pasta, ham, chopped pieces of Roast Chicken Fridge Raiders and pimento stuffed olives mixed with a sachet of tomato and basil soup. Nom nom. Taking a nice bit of advice from Chris Townsend in his Backpackers Handbook I’d taken a candle with me; placing it on a piece of foil and surrounding three sides of it with my currently redundant wind-shield provided a nice bit of light and a touch of additional warmth. By the time I had supped a mug of Maltesers hot chocolate drink and was ready to settle down for the night the wind had died down sufficiently for me to hear the approach of a couple of guys out walking. Mindful of my recent trip to the North Yor Moors when we’d been accosted in the early hours by a Park Ranger/busybody yokel I quickly blew out the candle and waited until they’d passed by. They neither paused in there conversation or even appeared to notice the Trailstar.
Shortly before settling down I had an irresistible call of nature. Moving some way away from camp to go about my business I heard a large chorus of grouse down below me on the moorland. Usually you hear one or two of the little blighters (most often as they fly out from almost underfoot, scaring the living daylights out of you don’t they!) but on this night there were atleast a dozen calling and cooing to one another. It was a privilege to hear i felt.
I had a good nights sleep, waking once to find the whole tent alight with the glow of the full moon which was nice. Apart from slightly chilled legs I was toastie warm in just socks, boxers and my Rab long-sleeved t-shirt. I’d set my alarm to rise with the sun and though calm it was far too misty outside to see much of anything, so i turned over and had another hour and a half kip.
Fuelled by a breakfast of Jordan’s Super Berry Granola (great stuff, I highly recommend it for a healthy, calorific start) camp was broken relatively quickly by my usual leisurely standard. The Trailtar was pretty thoroughly soaked and on a whim I picked it up by the reinforced peak and whirred it around my head like I was wringing some washing. It whipped around with a very satisfactory noise, spraying most of the water over a large area.
Having decided on heading back down The Ridge and down into Alport Dale I set off steadily into the murk. A mountain hare did a grouse impression and shot out from almost directly underfoot into the mist like it had been shot from a catapult, seeming to glide across the tussocky ground in the incredibly agile way that they do. Despite taking a bearing on my compass and sighting on brief glimpses of the grey landscape I managed to miss the head of Alport Dale. So the clough I found myself in was not Alport Dale but was instead Westend Clough. Aww well atleast I wasn’t lost. I just found myself a little off track! It was one of several routes back from Bleaklow that I’d looked at and as it turned out it was a very attractive little river gorge. The whole day stayed grey and misty but that was fine with me. Atleast it didnt rain and the wind stayed gentle.
Few people had gone this way. There was certainly no marked footpath, though there were a couple of stiles provided. There were sheep trails or maybe trails made by the few shooters, farmers or odd misplaced hiker but these were vague at best in places. The clough was narrow and rocky in places, wider and boggier in others. It made for a more interesting walk than I’d imagined it would and I was glad of my Trail Compact poles on the damp steep grassy banks. They were also a godsend when I had to ford the river several times farther down when I found myself crisscrossing from one side to the other in order to make progress.
It was midday when I reached the track down into Fagney Plantation. My feet were soggy despite having worn my overtrousers and GoreTex boots. The fact that I’d started out with wet boots that morning and had been backwards and forwards across the river through knee high wet grass the whole time along the river made this inevitable. Having damp feet didn’t bother me at all for which I am glad. I shall have to get accustomed to it for when I buy my Trail Runners in March.
It was nice to be amongst the trees after the bleak moorland and confines of the river valley. The woods, even a plantation such as this, are always a place I enjoy being. They engender within me a sense of peace unequalled in any other environment in the great outdoors. Shortly after I spotted the first humans I’d seen since the previous afternoon. Right then I felt back in touch with ‘civilisation’, as though the wilderness had been left behind.
Turning off the track a short distance from where the Westend ran into Howden Reservoir I mounted the footpath up to Alport Castles. Halfway up this track I stopped for a breather and to refill my belt pouch with trail munchies. A nice middle-aged couple from Doncaster who were descending from the mist up on the hill stopped to chat for a while. They expressed some surprised interest in my camping out and we chatted about that and there interest in night walking (after my mentioning of the guys who’d passed me by last night) before they went off to finish there circular from the reservoir. It was really murky up on Birchinlee and Rowlee Pastures so I didnt hang about. I bypassed a bunch of friendly young people stood about staring at maps and compasses (on an orienteering/navigation course i thought?). A young couple with dogs were stopped on top of the moorland looking indecisive as though they were considering a retreat to more welcoming conditions. With a cheerful hello I didn’t pause to chat. I had a bus to catch. More importantly I heard the calling of the ale pump in the Ladybower Inn!
That last couple with the dogs were the last walkers I saw from that point on. There were several groups of bikers who though friendly in the main I still cursed silently. The bridleways up there are a terrible mess from there fat tread tyres and it rather cheesed me off to be honest.
The last part of the walk was easy and apart from the views pretty uninteresting. Maybe because I was on a mission to get to the pub for a pint before catching the bus 🙂
As it was I managed to get to Ladybower Inn with 50 minutes until my bus but only enough spare cash for a single delicious pint of Ruddles County that went down a treat. What a great weekend it had been. I loved being out alone for a change. There’s a lot to be said for the freedom of solo wild camping and hiking. Cant wait to get out and do it again.