Saturday 3rd January 2015
The forecast for this weekend was, to be fair to the MWIS forecasters, not too far off the mark: Saturday would be dreary to start with before brightening up by early afternoon and Sunday would be a lovely sunny day. However, I’d been looking forward to the forecast of strong winds – that failed to blow – in order to test the stability of my new tent. The expected freezing point temperatures were going to test the warmth of my sleeping bag, which had yet to see a temperature to test its lower limit (Comfort Limit of the average Male down to 0 degrees C).
So, no wind and it was a very bloody cold night. A guy who also camped up in that part of the Peak District said it got down as low as -5 – without any wind. I imagine it would have been a VERY cold night had the 35mph winds materialised.
Saturday morning didn’t get off to the best of starts. I missed the first bus to town and the train station by mere seconds. The next bus was along ten minutes later which meant I was cutting it very fine to make the connecting bus from Sheffield to Fairholmes. As I write this i am realizing that this is almost a repeat of what happened on the last occasion I was heading out for a solo trip to the Peaks… I’d say I’m pretty unlucky. The wife however would say I’m just a dumb-ass! Okay maybe she wouldn’t be quite so harsh but her meaning would equate to the same sentiment 🙂
To be honest I think that sometimes my laid back nature can be more hindrance than help.
The journey itself was fairly uneventful once I’d made it on to the train from town with 30 seconds to spare.
It was drizzling steadily when I got off the bus at Fairholmes and unlike on my previous visit I wasn’t surrounded by a mob of giggling, babbling Chinese schoolkids dressed in inappropriate and multicolored clothing. Just my fashionably attired self watched curiously by an old couple, who remained aboard for the onward journey, as i donned my waterproof jacket and trousers, dug out my Aldi’s special waterproof mitts and wandered off toward the Visitor Centre.
I can navigate by map pretty well with and without a compass on fairly tractless and featureless terrain but I just hate the starting points of a journey or points where you enter a built-up area or complex of buildings and roads. More often than not it takes me several minutes to find my way out of or away from such places and onto my desired route. On the map the path from Fairholmes Visitor Centre to Derwent Dam looks fairly straightforward but if you add in the confusion of car parks, little roadways, signposts and paths it took me those several minutes to locate the correct path and lo and behold it was actually signposted! Doh!
For a Saturday afternoon there were very few people about. Maybe the weather had put most people off but for whatever reason I was grateful for the peace and uninterrupted experience of simply absorbing the atmosphere of my surroundings. There were a few guys on bikes and two or three couples. Yet I must have seen no more than a twety people all day Saturday.
Bliss! Call me anti-social but know that I’m nowhere near as bad as I was when I was younger. Crikey I even love a good party now! When I was in my teens and early to mid twenties you could barely drag me out of the house unless it was to go to work or on a camping trip.
I’ll apologise now for the effects on some of my photos. There may be some purists among you who like a photo to be a true photo representative of what you’re actually supposed to be seeing. I have a new App for my phone and my two favorite settings are good old Black and White and the Lomo setting which gives an image a fairly unique look. I wont pretend to know a lot about cameras but I understand that Lomo’s are an old Analog camera whose users often employed rainbow flashes and used high contrast and odd saturation and color accentuation. Whatever, I like the effect but I’m still getting to grips with it.
This part of the walk was always going to be fairly monotonous. Its a long, fairly uninteresting road along the eastern bank of the reservoirs. Its well surfaced for the most part and inaccessible to cars for its entire length, except to a minibus service that sometimes operates I believe. The point where I had gotten off the bus at Fairholmes is the farthest up the Upper Derwent Valley that a motorised vehicle may come. Hence its a popular route especially for cyclists.
The scenes are lovely but I soon get tired of road walking even here. My most enduring (not endearing) memories of this route – albeit heading southward down the western side of the reservoirs – hails from the last leg of past long walks when a lengthy road walk is less than welcome. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that the combined effects of the still, brooding atmosphere and my own sense of relief to be out and about at last made the usually boring walk a pleasure.
I’ll let some photos tell the rest of the tale of this leg of the walk.
By the time I’d reached the head of Howden Reservoir the rain had slowed to an intermittent drizzle. The tops were still clothed in a wispy cloud but the sky had begun to brighten at my back and there were definite indications that the forecast was going to be spot on. The time was shortly before 1pm and the forecast had said the cloud would burn off most of the cloud and make an appearance between 1 and 2pm.
I’d not set my mind on a definite path up to the eastern edges above the Upper Derwent, preferring to see how the weather would be on the ground and how I was feeling at the time. I’d already bypassed several routes up onto the edges above me where I planned to spend the night. The new pack was feeling wonderfully comfortable and my boots, which I’d not worn for a backpacking trip in over 9 months (since buying my comfy-as-slippers Wildcats) were feeling good too. With about 4 hours light remaining I had plenty of time to get up high and find a pitch. The time had flown by and I was feeling great so I decided to continue further north and follow the River Derwent up onto Howden Edge rather than taking the direct route eastward via a bridleway up to Margery Hill.
A short way up the path I stopped for a drink and a snack at a crossroads with a concessionary footpath not marked on the map. Hmm, no sooner had i made my mind up to take the route alongside the Derwent than this unmarked path appears to entice me. As I’m stood there taking photos, wrangling internally over which route to take, the cloud suddenly lifts off the tops all around, the rain stops altogether and the sun begins to make tentative efforts to show itself. Wonderful timing!
Starting off up the track alongside the Derwent I suddenly remembered that I had a new toy with me: the StickPic. This little gizmo screws into the bottom of your camera and slides onto the end of a walking pole – it comes in various sizes to fit different poles – and it enables you to photograph or film yourself. My plan was to have a go at filming myself, although with only a 2GB SD card in the camera I would only be able to get 10mins of filming in HD quality. Now the rain had stopped I could have a go.
So I did.
Not many people are fans of watching or listening to themselves but having watched numerous excellent videos of guys doing the same on Youtube I just had to have a go. Its a great way of documenting a trip and I love watching the footage of others doing what I love doing when I myself am unable to do so.
Now I’ve done it I want to do it more! If only I could afford a GoPro I’d be doing the wife’s head in wandering about filming stuff just to get the hang of it. It looks easy but right from the off I made the schoolboy error of filming myself with the sun beaming straight into the lense from over my shoulder. Not good for the light sensor that I’ve heard. In fact I’m fairly sure thats what killed our previous camera…
Oh well we live and learn eh? Eventually…
I soon put the camera away, resolving to have another go later on. From here the path got a wee bit steeper, climbing and winding steadily toward Howden Edge. It was by no means particularly hard work and it was a wonderful setting, especially now that the sun was out.
For some unknown reason on spotting a narrow path leading away from the nice easy track I decided to take this more direct route toward Howden Edge. I guess I’d had enough of the easy going trail and wanted a taste of something more difficult. Something less certain.
Within a hundred yards the grouse shooter track ended at a grouse butt – not a Grouses arse, for the uninitiated! – but a stone hide where grouse hunters can wait and shoot grouse from. Instead of turning back to the smooth, rolling track which would undoubtedly take me directly upto the edge where it would meet the bridleway, which in turn would take me around to Margery Hill and onward, I headed off across the heather moorland.
Now I should know better from experience but there is something now in my nature that needs to go off the beaten track in spite of the plaintive voice of reason urging otherwise in my head. Its also frowned upon to go off the marked or concessionary footpaths in the Peak District but it doesn’t stop grouse hunters who trample in their dozens across the moors so I don’t see that my size 8’s are going to make much bloody difference. In fact I dare say I have more care and appreciation of the landscape but that is not an argument even worth following.
With less than half a 500ml bottle of water on me I needed to source some water and luckily a hundred yards further up the hill I came upon a swiftly running brook. it was typically peaty brown in color but once I’d filled my 2 litre water bladder I could see that it was free of muck. Of course you can’t see the bacteria, cysts, chemicals or protozoa which are the real risk in sourcing water in the outdoors but that’s why I had my water filter with me. I also like to boil my water before drinking it if I can (or if i can be arsed).
It was a fair old slog up to Horse Stone. It was just before 3pm with a little under 90 minutes before sunset so I had to get a move on. I didn’t hold out much hope of finding a spot nearby and setting up for an early evening. Besides I didn’t want to set up camp here. Not in such an exposed position; if the wind actually materialised and turned out to be a damned sight stronger than forecast I’d want options for shelter close at hand. Sheltered spots are few and far between in the Peak District upland moors unless you get down off the edge or in the lee of one of the rock formations.
There was nothing for it but to get to the bridleway and follow it around, keeping my eyes peeled for likely spots. There were few such indications on the map or on the ground. After the recent snow fall, subsequent thaw and even more recent rain the ground was sodden. In the Peaks this means you have to be cautious where you put your foot or risk ending up knee or thigh deep in boggy, peaty muck.
Getting to the bridleway from Horse Stone proved no mean feat either. Stainery Clough Head cuts great gouges (groughs) in the peat moorland and finding sure footing over these meant my course was half again as long as the crow flies to the bridleway. The Bridleway itself is typical of all the unpaved upland bridleways – a boggy scar which you can only actually walk on in the height of a dry summer. In places further along Howden Edge and onto Derwent Edge there are paved/slabbed sections. I used to hate those sections (unless I’d been slogging through the bogs and tussocks of course) but they are definitely a worthwhile idea to stop these unsightly and damaging scars across the landscape. Most people – day hikers/tourists – tend to stick to these paths and not go wandering of across the moorland. As the paths get muddy and boggy people walk around these parts and the damage is spread and gets gradually worse until a path that should be no more than 2-3 feet wide is up to 6 times wider than that in places.
Three and a half kilometers doesn’t sound far when you’re following a good path does it. Unfortunately the bridleway was one of the least decent paths I’ve ever had the misfortune to follow. Three steps and two steps back? More like 3 steps forward and six steps sideways from one side of the ‘path’ to the other. However, I was still in good spirits and felt positive that I’d find a good spot up at Margery hill even if it meant I’d get there after dark. There was a vague recollection of an image of some guys camped up at the Margery Stones in my head from a blog I’d read some time in the past year or so.
The temperature began to fall rapidly as the sun set. I stopped once to have a drink, eat a cereal bar and put my head torch on my head ready to use. There remained enough light to see by – at least in the reflection of the deeper pools of water – to navigate my way carefully alongside the strip of boggy trail, so I didn’t ruin my vision until it was simply too dark to make out the best route forward.
Once dark fell the Viewranger app on my phone came into its own when combined with my compass. It kept me on the right track when the way became too indistinct to make out.
It was well after 5pm by the time I got to the Margery Stones. There was a great spot to pitch my shelter and I wasted no time. The evening was getting rapidly colder and my belly was sending me urgent messages demanding food.
The ground was less than perfectly level but I got the Stratospire pitched as best I could. Getting this shelter pitched is a little awkward and will take a bit of practice to get right. Actually erecting it is straightforward; its getting the inner positioned in the right spot that’s the problem. I managed it fairly well first time but one side of the tent was a little higher than the rest and this made that edge close to the ground which wasn’t the best for ventilation. I was pretty much expecting condensation anyway as the wind had yet to show up and underneath my waterproofs I was pretty sweaty and damp; I’d decided to keep them on after the rain had stopped to keep warm, as it was fairly cold and I was a bit clammy.
Once inside I quickly went about unpacking and getting out of my damp clothes and into dry socks, warm jacket,wooly hat and my sleeping bag.
When packing for the trip my only real debate was concerning my sleeping mat. Would the Exped be warm enough on its own? Should I bring the extra insulation and security of the Ridgerest roll mat for underneath the Exped? If I’d had a slightly warmer bag or had already ascertained that the bag and the mat were definitely up to the temperatures I could expect then I might have been more sure of the answer to this debate. As it was I’d opted for a compromise.
I simply didn’t want to carry the Ridgerest on the outside of my pack. That might sound daft but it’s something that had come to bug me and was one of my main reasons for purchasing an inflating mat. So my compromise was this: a car windscreen sunshade that had sat in the boot of our car unused for months if not years. Light, flexible and insulating. A little short but my new sit mat and the removable foam backing of my new backpack would cover the rest of the Exped’s length. Used in conjunction with the sit mat and sunshade this made a nice extra layer of insulation beneath the Exped.
I must confess that I failed big time and forgot to put the foam from my pack beneath the foot end of the Exped and it wasn’t long before my feet were cold. I soon remembered. It took a while to get my feet warm and to aid this I wrapped my polycro groundsheet around the base of my sleeping bag. This worked well and in next to no time my feet were toasty. However I should have removed the polycro at this point as when I next looked at the bottom of my sleeping bag there was a decent amount of condensation already forming between the polycro sheet and my sleeping bag! Doh! I should’ve realised. As the damage was done and the down in the bag was supposedly water resistant i decided to leave the polycro in position and see what happened.
I lit the fat little candle brought along to add a bit of homely light and warmth, filtered a pan full of water and made a brew. Dried noodles, grilled antipasti peppers, olives with chillies and tuna went in to the remaining water. Yum! Food well-earned and eaten outdoors is always the best and can make even a bland meal taste better (not that this was bland – it was bloody marvellous!).
I rang the wife after eating and then settled down to watch a film: 300 – Rise of an Empire.
At first I put the earphones in but I don’t like being cut off from hearing outside aswell as not being able to see outside so i settled for listening without them which I ordinarily wouldn’t enjoy but turned out to be another one of those things that is more easily borne when camping. Halfway through the film i cracked out the Courvoisier. At the end of the film – really enjoyed it, not as much as the first one but it was about what I expected – I made a hot chocolate and munched a big bar of chocolate coated hazelnut and praline marzipan I’d brought as a treat and a fat booster to keep me warm in my bag overnight. Delicious! by this time it was after 7 and I toyed with the idea of sleep as i felt pretty tired but I thought better of it. After all it was about 13 hours until sunrise and even though I like my sleep i didn’t want to be awake more than an hour before dawn. So i finished off the cognac whilst avidly watching Godzilla. An excellent film.
At a little after 11 i settled down and was asleep in no time. Even the grouse appeared to have settled down for the night.
Sunday 4th January 2015
My alarm woke me at 0730 so i could get some photos of the sunrise.
This was it.
My alarm went off I snoozed it once then leaned out of the tent, snapped this shot and that was it. When I next got out of the tent the sun was balanced on the horizon and I was attempting a run to the loo.
A comedy of errors/misfortunes led up to this even greater misfortune.
Firstly: too many chillies, cognac and a large bar of marzipan. Secondly: schoolboy error of the first magnitude (for a wild camper of 20yrs experience that is), I did not put my wet, frost coated boots in any form of bag or on top of any kind of insulation. Thirdly: the gas cartridge for my stove was bloody cold, so the stove was only flaming fitfully even when the cartridge was inverted. Lastly: I underestimated the length of time I could hold onto my bodily functions after chillies, cognac, etc. Result: needed a number two with rapidly growing desperation; boots were frozen solid, laces stiff as wire, so badly that getting them on was extremely difficult; the water wouldn’t boil and I spent too much time faffing with the malfunctioning stove to fill the bottle with hot water in order to place it in my boots to thaw them out; i stumbled out of my tent clutching my toilet kit, tried to ram my feet (still wearing very thick bed socks) into boots that refused to give a millimeter and hobbled across the extremely frosty ground as far as i could before desperately clawing at my belt and button.
Its a first and hopefully a last!
The one saving grace was that there was not a soul around to see me naked from the waste down to the tops of my socks as i tried to put things right.
I also now know that Montane Terra Pants are just as comfy when going Commando as they are when wearing Merino boxers 🙂
The morning was chilly but absolutely perfect: no wind, very few clouds and great visibility. It could only have been more perfect if there had been a blanket of snow but the widespread dusting of frost and ice was very fetching.Pools of water the night before were sporting a half-inch of ice this morning.
This trip was also the first test of my new jacket the Rab Generator and I can happily say that it performed brilliantly. Underneath it I wore a very thin Rohan Silver tee and a Rab MeCo longsleeve top. this combination kept me warm all day when combined with my Merino Buff and cap. Later on i would remove the Buff as the day warmed up slightly but other than that I maintained an even temperature, neither overheating too much or feeling at all chilly.
I broke camp with little haste, hoping that the warmth of the sun would thaw out the frost on my tent a little so that it wouldn’t be quite so wet when I packed it. A vain hope as it turned out.
the pan of water which had so spectacularly failed to boil was still warm enough to make a brew and I divided the rest between my water bottle and re-hydrating the powdered milk in my granola breakfast. I then dragged all my kit out, laying it out on the nearby rocks to dry and thaw a little; the shelter had to go in first so I couldn’t pack anything until that was ready to go in. So I rang the wife and we had a laugh about my accident.
The frosty tent showed no signs of thawing out. There was little evident warmth from the sun despite the lack of wind or cloud. So I got my thick rubber gloves on and scraped the frost off by hand. packing the damp, cold shelter proved to be less than easy and I was forced to reroll it in order to get it to fit.
With my kit all packed I sat down on a rock (on my wonderfully comfy new sitmat ;-)) to eat my breakfast, which by this time was just a mushy paste with bits of fruit in it but the taste was still good and most importantly would provide vital fuel for the hike ahead.
I was soon on my way, with my camera mounted on the walking pole for a short session of filming as I set off.
The bridleway was greatly improved by the overnight freeze and I made swifter progress this morning than I had the previous afternoon despite the slippery ground. Most of the boggy stretches were frozen solid enough to bear my weight though I was fairly cautious even so; beneath the thin ice the bog was still as deep and unpleasant. Instead of sinking I now had to be more cautious of slipping on my arse or worse. The path became rockier the further I went along it and veered close to the edges which, although not very steep, would still have caused some severe injuries should I slip over and tumble down them.
Ironically it wasn’t until I saw the first human beings since early the previous afternoon that I landed on my backside.
Three fell-runners approached and were just passing me by when i stood on what appeared to be soft peat but turned out to be rock hard, frozen peat and I was down like a sack of proverbial potatoes. My pride hurt more than my rear end but none of the three laughed, the woman even turned to make sure I was alright before running on.
The morning remained still and crisp. the air was fresh and perfectly clear and walking seem pretty effortless. I had to exercise a fair amount of caution for the entire length of the morning walk due to the treacherous ground but it was no strain. If it became too icy I had the YakTrax ice grips for the bottoms of my boots.
At Featherbed Moss I turned east across the pathless moorland, my objective being the footpath running over Cartledge Stones Ridge. It was either that or go down into the clough directly in my path to cross over Abbey Brook before climbing back up to the path on the far side, or go down to the reservoir over Nether Hay and then climb back up to Howden or Derwent Edge further along. there may have been a path further along but it was neither evident to me on the ground or on the map so I opted to cross country at Featherbed Moss. Of course I could have gone down to the reservoir and followed the road all the way back to Ladybower Inn, my intended destination, but that would be a total shame on such a beautiful day. the walk in along the reservoirs the previous day had been enough for one trip.
The initial kilometer proved to be very pleasant walking. Short heath and solid ground for the most part with some stretches of denser, springy tussocks that were a revelation in frozen conditions. Normally its not the easiest terrain to cross. Grouse hunter paths and signs of quadbike tracks crisscrossed the area but I kept to my own course, on a bearing that would take me around the worst of the groughs feeding into Cartledge Brook. Cartledge Brook itself would have to be crossed but I would deal with that as and when. One big grough is less frustrating and challenging than numerous groughs. I didn’t manage to avoid them entirely however as the boggy ground and deep heather forced me to cross one or two.
Yes, after the initial kilometer the ground got boggy. There were several stretches of very boggy ground with big crisply frozen tussocks of coarse grasses and a particular type of coarse sedge that I recognised as belonging only in very boggy areas that are to be avoided. My progress slowed considerably. In the distance i saw several small groups of people moving along the footpath i was trying to reach. I imagined they saw me and wondered what lunatic would choose to go off track on such terrain.
I saw my first mountain hares of the trip, about a half-dozen of them bounding and hopping in and out of sight, standing out like sore thumbs in there pure white winter coats. I managed to get a distant shot of one but its poor.
Eventually I reached Cartledge Brook itself and crossing was a doddle for someone who’d just spent almost an hour bog trotting, grough jumping and tussock skipping over a kilometer of upland moor.
I came out onto the path a mere 20 feet from the beginning of a long stretch of stone slabs which actually brought a grin to my face. A proper path!
This of course brought its own measure of minor problems. Namely slippery frost patches and icy puddles which were a different ball game on big slabs as opposed to in peaty soil. It was all one to me though as I strode on at a steady mile-eating pace.
There were a few people about but the sun was shining still and i was in high spirits. Shortly before Back Tor I filled the last few minutes of my SD Card with footage of me walking along the slabbed footpath. I didn’t feel even slightly foolish walking along with my walking pole stuck out beside me. I may have done had I ben talking but I hate the sound of my own voice and think silence and the landscape around me says enough without me spoiling it.
The rest of the day went pretty much smoothly as it was along mostly slabbed sections with little of excitement other than the various stone formations. there were loads of people about however so i didn’t hang about for long. I stopped once for twenty minutes or so to eat dinner (and to ring the wife to tell her when I expected to be back), at the Cakes of Bread where Marcus and myself pitched up one night on a trip a while back. The weather remained perfect and I got tons of photos so I’ll let a few of those fill in for this section.
Some of the sections along the edges here were currently under reconstruction and these were less than pretty and muddy as hell in places but I thinks it a good idea. If today was anything to go by then they get hordes of people up there in the summer I’d imagine. At least proper paths should restrict further damage to the moorlands.
I got into Ashopton at half past two and to the Ladybower Inn with an hour to kill but only enough cash on me for one pint which is probably just as well. A second pint wouldn’t have gone amiss and may not have been a bad idea. Yet i often feel drowsy enough on a journey home from a wild camp. After a couple of days of uninterrupted fresh air to suddenly be inside a warm, dry environment knocks me out more often than not.
The pub was packed as usual with no room for a dirty, smell lone backpacker anyway so i put my Z Seat down on a wet bench outside and supped my pint in the last of the sunshine setting over Win Hill. I then made the obligatory visit to the facilities that seems to occur within the first hour of a return to ‘civilization’.
The return journey home went smoothly thankfully, aided by the accompaniment of some great music on my phone. I even managed to find two empty unreserved seats on the train for me and my pack.
It had been a mighty fine weekend. It was still nice to get home to the family however.
Roll on the next trip!