My head throbbed with the effects of alcohol and I knew I was in for a bad few hours. I didn’t want to do much other than sit somewhere quiet and feel sorry for myself. And it was raining outside. Maybe that would teach me to drink the scrumpy. When a drink’s kept in a secret location somewhere away from the bar itself, that does tend to add to its magical allure. But it also suggests that it could be quite dangerous. Now if only I could make my legs move…
The Meet Begins
It all started harmlessly enough. A relatively uneventful train ride up to Stockport where I was confronted with the concept of a platform zero – something I’d not encountered before – and thoughts as to whether the next leg of my journey would see me arrive not in Buxton, but somewhere closer to Hogwarts. But Buxton it was and with an hour to spare before the bus out to Crowdecote, I went in search of (a) lunch and (b) some alcoholic supplies. Alas, the supermarkets of Buxton didn’t yield much in the way of local beers, and I fell back on an old favourite – a couple of bottles of Bulmers cider, resisting the temptation of various fancy Swedish fruit ciders. After all I was in the north (or what I, as a Kentishman, would regard as the north, being anywhere north of the M25), so it seemed a good decision to limit the ridicule opportunities that might be afforded by my beverage choices. I also picked up a different type of alcohol that I was sorely in need of – some meths, thereby killing potentially two birds with one stone. Now I could cook, and if I ran out of cider…
The number 442 bus, on which I was the only person who didn’t already know the driver, and every other passenger for that matter, dropped me outside the Pack Horse Inn in Crowdecote – exactly where Terry (@terrybnd) had told me it would, and neatly dealing with the tricky decision as to whether to go and pitch my tent first or show my face inside the pub. I walked in and Terry was well ensconsed – in fact he looked like he’d been there so long that they’d actually built the pub around him. A couple of pints followed in the company of Terry and Rob (@thewindybum), who unfortunately couldn’t stay and headed off on his bike. Tom, the local poet put in an appearance and proceeded to reel off some verses. This was already getting a bit surreal.
Gradually others turned up and Terry’s “I’ll be in the pub until 3” turned into “4” then “5”. Eventually, I went off to pitch my tent, leaving others in the pub. On the last meet I went to, I ended up pitching on sheep shit, and I wanted to avoid that. I also wanted to reserve what negligible drinking abilities I had for the evening’s session.
The Scarp went up, ironically next to the tent I chose it over back in March – a Vango Force 10 Helium 200, in which dwelt Andy (@gooptrader). Gradually the field filled up with Laser Comps, a Soulo, a Tadpole, and a rival Scarp. Dave (@MyOutdoorsUK) then turned up and up went the big mess tent, which was to provide welcome shelter from the rain, and a less welcome (to the lightweights like me) nocturnal venue. At one point a hasty Scarp entry resulted in me breaking one of the hooks that held the inner up, which was irritating.
Matt from Terra Nova turned up and as the light began to fade put up his 5 tents, including the stupidly expensive Laser Ultra and Voyager Ultra. These were diluted with a selection of more reasonably priced Wild Country offerings. We gathered around and eyed them up. As the light made drooling over gear impossible, we headed for the pub. A few beers later and everyone was getting to know one another a bit better, but I was starting to flag. I called it a night just before midnight as I was struggling to keep my eyes open. I hunkered down in the scarp for what traditionally on the first night of a camp is not a very good night’s sleep.
Voices floated across the field and stopped right outside the tent. Or at least that’s what it sounded like. However, unlike last time it was friendly good natured chat rather than pissed-up attempts at Greco-Roman wrestling. I drifted in and out of consciousness and at some point in the small hours all went silent. I later learned that Terry, assumed all along by me to be the ringleader, had shouted from his tent to them to “shut the f*** up” just before 5am. So it must have been bad!
A Walker’s Dozen
The new day dawned with rain pattering down on the tents. Gradually people surfaced and as always happens when there’s a big group, it took a few hours for any semblance of order to emerge. We eventually set off for a walk over Parkhouse Hill and Chrome Hill at 11:10. Twelve of us strode out along the road heading towards Earl Sterndale, where we came across The Quiet Woman, a pub whose name provided much hilarity and sarcastic comment in the Pack Horse the night before. A footpath led through the field behind the pub and led down the hill to the point where our targets came into view. We snapped away like a crowd of Japanese tourists (an exercise which ultimately led to a huge over-supply of post-meet pictures of the same thing on Twitter).
We headed down the slope of Hitter Hill and as we neared the bottom Parkhouse Hill ahead looked steeper and steeper. We slogged our way up, with my early walk road pace amongst the leaders falling off to leave me in my more natural 8th/9th ish. The group took various lines up the hill, with me zigzagging more than most and walking along most of the top of the ridge through nettles and assorted undergrowth. We regrouped at the summit and rested for a few minutes to take in the views – in particular those down the remainder of the “Dragon’s Back” towards Chrome Hill.
The descent began and with the rain that we’d had the path consisted principally of wet rocks and mud. People who were clearly locals out walking their dogs raced past us over precarious routes while we bum-slid and lurched from slip hazard to slip hazard. The final sting in the tail came as we turned left to descend just to the side of the hill’s nose. A badly eroded path which was little more than a twisting mud slide saw the party string out as the more intrepid picked their way carefully down and the rearguard shat themselves.
Fatalities avoided, we drew our breath at the bottom and then headed for Chrome Hill. Initially a more gentle proposition up a shallower slope, it steepened after we crossed the wall under the tree. I found myself 11th, partly due to plenty of photo stops, partly due to my pace, and partly so that I didn’t get too far ahead of Mike (@PeakRambler) who served an important purpose in the pictures I was taking, helping to give a better sense of scale.
We got to the top and rested some more. The wind picked up and the grey clouds rolled in. We opted for a descent back the way we had come and headed down as the rain arrived. It’s one thing to ascend a wet grassy slope, but a descent is a different proposition, and I was pleasantly surprised to still be on my feet at the bottom. We walked out along the road and then along farm tracks, arriving at the pub at 3:30. 6 miles of walking meant that a pint was called for, and I tackled the first pint of cider.
The Apple Juice Strikes
Hungry due to a diet of cereal bars during the walk, my mind was made up for a pub meal tonight rather than something heated up on the Trangia in the rain. So after a couple of hours a few of us headed back to our tents to ditch our stuff and freshen up for the evening. Rich (@FlintyRich), Lee (@Leerockwell15), James (@jimmlad) and I got to the pub just as food started and got ourselves a table. Another pint of cider and a plate of food while the three of us tried to talk James into going for his first wildcamp sooner rather than later.
As the pub filled up, we surrendered our dining table and headed for the main bar, and it’s here that the fatal mistake was made. Having started on cider, it seemed sensible to stick to it, and I walked sheepishly up to the bar, looked surreptitiously about me and in a quiet voice asked for a pint of scrumpy. The barman disappeared into the bowels of the pub on a quest for the fabled nectar. A pint that looked like a strong glass of orange squash landed on the bar and I nervously took a sip. Having been to university in the south west I am well acquainted with the powers of scrumpy to mess up the mind and selectively disable individual limbs. But it tasted pretty smooth and not that strong. I took my place in the group and the conversation flowed. After a while, a faint pain started in my head, increasing in direct proportion to the amount of the brew consumed. A period on a sofa in the games room followed, during which the scrumpy disappeared at a rate that only time-lapse photography would be able to discern.
Eventually I surrendered and was back at the tent around midnight. I now knew that most people were going the next morning, whereas I had planned on staying an extra day. The forecast looked a bit ropey too. I decided to sleep on it and see how I felt in the morning.
The morning came and so did the ache in my bonce. I emerged from the tent late just as the rain decided to arrive on a strafing raid. We huddled under the trees and nattered, enjoying the final banter before the group dispersed. By now a combination of the weather, the number of people not staying and the effects of the apple juice had made my mind up to head home early. Gradually people drifted off, leaving Rich as last man standing.
Jimmlad gave me a lift into Buxton, disappeared into the drizzle, and I worked out why the trains didn’t seem to go to Stockport today. And it had nothing to do with Hogwarts. Engineering work saw me on various rail replacement buses and my first ever visit to Manchester (incredible though that may sound). A coach almost to myself on the train back to London helped though as the cider-fog lifted, the rain abated and autumn became summer again.
Wet gear was strewn over the kitchen floor, and the familiar smell of wet dog pervaded the house. As all my trips seem to end at the moment.