Stuart was staring at his phone as I made a beeline for him through the crowd at Manchester Piccadilly – not difficult as he tends to stand head and shoulders above everyone else. Within a few minutes we were in the station pub taking on essential fuel for our trek. I found myself handing over £6 for one drink – whoever said drinks are cheaper in the north obviously never felt thirsty at Manchester station. Stuart then got similarly fleeced when he bought chocolate, shelling out a fiver for two bars. This made me feel a lot better about the price of my pretentious southern cider (which even so was still a better option than the McBeers on offer).
We sat on the train to Edale nattering with a local couple and before we knew it we were on the platform doing the standard start of walk faff. A brief pause outside the Nags Head while we toyed with the idea of conducting some, ahem, “research” for Stuart’s book, and then we were off striking out across the fields.
Jacob’s Ladder was free both of snow/ice and also unicyclists this time around, and the only people we saw were two groups of girls heading down to the campsite at Upper Booth, their age and matching Vango raincovers stretched over bulky sleep mats betraying their status as D of E participants.
We climbed up to Kinder Low and surveyed the scene in the mizzle. With no one around and some enticing flat patches we decided to risk a pitch there, finding a couple of flat grassy patches straddling the path. And now my masterstroke came into play as from my pack I produced a bottle of premixed gin and tonic as the sun went down the mist got darker. Up went the tents and shortly after the gin was despatched we started feeling the cold and so retired for the night.
I emerged from a soaking Monica to more mist, but this time with small patches of non-mist appearing intermittently below. As we packed up these patches became bigger and joined up to reveal the delights of Manchester in the distance and the somewhat nicer delights of Kinder Reservoir and the Downfall much nearer. As we set off the first tiny stick figures came into view along the Edge.
It was a bit stop-start as we made our way to Kinder Downfall – the first decent views of the trip, the nature of the path and the need to address calls of nature and top up water supplies, all slowed us down. The wind was doing its best to help the Downfall show off its party piece of flowing upwards, but the meagre amount of water in the fall made this somewhat pathetic.
We made our way down over Black Ashop Moor to the top of William Clough. Behind us the day was getting better and better, with patches of blue poking through the sky. Up onto Mill Hill and the first new bag of the trip (a Dewey), where we posed both at the stake/cairn and the supposed true summit a few metres away.
Now we were starting to overheat, and raincoats came off for the first time as we inched our way across the slabs to Snake Pass. A brew up in the ditch beside the road served as our lunch stop and then we made our way along the Devil’s Dyke and Hern Clough up onto Bleaklow, memories of my last visit and my bladder malfunction coming to mind as we walked.
We reached the plateau and struck off across the rough to find the Wain Stones which are just off the route – it’s horribly bad form not to visit them if passing. Knowing they’d be popular we took a couple of pics and then moved away for afternoon tea in the shelter of some less artistic rocks.
Next up we headed to the big cairn, so often mistaken for the summit (look below for some evidence) and headed right onto a nearby hummock to find the enormous 3 pebble cairn that marks the true summit.
Back to the big cairn and west down to Torside Clough, Stuart’s previous visits here coming in handy in finding the route of the Pennine Way, which at a critical point is only marked once you’re successfully past the point! We climbed up the side of the Clough as the sky darkened overhead and the first shower (and, as it turned out the last) of the day hit us. But it was a proper shower and raised the stakes to hail at its peak. But within half an hour it was gone.
We got down to Torside Reservoir as the sun reasserted itself and ambled our way around it, the miles starting to make their presence felt, and vague ideas of stopping at the campsite even being floated. The campsite was pretty much rejected out of hand, but was useful in persuading legs that if they wanted a wild camp then they still had a bit to do.
We climbed up over a succession of small tors alongside Crowden Great Brook, counting down the lumps as we went in an attempt to create a feeling of progress and “not far to go”. This got more complicated until at lump 2.7 we spotted some climbers taking the hard way up Laddow Rocks. We arrived on the top of the clough just as they called it a day and headed down – the last people we would see until the next morning.
With the route of the Pennine Way passing so close to the summit of a Dewey, and largely because I’d stupidly mentioned wanting to pick it off “en passant”, we diverted the 200m or so of distance and 20m of ascent to claim the bag of Black Chew Head.
Now it was downhill to our camp spot and 20 minutes or so later had arrived at a spot used by @PilgrimChris and @dean_read on their ill-fated Pennine Way attempt earlier this year. Up went the tents, in my case using the crossing poles purely to keep the wet outer away from the dry inner. Tent up, I headed off to find water and to “use the facilities” as my mother would say, not encouraged by the fact the water Stuart came back with already looked like tea. My quest for the gents took me further away and further upstream but ultimately yielded a dirty platy of even darker tea coloured water.
We sat on a useful ledge to cook dinner and as darkness started to fall, and the temperature dropped we retired to our apartments, just about able to hear each other over the noise of the stream. Much hilarity was had in trying to find songs on our phone that we both had in common and the subsequent attempt to play them at exactly the same time.
I woke before 6 with a cold, attributable only to one of (a) Stuart, (b) a sheep or (highly unlikely) (c) brought from home. The sound of rushing water, bleating and Stuart telling the passing sheep to “f*** off” had me up and about first. It was chilly as we packed up and were away for 7:40, but the motion and the warming day soon had a strip off taking place. Stuart got straight to work expanding his collection of slabporn and fenceporn, and there was much discussion of slabs coming too soon. I modelled how to ford a brook and we headed up onto Black Hill.
Black Hill’s a lot greener than it used to be, and certainly much better than its reputation from past accounts of Pennine Way walks I’ve read. We strolled over to the summit cairn, did the usual thing and then headed down.
We descended to Wessenden Head being given some marvelous news by a walker headed in the opposite direction – a butty van up at the road. This helped us across the moor and to negotiate the savage but short lived dips and out of cloughs within sight of the road. Having smugly had a “cooked breakfast” already, Stuart lost no time in making quips about the van packing up and leaving, being calmly defeated by logic that no butty van packs up at 10am on a Sunday. Two flags fluttered in the light breeze, one of them the white rose of York, to indicate our arrival in God’s Own Country. Bacon, burgers, onions, tea and coffee dealt with we headed for the final stretch – and now it was all downhill!
Easy tracks took us down past Wessenden Head Reservoir and Wessenden Reservoir in terrain that the guidebook described somewhat disparagingly as man made. But, I for one don’t have a problem with reservoirs and attempts to blend them sympathetically into the landscape, and Stuart’s voice notes added the words “but lovely” to the existing description.
My last few bits of photo shoot came thick and fast and as I modeled the last picturesque bridge of the the trip, I pointed out that Naomi Campbell doesn’t get out of bed for less than 10k, and similarly I didn’t unzip my sleeping bag for anything less. The negotiation of my rate was swiftly concluded by two words of Anglo Saxon stingingly uttered by Stuart.
As we headed down the gruelling flat easy track we discussed the relative merits of the old and new routes of the Pennine Way in this area. The old route contours its way around Wessenden Moor to Blakely Clough, but has been put out of action as a recommendable route due to landslips which we could see from the other side of the valley. Now the new route descends steeply to the valley floor and straight back up again to Blakely Clough, and I was glad that we were stopping here. And of course even gladder that I probably wouldn’t be with Stuart when he returned to start his walk with that bit.
We walked down into Marsden and waited for the train back to Manchester, where I had my first experience of the tram system and every time a tram came I had to trot to the other platform to look the destination up on the map. We parted on the platform, Stuart’s tram arriving a couple of minutes before mine.
The Route and Stats
Total Distance = 46.514km (28.91miles)
Ascent = 1,185m (3,888 ft)
Descent = 1,200m (3,937 ft)
Walk time: 14 hours 31 minutes
Peaks Bagged: Mill Hill (Dewey), Bleaklow Head (Hewitt, Nuttall, HuMP – repeat), Black Chew Head (Dewey, County Top – Unitary), Black Hill (Marilyn, Dewey, County Top – Historic/Unitary)
Some reflections on the trip
Organised from scratch in the week leading up to the trip, and against a background of an unpleasant weather forecast (heavy rain Friday, persistent showers Saturday, murky Sunday), it all turned out rather splendidly. With only half an hour of proper precipitation (I don’t count Friday’s mizzle as you barely notice it until you stop and see how wet everything is), there was a definite sense of smugness about being out on the relatively quiet hills when the weather was nothing like as bad as predicted.
The mizzle and the thicker mist on Kinder did enable us to pick a more daring camp spot than we otherwise would, and camping on Kinder Low’s moonscape did add a certain amount of atmosphere to that camp – which sadly, the pictures can’t quite do justice to. But even for that, I still slightly preferred Saturday’s stream-side camp – it’s just more my thing.
Because of the forecast, my gear choices were very much targetted at damp – I opted to give my ULA Epic a proper test (more about this in an upcoming post) as it is supposedly completely waterproof. Certainly I didn’t manage to disprove that, and when it did get externally wet in Saturday’s shower, it was bone dry by camp. I also found the carry to be really quite comfortable, and my desire to use this pack for my big trips has increased as a result. For the first time in ages I carried both overtrousers and gaitors, and didn’t wear either. I ate almost all of my food, instead of having loads left over as usual. And taking a bottle of tonic water topped up with gin was an obvious idea that will be repeated many times on future trips.
Apart from the unexpected good weather, the other big positive about the trip was, of course, the company. For all his attempts to tease me about disappearing burger vans, his rudeness to early morning ovine visitors, and lack of willingness to properly negotiate my modelling fee, Stuart is great company and I hope there will be many more such trips.
I’ve never had much of a hankering to do the Pennine Way, considering it a bit bleak and uninteresting in comparison to other walks, but even this short section started to show me what it has to offer, and whilst I don’t think I’ll ever be likely to put it top of my list to do on a single thru-hike, I can see myself doing some more sections of it – indeed my planned coast to coast route actually uses a goodly chunk of it north of Cross Fell. This also bodes well for completing the English Nuttalls as the vast majority of the ones I have left are, you guessed it, in the Pennines. And I wouldn’t rule out meeting up to “help” Stuart walk some more sections for his book research – as things stand odd weekends are all I can take for the foreseeable future, and some parts of the Pennine Way actually work reasonably well logistically from London.
So there you have it – a good trip, good company, some surprise weather and terrain that my appreciation of is growing.