Despite the ferocious wind, an automatic reverential silence descended as we stepped into the midst of the dispersed metal. I stood among the frozen peat staring at the wreckage strewn about. Bits of engines and aeronautical bodywork lay scattered all around, interspersed with small floral tributes, mostly but not exclusively poppies, to mark the place where 13 met their untimely end.
A Change of Plan
The plan was simple, but once again the elements had it in for us. Stuart (@Lonewalker) asked me if I’d like to pick up where we left off in September and walk the next stretch of the Pennine Way from Marsden to Hebden Bridge, with an overnight camp somewhere along the route. Having failed to achieve this on one of his solo efforts late last year, when he was defeated by a perfect storm of too many trains, not all of which he even managed to catch as planned, plus character-building weather and a tendency to spend much of the walk landing on his posterior, I could tell that he wanted this section done with, and he’d somehow got it into his head that I was some sort of good-weather-inducing talisman to have along (oh, how wrong can you be!). This misguided notion was largely due to the luck we’d had last time we were out together when we were fortunate enough to gain from nasty weather moving out a bit faster than forecast and leaving us sitting pretty. If this was his plan, it failed miserably this time.
I’d been monitoring both the BBC and Met Office weather all week, and also looking at the MWIS forecast as that covered both the Peak District and Yorkie Dales and the bit in between (ie exactly the bit we were aiming for), and it was a difficult one to call – 25mph winds with a bit of sleet in Marsden (valley) compared with gale force winds and gusts to 50-70mph or even 90mph. I headed to work on the Friday with some deliberate optimism that the weather would move a little faster than forecast and ease in time for a Saturday camp. It didn’t.
A hurried exchange of text messages as the work day drew to a close and the decision was made to head up regardless and to adapt our plans in the pub that evening. Even so up to the point the train pulled out of Euston, the forecast clear weather at home nagged at me – I was possibly passing up the opportunity to knock off another chunk of the London Loop.
Stuart picked me up from the station and we headed to a local hostelry to catch up and to work out the plan for the weekend. Frantic looks at forecasts for other hilly areas within reasonable reach yielded nothing, so Stuart dredged up a daywalk from the archives.
Salvaging a walk
By 08:30 we were kitted up, pre-walk faffs completed, and heading for the hills from Old Glossop. Some early sunlight was in our faces as we headed first across fields and then alongside Shelf Brook and the Doctor’s Gate path up to Bleaklow. Crisp golden autumnal colours mixed with dulled greens and cold blues in weather that belied the apocalyptic nature of what was slated for later on. The usual jokes about strange glowing orbs in the sky were made.
My previous forays onto Bleaklow have usually been characterised by weaving in and out of peat groughs, so this twisting and gently climbing valley was a bit of a revelation to me, and I’m definitely starting to appreciate Bleaklow a lot more – it’s not the bland place I once thought it was and there’s definitely a lot more to it than a quick dash from the car at Snake Pass.
We took it pretty gently, but nevertheless with the apocalypse forecasted for around 11am, we didn’t want to hang around unnecessarily. With me still nursing a cold, and both of us not having been out for 3 weeks, neither of us was pushing the pace today, and as the early morning sun lit up the twisty valley we paused several times to enjoy the colours while there were still some – all that could be expected later in the day was grey and maybe even white.
We got to the point where the valley turned sharp left and became Crooked Clough and followed the path as it wound up onto the right hand side. Ahead and to the left was Shelf Stones and as we made our way we could see people crossing from the Pennine Way, having presumably had a much easier start than us.
We crossed at the top of the clough and beelined our way along what looked like a quadbike track, but which certainly wasn’t the actual path. A direct route up to the summit of Higher Shelf Stones was taken and we arrived there gasping at the increasing ferocity of the wind, measured at 39mph on Stuart’s Kestrel. Alarmingly it was also showing -18C wind chill and apart from taking some pictures we didn’t hang around to feel the full force of that.
A debate was had as to whether to follow the people we’d seen earlier or not, the premise being that almost everyone’s next stop from here was the B29 wreckage. We’d probably walked no more than 10m before we realised that they weren’t going there and resorted to good old-fashioned navigation (well, technically new-fashioned navigation as we followed the route marked on Stuart’s smartphone). A few moments brought us there, and looking back at Higher Shelf Stones summit, I wondered how I’d ever missed the wreck site on my first visit – we must have passed within a few metres.
Whatever. Despite the ferocious wind, an automatic reverential silence descended as we stepped into the midst of the dispersed metal. I stood among the frozen peat staring at the wreckage strewn about. Bits of engines and aeronautical bodywork lay scattered all around, interspersed with small floral tributes, mostly but not exclusively poppies, to mark the place where 13 met their untimely end. I’d never been here before and took my time to take it all in, reading the memorial stone and trying to imagine the conditions on that night when the ground reached up and plucked the aircraft from the sky.
We couldn’t stay there long in the biting and forceful wind, and turned away in the direction of Bleaklow proper. Some “interesting” descents into partially frozen groughs saw a range of different depths of mud diving achieved before we passed the Hern Stones and walked gingerly over icy ground to the Wain Stones.
Just like last time we were here in September, it felt like time for a break, and we looked for the place we’d sat last time, out of the wind. Not finding it, we made the best we could of the meagre shelter in a small dip and took five. It was just five though as it was still none too warm, and I think both of us were beginning to look forward to the end of the walk and just being warm and out of the wind. So we got on our way again and popped over to the summit, as usual making it a point of honour to clamber up onto the peat hag where the actual summit lurks.
We began the descent down Wildboar Grain, down which the Pennine Way runs. This proved to be trickier than expected with frozen bits everywhere and a meandering course. True to our previous visit, the weather started to turn the dial up too. I climbed up from crossing the stream unaware that Stuart had very kindly filmed me hesitantly choosing the least treacherous route across.
We headed up onto the moor, where the only real features were the duckboards put down to make the way easier. They didn’t help at all and I found myself slipping on them. All was contained though, until a board sloping gradually downwards.
In slow motion, I felt my feet shoot out from under the rest of me and a large crash as my backside made contact coincided with what Stuart later classified as a Wilhelm Scream. Accurately as it turned out. I took more care and stuck to the mud, eschewing the treacherous boards.
Now exposed on the moor, the side wind was driving snow almost horizontally onto us and I could feel my nose going numb. We trudged our way over towards Cock Hill, Stuart making a bee line for a ruin for respite from the wind, and me heading straight for the trig point – behaviour usually expected of “Mr Trig Point” himself. I didn’t linger long – just enough to claim the “bag”, and then joined him at the ruin, deciding not to avail myself of the plastic garden chairs discarded inside. We’d both had enough now and could see Glossop in the distance – frankly, I couldn’t be there soon enough.
Unfortunately, getting there involved walking for a couple of miles straight into the wind which was hard going, but alleviated slightly by not having a face full of snow. As is often the way, a descent when you’ve decided you’ve had enough for the day seems to take forever, and this was no exception. But we made it back to the car and headed off to find a pub and some creature comforts.