The Dark Peak Exploration

In early November, I headed up to the Dark Peak for 4 days / 3 nights of backpacking, with the aim of visiting some bits I’d not done before.

Recent events (you know the sort of thing…) have meant it’s been 4 years since I last visited the Peak District for a hike. And 2½ years since I’ve “enjoyed” a camp with my friend Cath (she of the unquenchable beer thirst, and vulgar chat). After a lot of toing and froing we finally agreed a date, and then at the last minute she broke her cat and couldn’t come. So it ended up being a solo trip in the end.

The original plan had been to do the first 24 hours solo then meet Cath in Edale for a camp somewhere high, before abandoning her the next morning for a final solo 24 hours. With no need to make a rendezvous on the middle day, this meant I could make it up as I went a bit more, within the framework of an overall aim to walk the Edges and then largely circumnavigate Kinder.

As I’ve done a few times recently and pre-pandemic I decided to use the bus to get there (and back), and moreover to use the nighttime to travel and maximise the walking time. So the Sunday evening saw me walking across London to Victoria Bus Station and getting the 23:59 to Sheffield.

The first train out to Bamford dropped me at the start of the walk a little before 7am, and the hike was on.

Day 1: On the Edge(s)

The sun was just popping up as I climbed out of the village onto Bamford Moor. First stop was Great Tor:

At this point, I decided against my original intention of heading east to follow Stanage Edge north to cross the A57, and instead settled on a more direct route across the moor. Cue lots of zigzagging as I gradually worked my way towards the top of Jarvis Clough to pick up (hopefully) a track.

Crossing at Cutthroat Bridge I found a spot by the stream out of sight (and the worst of the noise) of the traffic, and had a brew up. Already felt pretty tired and it was still only early in the day. Luckily the next bit involved following a clear path mostly gently up on to Whinstone Lee Tor, with good views down over Ladybower.

Up to the Hurkling Stones and thence onto the Wheel Stones.

White Tor followed quickly, and at some point I passed the Salt Cellar.

At Dovestone Tor I could see Back Tor ahead and decided that would be a suitable point for lunch.

Past the Cakes of Bread (seriously these names are almost as ridiculous as some of the Dartmoor ones).

Arrived at Back Tor where it was pretty breezy and spent a few minutes exploring / looking for somewhere out of the wind. A flat rock towards the eastern end of the tor provided both a seat and a platform for my stove.

Ahead of me now, it was a bit more complicated with a choice of a direct-ish route towards Howden Edge, or a more circuitous one across the Cartledge Stones Ridge. I could see the Cartledge path so went with that.

It was a bit of a long trudge across largely featureless moorland, but I quite enjoyed it – the trick being not to focus on the large amount of moor to cross, but instead on the here and now. Nevertheless, finding the meagre path that turned to go up the Cartledge Brook was very welcome.

Here I found a lot of detritous clearly associated with the murder of grouse. One patch in the deeply eroded stream bed even had a nice bit of flat grass and, I kid you not, a picnic table. I was briefly tempted by this as a camp spot, but it was too early to stop.

I emerged onto Howden Edge and the High Stones. I was just about getting into the window of thinking about where I was going to camp, and started looking for water. Water, though, was not very forthcoming.

By the time my legs were really telling me to stop, and the sky was starting to look threatening, I still hadn’t found any. I didn’t really want to push on either. Finding a couple of peaty pools just back from the edge in a bit of a dip, I went to investigate whether it was suitable to put a tent on. The sky was looking a lot angrier and finding a dryish bit, I got the tent up, and took a sample from the peaty pool. I’d just got inside the tent when the heavens opened.

Pretty pleased with my timing, but my liquid supplies, a bit less so….

Day 2: The Derwent Valley

The next day I continued north to Margery Hill, finding a great grassy spot sheltered by the rocks of Margery Stones that I could have had if I’d carried on. No water though, so I’d still have been drinking the disturbing stuff.

I dropped down the path to Cranberry Clough, and had a brew stop where it met Bull Clough. During this I decided I didn’t fancy going with my existing plan of climbing up to Alport Castles, and would much prefer the easy path down alongside the reservoirs. So that’s what I did.

Along the cycle track by first Howden and then Upper Derwent reservoirs – it wasn’t that bad, and felt like a good call for how I was feeling. Especially with a cafe at Fairholmes, which I made full use of!

The afternoon involved a frustrating climb up and over a wooded ridge, and then having to do it all again. I did pick up some water towards the top of the second wood, though, as an insurance policy for later. I emerged above the Woodlands Valley and could see my target – the eastern end of Kinder. Now “just” a simple matter of climbing up.

Luckily the climb was pretty gradual. As I was doing the last bit up towards Crookstone Knoll, I spotted a promising looking patch off to one side and went to investigate. Finding it flat and dry and surprisingly sheltered, it was an easy decision to stop there for the day. I’d initially wanted to get a bit further, but I was only about 1km short of my target.

Once again, I’d barely got myself sorted when rain started lashing the tent.

Day 3: The Not Quite Circumnavigation of Kinder

I woke to clag and that sort of fine drizzly rain that doesn’t so much fall as wait in the air for you to collect as you walk through it.

This shouldn’t have been a problem though as the plan was simply to follow the edge of Kinder – how hard could it be ? Pretty hard as it turned out – not so much in a navigational sense, but the path itself was an energy-sapping roller-coaster obstacle course sort of affair.

I diverted early on to visit Madwoman’s Stones as I’d considered it as a place to camp, but found it bleak, so was glad I’d stopped where I did.

I saw no one along the path until I suddenly came across a chap actually pissing, yes PISSING, into a stream. Not the correct 60m from a stream, not “near” a stream – he was actually stood straddling the stream, adding to its volume. I think I may have surprised him. WTAF ?

By now I was concerned not just with whose piss I might be drinking at camp tonight, but also whether I’d make a decent spot in time. The rollercoaster path had taken it out of me, and cost a lot of time: it was laughable that I’d thought I might even be able to complete the circumnavigation in one day, in autumn, when the sun buggers off just before 4:30pm.

I upped my pace and set myself time targets to get to firstly Fairbrook Naze and then the Pennine Way. On the Pennine Way, I now at least had a sense of how long the next part would take. I picked up some water from Kinder Downfall in case any of the later streams weren’t up to much (which of course they were) and ploughed on into the mist willing the white trig pillar of Kinder Low to come into view.

Finally there I took five and decided whether to continue south to find a pitch soon or carry on around the edge of the plateau – the plateau won out. With water on board, I could just stop as soon as I found somewhere ok, anyway.

A bit of toiling past the Wool Packs and Crowden Tower and I saw Grindslow Knoll ahead of me, which I felt would do nicely. It was a relief to finally pull up onto the Knoll and find a good enough patch for the tent.

Day 4: Seeking Breakfast

Unsure about where I’d spend the night and how long it would take to walk out to Edale in the morning, I’d decided my original 10am bus from Sheffield (which meant getting a train out of Edale just before 8am) was too tight, almost wherever I camped, and so decided to ditch that in favour of a safer alternative.

This took the pressure off next morning, but even so I woke fairly early and was on my way in decent time. Even allowing for the inversion I got at sunrise!

It was an easy descent down from the Knoll and I finished the last couple of hundred metres on the Pennine Way, which brought me nicely to the cafe at Newfold Farm.

A leisurely breakfast and stroll down to the station saw me make my train. I’m glad I ditched the early bus, or I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the inversion.

It was a shame Cath broke her pussy, or she’d have liked this!

2 thoughts on “The Dark Peak Exploration

  1. That’s a nice trip. I’ve often camped at Madwoman’s Stones, usually arriving quite late, water available from Jaggers Clough. One of these days I’ll go the extra and stop at Crookstone Knoll.
    Your friend Cath sounds like my ideal backpacking companion….I hope she’s mended her pussycat.

    Like

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