It was a typical Sunday afternoon in the Peak District, my local hill playground. Cars, endless cars, and silvery traffic jams snaking their way through the almost unnavigable one way system in Chesterfield. I was stuck in said jam en route from South Yorkshire, where I’d spent Saturday night. We passed through chocolate box villages, crowded with yet more cars and people, and witnessed what could have passed for a coach party on Mam Tor. But cast your eyes upwards, and you can see why they come here in their droves. Bright blue skies with the whitest, most cotton wool clouds you’ve ever seen, contrasting against the greenest of hills and patchwork patterns of the fields. Even the neatly dotted sheep looked as though they’ve been artistically placed for maximum impact this afternoon. This is why they come, and this is what I’ll miss the most when I move away in 7 years’ time, or whenever. So time then, to make the most of it while I can.
When my friend Matt had suggested a cheeky camp on the Sunday night as a finale to his long weekend in the Peaks, I’d leapt at the chance of a first wild camp up there. I was dropped off at Tideswell, where thanks to the epic traffic jam Matt had enjoyed an exceedingly leisurely lunch, plus a visit to both tearooms and pub. We struck out briskly from the village, heading along roads and then farm tracks.
We were making such good time, or so we thought, that we’d arrive at our chosen camp location far too early to pitch up. The plan hadn’t included a walk up Mam Tor, especially for me, as I’d actually been up there with my son the week before. The other option to kill time would have been to go into Castleton for an ice cream, and to buy water. If we’d realised how fine we were cutting it to make camp before dusk on Brown Knoll, and had an inkling as to the lack of water up there we might have given Mam Tor a miss on this occasion. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and we headed up happily with the dog walkers, kite flyers and Sunday afternoon revellers. Far too long was spent on the summit, scoffing Matt’s
jelly babies trail mix, and waiting for the crowds to disperse (it’s hard to take photos when there’s a coach load of people up there.)
From the comforting greens and blues of Mam Tor we headed along the Great Ridge, uncharted territory now for me. Along the top of Rushup Edge there were no chattering crowds, just the wind hissing in the waving moorland grasses and the calling of small brown moorland birds. What was absent though was the sound of chattering of streams, an inconvenience as we were thirsty, it was a hot day and supplies were rapidly dwindling. Many inviting grassy pitches were ignored on Lord’s Seat in our quest to reach our intended camp spot, the boggy and desolate hill that is Brown Knoll. As we approached the summit the landscape changed, lush green grasses turning to brownish red bog grass, interspersed with bilberry, bog myrtle and cotton grass. Firm dry ground became squelchy underfoot, and the wide sandy tracks of the Great Ridge turned to brown mud and then peaty blackness. The pools of standing water too, went from muddy brown to stagnant black peatiness, quite impractical to boil or filter.
Great stone slabs had been laid almost to the summit, and further deliveries appeared imminent with signs stuck in the peat to warn of approaching helicopters, quite incongruous in these stark surroundings. The daylight was turning to gold, with the evening colours gilding the white stone trig ahead of us. As per usual I struggled to get my tent up in the wind, and Matt managed to get several photos of the carnage before offering to help me with my pitching. However it was done before dark, and a bottle of ale apiece averted the somewhat dire water situation. I won’t say I slept well, as the wind had got up, and I’m a light sleeper in a tent anyway, but it wasn’t half as bad as on Dartmoor the other week. Tonight the tent pole was behaving, vibrating steadily in the wind, not flexing wildly as it had on Fur Tor last month. Beneath our tents, trains rumbled through the Cowburn Tunnel that cuts under the Pennines. To the back of me the bright lights of Manchester twinkled, and every hour or so a plane passed over on its way to the airport, serving as a reminder that this high and lonely place was not as far from civilisation as you’d think.
Despite the lack of sleep and an early start, I was in an exceedingly good mood for a Monday morning. I got to wake up in my tent on a hill, instead of the usual struggle to work. Last night, Matt had bribed me to pack up early with the tantalising promise of having the time to enjoy a cooked breakfast in Edale before we got the train back to Manchester, a clever ruse which never fails to rouse me early in the morning. Accordingly I was up and ready to go at 7.37 am, surely a personal best for someone who struggles to get out of her pit for work in the morning. This, however was a wonderful way to spend a Monday morning, with work but a distant memory as I walked along in the early morning mist and observed with some satisfaction the shafts of early sunlight as they cut through the clag and illuminated the Hope Valley with an almost ethereal radiance.
Instead of retracing our steps back along the Great Ridge, we’d decided that the optimal route for a quick bail out would involve a direct descent into Edale, via Edale Cross and Jacobs Ladder. The latter being a path that’s now familiar to me, and others who enjoy the peaty pleasures that Kinder Scout has to offer.
This account documents my first ever wild camp in the Peak District. I’ve also now camped on Dartmoor, so my next post will feature that. It’s almost impossible to compare the two as the locations are so different. I can’t even begin to make a decision as to which was the better camp, so all I can say is that plenty more research on the subject is required.
Link to Social Hiking map of the walk