Preparing for this day I was faced with the question, “if you get one day out in the peaks in ten years, which route do you choose?” I spent a couple of evenings pouring over the OS sheet and changed my mind a hundred times, each time returning to Edale and the Southern Edges of Kinder Scout. Ultimately, it had to involve Kinder. It so typifies the Dark Peak and, for me as for so many others born and raised in Englands Northern Cities, it’s where it all started.
Given the time of year, the summit plateau of Kinder has the potential for deep, bone-numbing, mysery. A wet, muddy, flailing through hollow and rise, hopelessly lost in the mist mysery. Although a rare and precious thing, such mysery is an acquired taste and better shared with the right company. Better, better by far today, is to stay on the edge of the thing. Feel its height and bulk, get the views, explore the menagerie of weird rock formations, but look at the expanse of the thing from a safe distance.
In the meantime we’ve been passed by two other walkers who are now doing their share of breaking trail and things start to move more quickly.
Popping the battery back in the camera I fire off several more shots. Jane provides the foreground interest but I immediately realise I should have waited until the mobile was away from her ear. What was that I said about becoming a better photographer? The phonecall serves it’s purpose though. Even when you’re away you’re never truely away but having confirmed that all’s well at home the peace of mind is perceptible on Janes face.
A glance at my watch tells me we are now at the half way point in hours and minutes and so need to be there in kilometers and meters . A quick look at the map reveals two alternatives: back the way we came, which would, by a kind coincidence, put us exactly at the half way point, or back via Grindsbrook. A quick look at the ground however rules out the Clough. It’s dark down there, no doubt cold, and the head of the clough is steep. Not today. Nevetheless I’m not keen to retrace our steps. Just like paper beats stone a circular route beats an out and back. Further pause for thought brings the solution. We’ll go over Grindslow knoll , which carries extra points because it’s in the sunshine and bears a cairn, and carry on over its nose back into the valley.
With our shiny new plan in our pockets we carry on around the edge. One little tricky bit, a traverse of the steep sided head of the clough in deep drifting snow, causes Jane a moments discomfort. Play by the rules: place your feet carefully, move deliberately, don’t lean into the slope, and all will be well. The moment duely recorded with a couple of quick shots on my now long dead battery and then we’re heading up the shallow slope onto the Knoll.
A spectacular panorama of Kinder opens out as we go. Spectacular is not a word I’d usually associate with Kinder Scout. Muddy, wet, cold, bleak, dark, unforgiving and numerous other adjectives yes but spectacular no. Today however it is truly spectacular. It has taken on a totaly different persona. More vidda than moss. Clints and Grykes ironed flat by drifting snow. Everything about the scene is captivating. Long shimmering views of a winter ravaged landscape to the horizon. On a smaller scale, last seasons grass poking through drifted snow, each casting relief defining shadows under the low winter sun. My kingdom for another camera battery.
In what seems like a couple of steps we’re at the top.
Leaning against the cairn, finishing off the tea and eating chocolate, speechless, just soaking it all up. We’re not alone, It seems that the Knoll has pulled a few folk in today, the walkers we’d followed up, a couple in matching red Goretex with matching walking poles, a diehard on touring skis. All grinning insanely. All trying to compute the unreality of the situation. Real winter weather. In the dark Peak. I look out across Kinder and with a rush a sudden ,intense, desire to stay up here and watch the sunset hits me. Its quickly followed by a comparable desire to hang around for sun rise. Suppressing the chain of thought I pack the bits and pieces into the rucksack and follow Jane down off the top back towards the valley.
The descent is beautiful. First the wide flat South-West of the Knoll across which runs a ghost outline of the path, its edges defined by golden-brown old vegetation and still visible in the snow. An unbelievable richness of colour and texture stretches out infront of me. Then comes the broken wall and the backed up snow at the start of the steep drop into the valley. This under a sky, slowly reddening as the sun first casts an eye on the clock and reaches for its coat.