We’ve got a couple of day passes. The kids safely with Grandma and Grandpa we’ve spent one on the Christmas shopping, a whole day at Meadowhell desperately scrabbling together a sack of presents for a multitude of kids and family. The second has been reserved for today. The first time Mummy and Daddy have been out in the hills together since Canada three and half years earlier, before, in fact, they where renamed Mummy and Daddy.
As I edge the Subaru out of the close and onto the steep side road, snow encrusted right down to the A57, I mutter words of thanks. I’m thankful for what appears to be a miraculous weather window. We’ve been incredibly lucky with the weather. The drive down from North Shields had been straight foreword despite snow fall before our arrival. The heavy dump of snow earmarked for South Yorkshire had arrived, courteously, as the motor cooled down in the drive. More snow is promised in the coming days but just now we’re staring up at clear blue skies. Having singled this day out long in advance, the choice being forced by the holiday schedule rather than inside information from the met office, our luck seems all the more incredible.
In the last ten or so years I’ve forgotten how it is to live on this side of Sheffield. Turn right and within fifteen minutes you’re in the centre of a city of half a million souls. Turn left and fifteen minutes later you’re in the heart of the Dark Peak. Today we turn left and follow the twist of the road out towards Ladybower. The business of the day hasn’t even started but there’s already magic in the air. Driving the A57 and the Snake Pass is a pleasure I’ve long since forgotten and today, skimming over freshly cleared tarmac, across high moorland and through conifer-filled valleys in turn, the entire tableau dressed with fresh snow, is a pleasure indeed. At Ladybower we turn left heading, in turn, for Bamford, Hope and our final destination Edale. The signs reporting that the Snake Pass is closed due to heavy snow serve to heighten the sense of adventure. The remainder of drive provides just a couple of pulse raising moments, not bad considering lack of windy-winter-road practice and Summer tyres, and a little before ten I pull on the handbrake in the Edale car park. Ten minutes later, parking ticket and boot rituals behind us, surprisingly on schedule, we’re passing under the railway, striding purposefully towards Grindsbrook Booth.
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.
The plan finally arrived at was thus to set off up Grindsbrook, quickly forgo the main path for the steep nose of the Nab and follow, first the zig and then the zag of the path, onto Ringing Roger. This, most direct route onto the heights should provide panorama by the bucket full, views into the long shadow-filled curve of Grindsbrook Clough and beyond, and an opportunity for a little scrambling to boot. Once on this minor top it’s just a case of keeping the drop on you’re left hand side, navigation made simple, and working your way around a loop. A big loop all the way round to descend by Jacobs ladder or smaller loops descending by Grindsbrook or Crowden Clough. Take your pick. Being greedy I’d picked the whole thing but then I didn’t know that there would be a foot of powder snow.
The walk up through the village is pleasant. Go away for long enough and the everyday takes on a hint of the exotic. Stone houses, slate rooves, kings and queens atop chimneys catch the eye like they never did before. We pass through the last of the houses and over the bridge and out into dry-stone enclosed fields.
Now begins the climb. Hard enough for flatlanders under normal circumstances but made harder by deep snow. At first going is made easier by tracks worn by sledgers and sledges but the higher we get the more we have to break trail. I pause to take a photo. Pause again to take another and notice flashing red out of the corner of my eye. The battery is empty. As I reach in my pocket for my spare I find nothing. Then comes the flash of realization. The spare is still in the charger in Sheffield. A cacophony of expletives run through my head. One day here in ten years, snow and clear skies, two photos from the bottom and then no battery. Bollocks etc. I extract the battery from the camera, shove it inside my glove and hope that intimate contact with a sweaty palm will extract some more life from the little black brick.
Above the style, a funnel for all going up and going down, a narrow but well warn track appears and the going is easy for a time. Then comes the split. Contour round towards Ollerbrook or double back for Ringing Roger. To my surprise there has been little traffic on our chosen route and we find ourselves stepping in and out of a single set of footprints. Lifting knees unfeasibly high and poking toes down white tunnels to find unseen firm ground. I lead and do my best to stamp out a channel for Jane. Hard work but the elation of the day carries me along. Pausing to check our line we decide that we’re following a stringof deep drifts and that the going looks easier higher up to the right. We head over there telling ourselves that it’s going to get easier any time soon but after a few minutes and a waste-deep incident we head back down to the initial line.
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.
Then comes the short scrambly section, the little south western spur that, when viewed from the right angle in the right light does a passable impression of a mountain, and all too soon I’m over the top. I replace the camera battery, close down the aperture, knock two stops off the exposure compensation, rotate the polariser and fire of two quick shots of Jane working her way up. Today will be good for my photography. No hesitation. No multiple shots from subtly different points of view. No bracketing. No peeking at the result. First make your mind up and then shoot just like the old days. Out comes the battery and back it goes into my glove.
Ringing Roger. A curious name but so typical of a place that’s been wrestled over by German and French, Britton and Dane for millennia. Look carefully at the map and you see a thick broth of language. Old words stuck fast to the landscape but weathered by time into something unique to Derbyshire. Ringing for Echoeing. Roger for Roche. I prefer Ringing Roger, but whatever you call it its cold up here. We’re now in the teeth of the wind that caused all of those drifts so we find shelter behind the rocks, layer up and pause for break. Ham sandwiches, muesli bars and hot black tea from the flask. As I drink I lap up the view of the checkerboard vale of Edale, the great ridge, the surprisingly pointy Grindslow Knoll and the sweep of Grindsbrook Clough. Why would you want to follow the clough in the dark rather than being up here in the sunlight with the world at your feet? Not on a day like to day!
It’s clear that the original route is a stretch. Yesterday was the solstice. Only one day of the year provides less daylight and the going is far from fast. It’s clear we’ll be heading down earlier than planned I’m just not yet sure by which route. Break over we head out across the strange walled enclosure and onto the edge of the open eastern leg of the Kinder Plateau. The going doesn’t get any faster, our two hillwalking comerades are still in sight and still breaking a trail of sorts but the cold and conditions underfoot sap energy quickly. We follow the edge above Nether Tor and over Hartshorn and pause again for a moment. I take in the view while Jane calls back to base.
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.
Then comes the still steeper drop to the valley floor crossed with comedy glissades, straight down, next to the snaking tracks left by alpine skis. Winter may have a limited pallete but she paints with a fine brush. With my glove battery I try to capture the best of it all. All that remains is a kilometer or so of the pennine way and then its back to the car. Or is it? It occurs to me that it would be rude to walk any length on this bit of the Pennine way, no matter how meager, without calling in on the Old Nags Head for refreshments. A fine hill day, exceptionaly fine in fact, is thus rounded off , as it should be, with a pint and a plate of ham and eggs. Before that though just time, and just enough charge left, for one last picture with that dead battery.
Brilliant Dave, great to see others out enjoying the snow covered hills and clear skies. You did a good job on the photography too, I'll have to remember the glove tip.ReplyDelete
I could easily have missed all the fun. Lucky that we decided to spend Christmas in the UK this of all years!ReplyDelete
Amazing how much life you can coax out of a dead battery. I think I got 20+ shots after the first shut down!
Dave, you really got me with this post, it was smashing. Fantastic prose and awesome photos - I'm very glad you showed that battery who's boss.ReplyDelete
And I'm not ashamed to say that reading all those place names brought a nostalgic tear to my eye. I grew up in Dore and spent very many happy days in those hills. What I wouldn't give for a pint at the Old Nags Head right now...
Coming from you Chris that's praise indeed.ReplyDelete
Had no idea you were a Derbyshire lad. Clearly the peaks prepared you well. I have to confess, although a diminutive 600m, and not the grandest hills I've set foot on in recent years, they still do it for me. There were moments back there when I wondered why I ever moved away.
b.t.w. The pint was worth working for, as was the ham and eggs (ham cut as thick as your little finger and eggs with creamy dark yellow yokes).
Beautiful photos and great determination, making yourself come back down from the hills. That is always the hardest part.ReplyDelete
Titanium, thanks for the compliments. It wasn't just self determination that got me down. I wasn't carrying a sleeping bag!ReplyDelete
Lovely post thanks for postingReplyDelete