Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Edale to Torside

This was my first day on the Pennine Way. It hadn’t looked promising when I woke up, with the hills to the West completely obscured in low cloud, but improved by the time I set off.

A glimpse of the sun from the beginning of the Pennine Way
Edale is the Southern end. It was a few hundred yards from the Ramblers Inn, and I was on the path shortly after 9:00. It was now a bright morning but cold. The initial stretch is across fields, and climbs steadily, giving the feeling that one is already climbing to Kinder Scout, the tallest peak in the Peak District National Park. It’s deceptive, though, because having steadily climbed 100m I lost 90% of the gain as I descended into Upper Booth. By this time the weather had worsened, and there was an intense shower, so it was on with waterproof trousers and a cover for the rucksack. Changeability was to be the characteristic of the day.

After Upper Booth the path begins to climb steadily, until one reaches Jacob’s Ladder a mile further on. This was my second Jacob’s Ladder: the climb up from Cheddar has the same name. Are there others? Apparently it was biblical Jacob’s ladder where he dreamt that he saw angels climbing to and descending from heaven. As well as a common (?) geographic name, it’s the title of a film, of a part of an electrical circuit, and probably all sorts of other things. At any rate the one at the head of Edale is a steep set of steps that rise some 70m.

The view back down Edale as one climbs Kinder Scout
After Jacob’s Ladder it’s a further long steady climb over open country to Kinder Scout at a height of 623m. Like other high points in the Peak District it’s not a distinct peak, but merely the highest position in a fairly large high area. The country here is windswept, and it’s fortunate that there is a series of cairns, as otherwise it would be almost impossible to find ones way. There are lots of areas of what looks like gravel, plenty of rock, and not much vegetation. Edale had been limestone; this is millstone grit. The weather now was cloudy but with occasional breaks to reveal great views all the way to Manchester and beyond to the West.

After a further difficult rocky path along the edge of the escarpment I reached Kinder Downfall, where the infant river Kinder falls fifty metres or more over the escarpment. There must be a point to cross the river just above the falls, but I missed it, and didn’t find a place to cross until a couple of hundred metres upstream. Just before I did so a red grouse shot by me at high speed. It turned out that someone else had missed the crossing and gone even further upstream where he had put up the grouse. It was the first of many grouse seen that day, generally in loose coveys of half a dozen birds seen at some distance. It’s not clear whether shooting has now finished, and the majority of grouse survive, or whether shooting continues well beyond the Glorious Twelfth.

Looking West from the Kinder escarpment
After crossing the Kinder the path continues along the escarpment, with a steep fall to the left and higher ground to the right. This is the spine of England: Water to the left flows into the Irish Sea, and to the right into the North Sea. It’s rocky going, and I needed to keep my eyes firmly on the ground. Not so after descending steeply into a col and then climbing to the trig point at Mill Hill. After this it’s a paved path across blanket bog, al at a fairly level height of 500m. The map shows it’s about 4km from Mill Hill to the A57 crossing, but it feels a lot more. Apart from some reasonable views to the East this is dull, featureless moorland.

After the A57 it’s a long steady climb to the next peak at Bleaklow Head. Initially it’s just a steady climb up a well defined and easy path, but the second half is much worse. Most of it is effectively along a streambed. I had managed to keep my boots relatively dry up until now, but this was no longer possible. And it turned rainy again as I climbed. Four guys had passed me shortly after I left the A57 crossing, looking rather ill-prepared for the unpleasant conditions that now prevailed. I didn’t see them again. so since there appeared to be no alternative I presume they completed the whole of the route I was to follow down into the Torside valley. I imagine they would have been pretty wet when they finished.

After the hail storm
Just before I reached the top of the valley leading to Bleaklow Head I saw a peregrine taking another bird. It seems improbable that it was a pigeon in this sort of open country. All I saw was a scattering of white feathers as the victim and raptor disappeared from view not much more than fifty yards away. There were three other raptors in close attendance, one of which was another peregrine, but the others were considerably smaller – perhaps juvenile tiercels in attendance for the hunt, or more improbably merlins seeing what was going on.

Just to complete the extraordinary range of experiences there was a sharp squall just a few minutes later, with hailstones stinging my exposed ears. It lasted a good few minutes while I huddled up with my back to the wind, and the ground became covered in hailstones which persisted for a good half hour in the now very cold conditions.

Bleaklow Head itself is another indistinct high point marked only with a cairn. The path starts down at a fairly gentle pace, but soon becomes steeper and wetter as it follows another stream down to the next valley. Then it crosses the stream and rather unkindly climbs up again to the shoulder of a steep valley where the stream – the Torside Clough - cuts a deep V. The path, as James Crook (my B&B host) was later to describe it, is heads down walking: you have to keep your eyes firmly on the ground ahead to avoid tripping. And it’s right on the valley escarpment. Only a mile from the end of the path one is still at a height of 400m or so. Then it’s a steep descent to the side of the Torside Reservoir.

My B&B - the Old House at Torside, near Glossop
As I reached the road there was a sign for the Old House, my B&B for the night. It was just as well: the directions I had downloaded from the Internet showed at was a good couple of miles away. Moments later James appeared in a car, and offered me a lift, which I declined. The goal is to walk all the way. I reached the Old Houses about fifteen minutes after seeing James.

There is was out of wet clothes, everything into the drying cupboard, and a trip to the local pub. The Old House doesn’t do evening meals, but charges just a couple of pounds to take one down to the local pub a couple of miles away and o bring one back afterwards. Excellent value!

Very dismal at first light, with nearby hills shrouded in low cloud. Better, and almost bright, by the time to depart. The frequent showers, sometimes heavy, with brightness between. Hail late afternoon. Cold and windy. Temperature 7 to 15C, but mainly 7-10 on the tops, which was where I was walking for most of the day. 28.61km; 700m ascent, 750m descent (estimated). Mostly high level walking, rocky and uneven, but about 25% was fully paved with large slabs of rock. Quite a lot of the other walking was in stream beds, and inevitable muddy and wet.

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