Saturday 10 October 2015

North Kinder

Earlier this year I walked from Glossop to Edale, heading up the Doctors Gate Path and joining the Pennine Way at Snake Pass to make my crossing of the Kinder Plateau. It was to lead me across ground I'd walked many times before on the southern side of Kinder but when I first reached the plateau from Mill Hill and looked eastwards down onto Black Ashop Moor, I realised that in all the times I had climbed this iconic peak I'd never explored its vast northern edge.

A few days after I finished that walk, I sat down to plot myself a route. Not being a driver, I try to keep the Dark Peak reserved for solo walks, as the public transport links from Manchester are pretty decent and I can access the area relatively quickly and easily. My plan was to join the north ridge at its most westerly point, where it juts out quite distinctly above Mill Hill, and head east, following it round until I was above Edale. At the time I assumed I would be tackling this walk in the near future so I decided to avoid repeating the Doctor's Gate Path so soon after I'd just done it and take a different approach to the summit. The Sett Valley Trail seemed to promise an easy warm-up walk from the railway line at New Mills to Hayfield and the Kinder Reservoir.

The Torrs Millennium Walkway at the start of my walk.
Well, "best laid plans" and all that... That was last spring - now here we are in autumn and I have finally managed to squeeze this walk in at the end of September. The weather has been unseasonably warm and even though we'd just had a week's leave to go walking and have days out, I decided to take a further last minute day off at the end of my first week back - "easing yourself back into the daily grind after a break", I call it. Or "I can't face a full week in that hellish office" is perhaps another way of phrasing it.

The forecast was good, a day of unalloyed sunshine, so I was delighted to wake to the sound of heavy rain at 5:30 am. Nothing daunted, I moved my waterproofs higher up in my backpack for ease of access and headed off to the station. It's a short journey from Manchester Piccadilly to New Mills Central and the train leaves you pretty much at the start of the trail. I crossed the bridge over the line towards the opposite platform and joined a tarmac path that drops down steeply below the signal box to the impressive Torrs Millennium Walkway.

The sadly derelict mill buildings.
It wasn't raining here, though it was somewhat overcast, and the damp path down from the station was a little slippery underfoot; I wouldn't like to attempt it in icy or snowy conditions. 

We'd done a circular ramble that took in the Torrs with my mum on our week off so I was in familiar territory and I followed the award-winning walkway around to the confluence of the Rivers Sett and Goyt, before heading under a viaduct to join the Sett Valley Trail. There were some handsome industrial buildings here, though sadly they were in a state of disrepair.

It's about two-and-a-half miles from here to Hayfield and the trail itself is a maintained one, designated as accessible for pushchairs and mobility scooters as well as walkers, cyclists and horse riders (though some restrictions apply to the latter two, west of St Georges Road). If you do have mobility issues or children in pushchairs it makes for a good quality, tree-lined link to the lovely village of Hayfield from New Mills town centre. When I was halfway the rain began again, lighter than it had been in Manchester, and I put my waterproof jacket on; after ten minutes I had to take it off again though, as the closeness of the air made me strength-sappingly warm under its protective shell. I got my first glimpses in the general direction of the moors from here and the heavens looked dismayingly grey and cloudy. I muttered sundry curses at weather forecasting in general under my breath and plodded on.

The dismal weather prospects ahead,
Delightful though Hayfield is, I didn't hang around in the village, as I knew I had quite a hike ahead of me (OS Maps had recorded my route at 16.5 miles). 

This is historic country for walkers, the Bowden Bridge quarry (now a car park) being the point from which the Manchester ramblers set off to meet their Sheffield counterparts on Kinder. Nipping across the car park to stand under the commemorative plaque, I mentally doffed my cap to those trail-blazing fellow walkers of yesteryear, whose Kinder Trespass set the wheels in motion for the National Parks and access to the uplands that we have now.

For variety, I'd picked a route alongside the reservoir and up the flanks of Kinder to Sandy Heys rather than head up to the saddle between Mill Hill and Kinder on the more commonly used path. The bracken was tall on either side of the narrow path to William Clough and the air was warm and heavy here. There was no breeze to refresh the walker or to deter the midges, which formed insect clouds almost thick enough to rival the meteorological ones shrouding the top of the plateau. More substantial black flies joined in the relentless attack on me too. I was grateful for the first time that the path along Kinder edge was hidden in cloud - hopefully the clag prevented any hikers up there witnessing my flailing arms, as I attempted to beat back my six-legged assailants and clear the undergrowth as soon as possible. I must have swallowed a fair few of the little blighters too, as it became easier than trying to spit them out, and quite frankly I think it served them right.

Passing the dam of Kinder Reservoir.
Cloud shrouds the upper slopes and summit plateau of Kinder.
The peaks of South Head and Mount Famine (l), with sunlight catching the woods on Kinder Bank (r) and Chinley Churn behind.

The brook that flows out of William Clough.
At William Clough I crossed the small footbridge and followed a clear path north-east up the hillside. The clouds were still swirling around above me, though they brightened now and then, and occasionally some detail of the edge above swelled out of the gloom before disappearing again. I'd almost resigned myself to a hike in the clag, such as I'd had on Cadair Idris a couple of weeks earlier; only the sight of sunshine in the distance over towards Manchester and the fact that the wind had picked up gave me hope that the weather would clear.

About halfway up a raptor caught my eye, hovering in the wind. I must have spent a good twenty minutes or more standing here watching and trying to get decent pictures of it. Zooming in on one of my clearer shots, I hazarded a guess that it was a kestrel and it certainly seemed to be one when I looked at pictures on the RSPB website later that day.

 Again and again, it swooped down behind the small ridge just above me, only to rise back into the air a few minutes later. I ventured a few steps upward to gain a firmer foothold on a large rock and to be able to see beyond the ridge but I was unwilling to go any further as my path would take me close to where the kestrel was and I didn't want to disturb it. And to be honest, there was no regretting the delay in my journey as the sight was quite mesmerising. Eventually the handsome bird flew down towards William Clough and settled on a boulder for a while to preen, before taking to the wing again and disappearing in the direction of Mill Hill.

As I carried on upwards another half-hearted rain shower sputtered into life but the breeze was strong and steady now and I could see that the oncoming dark band of cloud would pass over me quite quickly; beyond that the promised blue skies were expanding across the landscape and lighting up the conurbation of Manchester. 

The sight of the kestrel must have been a good omen because shafts of sunlight began to break through the cloud I was climbing into, lighting up the vestiges of heather in the cloughs on the far side of the River Kinder and illuminating patches of the hillside with dramatic contrast. 

This spurred me on and I made one last pull up and was soon on the ridge, gazing back down to the reservoir with a sense of satisfaction. The clag was clearing from where I was standing and I set off with a spring in my step to visit the Kinder Scout trig - it lay in the opposite direction to the route I had planned around the plateau but it was close enough to be hard to resist, even if its position away from the gritstone edges meant the walk was inevitably going to be a boggy one.

The first signs that the clag on the plateau was breaking up.

Looking down on Kinder Reservoir from the edge of the plateau.

The plateau was free of mist now but, as the trig photo below shows, a dark mass of cloud still hung in the air not too far above my head. Hearteningly, permanent patches of blue were breaking through with increasing frequency, so much so that two walkers I met as I retraced my steps west to Sandy Heys seemed almost incredulous when I said that Kinder had been swathed in fog as I climbed it. After exchanging pleasantries, we went our separate ways and soon I arrived at the cairn marking the descent of the Pennine Way to Mill Hill. 

Looking north from the Kinder Scout trig column.
Mill Hill below, over which the Pennine Way climbs before descending to Black Ashop Moor.

A path less-trodden.
Excluding the bogs on my detour to the Kinder Scout trig column, the walking along the edge so far had been pretty good underfoot, as you'd expect from such a well-used path. Once I'd crossed the fence and started out along the north ridge, however, it became immediately clear that this was "a road less travelled." Even so, narrow and muddy though it was, the path did cut a mostly clear route through the coarse grass and seemed relatively easy to follow. 

The views along The Edge drew me on and it was quite exciting in a way to think that there was a whole "new" Kinder awaiting me ahead. Not far along though I suddenly realised that I now appeared to be a fair bit below the plateau and felt like I was still heading downwards. I wondered if I'd been so wrapped up in the views that I'd strayed onto a path down to Black Ashop Moor. Aside from that being decidedly off-route, a previous crossing of it on the paved Pennine Way had revealed it to be a gloopy mire that I really didn't relish the idea of wandering around. I clambered up a little way to see if there was a more obvious path I'd missed but I couldn't see one so I proceeded cautiously. Thankfully, the path regained some height and soon I was traversing the gritstone outcrops that line the northern edge. 

The drop down into the valley here is not as pronounced as it becomes later so I imagine there are several "unofficial" tracks up and down. I still don't know if I went off the trail or just along a minor loop in the path but I was getting peckish now and that put all thoughts of my wanderings aside. With several large outcrops of rock to hand, I concentrated on finding a spot with decent views for lunch.

Following the path eastwards.
Looking down towards the start of Ashop Clough, below The Edge.

Hunger sated, I carried on my eastward march. The gritstone formations were no less dramatic along the edge of the plateau here than on the more familiar southern aspect but the landscape on which I was looking down was far wilder, Black Ashop Moor a rolling wilderness that merged into Coldharbour and Alport Moors in the distance, with Bleaklow a dark presence on the horizon beyond them. You could well imagine yourself far further away from civilisation than you actually were and the famous Snake Road was imperceptible, save for a couple of tiny white dots that marked vans parked by its intersection with the Pennine Way.

The Boxing Glove Stones.
The Boxing Glove Stones.
Turtle, dinosaur or extra-terrestrial?
Black Ashop Moor with Bleaklow on the horizon.

I was glad of the gritstone edge for more than just aesthetic reasons at times.
The path was sometimes a rather wet and peaty affair along here but the gritstone offered a dry alternative route and I was surprised to see so many bootprints in the quagmires that dotted the trail when there was far easier walking to be had on the rocks by their side. 

Fairbrook Naze was my next significant waypoint and from here I could see the scale of the journey I still had ahead of me. In my head as I had been walking towards it I somehow developed the idea that it was further along the north edge than it was, imagining it to be halfway along rather than the third of the way it actually is. I would have liked to spend more time exploring the rocks here but the sight of the plateau stretching away in front of me made me conscious that I'd dawdled a fair bit up to now. I stepped up the pace from here onwards, taking a short cut by climbing down the side of Fair Brook Clough to ford the stream rather than make the long journey to the head of the waterfall. This was the busiest section of the north ridge and as I made my way down I saw quite a few walkers and runners appearing at the head of the clough, seemingly from the direction of Kinder Gates.

Fairbrook Naze.
The north edge stretches out ahead of me.
Making my way towards Fair Brook Clough.
Crossing Fair Brook.
Looking back to Fairbrook Naze.

The Seal Stones
The going underfoot reflected the surprising popularity of this section of my route and I managed to pick up some speed over the well-defined trail along Seal Edge. Passing the Seal Stones (I think I identified them correctly - there were a lot of fascinating outcrops) and crossing Blackden Brook afforded me some fine views down the clough as the stream flows down to the River Ashop. The huge folds in the hillside formed by the water's course make the moorland look as velvety and inviting as a giant cushion. 

There were some interesting-looking rock features below me here too that would have been good to explore had I had the time to descend to the slopes above Ashop Moor. They weren't marked on the map and I haven't found anything about them online. It seems a shame such a distinctive feature should remain without a name.

Gritstone sculpted by the weather.
The path was still a little wet underfoot at times.
Being stared at by the rocks.
Velvety folds in the clough.
The seemingly unnamed rock feature below me.

Increasingly conscious of the time, I pressed on along Blackden Edge. I began to keep an eye out for a route towards the unnamed trig column at this end of Kinder. 

A quick scramble up onto a rock had established its location without recourse to the map as it stood out clearly from the seemingly smooth and innocuous-looking terrain that surrounded it. As I surveyed the plateau from this vantage point, a buzzing sound drew my gaze upwards and I was surprised and delighted to see a small, vintage biplane passing over my head.

There were no paths to the column marked on the maps but everybody likes a trig so I was sure there would be several routes leading out from it in various directions and eventually a likely-looking narrow course through the heather did appear. In rather ungainly fashion I climbed up the muddy bank from the edge path and struck off across the moorland. 

It was no great surprise to find that the ground that had looked beguilingly dry and level from up on the rocks became wetter and more strewn with bogs the further I ventured away from the edge of the plateau. I proceeded cautiously testing some of the more brilliant green patches in front of me with my pole. The further in I went the larger the stretches of boggy became and walking became more of a leap of faith at times. After a few diversions I made it to the trig and found it was handsomely maintained. Surrounded by flagstones, courtesy of a local scout troop, it was easily the most notable looking of the three triangulation columns up here on the plateau, though paradoxically maybe the least visited.

Looks like a straightforward path to the trig column.
The handsomely maintained trig point on the eastern side of Kinder plateau.

Crossing through the groughs.
Leading out from the trig in two or three directions were lines of bootprints in the mud, not even worthy of the name "path". I was tempted to cut off the furthest reaches of my walk and set a course south-west across the top of Kinder in the direction of Ringing Roger. I could see there was a gate or stile in the fence that ran along the spine of the plateau and there were tracks in the peat heading in that direction. A few feet further out from the safety of the flagstones, however, and huge swathes of livid green marked out the expanses of bog between me and the fence. 

I didn't want to finish my day soaked through to my underwear in bog water nor did I want end up smelling like a Bronze-age corpse dug up from the peat, so I decided to forego the short cut and head back to Blackden Edge. I decided to pick a route through the peat groughs instead of following the route I'd taken to the trig column. And despite slipping and sliding almost all the way I somehow managed to regain the path without ending up on my backside. I felt quite pleased with myself but it was a time-consuming trek there and back through deep groughs, enclosed by peat hags that were at least as tall as me at times.

A look back along the north edge as I made my return from the trig column.

On dryer and more stable ground now, I got some good views over towards Alport Castles, which glowed in the afternoon sun. As landslips go, this is one of the most spectacular in the Peak District, I think. We visited the site from Rowlee Pasture last year and climbed down the boulder stream to the base of the "tower". We'd climbed back up from here, though, and crossed the moors to Howden Reservoir so had no idea of the scale of the magnificent cliffs that overlook Alport Dale; seeing them from this angle was quite an eye-opener and the area has gone right back up to the top of my list for a return journey. 

Alport Castles

As I neared the eastern end of the plateau it began to slope down towards the Ladybower Reservoir. Derwent Edge and Crook Hill came into clearer view as I neared them. I've never explored the latter and to be honest I often forget it's there, hidden behind the plantations on the north side of Ladybower. It looked particularly shapely today, with its craggy twin summits, and the fact that it contains the remains of a megalithic structure makes me eager to visit.

The twin summits of Crook Hill, overlooked by Derwent Edge.

The Madwoman's Stones above my path.
I turned south before the plateau began to descend to Crookstone Hill and followed a path that went below the Madwoman's Stones. 

It was narrow and cut a groove quite deep into the hillside.The sturdy growth of the heather here made the channel seem even deeper, so while the way ahead was clear to see the surface beneath wasn't always so easy to scout out. This resulted in me nearly going head over heels on a loose rock at one point and losing my foot in a small but deep hole at another.

I was tempted to visit the Madwoman's Stones more because of their evocative name than anything else. Once they came into sight though they didn't look as impressive as many of the outcrops I'd passed already. A yomp uphill and back again suddenly seemed less appealing than maintaining a steady course down to the pubs of Edale. I pressed on and left them for another day. 

It didn't take long to get to the southern edge of Kinder. The sun was quite low in the sky now and Win Hill and the Great Ridge looked breathtaking in the late afternoon light. There was nobody around and I had that uplifting feeling I usually get wandering across the moors, when it seems like the expansive beauty of the place is mine and mine alone. All thoughts of the pub were forgotten for now and, without having planned to take a break, I sat here on a rock for a good fifteen to twenty minutes revelling in the panorama across the valley.

Win Hill
Lose Hill (l) and Back Tor
The Great Ridge

Eventually, the breeze prompted me to resume my course and I took a rudimentary path down from the edge and across the upper slopes of The Nab, underneath Ringing Roger. As it opened out before me, the Vale of Edale appeared scarcely less enchanting than the ridge that formed its southern boundary. The dramatic boulder-strewn ascent of Grindsbrook Clough, partly hidden now from the sun's rays, was softened by the half-light and the distance. Below me, as I made my way towards the Heardman's Plantation, the church tower and some of Edale's chimneys peeped through the village trees.

On my way down below Ringing Roger.
The Vale of Edale

One seriously nasty savoury snack.
When I plotted this walk on OS Maps, it gave me an estimated time of 7 hours to complete it. I suspect I walked slightly more than the sixteen and a half miles I plotted and I did stop to take photos an awful lot but even so it took me eight and a half hours. It was well past 5pm when I got into the village. 

No pub has ever looked as welcome as The Old Nag's Head did at that point but I was to be frustrated. Outside the front of the building what looked like sound equipment was being set up and I wondered if I was going to enjoy some live music with my ale but when I went inside the place was in darkness. It turned out the BBC were filming some caper involving Arthur Conan-Doyle and Harry Houdini there and it was closed to the public. Deprived of my beer, I was quite prepared to give the show a 0-star review there and then, and cancel my TV licence payment to boot. 

Having trudged grimly, with gritted teeth, to The Rambler Inn (an equally fine pub with great food) however, a couple of pints of bitter shandy caused me to reflect more kindly on good old Auntie Beeb. That said, I still think the show sounds pretty dire...

Date: September 2015

Walk length: 27 km

Total ascent: 1186 metres


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