Monday, 10 October 2016

Hopegill Head via Whiteside

In Alfred Wainwright's words the ridge walk over Whiteside is "an exhilarating airy traverse" and it certainly looked it a couple of months ago when I gazed along the crest from Hopegill Head, the summit at the eastern end. On that day I'd been doing a variation of the Coledale Horseshoe and a jaunt down the ridge would have been more than a step or two out of my way unfortunately. I determined though that I needed to return sooner rather than later to experience it myself and the arrival of a high pressure system over the country at the start of October gave me just the excuse I needed to go up to the Lakes.

It took nearly two and a half hours to get to the parking area at Lanthwaite Green and we were lucky to find the last space, considering it was early afternoon by the time we arrived. Lanthwaite Green is a common grazed by sheep and a cattle grid limits any nomadic tendencies they might have. Once we'd crossed that barrier, we noticed one or two of them either in the lane or standing by its side. None of them seemed to have the least clue about the niceties of the Green Cross Code so we proceeded carefully to the parking spot.

Once out of the car, we didn't have to focus on our woolly friends of course and we could take in the scenery, with Grasmoor the most immediately impressive of the fells around us. When I'd approached Grasmoor from Crag Hill and wandered around the wide, flat summit it had seemed a rather formless, baggy monster of a hill but from Lanthwaite Green its crag-laden western aspect formed a satisfyingly pointy mountain peak.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Snowdon via Allt Maenderyn and the South Ridge

Leaving the road behind near Bethania.
Following the High Carneddau and the Glyderau, the mighty Snowdon seemed like the natural place to head for my next Welsh walk. 

I'd been wanting to do it for a long time and I hoped that the experience of hiking in the mountain ranges north of Wales' highest peak would set me up for whatever Snowdon threw at me. I wanted something more interesting than a simple slog up a path but I decided Crib Goch was something that I probably shouldn't be doing solo until I had gained more experience of scrambling - no-one wants to be the quivering jelly, clinging to a rock at 3000 feet and getting in everybody else's way.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Bleaklow - Wain Stones, Hern Stones and a pathless moor

With a spare day to go walking and a reasonable weather forecast yesterday, the alluring wilderness of Bleaklow was calling out to me. I'm not one to just head into the hills and see where my feet take me, though I will wander off course to explore. I like to have a route plotted out so I jumped on OS Maps and hastily strung together a convoluted trip that would take in features I'd never visited on the western fringes of the massive plateau. Butties made, flask and water bottles filled, I headed out for the train to Hadfield.

Nature's subdued colour palette as I walked the Longdendale Trail.
I've walked the Longdendale Trail several times. The last time was in the dark after a knee injury slowed my progress off Bleaklow significantly but prior ro that it was in the full flow of spring, when blossom scented the air and the sides of the path were dabbed with splashes of colour from wildflowers. Today, with autumn in the air, there was almost a sepia note to the landscape around me, and I found the muted greens and browns a bit of a dispiriting start to my day. It was around 7.30 am when I left the train station and even an hour later, when I reached the Pennine Way by Torside Reservoir, there was mist hanging over the valley in the direction of Woodhead.

It certainly wasn't cold though and I'd taken my soft shell off by now and stowed it away. I'd paused to do so at a convenient wooden bench along the trail but was driven away cursing, jacket in one hand and open backpack swinging crazily in the other, by a territorial wasp that was outraged at my making temporary use of his facilities. Perhaps the end of summer and the increasingly dark mornings had made him irritable. Sitting here now, bleary-eyed and reaching for my second mug of builders' tea, I can relate, even if I wasn't feeling very sympathetic at the time.

Joining the Pennine Way at the bottom of Torside Clough.

There were still traces of mist as I looked east towards Woodhead.

The Pennine Way traces the south-western side of Torside Clough. I think it's one of the most appealing routes on or off Bleaklow and, as a bonus, it's one that doesn't make any great challenges in terms of negotiation or exertion. The initial section is quite a steep pull up, it's true, and I was glad to be only in a t-shirt for this, but that's soon over and from then on the path's ascent is relatively gentle - although there are some minor ups-and-downs along the way. It's best to not get too carried away here, as I once discovered, for the rocks and mud underfoot can be treacherously slippy and there are plenty of loose stones waiting to twist an unwary ankle or, in my case, knee. All in all though, it makes for an easy walk up with great views.

Long Gutter Edge below Torside Naze across the clough.
Looking up into Torside Clough.
A look back down from further along the Pennine Way.
Nearing the head of Torside Clough.

At the head of the clough there's a ford, where two brooks meet on their way down from the peat hags and livid green mosses of the moorland above; I followed the Pennine Way east here, alongside Wildboar Grain, but noted with satisfaction the clear path that led to the ford alongside the other stream - my route involved me returning via this path later on.

My route back to the Pennine Way would follow a path above this clough.
The ford at the head of Torside Clough.
The Pennine Way keeps left of this stream, Wildboar Grain.

The sunlight catches Harrop Moss and Glossop Low to the west,
looking back from the Pennine Way.
The weather was improving steadily as I walked from here up to Bleaklow Head, not a strenuous task by any means. Behind me, blue skies began to dominate the skies above the flat upland of Harrop Moss and Peaknaze Moor. Ahead the morning sunlight was still strained through a layer of low cloud but it was surprisingly strong even so; fortunately, out of the clough, there was a breeze which prevented the heat from being too energy-sapping.

I gave the password to the sheep that guarded Bleaklow Head and, with his leave, made my way to the cairn and post, which always strikes me as a rather understated marker for such a huge and hugely fascinating hill. Job done, the sheep was having a sit down at his station when I looked back - either that or his legs had sunk into the peat mound he'd been standing on.

"Who goes there?"
"Don't ask me, I'm on my break..."

I wandered around a little bit and climbed onto one of the hags near the cairn. The light wasn't proving conducive to long-range photographs but it did cast an otherworldly glow over the plateau to the north east. Sadly my picture doesn't come anywhere near to capturing how magical the waves of grass looked in reality.

To the north east, Bleaklow was bathed in light.

Next stop was the Wain Stones, which I'd never visited before. Also sometimes referred to as the "Kissing Stones", for obvious reasons if you look at them from the right position, they have been much photographed over the years by walkers and professional photgraphers alike. I took a couple of snaps myself, of course, before sitting down for a coffee and some Wine Gums behind the least amorous of the rocks. The wind had picked up now and I was feeling a bit chilly, despite the hot drink, so I put my jacket back on.

Looking back to Bleaklow Head as I walked to the Wain Stones.
The Wainstones - I had a coffee break by the stand-offish Wainstone on the left.
The "kissing stones".
Looking south towards the Higher Shelf Stones in the distance.

The Hern Stones.
From my improvised seat, I could see the Hern Stones, another gritstone outcrop that had been weathered over the centuries into a fantastical natural sculpture. There was a footpath shown on the OS map, which was - just - visible on the ground too and I set off along it, on a bog-trotting journey south.

I kept an eye out for a further path leading off from this one halfway to the Hern Stones - this was to be my route back to the top of Torside Clough. There was nothing to see and the path I was on frequently disappeared itself or split into increasingly indistinct trails made by people trying to negotiate the wet crossing.

By some miracle, I arrived at the Hern Stones with my boots dry on the inside. They make for quite a handsome rock formation and I think I preferred them to the Wain Stones, though perhaps over-familiarity with the latter from photos had blunted my enthusiasm. As I was about to leave, another walker appeared from the same direction as I'd come, the first person I'd seen since I first left the Longdendale Trail a couple of hours before. We briefly exchanged greetings before I retraced my steps across the wet moor and he and his dog - a handsome, glossy black animal called Jess - continued south across Shelf Moor.

The Hern Stones.
The Hern Stones.

Having reached the supposed junction with the path heading west across Shelf Moss, I realised that this was going to be an off-piste walk for a while. If there ever was a path here, it's obviously disappeared from lack of use and I didn't see a single boot print for a good while. Visibility was good enough for me to see where I was heading and I used the GPS on my phone to periodically check I was still following the black dashes on the map. It was slow going, though, forcing my way through overgrown sheep-trods in the heather and, where I could, following the course of the one of the many, extended groughs that curve their way through the peat towards Torside Clough.

Crossing Shelf Moss.
Crossing Shelf Moss.

Back on track - for reference, the path is the waterway on the left...
To my surprise and relief, the ground was dry all around here, even in those deep groughs. It would have been pretty unpleasant if the land was as boggy as the walk to the Hern Stones. Some of the passages through the peat were sandy and rocky, others were bright green with moss, which I tried (successfully) to avoid treading on as I picked my way across the moor.

Eventually, the semblance of a trail appeared as I came to the side of the stream that would meet up with Wildboar Grain. It became more pronounced the closer I got to Torside Clough, though even high above the brook it was quite waterlogged in places. My progress here was quicker than it felt at the time: looking down on the confluence of two streams, I said to myself how picturesque it looked before I suddenly realised I'd already arrived back at the ford I'd crossed an hour or so previously.

Crossing Harrop Moss.
I rejoined the Pennine Way here for a short while, heading back along the edge of Torside Clough in a reversal of my route earlier. Eventually I reached a stone-built grouse butt called "The Pulpit", which is impossible to miss.

At this point I climbed up a slippery, peat slope to join another path that heads west across Harrop Moss. This is a grouse-shooting moor and the evidence of it was all around - grey patches where the heather had been burned, grouse butts and wooden walkways across the widest groughs.

These bridges and boards were old and weathered and in a state of disrepair and I proceeded cautiously: one board had sunk at least ankle-deep in the dank, blackened water it covered and another bridge was falling apart, both the handrail and the boards underfoot. Old and broken planks of wood lay strewn across the peat and, frankly, the whole place looked a bit of a mess; considering the sums people pay to grouse-shoot, I would have thought the people managing the area would at least ensure the boardwalks were maintained safely.

The most interesting feature, just after leaving the Pennine Way, was Torside Castle - not some decrepit Gothic pile, wreathed in mist and bats, but the remains of a Bronze Age fort. The earthworks are covered in moorland foliage now but it is a large structure and stands out distinctly from the upland on which it sits.

Torside Castle

The cairn at the top of Glossop Low.
One advantage of the grouse shooting that occurs here is that the path I was on was perfectly clear and easy to follow, something I appreciated all the more after dragging my sorry feet across a mile or more of peat, rock and heather just recently. I was heading  for Glossop Low, which paradoxically enough is the name awarded to one of the hills high above Glossop, and I could see pretty much my entire journey cutting a line through the moorland ahead of me.

The upper slopes of Glossop Low were grassier and firm underfoot. As I arrived at the Glossop Low Hut - the four remaining corners of what must have once been a fine-looking, stone shooting cabin - a farmer drew up nearby in his truck. He got out with two collies and proceeded to round up some startled-looking sheep, who until then had been grazing mindlessly all over the summit. Hungry and not wanting to get in the way, I headed uphill to the cairn and sat there to watch while I ate my lunch. It took a while for him to go about his business but I suddenly felt quite tired (I hadn't slept well the night before) so I was grateful for the rest.

Glossop Low Hut.
"I wonder why we've been asked to meet here?"

Cock Hill trig column.
My walk was all-but-over now. Once the farmer and his livestock had disappeared, I followed a narrow but clear path south-west to Cock Hill. It was easy walking and down hill so I found myself at the trig point before I knew it. I could see Glossop below, sheltered by the hills and moors around it, and in the immediate vicinity were the remains of what must have been a decent-sized quarry back in the day. All that remains now is a curious landscape of grass humps and sheered off rocks. I briefly toyed with the idea of going down to explore more before taking the lazy option and continuing along the path above the abandoned workings.

I could see a walled lane below, Charles Lane, which was my route into Glossop and which I'd seen described as "a charming walled lane" somewhere online. It kept its charms well-hidden yesterday, however: running down the centre was a dank ditch, full of coarse grass, while the semblance of a path was a ribbon of mud on a small but steep bank between the ditch and the broken stone wall.

Looking back up to the quarries.
Charles Lane.

It seemed to go on for a long while, though the lane became more lane-like once I'd passed a couple of tree plantations on my right. I wasn't particularly enjoying this part of the walk but the wind in the trees sounded like waves breaking on a shore in the distance and this cheered me up a little.

Eventually, I came to the outskirts of Old Glossop and it was an uneventful stroll to the railway station from here. It was a bit of a mixed day, perhaps because I was tired from only having had a few hours sleep but also because I'd found Harrop Moss rather depressing. I love walking across the moors, they're such exhilarating, life-filled places but Harrop Moss had seemed dour, colourless and a mess with all the broken boards littering the peat; it was very much what most people's idea of a moor is like if they've never visited one. I can't see myself returning to Cock Hill or Harrop Moss any time soon but I did really enjoy visiting the Wain and Hern Stones, and Bleaklow itself was as wild and awe-inspiring as ever of course.

Date: September 2016

Walk length: 11.5 miles

Duration: 5 hours, including breaks


Friday, 9 September 2016

Aran Fawddwy

After you've driven past Lake Bala on the way to the coast, a line of hills to the south east of the A494 can't help but catch your eye. It starts in relatively humble fashion with the rocks of Moel Ddu in the north but a ridge of increasingly high, rugged crags draws your gaze steadily upwards as the range stretches out to the south. Frustratingly, as the Aran mountains rise ever more magnificently above you, the road you're following begins to descend and pull away to the west, leaving their tempting summits hidden behind the slopes of smaller hills and screens of tree plantations. The highest of these mountains is Aran Fawddwy, at 905 metres (2969 feet) above sea level. I originally planned a walk to its summit along the ridge from the north but the logistics of turning this into a circular route proved difficult and made for a very long day that would've already involved a two-hour drive from Manchester just to get to the starting point.

Making our way into Cwm Cywarch.
Instead, I settled on an approach from the south, starting in the secluded valley of Cwm Cwyarch. I was a little dejected at the thought of missing out on the airy walk up the ridge I'd looked at so many times but once we were on the tiny, single lane into (and out of) the valley, any lingering sense of disappointment melted in the face of the beautiful vista that opened up around us. At one point we stopped the car to get a picture or two of the scenery that awaited us further ahead.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Axe Edge Moor via Three Shire Heads

Flash. The old school is the white building on the left.
It's always a nice feeling to finally get to a location that's been beckoning to you from photographs and walking sites for many years and last week I managed to tick off visiting Three Shire Heads on my bucket list. 

I'd attempted the walk earlier this year with Rich, setting off from Flash in Staffordshire (Britain's highest village it is claimed, though not without dispute), but we'd had to abandon our plans partway along due to flooding. 

Saturday, 13 August 2016

A Glyderau Traverse

After my challenging but exciting day in the High Carneddau I had no doubts about where my next walk was going to be. Set against a perfect blue sky, the majestic Glyderau had greeted us as we made our way along the Nant Ffrancon Pass to the base of Pen Yr Ole Wen; and even during my arduous - and occasionally alarming - slog up that mountainside I was drawn again and again to admire the striking crags and ridges on the other side of the valley.

Not one to do things by halves, I initially plotted a linear route from Deiniolen in the west to Capel Curig in the east. And it wasn't just a simple traverse either - I planned diversions to Elidir Fawr and Tryfan so as to incorporate every major summit in the range. Once I'd marked out my route in OS Maps and viewed the distance, the total ascent and the estimated time of my walk, it became obvious that my ambitions were completely unrealistic so I lopped Tryfan off the route as well as Y Foel Goch,  and added a newly-planned descent via Bwlch Tryfan after Glyder Fach. Now all I needed was a day as resolutely summery as I'd had in the Carneddau and it didn't take long for one to be forecast by all the major weather sites, both regular and mountain specific.

Thus it was, early in July, I arrived in Deiniolen ready to climb my first summit - Carnedd y Filiast (which translates, somewhat curiously, as "Cairn of the Female Greyhound").

Weather forecasting, an imprecise art if ever there was one.

The Gylderau are somewhere in there, honest.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Edale to Hope via the Great Ridge

I'd intended to spend Monday working on the blog but I found myself suddenly wide awake at 5:00 am, with blue skies gleaming through the gaps in the curtains, and decided there and then that this was a day I couldn't waste inside the house. I knew there was a train to Edale just after 7:00 and it didn't take long to put butties and drinks together and get to Manchester Piccadilly station.

The Great Ridge, as I walked from Edale to Barber Booth.
Considering I've spent so much time in the area over the years, you'd think I'd have done the Great Ridge between the Vale of Edale and the Hope Valley several times but I realised recently that I'd never actually walked the whole thing in one trip. I was feeling more confident in my fitness after doing the High Carneddau, the Glyderau and Snowdon in the past month (not all at once!) so I decided to make the most of the day and bookend the walk with Rushup Edge at the start and Win Hill at the end. I figured I could always miss off Win Hill if I didn't feel up to it or the weather turned nasty and head straight down into Hope from Lose Hill.

There was little breeze down in the valley when I arrived at Edale around 8:00, which made for an unexpectedly warm start to my walk. I began to regret not leaving enough space in my small backpack to take off my soft shell and store it away as I headed towards The Rambler Inn. Just past the pub, I took a left turn along a marked public footpath and headed west across farmland.

I proceeded cautiously into each new field on my way to Barber Booth, keeping an eye out for cattle, but the only inhabitants I met were sheep. And they seemed to be keeping a careful eye on me in their turn.

The southern and western sides of the Kinder Plateau were basking in the morning sun above these pastures and for a while I was half-tempted to abandon my original plans and spend the day roaming up there.

On the other side of the Vale of Edale, however, Rushup Edge looked no less inviting and I could see my route up to it etched into the hillside. I hadn't walked that part of the ridge before so self-discipline won out in the end and I carried on as planned.

Kinder Scout.
Rushup Edge.
Crossing the railway line: ahead is the pass between Mam Tor (l) and Rushup Edge (r).

On the Chapel Gate path.
After crossing a stone bridge over the railway line I found myself in Barber Booth. It's a funny thing - I rarely have recourse to the GPS when I am up on the moors or in the hills and navigate mostly without problem but set me down in a village or town with several choices over which road to take and I'll invariably pick the wrong one. As I did here - and with an embarrassingly small set of options to choose from. Having ruefully checked my position on the GPS, I re-set my course and headed uphill past Rowland Farm.

From the lane, I took a right turn onto a byway, the Chapel Gate path that leads on a gentle gradient up to Rushup Edge. Looking behind me as I climbed, the Vale of Edale spread out below, every inch an English pastoral scene.

Looking back down from the Chapel Gate path

Eventually, the path began to level out as I reached the skyline and I followed this track due south. There was, thankfully, a bit of a breeze up here on the limb that reaches out from the plateau towards Mam Tor. I was on a level with that plateau now pretty much and the going was relatively easy underfoot. All the same, I was careful to keep an eye on the loose rocks that littered the ground, having previously injured my knee during an enthusiastic jog along an ostensibly "easy" path.

Looking over to Kinder as I neared the top of Rushup Edge.
Another view across the Vale of Edale.

Cotton grass on the moor.
To my right lay Brown Knoll, a wide and gently domed moorland hilltop whose featureless expanse made picking out the actual summit from a distance an impossible task. Swathes of cotton grass shone in the morning sunlight - one of my favourite moorland sights at this time of year. 

Before long a flagged stone path became visible, snaking its way upwards. On the two occasions I've visited the trig at Brown Knoll, it's been surrounded by a veritable sea of black peat - this recently laid path bodes well for the restoration of the moorland ecosystem on its notoriously eroded and damaged summit. I know that this kind of thing is seen by some as an intrusion on the wildness of the landscape but to my mind the devastation caused by eroded peat is far worse. Black Hill, in the far northern reaches of the Peak District, is testament to the regenerative value a laid path can bring, as indeed are large parts of the plateau on Kinder Scout.

Some of the best views along Rushup Edge were above me.
Not long after I passed this point I met a cross-path and turned left here to follow the line of the ridge eastwards. Rushup Edge, at its furthest point from Mam Tor, is broad and - dare I say it? - not especially interesting to walk. There were some views to the south west, down into the Blackbrook Valley with the heights of Axe Edge Moor beyond, but for now the Kinder Plateau and Great Ridge were hidden.

Eventually, after what seemed like an age of undemanding walking with a wall on one side and grass on the other, a small mound came into sight ahead: this tumulus is Lord's Seat, the highest point of Rushup Edge, and a prehistoric bowl barrow. It's a scheduled ancient monument, particularly valuable as it was never excavated and thus presumably still contains the funerary remains of whoever it was built to commemorate. Sensibly, it's currently fenced off all around to protect it from damage.

Lord's Seat with Win Hill Pike just to its right in the distance.

As I'd been walking along the ridge Mam Tor and the Great Ridge began to come into view. It was around 10:00 and to my surprise the only thing visible on the normally busy summit of Mam Tor was the trig column. Was I going to have the place to myself? I'd passed a couple of people when I first attained the ridge but otherwise I'd seen no-one and I found myself quite excited at the luxury of having the whole top to myself.

The Vale of Edale from Rushup Edge.
Winnat's Pass from Rushup Edge.
Mam Tor ahead, looking surprisingly empty.

As soon as I reached the end of Rushup Edge, however, and began descending the steep and treacherously crumbly path, a group of people appeared at the bottom of the steps up to Mam Tor, with  several others heading to the same point from various directions.

Rushup Edge from Mam Tor.
The path up to the summit of Mam Tor is flagged with stone steps for the most part so it's not especially challenging to climb. I still stopped to get my breath back halfway, though, and noted that Rushup Edge looked far more dramatic from this angle than it had when I was actually walking along it.

When I finally got up there myself, there were quite a few people milling around or sitting down to admire the views so I didn't stay long by the trig, taking a few snaps of the tremendous vistas around me before setting off on along the Great Ridge.

Hope Valley from Mam Tor.
The Great Ridge.
A couple of sheep, sharing a joke.

Back Tor.
The path from Mam Tor sweeps down the ridge to a low point at Hollins Cross before heading up again to Back Tor, the striking crag that looks down on the Vale of Edale. I made pretty good time as I headed along the path here towards the rocky climb at the side of the crag. As I walked up the stone slabs to the viewpoint at the top of Back Tor I remembered the first time I'd done this ascent, many years ago as a real novice when it felt like I was climbing a mountain. Mind you, the way I was huffing and puffing as I neared the top, you might think this was my first time climbing a hill.

Though my belly was rumbling, it was still too early to break for lunch so I pressed on along the ridge to Lose Hill. There was a pronounced valley between that final summit on the Great Ridge and my final target of the day, Win Hill, so I decided that Lose Hill would be a good place to rest and boost my energy levels.

I paused by the topograph at the top of Lose Hill, from where you get excellent views across to Derwent Edge, before looking for somewhere unobtrusive to sit. Just below the summit, I found a grassy bank that was conveniently shaped like a chair so I parked my behind here and set about the faff of extracting sandwiches and flask from my over-stuffed bag.

Lady Booth Brook and Edale Youth Hostel.
Derwent Edge.

"Put your tongue away, I saw his butty first!"
I was so engrossed that at first I didn't pay much attention to the sheep and lamb that were munching grass contentedly not far from me - the instant there was a rustle of cling film, however, I found myself unnervingly transfixed in the sheep's beady stare. I rustled the wrapping again and the sheep took a few steps forward - and this time my mundane feast had caught the attention of the lamb as well. I clapped my hands and they moved back, only to wander round and stand just behind my left shoulder from where they continued to carefully watch my movements. Another butty came out and they began to approach again - I stared, they stared; I ate, they stared; they moved forward, I clapped my hands again. I did it as loudly as I could and they set about eating the grass again this time but I had an uncomfortable feeling they were thinking about cheese sandwiches all the time they grazed.

Heading down Lose Hill.
Leaving the importunate sheep behind (though, in good old spy movie fashion, I made sure I checked several times that I wasn't being tailed), I made my way down Lose Hill. In the south west, dark clouds were massing on the horizon and Mam Tor at the far end of the ridge looked dark now in the absence of sunlight. Occasional showers had been forecast but this looked like a deluge in the making. I plodded on and resolved to decide on whether  to climb Win Hill when I was down in the valley.

The last part of the path down from Lose Hill was enclosed by trees and the eventual arrival of the rain was presaged by the wind suddenly picking up strength, branches and leaves dancing wildly above my head. It all seemed rather ominous and I began to feel sure there would be at least half a dozen claps of thunder and a thorough soaking ahead. In the end, it was a case of the mountain roaring and bringing forth a mouse, and I continued down and across the valley in the least effective rain shower you could hope to encounter.

Looking back along the Great Ridge, a change in the weather was on its way in from the west.
Trees afforded some shelter on the lower slopes but the rain was pretty feeble anyway.

Heading to Win Hill.
Throughout the day I'd been making good time, so I decided Win Hill was a still worth a climb before I went home. I sensibly checked my GPS at each junction of the various lanes between the two hills this time and before long found myself back on access land. 

The way ahead was forked - to the left, a bridleway promised a relatively flat walk in the direction of the Woodlands Valley; to the left, a narrow, uphill trod that led through head-height bracken was, of course, my route.

The sun was out again now and there was no air, save the moisture-laden currents of evaporating rainwater from the leaves that surrounded me. It wasn't the pleasantest of ascents and it felt a bit like I was lugging a backpack through a giant sauna. Wet bracken slapped my arms and the lower leaves soaked my trousers far more than the feeble drizzle had earlier. I tried, uneven though the ground was, to stick as close to the middle of the path as possible. Periodically I stopped and checked my bare arms for ticks, an army of which I suspected had been waiting patiently but ravenously in the foliage for me all day.

The bracken was at head height as I climbed Win Hill.
Lose Hill from the ascent of Win Hill.

Winhill Pike.
Gradually the path widened and flattened out, and a line of trees came into view ahead; this was the plantation on the far side of Win Hill's tapering northern end and I thanked my lucky stars I was finally out in fresh air again. 

The ascent of Win Hill had provided me with a fine view of Lose Hill across the valley - there is a prevailing myth that the hills gained their names because of a battle fought between the two summits in days of yore. It seems that there is no historical basis for this tempting story and that Win Hill is a modern contraction of Wythinehull (Withy or Willow Hill) while there are a number of suggested derivations for the name of Lose Hill (none of which concern losing a battle). 

Win Hill Pike, the striking outcrop of rock that sits on top of the hill like a crumpled hat, still lay pretty far away in the distance but there was a breeze again now that meant the walk to it wasn't especially arduous. A broad track runs the length of Win Hill and the gradient once you reach this level is barely noticeable. Small patches of heather blossom were just beginning to appear, a hint of the glorious purple carpet that will spread across the hillside in a few weeks. To the north, Ladybower Reservoir had appeared now - in part, at least - and the Ashopton Viaduct that carries the Snake Road over the flooded valley.

Ladybower Reservoir and Ashopton Viaduct.
A small pool by the side of the track.

Nearing Winhill Pike.
I was nearing the end of my route now and fairly focused on the beer I was going to have at the end my final goal so I wasn't really paying any attention to the skies to the south west, from where the rain had come an hour or so ago -  and from where a new bank of dark grey cloud was menacingly rushing upon me now.

The first few drops of rain started to hit me as I reached the top of the Pike. This was proper wet rain, not the weak excuse for it I'd encountered earlier and it had developed a method of falling sideways too, all the better to drench any hapless walkers that might be wandering around the countryside. There were no trees to shelter under or behind up here, nor were the views as good as they might have been, as the valleys below and the moorland heights above them lay behind a grey gauze of mizzle. I didn't hang around long before packing away my camera and starting on my way down the hillside to Hope.

Some of the rocks that make up the Pike's summit.
Looking west along Winhill Pike to the trig column.

The path I took led down to Twitchill Farm, via perhaps two of the steepest fields I've crossed for a long time. It was slow going and played havoc with my knees so I was in some discomfort by the time I reached the farm. At this point I was doing the reverse of the route I had last taken up Win Hill and in my head, a short access road led practically to the door of a pub - clearly memory is as fallible as the scientists repeatedly tell us, for this "short road" turned out to be an interminable, foot-sore, knee-punishing trek along unsympathetic tarmac.

A splash of colour during the grey and wet conclusion of the walk.
The Great Ridge from the descent to Twitchill Farm.

Once there, I aimed for the first pub I saw - The Old Hall Hotel - and was greeted by an exceptionally warm welcome and a very well-stocked bar. I had a couple of hours before my train (having just missed one by minutes) so it seemed rude not to have a beer or two and a second lunch, the first one on Lose Hill having been so early I'd decided to relegate it to "elevenses". The food and atmosphere were both excellent and I'd heartily recommend this pub if you're in the area - with or without the exertion of a long walk beforehand.

Date: August 2016

Walk length: around 12.5 miles

Duration: 6.25 hours, including a break