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 slog up that mountain's south face I was drawn again and again to admire the striking crags and ridges on the other side of the valley.

Optimistically, 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 into English as "Cairn of the Female Greyhound").

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


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: 21 km

Total ascent: 964 metres