Saturday 29 September 2018

Kinder Scout: the River Kinder and Kinder Gates

Intrepid explorers walking the length of the world's great rivers has become something of a cultural phenomenon in recent years - think Ed Stafford trekking along the course of the Amazon for almost two-and-a-half years or Levison Wood hiking the Nile from its origin in the Nyungwe Forest, Rwanda to the Egyptian shores of the Mediterranean.

With adventures like these in mind it's little wonder that we became suddenly inspired to walk the River Kinder a couple of weeks ago, from its source deep in the Peak District plateau to... Well, only as far as the Downfall actually, because we wanted a nice circular route that didn't involve traipsing downhill and back up again. And we didn't quite walk it from its source, to be honest, because - rather like the Nile - there are several indistinct points at which its waters bubble up from the ground and start their journey to the sea. If we'd put more time and effort in to complete the River Kinder's entire three-mile course, no doubt I'd have a book deal and probably my own TV show by now but we didn't so you'll have to make do with another verbose blog post and some occasionally over-exposed photos.

Somewhere near the start of the River Kinder's epic journey...

We parked up around 8 am in Edale and it was already quite busy. Turned out that this was down to a Peak Raid event that was taking place, a combination of mini-marathon and orienteering challenge that made me feel a bit tired just thinking about it. As we strolled in a very uncompetitive way though the village, there was blue sky to the south of us but grey cloud hung like a pall over Kinder itself and we wondered if we were going to get a soaking later on. If nothing else, it seemed to guarantee blown out skies in most of my photos.

Edale and Kinder Scout.
A swathe of cyclamen brightening up and ivy-covered garden wall in the village.

Leaving Edale behind, we gained the edge of the Kinder plateau via Ringing Roger. This relatively quick route up has become a favourite of mine recently. True, the zigzagged path at the start of the ascent really digs its teeth into your calf muscles but a splendid viewpoint at the end of The Nab provides a good excuse for a breather halfway up. And once you reach the escarpment, you're compensated for your efforts with an enjoyable little scramble that brings you out onto the top of the crags.

Upper Tor and Nether Tor on the edge of the Kinder Plateau.
The Nab, a good spot for a rest on the way up.
After leaving The Nab, we end up just below Ringing Roger.

It's difficult to find any firm information online about the origin of the name Ringing Roger but it seems likely that the second part of it is derived from the French word for rock, rocher. The Roaches down in the Staffordshire Peak can trace their name back to the same Norman influence. Perhaps the "ringing" came from the sound of the wind, as it howled around the escarpment on dark winter nights? The rocks here are certainly testament to the effects of the weather, carved into all manner of fascinating and surreal shapes over the millennia. We spent some time exploring them before setting off for Grindsbrook.

Ringing Roger.
The view back down into the Vale of Edale from Ringing Roger.
The cairns in the far distance guide you to the path around Kinder's edge.

 As we made our way along the edge, I saw a walker ahead of us taking a picture of one of the rocks by the path. It was a striking-looking hunk of gritstone with a hole in it rather like that of a needle and I wondered why I'd never noticed it before. Then I realised I'd never walked the section between Ringing Roger and Grindsbrook in this direction until now. It seemed odd considering how many times I've been up on Kinder but somehow it was true - when heading east to west, I'd always descended before I got to this stretch. I suppose it's easy to fall into certain habits when you regularly walk in the same area, so it was an unexpected treat to get some new angles on a familiar path.

The Thread Needle Stone - we thought it deserved a name.
Grindsbrook Clough.
Crossing one of the waterfalls along the plateau edge.

The ground was relatively dry and solid so we made good time getting to the head of Grindsbrook Clough, despite having to stop and step aside for Peak Raid competitors to pass. It looked quite a challenging tournament, participants clambering up and down the steep slopes below us to check off the control points. As we watched them, grim memories of schoolboy orienteering trips surfaced, misery-inducing weekly outings that somehow always seemed to take place in fog and rain, whatever the weather conditions were elsewhere in the country.

Standing at the top of Grindsbrook Clough: Ringing Roger and The Nab in the centre of the picture,
Lose Hill to the right of them and a hazy Win Hill behind.

After crossing the head of the clough we had the luxury of paving slabs for a while, which was something of a relief. I was in shorts and quite a lot of the dry, gritty path had worked its way over the top my boots and under my socks. It wouldn't be the last time that day that I'd have to go through the rigmarole of taking those boots off and emptying them out but for a while at least I had the pleasure of walking without what felt like half the Dark Peak digging into the soles of my feet.

Crowden Tower on the far side of Crowden Clough.

I have to admit to a small thrill of anticipation when we arrived at Crowden Brook shortly afterwards. I've crossed it many a time and wondered what lay upstream, and now I was about to find out.

A narrow trod ran alongside the brook but the water level was very low so I decided to walk up the beautifully-shaped rock of the riverbed. The stone was nice and grippy under my boots and it soon felt like we were in a different world to the edge path we'd left below.

As we gained height we passed deep groughs to the side and eventually found ourselves above them on a faint path in the coarse grass. A couple of sheep, standing on a rocky island in this sea of moor, gave us what Paddington Bear would call "a hard stare" as we went by.

It was a gloomy morning but visibility wasn't bad at all so we could generally see the sketchy path ahead of us. And it really was sketchy, at its best just flattened down grass and an occasional footprint. It soon veered away from the public right of way shown on the OS map and begun tracing its own winding course across the moor in a vaguely north-western direction.

Sometimes, as it twisted and turned above the groughs, I wondered if we were being led on a wild goose chase but finally I spotted a huge fold in the landscape across the moor. I rightly surmised that this was the course of the River Kinder. We might not be doing so very directly but we did seem to be making our way towards it so we decided to stick with the path.

I can understand why people struggle up here in poor visibility, when there'd be little or no chance of seeing where the faint path in the grass continues on the other side of a grough. I'm confident in my ability to plot a bearing and follow it but  it'd be physically hard work to maintain a straight line across this terrain, where many of the channels in the peat are deeper than most people are tall.

Finally, after sliding down a steep slope of peat, we arrived at a proper stream. It was narrow and sluggish but it seemed to have a more determined air than the trickles in the peat around us - and it was heading in the right direction. Sporadic boot prints in the sodden ground beside the water also showed promise so we followed the brook's course into the grough.

This runnel of dark water gradually broadened out into something more lively and more worthy of the title "river". Pebbles and sand replaced the peat on its bed. A proper path appeared alongside it - and then another on the opposing bank: two paths to choose from, this seemed like the height of luxury after our wander across the moor. It'd been fun picking a route over from Crowden Clough but it was also nice to simply relax now and stroll through this peaceful landscape without having to pay much attention to navigation.

Eventually, we arrived at Kinder Gates. What a beautiful location it is! And it's very easy to get to without having to cross the moor - simply follow the course of the river upstream from the Downfall. If you do visit it from that direction, make sure to walk through the gritstone "gates" and enjoy the view from the other side before you head back.

From the Kinder Gates, it continued to be easy walking and we began to approach the edge of the plateau again quite soon afterwards.

We'd only met one other person on our journey across the moor, just after we'd reached the river; at the Downfall it was quite busy. We decided to find somewhere quiet to eat upstream. It would've been difficult to find a tranquil spot by the waterfall and, undeniably handsome though we are, I'm not sure any of those walkers were hoping for a photo of this beauty spot that included us tucking into our cheese butties.

At the Downfall.
Kinder Reservoir below.

It was fairly blustery on this western side of Kinder. We wondered if the Downfall would be doing its "up fall" trick, where the wind blows its waters back onto the plateau - and so it was when we reached it. Unfortunately though, the sustained dry weather over the summer meant it was a somewhat underwhelming experience.

Blink and you'd miss it...

This was the end of the our River Kinder expedition, if not the end of our walk. We joined the Pennine Way at this point and, boy, was it busy. We didn't see anyone carrying a backpack larger than themselves so I don't think we passed anyone who was doing the full length of the trail, most people seemed to be out for a ramble, chattering and laughing as they went by. Although it's always great to be out on the moors or mountains and feel like there's nobody else around for miles, it was good to see so many folk out enjoying the hills.

Now we're on the western side of Kinder, Manchester comes into view.
Crossing Red Brook Clough.
Kinderlow End.

Surprisingly it was quite quiet when we arrived at Kinder Low trig column. A couple of blokes were repacking their rucksacks some distance away and woman was sitting alone on a nearby rock, gazing into the distance but otherwise we had it to ourselves.

We toyed with the idea of paying a visit to Edale Rocks and descending via Jacobs Ladder but in the end the higher level path back to Edale won out. After taking a few pictures we set off towards the Woolpacks via Noe Stool.

Kinder Low trig.
Brown Knoll and Edale Rocks.
The route we decided to take.

The Woolpacks must be one of the most-photographed locations on Kinder Scout - and deservedly so. When you venture into this otherworldly expanse of exposed and weathered gritstone it feels like you're walking through a sculpture park on an alien planet; I've visited these rock formations on many occasions and each time I've spotted something that I haven't noticed previously.

Ordinarily the ground underfoot can be a bit of a nightmare here, a morass of wet peat that slyly waits either to fold itself around your lower legs and hold them in a tight embrace or to send your boots flying from under you and examine you at closer quarters. The dry summer had even managed to work its magic here too, though - we passed through without incident and carried on towards Crowden Tower.

Once we'd made the steep descent to cross Crowden Brook, we were retracing our steps from earlier in the day. Miraculously, the rain had held off although the threat of it was written in the sullen clouds above Kinder as we approached Grindslow Knoll. Beer was the focus now so we weren't tempted to climb to the top of this grassy ridge, opting instead for the path that skirts its side before wending its way across the moor and onto farmland.

Crowden Brook.
Grinds Brook.
Skirting the edge of Grindslow Knoll.

Either my memory plays tricks on me when I walk or something very strange is going on with the landscape in the Peak District - when I made my way across the Great Ridge a few weeks ago, it seemed a lot longer and the high points a lot higher than when I'd done it before. And the path down from Grindslow Knoll is one I always recall as being a gentle stroll into Edale when in fact it's covered in rubble and plays havoc with my knees.

Fortunately, it also comes with fine views into the valley and across to the Nab and Ringing Roger. If they weren't enough to take our minds off the uncomfortable surface beneath our feet, there was a small group of very musical walkers ahead of us, regaling each other and everyone else with some boisterous singing.

Looking across to Ringing Roger.
Edale with Lose Hill and the Great Ridge in the background.

We thought we might find them providing entertainment in the Old Nag's Head when we got there shortly afterwards. If they were in the pub, though, they were obviously too busy quaffing ale to belt out any more songs so we made do with a quiet shandy and some crisps. It wasn't quite as celebratory an end to our epic river journey as Levison Wood's arrival at the Mediterranean Sea but then we're not ones to make a fuss.

Date: September 2018

Walk length: 17.5 km 

Total ascent:  1017 metres


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