Stage 12 - Edale to Crowden

The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed something fishy in the title. I didn't finish in Edale the night before but in Hathersage.

Fact was I had a bit of dillemma. I could not get in to the youth hostel at Hathersage. Indeed I had a lot of trouble getting into a youth hostel anywhere. I had not stayed in an English youth hostel for years and they seem to have got much worse in the interim. One that I would have liked to have stayed at would only book me in if I stayed for two days. Two days! The YHA was set up to enable ramblers and cyclists to get from place to place. But now they are more and more set up for the convenience of car drivers.

Edale turned out to be an "activity centre." It fair hoached with kids. I had to walk through some sort of adult organised game in the grounds before the hostel to get in last night. The self-catering kitchen turned out to be relegated to a side building. A scabby little room with peeling paint and two cookers, only one of which worked. And there were signs (in the main building) saying that you could only drink alcohol if you bought theirs with some absurd lie about how it would be illegal for you to drink your own rather than buy their ludicrously expensive alternative.

Last night I had a bottle of wine with my meal. You could only have house wine by the glass which threatened to be nasty and I was splashing out. But I didn't want to drink the bottle and could no more chuck the other half away than cut my own toe off to make  a toe sausage sandwich. But I didn't want to carry a glass bottle in my already too heavy rucksack so in the end I put the rest in my flask and did without tea reasoning that I should find some tea shops on the way.

I chatted to a nice Canadian girl and later, drinking my wine illegally in the lounge, to a guy who had been doing the same navigation course. Good for them. I wish I had been sensible enough to do something like that when I started out hill walking. Much better than killing yourself, or nearly killing yourself as was more my case. Mind you I can still never remember how to do compass bearings for more than about six months. The information just falls out of my head after that. Time for a refresher I reckon.

But anyway, this non booking the right hostel business meant that I was about ten miles from Edale and booked in another hostel over Kinder Scout and far away. I spent last night figuring on it as I sipped wine from my flask. The fact was that I was more than a bit fucked. The virus had not stopped me doing two fairly hard days' walking, and my feet were unblistered. Even the crotch chafing was not too bad. But I was seriously jiggered and I knew it. I thought I could get from Edale to Crowdale. But even if I eschewed Kinder Scout and went by the Ladybower reservoir it was further if I took the train back to Hathersage. And I just did not think I had the energy.

So I left that bit as a fill in for later. I had been trying to avoid this, but at least I did not have to go and fill in something like the four mile, footpathless busy road walk out of Enderby which had looked likely a couple of weeks back. Coming back to the Hope Valley for a moderate day's walking would be a pleasure.  So I pack and set off up the hill behind the hostel, leaving the gap behind me.

Fuck me it is hard. The path is indistinct in places and muddy in others and I have to get out of the way of three fell runners thundering down almost immediately. Fell running is something I do not understand. It makes my knees ache just to look at the mad bastards. Along with danglers and mountain bikers they make me think of Jane Austen. "One half of the world will never understand the pleasures of the other."

I crawl up this bloody hill. A few paces. Stop get my breath back. Swear at the weight of the rucksack.  A few more paces. Shit. This is not good. I know I am not fit. I know I'm still recovering from the virus but this is ridiculous. My time calculations are out already and I am getting nowhere slowly.  The day is overcast but still warm and I am sweating profusely. How did I get this out of condition? When did I last go up a hill? At Christmas. Nah, that was only up the Ben Nevis Gorge to Steall. Not a hill at all. Last summer, over the Mamore Ridge from Anna's to the Ben Nevis Inn. That wasn't too bad, was it?

Must be the virus.

At least I am in upland already. Heather around me and, at last I hit the path that runs along the edge of the plateau. Almost straight away I startle a red grouse. And then another and another. I see a few other walkers too, here and there and as my path is joined by other paths there are more of them.

It takes a hell of a long time to get round to the Edale path.I should have headed across Kinder Scout or else walked round to Edale from the hostel and then gone up from there. I have spent ages getting to this point. Here the path heads into the dark heart of Kinder Scout. The landscape is peculiar.

Peat hags I am familiar with. No shortage of peat on Lewis and I  have walked on the Barvas and the Arnish Moors enough times. But this is a bit different. The basic landscape seems completely flat but the peat cap is riven by a myriad of winding gullys, deeper than you normally find in Lewis. In them you cannot see anything out of them but climb out onto the peat between and you soon have to go down to cross the next one. And when you do you see other people. Lots of other people perched on top of peat banks calling to each other. All seemingly lost except another bunch of fell walkers who go charging by and disapear again.

There is no discernable path. Or rather there are as many as you could wish, none with more footprints than the next. At least the hags are dryish in the bottom mostly. Where they are not the water looks revolting, the colour of stale, concentrated urine. On one prominance I see a load of white bags. Beyond them something. Rocks maybe? I have taken a rough bearing. The day is clear but the forecast is not great and anyway you cannot see much in the gullys. But they wind around too much so I climb out and fix my bearing on a solitary little fir tree. That gets me to the white bags. They are empty. But scattered around is what looks like bits of dried and ground up heather. Some conservation measure clearly. But how it is supposed to help this woebegone landscape is not clear.

I struggle on. And looking down I see the trickle of water is going North. That is something. I follow it, as it winds and joins another gully, widening now and then another. Getting bigger all the time until I seem to be on the bed of a small, more or less dried up river. A path. A real path not a few foot steps in the peat.  And then I come to the rocks and see on my old map that there is something called the Kinder Gates. I reckon this must be them.

After that I pass a couple of men walking. "This is the real Pennine Way." One says to the other as they pass me. Shortly after this I come to a jumble of rocks on the far edge of the plateau. I am at Kinder downfall though there is no real waterfall as it is too dry. Thank fuck for that, I think, imagining trying to get through that peat hag hell if it was seriously soggy.

I stop for tea and food but not for long as I am harrassed by a sheep. This is really weird. Sheep never bother people. Unless it was raised as a pet, a lamb without a mother hand reared. They can get a bit over friendly. But it seems strange up here. Anyway I have lost lots of time in my slow crawl up hill, meander round the edge and fun and games in the middle of Kinder Scout.

This was the mountain that provoked the mass trespass so important in the access struggles. But to be honest, on that flat peat bog, even on a good day, you really have to wonder why they bothered.

As I set off I pass a solitary climber who seems to be fixing a top rope for some reason. Now on a good stone path. I have come across some of these flag stone ways on the other side of the plateau and they make easy going. I give thanks to the people who laid them because it must have been a lot of work in a lot of weather less pleasant than todays. The path follows the edge of the escarpment, up and down, me groaning everytime it goes up and swearing at my knees when it goes down.

And now it goes down steeply, off the plateau. My path crossing another one on its way to Mill Hill. Wainwright, I find reading his Pennine Way guide later, says there is no Mill and very little hill, which is exactly right. It is just a sort of vague peaty mound. But the flags take you to it and then dog leg north west across Featherbed Moss.

This is a strange landscape. As flat as Kinder Scout but the gullys in the peat are much less deep. Which does not make me any less grateful for the stone flags which take me across this featureless hump of moorland. Red grouse still grackle at me now and then. Kinder Scout looms at me to the south. But Featherbed Moss itself is  an interminable lump of not-ness.

I am really tired. My bag seems really heavy. My knees are not too bad but I am getting a bit worried. It has taken me much too long to get here. And after Snake Pass there is nothing between me and the hostel but more of this Dawkins forsaken landscape.

Eventually I hear something. Traffic. Motorbikes maybe. I plod on. Stone flag after stone flag after stone flag after stone flag... they wind around for reasons that are completely unclear. Avoiding watercourses perhaps but the moor is so flat and featureless that one route looks as good as any other. I start to see cars on the distant road. Snake Pass. There are some vehicles parked there. A van maybe.

I try to remember. Did not Wainwright say something about a tea van parked in the lay by? I get the bins out. Yes, I think it is a tea van. Fantastic. It is half four so I just hope I can get there before it packs up for the day.  On I slog. Stone flag after stone flag after stone flag, pounding my way across the moss.

The trouble is, the cars do not get any nearer. I try to stop looking. The flag trail winds around the place but one thing is constant. The cars stay just as far away as when I first spotted them. I look at the flags and swear a lot instead but every now and then I have to look up. Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuckity fucking fuck! They have not grown any fucking bigger. And on. And on. And on...

At last the buggers start to grow visibly nearer. But there is something wrong with that van. I get the bins out again. It is just a blue transit. The sort that transports walkers. No tea van. I sob in despair and then throw myself head first into the mire.

It turns out when I get back and check that the ice cream van Wainwright was on about stopped somewhere else entirely. And it was written in 1966. Oh well, so much for planning!

Not really. I just swear some more. Well, a lot more, really.

At last I reach Snake Pass. I have seen the bikers shrieking over it this past half hour. And there is a sign there saying that lots of them have got killed in the last few years. I cross the road and stumble up the path a bit before sitting down for some water and chocolate. The tea is finished and there is not much food apart from a raw egg and the rest of the pesto. Still the chocolate seems to revive me a bit. Time to press on, tired or not.

The next bit is hard and wierd. At first the path is pretty good, an old track (The Devil's Dyke). But then it turns into a winding gully wending its way towards the top of Bleaklow Head. I say the top because it is interminable. At one point I spy some rocks, the highest ground around, with kids clambering on them and shouting. OK, its not so far. Strangely there are patches of snow though I saw none on Kinder which was higher up.

But it is. The gully goes on and on, winding this way and that. I must have got to those rocks by now, surely? This is worse than the flagstones of Featherbed Moss. At least I could see around me. I am really tired now. But this is the last up I have to do today, I tell myself and grind on. On and on and slowly upwards.

A big party passes me at one point. Multiple adults, multifarious kids and a dog or two for good measure. I bet they are the blue van people. I consider asking them for a cup of tea but decide against it. On and on, the gully twists and winds. I have almost given up hope when I come to it. A dull cairn. Looking back I see the pile of rocks I thought was the top. No wonder it was so far. I consider putting my glasses on to read the map but can't really be bothered.

I have a mouthfull of two of water and a bit of chocolate left and I promise myself that I can have them before I start go down to the valley. I am far from there yet. I trudge on.

After a K or so the path dog legs around and I cross the little gorge I have been following. After that it falls away. Soon I am on a path with a quite serious drop beside me and the ground is very, very steep. I would not want to fall down there. It is not quite enough to get my vertigo going but dangerous enough to buck me up. I am worried about my knees but they are not doing too badly. Which is to say they hurt like fuck as the way gets steeper, but I am able to hobble with the aid of my poking stick.

And hobble down I do. Taking a break from time to time to consider my options. There seem to be two ways around the reservoir. One is a bit further but on a disused railway line track. I like disused railway tracks a lot now. They have such easy gradients for one thing. But it is further, a lot further unless you can cut across what looks like a farm. The map makes it look like you cannot. And anyway the other way is nearer so I go for that one.

There is no way across the farm, in fact, so I walk on down the path to the road and then meet up with the railway track. This is a bit confusing. There is a path marked across the dam but it isn't obvious how to get there. I take a punt on walking down the track but after a while it is clear there is no side way. Fuck. I stop a moment and watch a willow warbler in the tree. Which is to say that I try and fail to take a picture of it.

Back to the road and it is obvious immediately where I went wrong. There is an old disused bit of road which takes me down to the dam. I cross it and walk through some woods. The road here is horrific. Faster than Snake Pass I would say.  I am happy to get across it. The footpath then goes up a steep hill and I curse it until it gives in and starts to drop again down to Crowdale. And, at about half past seven, two hours or so later than I estimated, I hobble into Crowdale Hostel to find the place almost completely deserted.


  1. Caroline said...

    Sounds like a really miserable day, Spence. I found it interesting, though. I don't think I've evr walked this particular route- and now I never will, except vicariously, like now.
    Thanks for the pictures, too. I feel like I was there.  

  2. Spencer said...

    No, it wasn't miserable. I just make it sound like that because I am a grumpy old bugger. There were some miserable moments, granted but some great ones too. I loved watching the red grouse from close up, and the bizarre landscape of Kinder Scout was fascinating.

    And I am driven by curiosity, so even when my knees are hurting and I am knackered, I am interested in new places and things.

    Walking from Turvey to Northampton across giant muddy wheatfields in January and sloshing through the mire of the canal towpath in pissing rain at Easter - those were miserable days!

    5 May 2010 02:25

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