Tuesday, 12 May 2015

A long walk in the Peak District- Castleton to Hayfield

I had one of those long weekend walks through the Peak District that made me happy that I made all the right choices in life that led me to be there.  

A mere two hour train ride north of London, sandwiched between the bustling metropolises of Manchester and Sheffield with a load of other populous cities in the midlands within an hour of the boundaries, The Peak District is the first area given National Park status in the UK and the second most visited National Park in the world.   Only Mount Fuji in Japan has more visitors.  Last year, Google had a nice google-doodle to celebrate the anniversary of it becoming  parkland.  

It took me more than a year later after seeing that to get here though.  I'm a bit spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing a walking weekend here.  

We took a train to Sheffield and then switched to a small two-carriage diesel affair.  A 4-mile long tunnel under the hills separates the urban sprawl to the park nicely, and we emerged from the dark in a whole new landscape of hills and farms and valleys.  

We disembarked in the town of Hope and made our way on foot to Castleton the long way- instead of taking the road directly, we walked up the hillside and took a much longer trail past Roman ruins and through sheep fields.  

The fact that it doesn't get dark until very late now is a joyfully good time for walking.  Putting in four miles after a two hour commute was a nice stretch before bedtime.

We got to the hostel and bunked down for the night.  I just want to applaud the YHA for everything they do.  Yes, it's bunk beds, but they have a lot of really beautiful properties, very few of them purpose-built.  The YHA Castleton was an old manor home on beautiful parkland nestled in a valley with hills all around.  What a treat to stay there, even if it's in a bunk in what used to be the stable.  The common areas retained their character and there was a lovely library to explore.  I would come back any time and we would have stayed longer and used it as a base but it was only available the one night.  Also, it's cheap as hell to stay.  Even a private room will set you back much less than a B&B, and you always meet nice people in the common rooms and at breakfast.

We set out early.  Lucky us, the trail up loose hill is right in the back yard.  But first, we would have to get past lambs, lambs and more lambs, which takes me quite some time to walk past.

I think the border Leicester sheep win awards for being the goofiest looking of the lambs.  Their oversized ears make them look like they are trying fly.

Finally, passed the undeniable cuteness, we started the long climb up Loose Hill to tackle what is reputed to be the finest ridge walk in the Peak District.

and here it is:

Ridgeline walks are always my favorite here.  The views, the easy walking after a big climb up.

THE WIND.  Oh, gawd, the wind.  It was windy.  Fiercely so.

Even though we obsessively checked the forecast, we weren't thinking it was going to rain until the next day.  Alas, as soon as we got to the top of Loose Hill, big wind-driven drops began to splat on our hoods.

The views from the top though.  Ahh, the next valley over contained the biggest climb in the Peak District:  Kinderscout, the legendary bog-topped hill that inspired a mass trespass that turned this into a National Park.  

The wind and rain didn't seem to deter too many, and towards Mam Tor, we were sharing the trail with dozens of people and dogs and mountain bikers.

In the valley below was Edale, a town quite popular with walkers, as this is the start of the Pennine Way trail.  This was the first official National Trail in England, an answer to the Appalachian Trail in the states.  It's the stuff of nightmares: everyone who has walked it tells stories of bogs, bogs and more bogs on the 268 miles from Edale to the Scottish Borders, following roughly the Pennine Watershed the entire time.

 After a warming lunch at the Penny Pot, a cozy National Trust cafe near the Edale train station, we stopped at the visitor's centre and headed to the start of the Pennine Way.  Already having hiked 7 miles, I thought we would be well behind the crowd, but dozens of people had set out with us.

And yes.  There is a pub at the start of the trail.

Wainwright, the grandaddy of all ramblers in the UK, famously complained about how miserable this trail was, and he was a tough old nut.  Bogs.  So many bogs.  Rain, let's pray for not a sunny day (too much to ask!) but a less-than-soaking rain.  A drizzle perhaps.  He famously said, "I hope you enjoy your walk on the Pennine Way...the walk will do you good.  You won't come across me anywhere along the Pennine Way.  I've had enough of it."

So perhaps it was the most appropriate way to start the trail with the sound of rain beating against my be-hooded ears.

Away we go!

The official trail skirts around Kinderscout before switchbacking up the western side of it.  The top of Kinderscout has been the stuff of nightmares for many people.  A big, flat bog on the top, with no obvious landmarks.  It's easy to sink up to your armpits and lose your sense of direction in the mist up there.

I would normally be all up for an adventure, but the wind was really whipping.  Staying on the good trail became the best idea.

Soon, the rain got bad enough for me to have to put the camera away in a dry bag.

I took it out from time to time to capture a quick shot, but it stayed safe for the rest of the day.

The most astounding this was Jacob's Ladder- a well-paved steep set of switchbacks very early on in the trail.  Here was the line of people going down as we were going up:

 It was some pretty epic people watching.  We saw dozens of people not wearing rain gear.  Jeans, flimsy tennis shoes, sodden sweatpants.  People carrying or bribing small crying children to just take a few more steps.  One large-bottomed woman was more or less being carried down Jacob's ladder by her entire family.  Yeah, they didn't forecast rain.  Honestly, my heart (and wallet) goes out to the Mountain Rescue people here.  They probably get more than their fair share of stupidity rescues.

We followed the trail to the top of Kinderscout and took shelter in a blissfully protected Tor near the top.

With nothing but our eyes and noses peering out of our hoods and our hands starting to go numb, we fumbled with the maps.  Instead of taking a long walk on top of Kinderscout to Kinder Downfall (the highest waterfall in the UK) we decided to get off the ridge and our of the wind and head down to our pub.  It seemed like we were quitting, but it was still a 4 mile walk to warmth, and we began our long trek into the next valley.

Once we left the top of Kinderscout, we didn't see another person for the rest of the day on trail.  It was getting crowded up there.

I had found a cozy roadside pub in the hamlet of Little Hayfield.  With Kinderscout on one side and more hills on the other, I figured it would make a nice basecamp for a couple days.  Plus, if it rained, we didn't have to go out in it to get to our next destination.  It was really stark and beautiful to slog across the moors with the occasional red grouse being scared out of its hidey-hole in the heather.

It was fantastic to get in, shed the sodden clothes (because even waterproofs won't keep you dry when you are out there for hours)  warm up with a hot bath and then sit by the fireplace with a whisky.  Despite the weather, we did over 16 miles of walking, most of it exposed to the wind.  Sleeping well is about the only thing I can do at the end of the day.

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