A recent hiking trip to the Peak District reminded me of two things. Firstly, the fact that England has some incredibly beautiful scenery, and some intriguing finds that turn up in the most unexpected of places. The second is the need to be prepared. It might be England, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. The combination of challenging terrain and bad weather can be an extremely dangerous one, something worth bearing in mind if you feel like exploring.
The idea of the long weekend was to travel up to Derby on the Friday afternoon, camp overnight in tents and then take two days and one night to explore the surrounding area, sleeping in bivvy bags. The four of us worked out a roughly circular route that would take us over the Trans Pennine Trail to Kinder Scout, the wide plateau that is the highest point of the Peak District.
Source – gemmalouiselowe
The walk there was fairly punishing in its own right: 25 miles across hugely varied landscapes. Much of the route was paved with broad flagstones that made walking easier. In between stretches of this, the route could vary between clear paths and little more than animal trails, if that. On more than one occasion we found our pathway would peter out, and we would have to pick our way across knee-deep gorse until we could find another one.
It was on one of these occasions that I realized I had underestimated the conditions we would meet. It was a fairly remote area, we’d lost the path and the rain was coming down sporadically but hard, cold and horizontally. If one of us had slipped and broken an ankle, it would have been hours before the others could have worked their way out and brought help – which presumably would have had to take the form of an airlift. Even a helicopter might have had trouble picking us up there.
Forewarned by this experience, I was more respectful at the top of Kinder Scout. It’s an easy climb, and the views and scenery at the top are worth it. It’s a different world up there, like something out of a sci-fi movie. Huge boulders in riverbeds that have cut their way through the black peat, an alien world. But up on the very top, it’s different again.
Dusk was falling and I snapped a couple of glow sticks to look at the map. I’m a recent convert to glow sticks, which provide all the light you need for map-reading but don’t affect your eyes in the way a torch does. They’re also a good way of keeping each other in sight – hang one off your rucksack, or wear a couple of glow stick bracelets, and you’re visible in the gloom from some distance.
The map was near-useless. There’s just nothing to use as a landmark on that windblown plateau, full of gorse and soft peat hillocks. In any case, the most detailed map would be rendered obsolete in a few months – paths quickly shift and disappear in that environment. When the rain threatened to start again, we recognized the need to find a way down, or be forced to spend the night up there shivering in bivvy bags, huddled for shelter in one of the gullies. Spreading out (the glow stick bracelets were invaluable here), we soon found a route down, but much darker, or wetter, and it would have been suicide to try it.
It was a fantastic trip, but next time I’ll be taking more time, warmer clothes, better boots and waterproofs, more light – both glow sticks and torches – more high-energy food and probably a GPS.