The Pennine Way

Walked in August - September 2007

Day One - Saturday 25th August

Edale to Hayfields
Pennine Way distance 6.5 miles - Cumulative 6.5 miles


Make no mistake: you are going to suffer, you are going to get wet through, you are going to feel miserable and wish you had never heard of the Pennine Way…

- Alfred Wainwright – Pennine Way Companion

Darryl stayed over at my flat on the Friday night, and we spent a couple of hours going through our kit trying to find items we could leave behind to keep the weight down. We woke at around 6am on Saturday morning and wasted no time in checking our bulging packs and making sure we hadn’t forgotten anything, anything important at least.

We left the house to make the ten minute walk to Osterley tube station, where we caught a train to King’s Cross. We were worried about time, but the tube journey ended up being a lot quicker than expected, and we were also encouraged by the bright, sunny turn the weather seemed to have taken. In fact, the good weather was to follow us for the whole trip, even returning back to London with us for some days afterward. In this respect we were very lucky indeed.

We had a coffee at St Pancras while we waited for the nine twenty-five train, wondering what was in store for us, and if we’d genuinely last the distance. This was unusual territory for us. Darryl was extremely fit, hardened from years of triathlons, marathons and ironman competitions, but me… Well, I was fit enough, and I’d worn in my walking shoes properly, something Darryl hadn’t done, having bought them only a few days before the start of the trip. It’s only too easy to guess what the consequences of this were. But all in all we were pretty prepared, or so we thought, and if mistakes were made prior to and during the trip, they were rectified by our ability to adapt and to endure pain.

Getting onto the train with our packs was a thankfully easy affair, and there weren’t too many people getting on with us (but then, not many people get on with us at the best of times, ha ha). There was also ample room for our packs in the luggage section, though by the time we retrieved them they had become part of a poorly built luggage tower. We sat down and enjoyed the countryside that passed by, again marvelling at the appearance of the Sun, after it had been in hiding for practically all of the Summer. The journey passed pleasantly all the way to Sheffield where we had to get off to make our twelve fourteen connection to Edale. As I sat on the platform waiting for Darryl who’d gone off to find out exactly which platform we should be waiting on (there were quite a few of them) I watched the other commuters milling about, some of whom were clearly planning on doing some walking like us. Whether they intended to do a similar amount of walking, was unclear, but I found myself analysing their packs, sleeping mats, clothing etc., to see if theirs was better than mine. The jury was still out by the time Darryl returned. We walked down the platform toward our waiting train and were surprised to find only two carriages, of considerable age, the interiors of which reminded me more of a bus than a train, with metal fittings and wooden, padded seats. But it was very charming to see that trains of such age were still maintained and in service. They certainly have more character than most modern alternatives.

We were shuttled slowly out of Sheffield and into the bright, verdant countryside, passing through several small, cosy villages before disembarking at Edale shortly before one o’ clock. There were many people about, walking either casually or, like us, with purpose. We asked directions to the Old Nag’s Head (the official start of the Pennine Way) and on our way there passed a very large, impressive-looking eatery with bed and breakfast facilities. We would realise later on in the walk, that staying here the night before would have been a very good idea, certainly a better idea than trying to cover sixteen miles on our first day, starting at two o clock in the afternoon. But we were still ignorant at this point, and it was too late anyway, so we continued on to the public house, had our photograph taken in front of it by two female tourists, then found a small shop where we bought some food to help us through the first day.

Ready to go at The Old Nag’s Head, Edale
Ready to go at The Old Nag’s Head, Edale

I should point out now (and will probably repeat myself later on), that walkers on the Pennine Way should buy food whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself, because the route was not designed with shops in mind, it was designed to pass as many points of interest and natural beauty as possible. We were to learn later on how low levels of energy and high levels of hunger can negatively affect the spirit. It’s amazing also, how certain glucose-high chocolate bars, and certain caffeinated fizzy drinks can boost morale as well as energy.

Once our pockets were full of junk food from the shop, and sandwiches from the small café nearby, we set off looking for the footpath that would take us, at last, onto Britain’s first long distance walk. We walked past the Old Nag’s Head, around the road to the left, then to the right, then stopped. Something was wrong. I was sure I could remember reading that the route began down a lane opposite the pub, not somewhere behind it. I double-checked the guidebook I had in my hand and, as I’d suspected, we’d taken a wrong turn. A superb beginning to the walk, and not a bad sign at all… Anyway, we found the correct lane, behind a Mountain Rescue Landrover that was parked at the junction (perhaps they’d seen us coming and were just hanging around, waiting for the call), and headed up toward a small gap in a fence that led to the tree-enshrouded Peat Lane which looked distinctly well-trodden. Looking at it, I felt that somewhere nearby there should have been a large plaque with the words ‘abandon all hope ye who enter’ carved into it. Still, it was a time for excitement, not dread, and I was relieved to see that the dark tunnel lasted only a few yards before opening out into fields.

The gateway to the Pennine Way
The gateway to the Pennine Way

We passed under the shadow of Broadlee-Bank Tor, marching quite happily to the West, passing the odd walker or two and eating our sandwiches and chocolate-covered raisins I’d bought to keep our energy levels up. The ground was quite remarkable for its sheep dung coverage, but this was something we’d very soon become accustomed to, as well as the dung of other animals and the occasional smell of a decaying corpse or two. Ah, the many interesting fragrances of the countryside. We had a steep descent down a rocky path before reaching the charming, if brief, Upper Booth farm which, on this fair-weather day seemed to be attracting a large number of tourists from many far flung countries. It was only a farm as far as we could tell, although they were selling ice cream so maybe it was a nice little stop off for people spending the day walking. We walked around the farmyard and through a gate that led us to a path that twisted its way up a valley to a stream and the beginning of Jacob’s Ladder. This marvel of modern sadism isn’t called a ladder for nothing. What at first appears to be a staircase of large stones laid into the side of the mountain, becomes steeper and steeper until you actually start to consider using your hands as well as feet. I was quite pumped up to begin with, and made the stupid mistake of charging up Jacob’s Ladder hoping to make it to the top in one go. But the worsening gradient wasn’t the only thing stopping me from getting to the top in one hit, the other problem I hadn’t considered was the fact that the path didn’t seem to end. Eventually (more to avoid expiring than anything else) I slowed down to a walk and puffed and panted my way to the top, Darryl never far away, no doubt also wondering which member of the Spanish Inquisition had designed such a punishing means of getting to the top of a hill.

Once we were at the summit we took a quick breather and were both startled and a little concerned to see three guys on bikes who had no doubt got the crazy idea into their heads of riding down Jacob’s Ladder. I don’t know what they were expecting to achieve with such an endeavour, but to my mind the only possible result would be a very swift journey into the hereafter. Nevertheless we and a few other people nearby egged them on, perhaps subconsciously hoping they would indeed ride their bikes down the ladder as they’d intended. People can be so cruel.

As we walked on we saw a couple of other guys with camping gear, who asked us if we’d passed anywhere to camp. We told them there would be somewhere to camp in Edale, and they said if necessary they’d just camp wherever they were when it got dark. At this point in our journey the idea of wild camping was still a bit of an exotic one. Darryl had wild camped before when he’d cycled from Land’s End to John O’ Groats, but it was completely new to me, and I much preferred the idea of a proper campsite with proper facilities. It didn’t seem like a lot to ask after a whole day of walking, although later on in the trip, we’d learn how just crawling into a dry tent would be enough at the end of a hard day.

Darryl meditates (?) with Edale Rocks in the background
Darryl meditates (?) with Edale Rocks in the background

We pushed on, missing a diversion to see Edale Cross, and instead walking on toward Edale Rocks, before which we stopped to take a few photographs of Edale in the distance, and the fog-enshrouded rocks around us. After a quick break and replenishment of fluids, we followed the track until at some point we left the Pennine Way (though we didn’t realise it at this point) and carried on down a very rocky path through the chilly mist, passing other walkers and day-trippers until Darryl started intimating that all wasn’t quite as it should be. We stopped by one of the many odd-looking rock formations so he could check the Pennine Way guide we were using, and we then noticed a couple sitting by a rock having a drink. I was a bit surprised that they didn’t know too much about the Pennine Way, and whether we were still on it or not, but they did give us some good advice, and after meeting another walker who again gave us a general direction to follow, we decided to follow a compass bearing North-East, which would, hopefully return us to the way. Sadly this meant doing something very inadvisable, i.e. walking straight across the bogs on Kinder through the mist, almost taking our lives into our own hands.

Lost in the mist
Lost in the mist

What followed was a two hour ordeal of jumping from hill to hill over very dubious looking ground (if you could call it ground), slipping, sliding and slip-sliding away into the bogs with only a vague compass bearing to guide us in the dense mist. Darryl would stop from time to time to check his compass, then shake his head and walk on, something that didn’t completely fill me with confidence as I followed dutifully behind him. Sometimes in order to keep on the same course we would have to navigate around a hillock or bog, something which was more often than not treacherous and time-consuming. People have been known to fall up to their waists and worse in these bogs, so although we desperately wanted to get back to the Way, we had to be careful not to make a false move and disappear forever into a foul-smelling mire. What an embarrassing way to go that would be, particularly on the first day of a long distance walk!

It was while leaping about in the fog and bog that we first heard a sound that would haunt us for the rest of the trip. At first it sounded like the quaking of a duck, but the second time we heard it, it was more like the bleating of a sheep, and it seemed to be following us too. As we made our shambolic way through the barren, inhospitable landscape with not a hint of humanity around us, the bizarre call of the duck-sheep monster seemed to get closer and closer, even though there appeared to be no signs of life around us. We found out some time later that this strange beast was in fact a grouse, as we saw one make a similar noise before it took off and flapped away from us (the reason I say ‘flapped’ rather than ‘flew’ away is because these mad creatures don’t seem to have mastered flying after God knows how many years on this planet, and I doubt they’ll be airborne for much longer unless they get their act together). More on this later.

Near Kinder Downfall
Near Kinder Downfall

Eventually we came to the edge of the mountain, though because the fog was still thick, we couldn’t see much to help us work out where we were, so we turned left in the general direction we needed to be headed, to find out shortly afterwards that it was in fact the opposite direction to the one we needed to be headed in. We were lucky enough to meet human beings (thank God) for the first time in over two hours, a couple from Newcastle who had the same Pennine Way guidebook as us, but were reading it properly. They pointed us in the right direction, back the way we’d come, and as we walked we saw the mist lift to our left and reveal, almost magically, Kinder Reservoir and the rest of the valley below. Not long after we came to a path leading steeply down the side of the mountain to Mill Hill, before which is a crossroads.

The crossroads at Mill Hill
The crossroads at Mill Hill

Seated here were a couple, a middle-aged woman and a slightly older man with what looked like a glass eye. We told them we were doing the Pennine Way and intended to get to Crowden before dark, something which put them in the awkward position of not knowing whether to scoff or laugh. It was already getting close to six o’clock, meaning we had a couple of hours of light left, and the couple warned us off crossing Featherbed Moss and Bleaklow at this time of day.

“You don’t want to be going over the Moss and Bleaklow in the dark,” the man warned.
“Aye, and it is ‘bleak,’” the woman added, almost shuddering at the thought.

The glass-eyed sage then told us that there was a decent campsite down the valley in Hayfields, just past Kinder Reservoir, which would take us about forty-five minutes. We’d wasted precious time being lost in the bogs, and getting to Crowden now would have been extremely difficult, so I suggested we go to Hayfields. Darryl however, wasn’t so keen to give in, and insisted we could still do it, or wild-camp on the way if it got dark. I wasn’t keen on wild-camping this early on in the trip, and I reminded him that we had a spare day because he’d made a mistake while planning the trip. He argued that using up the spare day now would be a real shame, and I agreed, though I didn’t want us to take an unnecessary risk, and thought going down to the campsite would be the best option. So that’s what we did.

William Clough

The path (if it can be called that, since it is more or less a rough trail of rocks down the course of a mountain stream) is known as William Clough, and it took us over an hour to navigate it all the way down to Kinder Reservoir, which would have been beautiful to behold if we had been in the mood to behold it. We pressed on past the reservoir, our bodies aching, until we found a country lane and two ladies who pointed us in the direction of Hayfields campsite that lay near a quarry and was a short walk from the town. After paying for our pitches, we set up our tents and wandered into town as it grew dark, finding a cosy little restaurant called Grumbleys where we ate Cumberland sausage and mash and drank a couple of pints of welcome lager. Hayfields is a larger town than it first appears when approaching it from the campsite. First one house appears, then a couple more, then a small street, then if you take a path to the right up a hill, you get a good view of the rest of the town below, including the large cricket ground. The nightlife wasn’t too quiet either on this Saturday night, and the three big pubs in the town were doing a roaring trade. Hayfields was like an undiscovered treasure, and I actually felt glad that we’d ended up there, even though we’d completed less than half the first day’s distance. We headed back to the campsite in the dark, using my small torch to guide the way and narrowly avoiding stepping on a small frog that was on his way to the stream on our left. The facilities at the campsite were very good, and we both had a good night’s sleep, despite the presence of midges, who seem to be indigenous to campsites. I took a couple of Paracetamol and curled up in my sleeping bag, wishing I had more head room, and that I’d learned how to erect the tent properly. I wondered then what lay in store for us over the next two weeks, and how tough it would get.

 

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