It was a long journey yesterday from the Isle of Eigg back to Nottingham, the drive towards the end feeling like a computer game. A really really boring one. However all that travelling was worth it. The festival was amazing whilst Eigg was simply stunning. The sun shone and there was not a drop of rain. It may take a little while to put up a post and photos, so in the meantime a quick 360 degree panorama video from the summit of An Sgurr.
On Friday morning the Isle of Eigg in the Inner Hebrides is going to be invaded by 150 music fans. Corrina and myself are going to be among them. The Fife based fence collective are taking over the islands community hall to put on a very intimate music festival called the Away Game. I am looking forward to spending the weekend on a small island with like minded people and get to watch some excellent bands. There will be electronica all night Friday followed by some folky loveliness on the Saturday. Sunday is for chilling and if the weather is good I will go climb a hill. As a first for a festival the chartered ferry will be met by a tractor to transport peoples bags to the campsite next to the sea. Sounds good to me.
It’s just a shame that it is a 1000 mile round trip to get to a two day festival!
On Thursday afternoon I found myself with a sudden urge to visit the Peak District the following day. Now seeing that Friday is my day off and the weather forecast was pretty good, it would be a waste to spend the day in bed. My eyes have been finding themselves falling on the far north-western part of the Dark Peak map recently. Here the open access moors fall down to the outskirts of Manchester in a tangle of tight contours, suggesting steep escarpments and deep narrow cloughs. This is an area that I rarely visit, seeing as it is just that bit further to drive. With two full days of the weekend to follow I found myself getting in the Bongo just a little bit later than I originally planned.
9.9 miles with 620 metres ascent
It was close to 1.00pm when I finally put my rucksack on and left the Bongo at the car park just off the A635. Now I either looked really odd or that car park is used for other purposes than to park a vehicle. There was a bloke in a very posh Range rover staring very intently from the moment I arrived to the moment I set off (he parked next to me when I got there). When I left he went and parked next to someone else in the car park. I suppose we all have our hobbies.
I got my first glimpse of the escarpment that I would be walking later on that afternoon, rearing dramatically on the other side of the valley. I dropped down through the woods which led me to the surfaced track that runs round the reservoirs.
This quickly led to Greenfield reservoir which was pretty empty considering how wet it has been the last month or so. The track continuing along the side of the reservoir disappearing into the deep valley of Greenfield brook.
The deep valleys or cloughs as they are known in this part of the world are the hidden gems of the dark Peak. The high moorland and edges may give expansive views but it is the hidden solitude of these secret places that I enjoy the most. Away from the popular spots you can scramble up rocky watercourses through deep clefts in the hillsides, emerging from their claustrophobic confines into a bleak open world. GreenField brook starts off pretty pedestrian with a wide track up its length. And then the character of these hills change.
The track ends where the valley splits into two, to the right there is Birchen Clough and to the left is Holme clough. Birchen clough is steep and rocky and has a reasonably sized waterfall in its upper reaches, there is also a path up the valley. Holme clough is much longer and takes its time to reach the moorland heights, there is also no discernible path to follow. I went the pathless route and immediately got a boot full of water as I slipped my way across Birchen Clough to reach Holme Clough! The start of the valley involved crossing and recrossing the stream several times which was not as easy as I would have liked due to the water in the stream being pretty lively. My old Salomon mids and green slippery rocks were not the best combination. However the terrain eased a little just before the junction of Rimmon Pit Clough and there was even a feint path through the grass.
Sitting below a small waterfall I pondered my surroundings for a while, a spot about as wild as you can get in the Peaks. I also eyed up the waterfall and the slippery rock that surrounded it. I was keen to avoid taking to the hillsides already but was also aware that no one knew where I was, I had simply told my partner that I was off to the peaks and would be back after dark!
A couple of moves later and I was on top of the waterfall and looking back down the valley.
Further up and it becomes very narrow with only room for the river at the bottom, there was some pretty slow going on steep boulder strewn slopes which soon got tiring.
Less than a kilometre above the waterfall I gave up and climbed the steep wet grassy slopes up onto the moor above with a view of the clough snaking off into the distance.
A wet trudge across Middle edge moor and I was faced with a short sharp descent into Birchen Clough which provided me with a perfect boulder just above the river to lounge upon for a while. A sharp ascent and I was contouring the clough to the sharp prow of Raven stones. This gave me a superb sunlit view straight up Holme clough.
From here on the way was pretty straight forward, simply stick to the steep edge and walk!
Suddenly as I reached Ashway rocks the view really opened up with a string up reservoirs glinting in the afternoon sun, a place to linger if the wind had not been so cold.
I hurried along the edge looking for shelter for a coffee and food break. I found this at Bramley’s cot, a ruined shooting hut just below some rocks along the edge. With its remaining substantial walls it proved a perfect place for a break and to take in the surrounding views.
Which included Manchester and it’s tower blocks not that far away.
The edge then becomes less pronounced and the moor boggier as Chew reservoir is reached, a strange bleak appealing sort of place. Although not somewhere to enjoy in the wind and rain I would imagine.
My original plan had been to continue high up and follow the edge on the other side of Chew Brook until it terminated at Alphin Pike. However it was getting late and I really could not be arsed. Instead I took to the tarmaced Chew road and made quick progress down the valley. Half way down the Oldham way takes up the line of an old tramway which now makes one of those perfect level contouring paths. In fact it was so perfect and the scenery so good in the evening light that all of a sudden I found myself face down in a puddle. I have yet to master the art of walking whilst not looking at my feet, I need to go an a multitasking course. Only my pride was hurt and the mud that covered me would easily wash off, luckily no holes in my favourite hiking clothes!
Reaching the main car park by the Dovestone dam it was evident that this area is an important local resource. There were loads of families out for a stroll and dog walkers and cyclists about just before dark on a Friday evening. I wish I had somewhere like this on my doorstep.
For the past three years I have had the pleasure and privilege of using a beautiful and remote old farmhouse in the Black Mountains. A rare place of solitude, isolation and retreat in a hectic world. I arrived there for probably the last time last weekend for a final farewell as it has been sold by the current owners. Driving from Nottingham the modern world slowly drifts away as you drive the final seven miles of narrow twisting lanes into a dead end valley surrounded by mountains and forest. The keys to a locked barrier soon see you climbing up a muddy forestry track to a signpost pointing along a bridleway. A decision has to be made here, park up and carry the tons of gear accumulated in the van or risk the steep, bumpy bridleway though a tunnel of deciduous trees. Laziness always wins in the end and you duck as the branches of the trees scrape the roof of the van and the wheels slide over wet rock. Suddenly sky dominates once again as a clearing is entered and the final rocky steps of the track brings you safely into the walled enclosure of a special place.
A journey I have made many times but this time was a little more special. Just before reaching the farmhouse a flash of white caught my eye, behind the barn I spotted two fell ponies watching me nervously whilst grazing on the lush green grass. Pure wild magic.
I had a day to myself before a couple of friends from Nottingham joined me for the weekend. Many of the footpaths in the vicinity of the Farmhouse had felt the tread of my boots over the past three years, so I braved the track once more and headed for Cwmyoy. Its crooked old church that twists like a corkscrew has a splendid backdrop of Hatterrall hill with its massive landslip, which reminded me of Alport Castles in the Peak District. I will let some photos tell the story of the day:
A sunken path through a canopy of gnarled twisted old trees.
Looking up the lush green Vale of Ewyas from the top of the landslip.
Returning along the Offa’s Dyke path and the final trig point before descending. The ridge gives a clear boundary between the mountains of Wales and the rolling hills of England.
The ridge snakes down terminating in a hill fort.
The scenery turned pastoral as I crossed the fields heading for the small wooded nature reserve above Strawberry cottage.
Back at the farmhouse I embraced the solitude whilst I had the place to myself, a comfy chair being dragged out into the garden. A sweat was later worked up as I attempted to cut wood with a bow saw to light a fire for when it got dark and the night would push me inside. A distant motor signaled the arrival of Steve and Tash who also embraced the magic of the surroundings and our accommodation for the weekend. A convivial evening and night was spent burning wood, drinking beer and putting the world to right. My pile of musty mattresses were pure luxury as I sank into them for the best nights sleep I have had for weeks.
The following morning was leisurely, spent just being in the forest and in and out of the ancient building full of character. Exploring with my camera I started to notice things that had previously passed me by.
Ferns growing out of almost every single wall like mini hanging baskets.
An old drain pipe that nature is slowly turning the same colour as the surrounding stone.
The rusty old loo!
The dreamy porch inviting you into the house.
The old garden wall that is being reclaimed by nature.
A retreat deep in the woods hidden in a fold on the mountainside.
The afternoon was spent walking up the local mountain behind the farmhouse, the 800 metre peak Pen y Gadair Fawr. Unfortunately the approach is less than attractive being along a rather dull forestry track. However this means that the miles are quickly eaten up and open countryside is soon reached, just before the final moorland rise to its summit cairn. Unfortunately the surrounding countryside was eaten up by pretty murky conditions and the views were less than extensive. The surrounding hills simply being grey outlines on the horizon. The returning ridge line however is a joy to walk, high above two valleys and free from the conifer plantations. The weather conditions meant that it was not really worth getting the camera out, except for the two below. These will simply be labelled, “Ex punks turn last of the summer wine”.
Achy legs were amply rewarded on return to our accommodation later than afternoon, the two fell ponies had taken up residence in the garden. Tiny nervous things they were too, although one did square up to an interested looking Jack Russell. Does anyone know the origins of the Black Mountain Fell ponies?
Another wildlife spectacle revealed itself later that evening when Steve excitedly called us outside. There was a steady stream of bad flying between the barns, darting through gaps with surprising speed and agility. Movement on the rafters of the porch above our heads caught our eye. Our torch beam picked out two bats hanging upside down just a couple of feet above us. A wonderful sight although they quickly moved on to join the others feeding between the barns.
The excesses of the night before and tired bodies from the walk meant that we were all dozing in from of the fire not that long after it got dark. Nights are atmospheric there with the combination of a huge open fire and gas lights. Outside there is no noise apart from the owls and a distinct lack of light pollution. The stars really get to shine!
The good old Met Office once again showed us how inaccurate their forecasts are. We were promised sunshine, we got heavy rain and low cloud the following morning. Our walk before leaving for home was high on atmosphere but low on views!
Farewell my forest and mountain retreat…………………