24hrs on Bleaklow

by backpackingbongos

This is one of those backpacks that has been planned and in the diary for several months.  It was last June since I last had an outing in the hills with Rich as that fateful weekend left him with a damaged knee.  Therefore a short gentle backpack not too far from home with an easy bail out was planned (Saturday afternoon we realised that Bleaklow can be far from gentle).

The Upper Derwent valley is a spectacular place within easy reach of many big cities.  This means that the area around the car parks can be rather overrun.  Fortunately many of these visitors are tied to their vehicles by an invisible umbilical cord meaning that the wildest most far-flung areas of the moors are pretty unfrequented.  Our plan was to park the Bongo in the first car park in the valley near Hurst Clough and get the bus to Kings Tree where the road ends.  We would then walk up onto Bleaklow for a wild camp before following my favourite valley in the Peaks, the River Alport back towards the van.

Thankfully the road past Fairholmes is closed to traffic on summer weekends and a frequent park and ride service runs up and down the road.  This makes it much more pleasant for walkers and cyclists and makes the road head feel even more remote as there is not a long line of parked cars.  Usually the bus leaves every 30 minutes but I had read the timetable incorrectly not realising that there is a break for lunch.  We ended up standing at the bus stop like lemons for an hour, although pleasant in the warm autumn sun.  The bus eventually turned up and for a grand sum of 60 pence each it rattled us up the valley.  Unfortunately we were the only passengers on board so I would not be surprised to see that service cut back in the future.

Total Distance 15.2 miles with 780 metres ascent

Off the bus and heading along the track towards the bridge at Slippery Stones the sky suddenly darkened and it tipped it down with rain.  Now that definitely was not in the weather forecast the night before!  As usual the bridge was busy with cyclists as it is the turning point for the ride around the reservoirs (actually a rather nice day out).  Pulling on waterproofs we continued up the valley heading for the wilder reaches of the infant River Derwent.  We would not know until tomorrow but from that moment on we would not see another person for almost exactly 24 hours, pretty unusual for the second busiest National park in the world!

We soon located a spot where we could descend to the River Derwent and crossed the river easily without getting wet feet.  Climbing up the other side the view back across to the Howden Moors was stunning, the autumn colours contrasting with the brightening sky.

Our first destination for the day was Ronksley cabin, well hidden in a clough.  A chance to get out of wet waterproofs and sit down to eat lunch out of the increasingly cold wind.  This secluded little cabin even has its own visitors book and it looks like a few folk spend the night here.  However be warned as it would not be a comfortable night on its damp cobbled floor, I would probably avoid the word bothy when describing this place!

The temperature had suddenly dropped when we left the cabin and climbed up towards Round hill, our breaths steaming in the cold air.  The ground was boggy, very boggy and we probably doubled the distance walked as we skirted and hopped around the quaking morass.  The path up Round hill led easily towards the Barrow stones before giving up the ghost and leaving us with some navigation to be getting on with.  Then sitting on a bank of peat we stumbled across the humble source of the River Derwent, initially thinking it was a memorial of some sort.

Our next destination was to be Bleaklow Stones which loomed on the distant horizon, illuminated through the broody clouds by shafts of sunlight.

On the map the route could not look more simple, just over a mile of open moorland and along a wide ridge.  On the ground the reality of the Dark Peak moors are a very different proposition.  There are two words that best sum up this sometimes forbidding landscape, these are Peat and grough.  For those of you that have never seen a grough let me explain.  Peat is pretty soft stuff when mixed with large quantities of water, this water eroding the peat leaving disorientating deep channels in the moor.  Think of a black muddy labyrinth that could suck you into its boggy depths at any time and you get the general impression of parts of Bleaklow.  If you want the challenge of some hardcore groughs then go into the hinterland of Kinder Scout where they are up to 15 feet deep.

Anyway this is the view of what greeted us on the journey towards Bleaklow Stones, here shortie gaiters really don’t cut the mustard.  Unfortunately I was wearing shortie gaiters, Rich was wearing none.

I don’t know why I said it but I muttered something about it being hard to navigate up there in mist.  Those words acted like some form of curse as ten minutes later a huge bank of the stuff covered the tops like a damp mattress.  We could see blue sky above but not more than 50 metres in front, the early evening light turned it into an eerie sort of place.

That mile took forever as the maze of groughs never head in the right direction.  It is a constant up and down, peat covering everything from the waist down.  Sometimes the maze heads the correct way before sneaking off 90 degrees leading to a fair bit of confusion.  I am sure that the route we actually walked looked a little like this:

Thing is we will never know as we often were pretty unsure exactly where we were for a good hour.  Eventually we got excited because we spotted a rotting wooden stake in the ground and a vague peaty path which lead us almost comfortably to Bleaklow Stones.  These are easily identified by a giant anvil or what my mind tells me is a whale’s tail.  In the mist there are many odd shapes to let your imagination run riot.

The afternoon had turned to evening and we did not have much time left until it got dark, time to get a move on as darkness would just confound the navigational difficulties.  It is here that I admit to cheating a little bit, using the Roadtour East Midlands app on the iPhone a couple of times to check our exact location.  There was an amazing spectacle when the setting sun hit the mist surrounding us turning everything a pinkish orange, totally confounding my camera so no picture.  The mist would suddenly clear giving wild dramatic views before engulfing us again this time in an unexpected rain shower, typical!  There was so much drama going on in the sky that approaching darkness went unnoticed until it was suddenly upon us and head torches had to be switched on to cross rough and very boggy moorland.

On our the final approach to our chosen camp spot the ground suddenly became dangerously boggy, the ground quaking in a threatening manner.  Headtorches unable to pick out a direct route we thrashed through high reeds and stinking bog to reach safer ground.  It was with relief that we located our grassy oasis in the middle of the moor.  Tents were pitched by head torch with a rising moon as a backdrop.  There was not a breath of wind and the temperature started to drop, we soon retired into individual tents to make hot drinks and get dinner on.

Whilst cooking we noticed two headtorches on the ridge above heading in our direction, we watched for a few minutes before they suddenly vanished.  Night walkers or the ghosts of airmen lost on the high moors after their plane crashed?  There are many ghostly stories about Bleaklow.

It was a very cold night with the tent being encrusted in frost and an inch of ice in the pan when I got up to pee at 4am.  I soon snuggled back into my sleeping bag cursing the fact that it is difficult to judge flatness when pitching a tent in the dark.

Dawn soon came and I awoke to an inner tent totally dripping with condensation, any slight movement meaning I would get a cold shower.  I reached for my trousers left in the porch and noticed that they were frozen solid from the knee down.  This coupled with frozen boots meant a less than pleasant start to the day.  Moving around to get warm I waited for the sun to hit our camp spot.

It was sheer bliss when it did and we sat outside and drunk coffee whilst cooking breakfast, enjoying our peaceful remote spot.

We lounged around in the sun until about 10am before packing and heading down towards the start of the river Alport, the most glorious few miles in the whole of the Peak District.  A feint path hugs the edge of the valley which snakes dramatically towards Alport Castles.  Every inch is a delight although you have to be careful not too get tempted by the path that constantly wants to make you head towards the river at the bottom.  If you do then you end up with a monster climb back up again.  Stick to the edge where grass suddenly turns into rough moor and the going is easy.

Suddenly Alport Castles was at our feet, one of the wonders of the Peak District in my eyes and a place I never tire of visiting.  Our visit coincided with the first people we had seen for almost exactly 24 hrs and it suddenly all seemed a little too crowded!

The path across Rowlee pasture is over easy flagstones meaning that I was free to take in the views around me in the very clear air.

Suddenly the Woodland valley was at our feet with the whole northern side of Kinder Scout looking inviting on the other side.

The final part of the ridge is easy and grassy and just before Bridge-end pasture we took the bridleway down through the woods to the road along the reservoir.  Here we entered another much busier world, full of overflowing car parks and picnicking families.  It felt as warm as mid summer, it was only the colour of the trees etched against a brilliant blue sky that told the full truth.

Winter is on its way.

Disclaimer: You are not allowed to camp on access land in the Peak District, please don’t do it because it’s naughty.  If you do choose to do so then don’t light a fire, take your rubbish home and bury your poo.  I’m watching you…………….

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21 Comments to “24hrs on Bleaklow”

  1. Superb walk. My favourite part of the Peak. Nice wild camp spot and the photos showed what a bleak and wild place it is. Might just nick that route.

  2. Great report and pics, I can sympathise regarding the peat hags in darkness, they’re bad enought in perfect visibility. It does look cold in the night shot of the Laser, my feet are cold just reading about it.

    Richard

  3. Lovely. Bleaklow holds fond memories for me. My first backpacks, independent from teachers and clubs etc, all started from the A57 and were on Bleaklow or Kinder. I remember the elation at being free to do my own thing. I remember also the black peaty mush in that completely confusing ladscape which, given the chance, would swallow you up to your knees and eat your boots.

  4. When I got back into walking after a long time away, I walked this area on a regular basis. Bleaklow Head is an excellent walk. I have been up there a number of times when there has been snow – with all the peat bogs frozen you can really motor along. Great report – I need to go back again : )
    Mark

  5. Great report, that picture down on alport dale and the one of the northern edge of kinder are brillient. I may well use that camp spot next time I go up on bleaklow.

    As for that ‘bothy’, I decided against it in the summer and instead pitched the tent just outside the open sided hut that is just down the valley.

  6. Mother nature create such a beautiful places, well worth the miles of walking. Awesome! Thanks for sharing.

    — only the brave playbook

  7. Martin, go ahead and nick the route and if you have the time extend it over to the Higher shelf stones – a stunning spot.

    Thanks Richard, those peat hags make for interesting walking that is for sure. Cold feet are worth it for such a clear and crisp morning.

    Dave I am sure that Kinder and Bleaklow started off many a hiking and backpacking career. The first hill I ever climbed was Kinder Scout and it got me hooked!

  8. Mark I have not been up on Bleaklow when the peat has been frozen yet, although I can imagine that the going is that much easier. A great place to get back into hiking and test the navigation skills!

    Thanks Northernfall (Charlie?) you can’t get a better spot for a wild camp in the Peaks. I don’t blame you not spending the night in that hut, a tent would be much more comfortable.

    Thanks Dan.

  9. A great account of another classic Dark Peak adventure, I recognise the spots well. The Upper Derwent feels very remote and away from most day walkers. Good to see that faithful bus still running but it seems an easy target for cuts.

    As you say, the Ronksley cabin is handy for getting out of the wind and rain but not at all inviting for a night.
    From Barrow Stones it’s much easier to walk on quite easy ground to Grinah Stones, there is a clear path from there around to Bleaklow Stones.

    • Thanks Geoff. I remember doing the walk years back from Grinah Stones to Bleaklow stones and remember it being fairly easy, thats why I was suprised why the going was so hard on this walk. Still you learn by mistakes! It would be a shame if that bus was cut.

  10. Great series of photos showing the lovely autumnal colours! I had my first taste of Bleaklow the other week and loved the various gritstone tors – didn’t see Bleaklow Stones, but was intrigued by the similar weathered forms of the ones I did. The peat and groughs made for an ‘interesting’ change from the terrain I’m more used to in my usual haunts around Snowdonia.

    http://geotopoi.wordpress.com/tag/bleaklow/

    • Hi Graham, there are some smashing rock formations up there. Did the peat try and steal your boots off your feet?

      • “Did the peat try and steal your boots off your feet?”

        Ha! Luckily, no. But I can imagine that it could well have done had there been more rain beforehand as there were quite a few boggy sections when off the ‘proper’ paths. The other thing I found rather unusual was feeling a bit of give when walking along gravelled bits of path.

        And, yes, those rock formations are very cool.

  11. I really love your blog, James. It’s not just the excellent writing, the great images and the almost predictable unpredictability of your walking routes. What I also admire is that you’re a man who is quite unafraid to use the word ‘snuggle’ in an ‘outdoors’ blog.

    Fantastic route around the groughs!

    • Thank you very much Mr Pete!

      I do like to snuggle. I like to do it in bed, on the sofa and most definately in my tent.

      In fact I may just go and snuggle now.

  12. I really enjoyed reading this; makes me want to tempt the peat groughs again…But with the rainfall we’ve had I think I too will wait til they’ve hardened up again!
    Wild camping out there always seems such an adventure yet you are so close to civilisation (of a fashion).
    Loved the wiggly GPS representation ;o)

    • Helen I would probably wait until the peat has frozen before you venture up there, unless you like wearing the stuff up to your elbows! It was weird camping in the middle of the moor knowing that Sheffield and Manchester are only a few miles away.

  13. Superb little spot, we tried it last week-end. We thought we would have a guaranteed quiet night, not so, MRT woke us up at 1230am looking for a lost mountain biker. That was an experience, chaps was found at 330am unhurt btw.

    • Hi Yuri. Lovely spot eh? Best in the Peaks! Read about the MRT and the biker on Grough, good to hear that all ended well.

  14. I’m sheffield born and bred and while I’ve only been on Bleaklow twice I know exactly how remote and different it feels. I went with two mates the first time in January, it was a foot and a half thick in snow up there and the snow in Sheffield had been gone nearly two week! I think it was 2007. We never saw another soul walking to Bleaklow head and back to the car at snake summit all day and a thick freezing fog engulfed the whole area. A Grouse freaked us out at one stage as it took off from nearly under our feet with it’s alarm call lol. Wainwright described it as weird and frightening in mist, he should have tried it in snow and mist lol. Thanks for your webpage really enjoyed it pal.

    • Hi John. Sounds like a good trip. Bleaklow is an atmospheric place, even more so in conditions that you describe. Those grouse do make you jump as they take off from under your feet!

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