Grim solitude in Monsal Dale

by backpackingbongos

For nearly two weeks there had been sub-zero temperatures and a good covering of snow.  The sort of weather that makes me want to pull on as many layers as possible and head for the hills.  At one point I was considering getting out my backpacking gear and spending a night at my favourite wild camp spot in the Peak District.  But the state of the roads meant I did not want to risk driving the Bongo into the hills and the trains were as reliable as ever.  However my Friday off was approaching and there was a bit of a thaw underway, time to dust off my lungs and spend a few hours under those sparkling blue winter skies?

Mmmmmm, perhaps not!

7.3 miles with 500 metres ascent

It took twice as long as usual to drive to the Peaks and I entered a world of low cloud, mist and drizzle by the time I pulled into the car park at Monsal Head.  I sat in the van for a while looking at the wind battering the trees next to the picnic area where there should have been one of the Peak’s most iconic views.  Leaving the van the air was cold, not the crisp cold of the last week but a damp stinging cold.  To be honest I was feeling less than inspired and was tempted to simply get back in the van and go back home.  However I was in the hills so I thought that I should at least make the most of it.  My top tip is that if you want Monsal Head to yourself, come on a Friday in December on the grottiest day imaginable.  The Bongo looked lonely in the large empty car park.

As I stood looking at the view down to the viaduct my eyes kept focusing on the warm inviting looking cafe ten metres away.  However instead I turned away and started off down the path through the woods into the valley.  Most of the snow had already gone, but on this narrow path it had been compacted into slushy ice.  Gravity and the rubbish grip on my Salomons made the descent a bit of a slog, every now and then I would find myself out of control until I could pirouette around a tree.

I heard a roar coming from the usually peaceful river and arrived at the weir which was in spate.  I stood mesmerised for a while, it looked like a proper waterfall today, something that is usually lacking in the Peaks.

I had originally thought about going to Chee dale, a spectacular gorge a few miles upstream from here.  I now realised that I had made a good choice as the stepping-stones would have been impassable.  The bridge across the river was crossed and I trudged though the remaining wet snow, avoiding what looked like deep pools of water hidden by a thin layer of slushy ice.

Fin Cop caught my eye on the other side of the river, it has a pyramid aspect from the valley bottom.  I have always fancied visiting its summit simply to see what the views are like.  Something that I would not do today, but perhaps a bivvy one summer evening would be more than pleasant.  The end of the dale was greeted by the roar of traffic on the wet A6 and climbing a stile I looked back to a multitude of signs.  How would people be able to cope without signs telling them what they can and cannot do?

Crossing the A6 I climbed into the depths of Deep dale which has a slightly complicated entry system.  You can’t simply start at the bottom and walk into it, instead you have to do a bit of climbing up a hillside first before branching off.  There was a brief moment of excitement up the first narrow rocky part where running water had frozen on the path and then started to defrost a little bit.  It was a tad tricky and some spikes on my feet would have helped, although saying that I would have felt a bit daft if I was spotted in the White Peak wearing crampons.

The entrance to Deep Dale truly conquered I sought shelter to have a bit of lunch out of the wind and drizzle.  I sat there contemplating my options.  To be honest I just wanted to get out of the cold damp and go home.  However I will be doing the TGO challenge come next May and going home will not be an option if I am not happy with what the weather throws me.  Deep Dale is a great place to visit in the spring when it is carpeted by wild flowers, now it is a world of green and grey with a few flecks of white.

On the lane towards Taddington the full force of the wind was met and there was evidence of what a struggle it must have been clearing the snow for the farm at the end of the lane.  There were huge piles of the stuff in the surrounding fields, probably removed from the lane by digger.  Through Taddington and across the A6 once more I dropped down into High Dale and climbed up to the little hamlet of Brushfield.  I can’t imagine a better place to live, high above Taddington Dale and with the exception of today, great views.  A feeling of remoteness yet accessible.

There then followed what for me is a mile or so of some of the best views in the White Peak.  I have been up here in the height of summer and the views down into Monsal dale are stunning.  On the negative side the track is open to all vehicles, but today deep drifts across the track would have prevented all but those on foot.

The grand promenade was soon over with a descent directly onto the viaduct across the valley.  As I approached Monsal Head the day had well and truly turned to night and my camera struggled to get a shot of what is a classic Peak District scene.

It was then that I realised that I had spent the day amongst honeypot scenery and I had not passed a single hiker.  Mind you if I had of known that the weather was going to that miserable then I would have stayed at home as well!

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5 Comments to “Grim solitude in Monsal Dale”

  1. Well, you’ve managed to make that sound not very grim at all, James. I was expecting wall to wall driving wind and rain, a few A over Ts, irate quad-bike riding, dog-wielding farmers with menacing progeny, bongo-burglars and all-sorts of mishaps. Not that I’m disappointed. You’ve given a great feel for the place even in the dreich.

  2. I’m fortunate that I can pick the days when I go walking in the Peak District; and there have been a couple of really good ones hiking in the snow recently.

  3. Now that you have listed all of the things that have gone wrong Pete it now looks like I actually had a splendid time! I think that it sounded more enjoyable than it really was is because I waited a week before doing the write up. There would have been far more doom and gloom if I had done the post as soon as I returned home!

    Hi there Lee. You are lucky to be able to pick your days, means that you can get the sun and snow rather than wind and rain!

  4. Surely, as one of Webtogs elite reviewing team you will be expected to test gear in all weathers. You’ll just have to learn to enjoy doing that. Probably the worse the weather the more effective the test, if anything!

  5. Very true Martin but I would prefer to only ever be out in warm sunshine with a gentle breeze…………

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