Kinder Scout has a magical appeal for me. The Kinder and Bleaklow moors are my closest area of high ground which over the years have been explored in pretty much every combination possible. The best bit of Kinder in my opinion is to the north where its edges drop down steeply to the Snake Pass, with the whole of Bleaklow as a backdrop. The walk from Birchin Clough up Fairbrook, then along the edge before returning along the Snake path is one I have done several times. This time I really wanted to walk the entire northern edge, something I have not done in its entirety before.
13.6 miles with 870 metres ascent
I was disappointed to find the food van was not parked at the layby in Birchin Clough when we arrived. I really fancied a fried egg sandwich! Usually this large layby can be very busy but not this Saturday morning, even though the forecast for later in the day was good. A stile leads to a path though the woods that is not marked on my map, this eventually meets up with the right of way above the Snake Inn. There was the usual comedy moment of trying to get Reuben over a stile which my friend Rae had not previously witnessed. For a forestry plantation the path is enjoyable and there was a fresh smell of pine in the air. Although the main road is close by you feel that you are in the middle of nowhere.
The path eventually deposits you onto open hillside and we contoured round to the deep gash in the hillside that is Oyster Clough. It was here whilst I was not paying much attention Rueben spotted some sheep just at the moment his lead slipped out of my hand. Luckily it was one of those extendable ones which whilst being dragged behind him distracted him long enough for me to recapture him. Disaster averted!
Sitting in the sun on the other side of the clough there was a real taste of Spring in the air with the sun warming our faces. Kinder Scout was now beginning to reveal itself as banks of low cloud and mist quickly lifted.
Oyster clough itself is a great way of getting onto the Bleaklow plateau and if you continue north you will find yourself high above Alport dale, the best spot in the entire Peaks (I think that I may have mentioned that a fair few times now!). However we turned our backs on it and continued on easy paths towards Hayridge farm and Alport bridge on the busy Snake Pass.
Following the right of way on the other side of the road we came to a sign saying that the path was closed due to a collapsed footbridge. The sign said that there was no other alternative. Indeed after further inspection the bridge was a mess of wood and metal. However right next to it is a shallow ford no more than a couple of inches deep which we crossed with considerable ease. Why the path had to be closed because of the bridge is beyond me, surely a ‘Bridge down’ sign would be much more appropriate?
Climbing above the river the Woodlands valley painted a very pretty wild scene, especially once the busy main road was out of view. It was only the constant sound of traffic that spoilt things.
We skirted around the buildings of Upper Ashop onto open access land and followed the track to the shooting cabin. I had initially planned to contour the hillside from here to the rocky depths of Blackden brook, but in the end could not be bothered. Instead we walked easy ground to the edge of the plateau near Crookstone Knoll.
On the heathery heights the changing light was magical, fluffy clouds scudding quickly though the sky leaving a patchwork of shadows. It was now no longer spring with a biting wind removing all warmth from the winter sun.
There is one essential bit of kit on Kinder at this time of year, a bit of kit we had both forgotten to pack. Deep black squelchy peat demands that you wear gaiters and it was a real effort to stop ourselves from becoming coated in the stuff from the waist down. A battle we soon lost. Rueben on the other hand simply did not care, within minutes he looked like he had been painted black from the belly down. He was totally lost in doggy heaven!
Every now and then the edge is punctuated with gritstone outcrops, perfect places to get the dog to pose for a photo.
We soon approached the head of Blackden Brook, where we had originally planned to ascend from. From above it looked impossibly steep, an illusion you often get when looking down into the cloughs. I will have to return one day to climb up though its rocky depths.
The path along the edge marches ever onwards, every now and then turning into firm sand, a welcome respite from the deep soft peat. Fairbrook Naze was our next major destination, sticking out from the main body of the hill like the prow of a ship.
Approaching the Naze the weather suddenly and very dramatically changed. A heavy squally hail storm came in from nowhere battering us with pellets of ice. There was suddenly panic in Reubens eyes as they pounded his face and he did not know what to do with himself. In the end he put his back to the wind and tried to make himself as small as possible, looking sad and pitiful. We found a large boulder to shelter him behind whilst the hail turned to rain and then snow before it stopped. The skies soon cleared, this time a washed pale blue in front with heavy clouds behind us making the landscape dark and foreboding. Reuben recovered enough for a quick pose on top of a rock!
We turned west and headed across what was now the true northerly part of Kinder. The light slowly changed once again becoming warmer as the sun slowly sunk towards the horizon. The peace however was shattered by the busy buzzing of a helicopter that was flying backwards and forwards over the plateau transporting large white sacks, part of the moorland regeneration project. Here there are dramatic outcrops of rock overlooking an endless swell of moors.
The sun was now in our faces as it made its final plunge towards the plateau edge. The clarity of the air was excellent with the glow getting warmer and warmer. However the temperature was not and you could feel that there was the promise of a frost in the air that night.
We made the steep descent down the Pennine way towards Mill Hill before branching off on the Snake Path. Normally I would curse flagstones but after hours of wet peat it was good to feel a solid surface beneath our feet. We yomped along making good progress until all of a sudden the flagstones vanished and the path became a wet morass close to the River Ashop. The state of the path and its difficulty really does take some beating as we sloshed through bogs up to our knees at some points. The gloom of dusk soon turned to darkness and headtorches were deployed to find the way. For some reason it has always been dark when I walk down this valley, so apart from the bogs have no idea what it looks like!
It was pitch black by the time we reached the plantation , the dense trees cutting out all light. There were a few minutes when we knew the car park was only a couple of hundred metres away, yet we could not locate the correct path. The dazzling car headlights on the Snake pass were a bit of a shock when we finally emerged.