Archive for January 12th, 2012

January 12, 2012

A bleak moorland New Year

by backpackingbongos

My excitement levels mounted once I had decided that I was going to spend New Years eve on the Isle of Arran.  With map and guidebook purchased I spent many happy hours planning a multitude of routes.  Then in the days leading up to departure the weather threw its usual spanner in the works with strong winds and rain.  Would it be worth spending huge amounts of money on diesel and the ferry to haul the Bongo bothy onto the island?  Probably not.

Plan B was hastily put together, a Bongo bothy trip to Kielder.  Therefore another map was purchased.  However the day before departure the winds increased further with gusts being forecast to exceed 60 mph over the summits.  My enthusiasm was quickly drifting away.

Thoughts turned to my favourite wild camping spot in the Peak District, a remote sheltered grassy patch hidden amongst the bogs and peat.  A text to Graham and Rae and it turned out that they had been thinking exactly the same thing.  Great minds and all that.  Therefore at midday on New Years Eve Graham’s car was being manoeuvred into a tight spot just off the Snake Pass, the vehicles already there having parked rather inconsiderately.

Rain was already being blown down the valley as we crossed the busy main road and headed into what I consider to be the best valley in the Peak District.  One of those rare spots which for some reason does not suffer the boots of the masses who walk in this part of the Peaks.  We walked slowly along the track leading to the farm, Reuben firmly leashed as we were surrounded by woollies.  Rae has spent most of this year suffering from a condition called plantar fasciitis, making it very painful to walk.  She is an avid backpacker, wild camper and lover of wild places, so a tough year as she has not been able to get out into the wilds very often.  However she was willing to have a bash at walking the five miles to our chosen camping spot after I confirmed that it was a fairly easy walk along a reasonable path.  We had a few hours of daylight left so that she could take her time and hopefully not feel pressured to rush.  Past the farm we started to look for somewhere to sit to eat our lunch.

Which left Graham cracking one of his winning smiles………………

Reuben must have also been putting on a winning smile as he successfully negotiated himself some stinky sausage.  Bellies filled we set off once more along a series of grassy paths through bogs and rushes.

After a lack of success with Reuben carrying his own pack in Scotland due to chaffing, I thought that I would give it one last go before condemning it to the back of the gear cupboard.  This time it was fitted to him loosely, the balanced weight from each bag keeping it in place.  Thankfully this worked and he got home without any discomfort or sore bits.  No more carrying stinky doggy stuff in my bag, and he looks rather fetching in it!

The valley sides soon closed in as we passed the edge of the forestry plantation.  Steep slopes plunged directly into the river making following its course difficult.  A landslide meant that we had to detour higher, the river undercutting the loose slopes.  Half way up Reuben decided to push past me on the side of the river.  One second I felt him brush my leg, the next he was gone.  I peered down to see him standing up to his armpits in the river, a look of surprise on his face (if staffies can look surprised).  He had managed to fall a good eight foot but no damage appeared to be done.

It was beginning to sink in that my recollection of this walk was not as I remembered it.  My memory had released images of an easy ramble along the river before taking to the higher slopes.  Contouring on the steep slopes was causing Rae some discomfort and there was the risk of making her condition worse.  It was decided to climb directly to the edge of the plateau and contour the valley where I knew there was a path.

It was a steep, rough and pathless haul to the top but thankfully we located the narrow path.  Reuben gave a passing pair of hikers an enthusiastic greeting, singling out a fellow staffy owner for extra attention.  There was now less than an hour before darkness fell and we had only completed just over half half of the route.  Options were discussed and everyone was happy to continue towards our chosen wild camp spot in the knowledge that we would soon be walking in the dark.  We had the river to our right as a navigational handrail and hopefully the path would not fizzle out.

The weather proceeded to get more and more gloomy with the mist beginning to settle lower on the hills.  The path was often little more than a sheep trod after we had climbed steeply out of an intersecting side valley.  In the gathering murk Reuben began to merge with the hillside, his markings a perfect camouflage among the heather and grass.  With a light attached to his rucksack he was soon a red dot moving up and down that hillside.  We continued without torches for a while, keen to preserve our night vision through the increasing mist and drizzle.  Finally we were fully enveloped in the clag and the drizzle turned to steady rain, with headtorches on our world shrunk to the few metres of each individual beam.

I found that the path would frequently disappear and then reappear as I constantly adjusted our course to follow a line where the valley merged with the moor above.  With mist and rain swirling against the beams of our torches in the darkness it was hard to get a sense of scale, even work out how far below us the river was.  What were actually small ascents would initially loom ahead of us looking much higher than they were.

I began to doubt finding the camping spot which is a piece of grass little more than the size of a couple of tents surrounded by moorland and bog.  It was more by intuition than map reading skill that I thought we should start descending towards the river.  I was correct and we located a fork, a short while later the oasis of flat cropped grass was spotted.  I felt chuffed at finding such a small spot in a big moor without getting lost!

The rain was by now heavy and persistent, being blown along on a strong breeze.  Graham and Rae had brought along a Quasar and I had my Voyager tent, both pitching inner first.  Graham was convinced that his inner would be waterproof whilst I knew that mine was not.  I was keen to get mine erected as quickly as possible to prevent the inner getting soaked.  Reuben tried to help each of us by standing on half pitched inners and generally getting in the way.  Chastised, he took himself away to curl up in the rain with a glum look on his face.

It was not a particularly sociable New Years eve as we were soon cocooned in our respective tents.  I now had to deal with a wet and muddy and not particularly happy dog.  Thankfully he curled up on his blanket and immediately went to sleep, saving the rest of my gear from getting grubby.  With dinner eaten and a small amount of alcohol drunk I laid down and pretty much immediately fell asleep.  Graham and Rae said that I had suddenly gone quiet when I woke up a little while later.  In the end we were all fast asleep well before the dawning of a new year.

The morning of the first day of 2012 brought cloudy skies, but at least it was not raining and the mist had disappeared.  I was greeted by an underwhelmed looking Graham when I went over to say good morning.

Perhaps it was a normal reaction to my wild camping attire?  Even Reuben was viewing me with suspicion.

It was a pretty relaxed morning with no one particularly eager to pack up and return back to the car.  This is my favourite spot in the entire Peak District, as wild and remote as it is possible to get.  We were only disturbed by one solitary hiker and his dog before we were finally packed up and ready to leave at around 11.30am.

Rae’s foot had survived the five mile walk in but she felt that to walk another five miles with a pack across rough terrain may be pushing it.  Therefore she and myself headed towards the road via the most direct route, with Graham marching back down the valley.

It was a gentle climb out of the grassy bowl in the hills where we had camped.  Although close to both Manchester and Sheffield these moors have a real wild feel about them.  Off of the main routes you also have them pretty much to yourself.

We were soon sheltering as best as we could near the agreed lay-by to be picked up.  The rain had started again and with a keen wind we both started to feel the cold.  It was a miserable spot next to the main road, watching the cars speed past.  Curiously it seemed to be a popular spot for people to park, waddle ten metres, take a photo and get back into the car.  After half an hour wait we were soon whisked to the Outside cafe in Hathersage for a chip butty.  A great way to spend the first day of the year.

You may have noticed that this trip report is a little more cryptic than my usual ones.  The reason for this is two-fold.  Firstly wild camping is frowned upon in the Peak district so I don’t really want to advertise the spot where we stayed.  Secondly it is my favourite spot and I don’t want to share it, I’m a selfish bugger!