Wild camping in the Peaks – Alport Bridge to Hayfield

by backpackingbongos

A forecast of humidity and a high risk of thunderstorms gave me an uneasy feeling.  On two occasions now whilst tramping the hills I have literally seen my life flash in front of my eyes as a bolt of lightning hit the ground in close proximity.  I now much prefer the thrill of a storm from the safety of bricks and mortar.  A weekend on the Dark Peak moors was postponed, this summers weather doing its best to make advanced planning impossible.

It was to be Chrissie’s first backpack since breaking her ankle six months ago.  She was keen to return to the hills and give it a thorough testing under the weight of a full pack.  A week later I arrived at her house to demolish a sandwich and some coffee whilst Reuben and Tilly raced excitedly around the kitchen.  Poor old Dixie was shut away to prevent any canine argy-bargy, Reuben being a visitor to her territory.

Chrissie’s husband Geoff had gamely offered to drive us across the Peaks and drop us off at Alport Bridge, we would then spend a couple of days walking back to Hayfield.  The weather forecast was considerably better than the previous weekend but as we were driven across the Snake Pass dark skies delivered a heavy shower.

Day 1 – 5.7 miles with 460 metres ascent

The rain had not managed to make its way over the Pennine watershed as we left the busy road at Alport Bridge.  The situation however quickly changed and we sought cover under some trees to hurriedly pull on waterproofs.  The rest of the afternoon was spent playing waterproof trouser roulette.  If they remained on the sun would shine warm and bright, remove them and it would tip it down.  The track to the farm gave an easy start to the walk, the buildings themself in a picture perfect setting.  Approaching the bridge over the river, Alport Castles towered above, dark clouds brewing on the moorland plateau.

The path upwards was a good one, slowly revealing itself with each zig zag.  We were in no hurry and stopped frequently to take in the ever-expanding views.

Alport Castles definitely has the ‘wow’ factor and is reputed to be the largest natural landslip in the UK.  A grassy ledge provided a natural seat and we sat for a while whilst shafts of sunlight danced on the castle below.  One of the gems of the Peaks which is thankfully overlooked by many visitors.

A narrow trod took us invitingly into the vast Bleaklow hinterland.  The last of the day walkers passed by, heading for the security of the valley.  We however were heading towards one of the most remote spots in the National Park.  A spot that you will have to discover for yourself and the reason why my descriptions become a bit cryptic for a while.

A sudden deluge had us diving for shelter behind a drystone wall to change back into our waterproof trousers.  No sooner had we stopped, then so did the rain.  The sky was a churning mass of dark clouds interspersed with bright spots.  The showers were fast moving and unpredictable but thankfully short lived.  Waterproofs in the end were dismissed but replaced with gaiters as a wade through the bleaklow bogs was to follow.  We had a final glimpse down into the green pastoral depths of Alport Dale before heading cross-country.

With the wide plateau hiding the surrounding valleys and cloughs we found ourselves in big sky country, clouds boiling above the empty moor.

The narrow path soon vanished and was replaced by line after line of oozing peat hags, topped up with months of heavy rain.  It was soft going, the peat at the bottom of the increasingly large groughs sucking at our feet.

I was keen to escape the peaty morass and led Chrissie towards the rim of the valley to seek out easier ground.  I think of the Peakland moors as a huge cake with sticky chocolate sauce poured on top.  The sticky chocolate sauce makes walking pretty difficult.  Thankfully the sauce does not quite reach the edges where the going is easier.  The change underfoot is dramatic, wet peat replaced by sheep nibbled grass.  The view was spectacular as well, the rain swelled river tumbling down through a series of interlocking spurs.

A perfect spot to sit on a mattress of bilberries and watch the world slowly drift by.  A month or so and you will be able to sit and eat this moorland bounty, fingers stained red with the juice of the berries.

A final slosh across the moors and we descended to our home for the night, a perfect lawn of lush grass.  A green oasis in the midst of bog, heather and hags.  A shelter was already pitched and occupied by Martin Rye as expected.  By sheer coincidence we discovered through twitter that we would be camping in the same spot on the same night.  After some chat we all retired to our respective shelters to remove sodden footwear and cook our meals.

It is tradition when I camp in this spot to do so in my old faithful Terra Nova Voyager.  I don’t know why, but it has found its way into my pack on all but one occasion.  I always forget what a pleasure it is to sleep in, a sturdy cosy cocoon.  It was in good company with Chrissie’s superlight version pitched next door.

It was a surprisingly chilly evening for July which meant that most of it was spent trying to have a conversation whilst remaining in our individual shelters.  Once I remove wet trailshoes I am never eager to put them back on until the following morning.  Martin recently did a post called ‘Room with a view’ celebrating the view he had from his new Golite SL3 that evening.  My view however comprised almost entirely of his pyramid of nylon, like a neighbours leylandii tree blocking the view from the bedroom window.

Reuben however was totally content to snore the night away on his blanket.

Day two – 9.9 miles with 270 metres ascent

I awoke at first light to the sound of rain falling on my tent.  I popped my head out and was greeted by a swirling grey world, hill fog reducing visibility to a few metres.  It was nice to snuggle back into my sleeping bag, the hairy and smelly portable tent heater next to me did not stir.

A couple of hours later the rain had cleared through leaving a beautifully sunny morning, I could actually feel the warmth in my tent.  Probably the first such morning whilst wild camping this year!  Martin was already up and packing, I was content to watch from the comfort of my sleeping bag.  He soon departed for Hope whilst Chrissie and myself enjoyed a leisurely couple of hours at our camp spot.  It was 10am before we finally packed up.

An easy ascent back onto the high moors and we were soon following the familiar Peak District flag stones.  These allow for quick progress with very little effort.  Over the years they have mellowed with age and the previous erosion scars have healed, vegetation growing back and softening the edges.  They are one man-made intrusion that I really don’t mind on the moors.

We stopped against a backdrop of the Higher Shelf Stones to fiddle with mobiles that had started pinging away, incoming messages from respective partners.  However, panic set in when I noticed a large group of backpackers getting closer and closer.  I had to hurry Chrissie to get moving or we would risk getting tangled up within their midst or stuck behind them on the narrow path.  Hell is other people.

Crossing the summit of the Snake Pass, the splendour of Kinder Scout’s northern escarpment was revealed in all its glory.  It makes an excellent walk in the right conditions, however Martin reported that it had been extremely boggy the day before.

Navigating to the summit of Mill Hill is easy, simply follow the flagstones which snake off endlessly into the distance.  Reuben happily trotting along between us suddenly made an unwise overtaking maneuver.  He left the security of the path into possibly the wettest and deepest bog for miles around.  Only his head and front legs remained above the surface and Chrissie thought he banged his chin on the flag stone as he went it.  Luckily she was right behind him and managed to haul him out, he stood there covered in oozing black peat.  The look he gave me suggested that I had done something terrible to him and that it was all my fault.  A good shake and the peat was transported onto my trousers.

It has to be said that Mill hill is not the most exciting hill in the Peaks, but the views west over Manchester are excellent.  We were both ready for lunch but the exposed top did not provide any shelter.  Chrissie’s local knowledge however soon had us sitting next to the Liberator wreck, a well placed peat hag providing shelter.  A hot lunch of couscous with a cup of coffee was a real treat that afternoon.

The path that leads down towards the Grouse Inn is also now paved with flag stones.  It must have been very tough walking before they were laid down.  We met a man on Burnt hill who had lost his dog, his partner so upset that she had returned to the car.  I have to admit that the encounter made me ensure that I kept Reuben even closer to me for the rest of the day.

All day a helicopter had been buzzing backwards and forwards over Kinder Scout and we had been speculating what it was doing.  It turned out that it was providing pleasure flights from the Grouse Inn, totally spoiling the peace and quiet of the surrounding area.  It was a noisy little thing.

With more of Chrissie’s local knowledge we took an unmarked path which led to a cracking little spot by the river.  A place to sit and relax before the final climb onto the moors above Hayfield.

At the shooting cabin above Kinder Reservoir we joined the Snake Path where it soon passed Twenty trees, a landmark above Hayfield.  The good citizens need to work on their numeracy skills as there are only 19 of them.

It was whilst walking along this easy grassy path that I managed to turn my ankle and hit the ground like an oversized bag of spuds.  One of those gritted teeth moments, a minute or so of intense pain which thankfully subsided.  It’s ironic really that Chrissie was the one who was doing her first walk since breaking her ankle, yet I was the one to hobble back.  Even as I write this five days later it is still rather uncomfortable.

Back at Chrissie’s ranch I was refueled on Geoff’s excellent fruit cake before the drive back to Nottingham.  Thanks to Chrissie for her company and route planning and to Geoff for providing the taxi service to the start.

You can read a different account of the same trip here.

21 Responses to “Wild camping in the Peaks – Alport Bridge to Hayfield”

  1. I wanna hike across a giant cake with chocolate sauce.Yummm.

    I do hope your ankle feels better soon.

  2. Hey James thanks, I enjoyed it, it was a good weekend. But I’m very sorry to hear that your ankle’s still giving you a bit of bother. I sincerely hope it’s less hurty than the last time I spoke to you though and improving day by day…? You’ve got to get it right for that impending trek!

    • A great weekend Chrissie, thanks for your company. Ankle slowly getting better, still a little stiff and uncomfortable if I move it in a certain way. I need to look where I am going in future!

      • Glad to hear it’s steadily improving. I’ve just been out to the chemist and bought one of those elastic ankle support things to stick in my rucsac for the holiday. Haven’t needed one so far, but it seemed like a sensible idea!

  3. Boggy must be the word up there of late, parts of it would be really grim. Funny how the hatred of those paving slabs becomes somewhat tempered after a lot of rain!. A good walk and pitch anyway.

    • Without those paving slabs you would have needed to wear waders last weekend Geoff, the moors are very moist. One of my favourite local pitches.

  4. nice read always nice to see another hound with a pack too

    • Thanks Peter. Reuben’s pack means mine weighs a kilo or two less now on a backpack, he can carry his own smelly bedding!

  5. Yes. Enjoyed that. Some great pictures, and the little doggy looks really snug.
    Alen McF

  6. Great to meet up again James. You got a good walk in there. Heal fast and I shall get round to writing my tale up soon.

    • It’s great to be able to do a linear walk Martin. Excellent wild camp, good to meet up and enjoy the States.

  7. PS nice view you had from the tent door. Fab shelter that one in the view 🙂

  8. Ahh the pleasures of the bog!

  9. And there was me thinking I was the clumsiest man in the hills 🙂
    Classic route that one, Bleaklow is one for the conoisseur, dark peaty mass and bog but sensational edges and valleys and a real sense of wilderness and loneliness. Poor Reuben though, I can imagine the look he gave you!

    • You are going to have to share the honour of being the clumsiest man in the hills Andy as I often find it difficult to stay upright for a full day………..

  10. I think you have had the best of the camping weather for a little while even though you had some rain. I do like the way that heavy cloud and occasional sunshine gives a different feel to the landscape. Obviously the more sunshine the better! 🙂


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