Posts tagged ‘Bleaklow’

May 28, 2012

Slackpacking hidden Bleaklow

by backpackingbongos

The weekend started at exactly 5.00pm on Thursday afternoon as I loaded the car with Reuben and my backpacking sack.  The plan was to head to the Peak District for a wild camp as summer had finally arrived with a bang.  I had no real plans, just a rough destination for a pitch in the Bleaklow area.  It was slow going fighting through the rush hour traffic but by 7.00pm I had parked up alongside the Derwent Reservoir.  The hustle and bustle of the week already felt far away.

Total distance -  7.7 miles with 500 metres ascent

With both Reuben and myself sporting our backpacking sacks we headed along the track alongside the river Westend.  The forestry plantation that we passed through is well managed and was full of bird song and dappled evening light.  It was a perfect start to a walk.

Crossing a footbridge the track started to climb through another plantation before finally breaking free of the trees.  Due to a slow dawdle and a snack stop next to the river it was past 8.00pm.  However the heat and humidity appeared to be rising now that we were out of the woods.  I checked the temperature which was 23.7 C, the reason I was soaked in sweat and feeling like I was slowly suffocating.

The surrounding hills had burst into myriad shades of green, the vividness that you only get in spring.  This contrasted well with the dead bracken, its fronds yet to break the brown earth.

We left the security of the track and continued upstream along a feint boggy path.  The trip nearly ended prematurely whilst trying to cross an unstable earth bank.  It gave way and I had the feeling I was about to land in the stream head first.  An ungraceful twist of the body and I landed bum first in a bog.  Combined with the cloying sweat, a soaking wet arse added to the discomfort.

The path then started to climb as the river snaked deeper into the hidden depths of eastern Bleaklow.

A potential pitch was spotted below the path close to the river.  I had planned to continue further but after a day at work I was already tired.  It would also soon be dark.  The Trailstar has a huge footprint and I spent a while selecting the best position to pitch it.  Finally satisfied it was duly pegged out and I then set about setting up the pole that would create the entrance.  Unfortunately the exact spot where I needed to place the final peg was already occupied by a boulder hidden in the grass.  No amount of readjustment would allow the placement of that peg.  Tired, dripping with sweat and gently cursing I took down the Trailstar and re pitched a few feet away, this time untroubled by the boulder.  During round two I head a loud ‘pop’ whilst squatting.  Looking down I was dismayed to see that the seam around the crotch of my trousers had exploded, creating a second fly.  I was glad that I had chosen to wear underpants.

I finally settled down to cook dinner at around 10.00pm just as a tiny slither of moon became visible in the sky.  The air hung heavy, banks of low cloud starting to form on the hills above.  As I unpacked my sleeping bag I questioned the wisdom of bringing winter kit, habit I suppose after such a long cold spring.  As I lay down slowly cooking, a couple of geese landed nearby and started honking away, natures equivalent of a car alarm going off.  I shouted at them, which did not work.  Finally I got up and shone my torch whilst shouting at them, they finally got the message, flying low over my head.

I woke up to daylight, the feeling that I had overslept.  I looked at my watch to find it was only 5.15 am, Reuben still snoring away.  The next time I woke was 7.00am, slowly being steamed in my sleeping bag.  Laying on top of it I enjoyed the novelty of a warm morning whilst camping and managed to doze for a couple more hours.  Finally the heat drove me to exit the Trailstar, blinking into the brightness of a perfect spring morning.

I was in no hurry to get moving and spent a couple of hours padding around camp barefoot.  By my third cup of coffee it was time to pack up and continue following the river to its source.  Initially the going was tough through a narrow gorge like section.  This involved scrambling over a jumble of boulders, my eye on a further collection high above which looked ready to tumble down at any minute.  We soon escaped the confines, climbing a narrow path which contoured effortlessly along the hillside.

The head of the valley was reached, giving a choice of three subsidiaries.  I decided on Deep Grain, following the diminishing river along its grassy banks.

Finally the clough became shallower and we branched off to the right, following grassy sections through rough heathery moorland.  The views suddenly opened out, the confines of the valley replaced by a sense of spaciousness.

A dried up peat grough gave easy passage onto the ridge above and we were soon at the Grinah Stones.  Here there was relief from the sultry heat of the valley, a strong wind drying the sweat from my skin.  I sat with Reuben for a while enjoying the airy perch, rolling moors disappearing into the haze.

We followed a familiar route down past the Barrow Stones and then Round hill.  The usually boggy ground across Ridgewalk moor was dry and crusty, not the usual squelch as oozing peat tries to remove the shoes from your feet.

It was not difficult to locate the track that links the shooting cabins on Ronksley moor with the River Westend.  It always amazes me that such monstrosities can be build on fragile ground in the middle of a National Park.  This particular track follows a perfectly straight and deep channel through the peat.

I turned my back and followed the track back down into the River Westend, passing several new looking shooting butts.  The track into the valley sits much better in the landscape, a series of zig zags as it loses height.  The evening before I had spotted something high on the hillside glinting in the sun, giving me a feeling of being watched.  It turned out to be one of the National Trust signs.

The views up and down the valley were stunning and I sat taking them in whilst eating lunch.  I did not have time to linger though as I was meeting fellow doggy blogger Chrissie down by the reservoir and I was already running late.

As we got lower the heat once again started to take hold, the valley providing shelter from the welcome wind.  On hot days you have to be careful hiking with a dog as they can easily overheat.  You also need to make sure that they have frequent access to water, I find that Reuben can drink almost as much as I do in the summer.  We had numerous water stops and I enjoyed the cold sensation after dipping my cap into a stream, the water evaporating on my head.

The plantation once again provided welcome shelter from the sun, the flat track providing an easy walk back to the car.

A text induced misunderstanding meant that Chrissie was waiting for me a couple of miles up the valley.  After an hour of waiting I decided to head for home via the cafe at the visitor centre.  Later I was to hear that an ice-cold coke and a cookie were waiting for me in Chrissie’s campervan.  They would have been very welcome indeed.

In the end the mileage was short, but the experience had been much greater than if I had done the same walk within a day.

March 7, 2012

Hidden cloughs and frozen bogs on Bleaklow

by backpackingbongos

The busy A628 is not the most pleasant of places to start a wild walk, with a steady procession of traffic thundering over the Pennines.  However it does lay in the middle of some superb walking country, with Bleaklow to the south and Black hill to the north.  I was glad to find a layby close to an access point onto the moor because to walk along the busy road with a dog would be close to suicidal.

10.8 miles with 730 metres ascent

As we descended towards the river Etherow the steady hum of the traffic dissipated.  Deep in the shadows it was cold, the puddles from the previous days rain frozen over.  Reuben keen to get going chose to walk across each puddle, surprised when the ice could not hold his weight.  I was thankful for dry weather when we got to the ford across Near Black Clough as it would not have been ideal to get wet feet so early in the day.  Some of the boulders had a glaze of ice and it was a treacherous arm flailing affair getting across.  Reuben simply waded without a care in the world, he is shaping up to be a fine mountain dog.

Out of the shadows and climbing the track alongside Far Black Clough, the warmth of the sun could be felt.  The sky above was deep blue winter perfection.  The busy road was once again in view but of much less significance, swallowed up by the surrounding moors, vehicles moving along as tiny specks.  The Holmes Moss radio transmitter punctured the sky on the moor opposite, at 750ft high it is visible from miles away.

The landrover track soon came to an end, being replaced by a narrow peaty path through the heather.  The security of the path was quickly left behind for some heather bashing in an easterly direction.  Reuben as usual in such terrain showed off his mountain dog prowess as I stumbled and lurched ahead.  More by luck than navigational skill a peat grough was located which took me with ease across the watershed.  It was magnificent in its grimness, a maze of peat at least ten foot deep, unique to Bleaklow and Kinder.

We were deposited in a remote moorland bowl, a spot that I imagine gets few human visitors.  The boggy watercourses flowing into the infant River Derwent full of vibrant patches of sphagnum, huge sponges full of water and traps for the unwary.

More lurching was required until the river became more defined and its banks could be followed.  For a while a mini gorge made progress slow, the ground much steeper than the map suggests.  The terrain became much easier near Barrow clough and we picked up speed.  Unfortunately with that easier ground I let my concentration slip which resulted in me becoming soaked up to the thighs.  Reedy ground is usually a warning sign but I ploughed on regardless.  I saw the pool of open water too late and was already sinking as I tried to extricate myself.  I cursed as I ended up on my hands and knees, feeling cold water flow down my gaiters and into my previously nice warm boots.  I resigned myself to that damp squelchy feeling for the rest of the day.

Thankfully the scenery downstream on the way to Upper Small Clough was enough to take my mind off the initial discomfort.

The stream was followed upwards across pathless terrain, the views towards the Howden moors opening up with every step.

I have to admit that laziness and a small amount of apathy then took over the days proceedings.  The plan had been to cross the watershed and descend towards the River Westend which I would follow upstream to Bleaklow Stones.  However once I had managed to gain height the thought of losing it again suddenly no longer appealed.  Reuben to be honest was not fussed either way so we simply turned right and climbed the path up Round Hill.  On the way we passed a couple who did their very best to be as rude as possible.  Perhaps I was feeling too uncharacteristically cheery and this came across in my greeting.  I was met by silence and what could only be described as a ‘look’.

The view from the summit cairn made up for this, the open moors spread out beneath my feet.  Reuben however did not appear to be as impressed with the view as I was, although this could probably be put down to the rather cutting wind.  He has now developed an effective nesting technique for when on heather moorland and was soon ensconced in the protective folds of a bed of heather.

I tried to sneak off but as soon as I turned around he was right there behind me, his nose doing the hoover technique on the moor.  A short climb and the Barrow Stones loomed up ahead, framed by the blue sky.

The Grinah Stones are on a bit of a limb but worth the small detour.  They stick out like the prow of a ship over Ridgewalk moor, the eye being drawn down the River Westend.  There are numerous outcrops to explore, a place to linger on a warm summers evening but not in February.

Reuben as ever obliged by staying still long enough for me to photograph one of his poses.

One boulder in particular fascinated me and it made me ponder how the erosion took place.  I had visions of a small bit of grit being blown round and round by the wind, slowly creating a perfect bowl.  In my opinion better than any man-made sculpture in a gallery.

It was good fortune that I had chosen to visit Grinah Stones as I spotted a well-worn path heading directly to Bleaklow Stones.  This was a bit of a relief as the last time I walked there I had to cross tiring peat hagged ground.  Progress was swift and I watched a pair of helicopters as they ferried bags of heather cuttings onto the moor, dropping them whilst in flight.  I found myself instinctively ducking every time they flew overhead. Bleaklow Stones are another natural sculpture park, my favourite being one shaped like an anvil or whale’s tail.

However move round to the side and I thought that it looked like something prehistoric emerging from the ground.

I suddenly became aware that the afternoon was drawing on and that it would soon get dark.  A cold breeze was blowing and I checked the wind chill on my Kestrel, it had already fallen to minus six, time to get moving.  Spotting Near Bleaklow Stones in the distance I did not need to take a bearing and headed directly across difficult ground.  I was aware of just how confusing it would be navigating on the Bleaklow plateau in mist.

As dusk progressed the air became exceptionally clear and it felt that visibility was hindered only by the curvature of the earth.  The whole of the Pennines spreading off into the distance.  The wind turbines on Scout moor above Rochdale were clearly visible, roughly 25 miles away as the crow flies (scientifically measured by a bit of string on a map).  Three coal-fired power stations complimented the view to the north east, their huge plumes of steam sitting like clouds over the flat lands.  Only the view to the north was unblemished with layer upon layer of hills rising and falling all the way to what looked like Pendle in the far distance.  Simply lovely.

My revery was soon broken by the setting sun and the realisation that it would become dark whilst I was still on the hill.

More rough ground was crossed as I headed towards Near Black Clough, hoping that the path marked on the map actually existed.  Thankfully it did and I made my way down resisting putting on my head torch until the last moment.  It turned out that the battery was pretty much dead and I was glad I packed a spare set.  They were changed in the dark by touch, a delicate and important procedure.

High above the main road the tail lights of vehicles snaking their way across the moor look surreal, a silent blur of red in the darkness.  The final trudge in the dark felt endless.  Back at the car the contrast from high silent moor to busy main road was complete.

February 20, 2012

An anvil or a whale’s tail?

by backpackingbongos

One of the weird and wonderful rock sculptures on the extensive moorland ridge of Bleaklow.  A very atmospheric spot indeed.  However I could not linger as dusk was quickly approaching and I had a few miles to walk back to the car.  A couple of hours later I was very glad that I had packed spare batteries for the headtorch.

A write-up in due course, however before that you will have the ordeal of my Sri Lanka holiday snaps!

October 24, 2010

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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