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.