Posts tagged ‘Bleaklow’

July 23, 2014

Baking at the Bleaklow Stones

by backpackingbongos

Geoff and Tilly offered their company for a short, sweet and sweaty night on Bleaklow in the Peak District. They were duly picked up from chez Crowther and transported to Old Glossop where I parked the car. This is a less than glamorous spot from which to start a walk onto the moors, a large factory dominating the end of Shepley Street. There is however plenty of parking close to the start of the Doctors Gate track.

Both of our packs weighed a tonne, or to be more accurate 20 kilos each. With a trip to Sarek getting closer I wanted to get used to a heavy pack on rough terrain. I had also dug out my old Lowe Alpine ‘beast’ as I will be carrying ten days supplies on that trek. I wanted to check that it was comfy and up for the job. Another reason why both our rucksacks were so heavy was because of all the water we were carrying. We had five litres each, hopefully enough to last until the following afternoon. The moors were parched and it was not worth the risk of camping high and dry without anything to drink and cook with. Water is bloody heavy. Reuben carried his own water supply with two litres in his panniers.

Total Distance  – 18.5 kilometres with 500 metres ascent

Bleaklow stones

The climb onto Bleaklow via Yellow Slacks was a hot and humid one. Although late afternoon the temperature had failed to dip and I felt every gramme of my monster load. I’m glad that Geoff was equally as laden, it’s always easier if someone else is sharing the struggle. Reuben and Tilly had more life in them but were also taking things easy.

There was actually water flowing in the upper reaches of Yellowslacks Brook, at least what was in my pack was not the colour of ale. The infant stream led us to the Hern Stones, a good spot for a break before picking up the Pennine Way to Bleaklow Head.

The plan was to camp in the vicinity of Bleaklow Stones, across what used to be a wade through oozing black peat hags. It’s been a while since I have visited this side of Bleaklow and was amazed at the transformation after the recent regeneration project. The plateau is now a prairie of lush grass, no longer the dark and foreboding place it used to be. I have to say that all that grass played havoc with both myself and Geoff’s hay fever. Until I got back to the car the next afternoon it was the worst it has been for years.

I think that it is fair to say we were both a bit sloppy with the navigation on the way to Bleaklow Stones. First of all we got lured into following the path that leads into Near Black Clough. Realising our mistake we got back on track and then found ourselves veering too far south. The Bleaklow plateau is no knife-edge ridge and even in clear conditions can be a confusing place.

The grass near the stones is lush and lumpy but we both managed to find a good place to pitch our tents. It was late by the time we had done this and the sun was ready to dip below the horizon. It’s not often that you can watch the sun set from a high level camp in just a t-shirt, I did not need to put anything warmer on all night. A pleasant evening was spent emptying the contents of my hip flask before retiring to our respective tents to sneeze the night away.








I woke just after dawn to find Reuben sitting upright with his back to me, the odour then hit me. He had managed to regurgitate his dinner into a large pile of stinking mess. Not only that but he had done so in the inner of a tent that I was using for the first time. Thank you Reuben. It took a while to mop up, especially considering that I did not really have the tools for the job with me. When I finally settled back down to sleep I kept one eye open, ready to leap into action and let him out in case he decided he needed to get more out of his system.

I think it may have been Reuben that woke up Tilly in Geoff’s tent. He did not get much sleep after that when a big brown labrador decided it was getting up time.

The hot sun had me up early anyway, it’s hard to sleep when slowly being roasted. We had a lazy couple of hours around camp before packing up and setting off. My hayfever was still really bad and I was beginning to feel dreadful. I was actually looking forward to getting back to the car, winding up the windows and putting on the aircon.

We did much better at navigating back towards Bleaklow Head, this time following the widely spaced wooden poles along the ridge. Once back on the Pennine Way we saw the first people since leaving the car the previous afternoon. The nearby summit of the Snake Pass road gives very easy access to the high moors.

At the junction of Doctors Gate Geoff and I parted ways, he heading for home in Hayfield via Kinder Scout, Reuben and I returning to the car via Shelf Brook. I took my time on the Doctors Gate path, stopping frequently to rest in the hot sun, making sure that the panting Reuben drank lots of water. I had not come this way before, a grand valley leading directly into Old Glossop. It was with relief that I got back to the car and ditched the heavy pack. The hay fever and heat had wiped me out, I’m not sure if I had lost most of my fluids through sweat or snot.

Once again a short and reasonably local backpack had provided a great weekend escape from work and city living.










July 2, 2014

A night at the Grinah Stones

by backpackingbongos

The road along the Derwent reservoirs to its terminus at Kings Tree is shut on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer. This makes this exceptionally popular area much more pleasant, especially for the cyclists doing a circuit of the reservoirs. A regular shuttle bus can however drop walkers off at various points along the way when the road is shut. The current timetable is here, if anyone is thinking of a weekend trip.

I had the good fortune to be off work on a Thursday and Friday which just happened to correspond with a spell of excellent weather. It was late afternoon when we arrived at Kings Tree and there were only a handful of cars left parked on the verge. Soon after setting off towards Slippery Stones we passed the last person we would see until late the following morning. That’s one of the greatest benefits of backpacking, you can have the hills to yourself when everyone else has gone home. You can then go home when everyone else arrives.

The walk to the head of the Derwent is an easy one along a land rover track. The surrounding hillsides and trees were almost a luminous green, the type you only get for a couple of weeks at the beginning of summer. The bracken which was only just starting to unfurl and cloak the hillsides added to the myriad of greenery.

Reuben happily trotted alongside, the warmth at the end of the day preventing him from racing about. In the summer I have to stop frequently and fill his bowl with water as he does not always think to have a drink out of a stream or puddle. Planning ahead for waterless stretches is not his best attribute.

The river was easy to cross and water bottles were filled. Five litres are heavy but I wanted plenty for myself and the dog to last until late the following morning. It would be unlikely there would be any flowing higher up on the moor. Unfortunately it had the colour and consistency of Newcastle Brown Ale, even down to a nice frothy head. I was glad of my water filter.

Climbing towards the Barrow Stones, two huge planes (no idea what as I’m not an aviation or military buff) flew over the ridge in front and down below me into the Derwent valley. It was an impressive sight and over all too quickly. I’m assuming that it was to do with the D Day commemorations that weekend.

The evening light was now as perfect as it can get, blue skies and endless views north across the South Pennines. It was warm with no wind and the midges had yet to wake up. It was only the constant air traffic going to and from Manchester airport that was a reminder of being sandwiched between two major cities.

Years ago I had picked out a potential wild camping spot close to the Grinah Stones. I remembered it as being flat, well-drained and with impressive views. My memory must be failing me as when we got there it was lumpy, sloping and very boggy. The view was good though. I spent at least half an hour walking around searching for somewhere suitable for the Trailstar. Everywhere was either deep heather and bilberry or soaking wet bog. In the end I found somewhere that would just have to do. It was very squelchy underfoot and hard to get the pegs to hold sufficiently to stop the shelter from collapsing. Luckily I had brought a Tyvek groundsheet which was put under the Oooknest to stop the bog seeping through. It was pretty much dark when I had finished with there just being time to watch the sun as it dipped below the main bulk of Bleaklow.









Soft bogs are comfortable to sleep on, although getting in and out of the Trailstar without getting my trousers wet was difficult. I ended up doing a manoeuvre that resembled a badly performed Cossack dance. This was performed at speed once the sun hit the shelter in the morning as the temperature suddenly shot up from comfortable to boiling. It was during this exit that I realised Reuben’s sleeping pad had been placed at the edge of a red ants nest. Despite his often sad looking face he is a stoical dog.

A nearby rock doubled up as a breakfast bar and I sat watching the distant rush hour traffic move silently across the Snake Pass. Coffee and noodles cooked with dark brown water. Reuben’s meaty pouch was served straight on the grass.

Packed up we headed down steep slopes on a narrow path to the head of Grinah Grain, where I found clear and cold running water. It was good to drink deeply without the metallic taste peaty water brings.

Surprisingly for a National Park the surrounding ground had been trashed by vehicles driving directly over the soft peat. This headed in the direction of a set of newly built grouse butts. It branches off from the well established track that serves the shooting cabins in Lower Small Clough. This is a hellish eyesore as it gouges its way through deep peat on the plateau. Why can’t grouse shooters walk?

An old ditch called Black Dike gave a handrail along the top of the moor which was left at the head of Linch Clough. Here a narrow trod was picked up and followed along the top as the ground dropped steeply away. Before the final descent back to the car a handy outcrop was in a good position for Reuben to do one of his mountain poses. The breeze wafting from the valley below was welcome before I joined the throngs at the snack kiosk at Fairholmes.






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!