A Weekend Sacrifice
The Oxford Dictionary defines sacrifice as“An act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy”.
It also includes an alternative definition of“an act of slaughtering an animal or person or surrendering a possession as an offering to a deity”
….but that’s not the one I’m interested in here.
I got an email from Matt, a Twitter pal, entitled “Hypothetical Question” – asking: if he could get a weekend pass, would I be interested in a couple of nights on the fells with some walking in between? Well, duh! I jumped at the chance and within a couple of email exchanges I had press-ganged him into walking part of the Pennine Way with me! This said a lot for Matt’s (@hillplodder – www.hillplodder.wordpress.com) eagerness to be out on the hills, in that he was willing to sacrifice a weekend bagging Wainwrights or walking in his beloved Welsh mountains, to spend two days with me along the all-too-often boggy and desolate Pennine Way. I was very grateful, as I can’t really spare any time on backpacking trips that aren’t Pennine Way related at the moment.
As the weekend grew nearer the weather forecast began to worry me. Friday afternoon looked appalling and Saturday looked little better, with a chance of some respite only on the Sunday morning. It looked like weather Noah would have fretted over, scurrying around the ark battening down hatches and making sure all the portholes were closed!
We arranged to meet in Manchester Piccadilly station at about 13:00 on the Friday afternoon, with a view to catching the 14:45 train to Edale, which would see us walking about 30 miles along the Way, finishing at Marsden station (about 2 miles off the path) on Sunday and catching another train back into Manchester.
We had lunch in the station as it was pouring down outside and neither of us fancied a walk into town. I then paid an extortionate £5.10 for two Cadbury’s chocolate bars in the WH Smiths shop in the station – something I’m still gobsmacked about! We just about managed to find two seats on the very busy Edale train, but most passengers left after the first couple of stops and we almost had the carriage to ourselves by the time the train arrived in heart of the Dark Peak.
A quick village amenities check and we were out along the path, the fine, but steady rain keeping us both in waterproofs and I even needed my woolly hat for the first time in months. That hat barely left my head for the next two days – as even when the sun was shining, it was generally much colder than it has been and I felt all the better for its inclusion in my pack. We passed several weary looking DofE groups coming down off Kinder, all of whom asked us to confirm where they were and how close they were to their campsite at Upper Booth. We took a short break at Edale Rocks before heading through the thickening mist to Kinder Low. This is where I’d planned to try and camp, knowing it was fairly flat and sure we’d find a soft peaty spot or possibly a flat grassy knoll somewhere close to the trig point.
I’ve never camped on Kinder before and my Internet research suggested that Peak Park Rangers were quite active at weekends, keeping wild campers on their toes and moving on those they found. Our plan to pitch late was scuppered by the rain though, so we relied on the mist to hide us from the ‘parkies’ – we ignored the fact that we were actually camped either side of the path around the edge of Kinder and even this mist wouldn’t hide us from anyone walking five yards away! We had an undisturbed night though and if it hadn’t been for my sleeping mat deflating slowly in the night I would have had an excellent night’s sleep.
We woke to the same view that we’d had when we’d turned in – a thick and swirling mist! Miraculously, within 2 minutes of packing up, it was gone! We had splendid views across the edge of Kinder, down onto the reservoir and out across Manchester and the plain of Cheshire. We could clearly see Jodrell bank telescope and the Hilton Hotel tower in Manchester City centre. More importantly, it wasn’t raining!
I collected and filtered brown, peaty water at Kinder Downfall and we both carefully bagged the true summit of Mill Hill before heading across the wilderness of Featherbed Moss to the Snake pass road. Here we had a morning break and I brewed some tea, despite my nagging doubts that I hadn’t brought enough gas for my stove. I’m beginning to enjoy a mid-walk brew, something I picked up from walks with Chris Pilgrim (@pilgrimchris – www.pilgrimchris.com) recently.
We followed Devil’s Dike up to Bleaklow, stopping on the way for another short break at the Wain Stones and still we’d had no rain. The wind was cold though and each time we stopped we had to find shelter from it, or risk getting too cold too quickly. We bagged Bleaklow and followed the Way down the other side of the hill to Torside and the only rain of the day – a short 30 minute squall with hail stones included. We’d dried out by the time we reached Torside reservoir though and the sun was out, warming us up nicely now that we were lower down and out of the wind. It felt like a new day in fact.
The path beyond Crowden climbs gently to begin with, then gains 1000 feet or so in a short mile or two – it felt savage and we both took it slowly, the miles of the day weighing heavily on us. We’d been told of a nice camp site at the head of Crowden Great Brook, by Chris P, one he’d used with Dean Read (@dean_read – www.deanread.net) on their Pennine Way earlier in the year. The climb to the top of Laddow Rocks was done in increasing shadows as the sun set behind the high ground to our left. We made a quick diversion to bag the summit of Black Chew Head, a new county top for Matt. Within 30 minutes we were pitching tents on an excellent piece of flat, sheltered ground, right beside Crowden Great Brook – the only flat piece of ground we’d seen for an hour or more.
Once the sun had finally set, the temperature dropped rapidly and we were both pretty tired, so after a quick hot meal we both retired to our tents and tried to talk over the noise of the nearby river. I drifted off first I think, and woke shortly after to hear contended snores coming from Matt’s tent. My bloody sleeping mat deflated several times in the night, so again I didn’t get the best night’s sleep possible. I was also cold, mainly my lower half and I think I need some additional insulation if I’m going to continue backpacking the Pennine Way this autumn. My newly purchased down jacket was worn on both nights to supplement my down sleeping bag and I was always warm enough on my upper body, but at times my arse felt exposed even with silk baselayer leggings on. I need some winter PJs I think!
A glorious day awaited us on Sunday morning and we struck camp early to try and catch an earlier train from Marsden – both of us with the promise of chicken dinners if we could get home in good time. The day warmed nicely and we crossed Black Hill in short order. The traditional view of Black Hill as a peaty wasteland is long gone and it was green and lush, apart from the odd pool of dark water and the flagged path that snakes across the summit. We both bagged the proper summit of the Marilyn (the upper plinth of the trig point) and headed down across Wessenden Head Moor to find the unexpected pleasure of a tea van waiting for us at the road. We stopped for a second breakfast, bacon rolls and hot drinks and chatted with the lady that ran the establishment and one of her regular customers, Alan the Cyclist.
From there it was all downhill, between the reservoirs of Wessenden Head and Wessenden and along the Kirklees Way to Marsden. We managed to catch the 11:50 train into Manchester and then struggled with the complexities of the Manchester Metrolink for quite a while before we both headed for our respective destinations.
The weekend was excellent, all the more enjoyable for not having the weather we both feared and expected. I now have another 30 miles or so of Pennine Way done and Matt has a couple more hills ticked off, a small consolation perhaps for the sacrificed weekend backpack.
You can see photos and walk summaries for the three days here:
Edale to Kinder Low: http://lonewalker.net/walkinfo.php?walk=462
Kinder Low to Red Ratcher: http://lonewalker.net/walkinfo.php?walk=463
Red Ratcher to Marsden: http://lonewalker.net/walkinfo.php?walk=464
You can read Matt’s account of the same day here: