I’ve just survived a holiday. Survival might sound like a low bar for a holiday, but not this one. Four days traversing the area known ominously as the Dark Peak: more than fifty miles of walking, across rocky moorland and peat bogs, up to the highest points in Derbyshire. Our packing included emergency rations and a bivvy bag, ‘just in case’. Now, I usually try to avoid situations in which there is the slightest possibility of having to spend the night huddled in a bag with nothing to eat but a handful of raisins and cashew nuts, but on this occasion I let my husband talk me into our trek along the Pennine Way. My condition – I think a fair one given my recent back problems – was that he carry all our stuff.
We set out early on Saturday morning, mildly hung over, to catch the train to Hebden Bridge. Thence we would walk the 18 miles to Marsden, via Stoodley Pike, Blackstone Edge, and a whole load of peat hags. I wasn’t entirely convinced we would make it. The first half of the day wasn’t too bad, but once we crossed the M62 and the weather closed in… there did come a point at which, as I trudged along, aching, bone-tired, and wet through, I thought to myself, ‘Nobody is paying me for this. I’m doing it For Fun. Why the hell didn’t I insist that we go somewhere with less moorland and more cake?’
Thankfully, we did make it, and once I’d changed into some dry clothes and tucked into a large rib-eye steak smothered in peppercorn sauce, I felt a lot better. The next day we carried on, walking along the Wessenden Valley to rejoin the Pennine Way, up to Black Hill, then down to the Torside Reservoir. A mere 12 miles (easy!). The weather improved and I got a bit more into the whole concept of long-distance walking, eating up the miles, the landscape gradually changing beneath our feet.
Most people tackle the next stage, the tramp over Bleaklow (when a place has the word ‘bleak’ in its name, you know it’s gotta be good) and Kinder Scout, in a single day. We chickened out of this and opted instead to split it with a detour along the Snake Pass to the eponymous Inn, where we stayed the night. This meant a toadstool-spotting stroll through some piney woodland, which made a very welcome change from the endless boulder-strewn bog.
Finally, we came down past Kinder Downfall into Edale, and had a well-deserved beer at the Rambler Inn. Phew. I’d survived – and enjoyed myself, at least some of the time. It felt good to get away from it all for a while, up on the isolated hills and moors, often without any sign of other humans.
Then you come to a deep valley and realise it’s got the M62 running along the bottom. The Dark Peak, for all its feeling of rugged wilderness, is very much not remote. On the Pennine Way, you walk the spine of England, across countryside marked by the industrial revolution, past mills and quarries, over rivers and through valleys long since dammed for reservoirs to provide the drinking water for Manchester and Sheffield. Signs of humanity surround you constantly, whether you choose to notice them or not.
And, of course, simple access to the uplands is not an eternal truth, but a right which has had to be fought and won, like any other. Kinder Scout was the site for the Mass Trespass in 1932, a protest for the rights of ordinary folks to go rambling over the Duke of Devonshire’s grouse-shooting moors. The landscape is, and has always been, shaped by people and overlaid with human history. However hard we try, we can never truly get away from it all. And perhaps we shouldn’t be trying to get away from anything, but to get a different perspective – from the top of the Peak, standing by a gritstone edge to look out over the country, or perhaps just stare into the mists.