August 14th: Edale to Crowden – 13.5 miles
The start of it all – 250 miles walking up through the north of England to the Scottish border: over the hills, fields and moors threading a line between towns and villages.
Arrival at Edale
The Pennine Way’s starting point (for those heading northwards) is in Edale, a remote farming village that has become a bit of a focal point for outdoor pursuits in the last 50 years; not least due to this long distance trail starting from there.
I live 30 miles away from the Peak District in Nottinghamshire, so I’m able to avoid stopping overnight at Edale prior to the start. Instead I’m dropped off at Worksop station by my brother, catching the 09.16 train to Sheffield. From there another train gets me to Edale at 10.58. It’s a curious feeling, as I hang around the station holding a coffee, and then find myself sitting in the railway carriage: to now be away on holiday for 2½ weeks, with the intention of spending it in slow, gradual physical effort, going north.
There are a few small groups of walkers (mostly seniors) wandering around Edale on an overcast August weekday morning. As it begins to rain I have a brief and indistinct conversation with a chap trying to find his bearings, explaining my own purpose to his incomprehension. I walk up the road, going by the churchyard, heading towards the starting point opposite the Nag’s Head pub. I dawdle around a little in the light rain. After a moment or two’s thought I decide that I do fancy a pint but walking across the car park I find the pub shut (until midday). Then I get going on my walk.
Jacob’s Ladder, Kinder Downfall & Featherbed Moss
The initial yards of the walk trace the edge of Grindslow Knoll before dropping down into the Vale of Edale. The rain has stopped and I’m sweating up. I stop at the National Trust barn at Upper Booth to remove my waterproof clothing. I have a pair of outdoors trousers have calves that zip off, so I remove and put them away for the rest of the journey.
At the end of the valley comes Jacob ’s Ladder: this is an exertion, becoming harder half way up when a heavy shower passes over. It’s a hard opening climb round a hill – the second section, where it goes straight up I found more gruelling. I’m ready for a break and a round of sandwiches when I reach the Edale Rocks after 1.00.
The rain blows away during lunch and I resume walking with a straightforward passage along the Kinder Plateau edge. I push on round to the crossing with the Snake Path and then the right turn at Mill Hill for the long tramp over the Moss to the A57. The sight of the heather around Mill Hill and Ashop Clough is rather beautiful.
My march across the flagstones of Featherbed Moss was conducted in a downpour. Although I was very ready to drop my pack and sit down, in these conditions I preferred to push on to the A57. At least it was easy to get there tramping over the flagstones. The rain came to a stop within 250 yards of the Snake Pass. I took 10 minutes to gather myself and then carried on to the crossing of Bleaklow. Calculating from the map, I was getting close to halfway, but the time was now almost 4.15.
I’d already walked (over three Saturdays) the first 25 miles or so of the Way as preparation back in the spring; with hindsight this was a useful thing to do as this was as hard as the walk got. Bleaklow is terrible country in bad weather, but navigating the Devil’s Dyke is an interesting challenge: first a slow curve left, this then sharpens and finally opens up wider, reaching an open river bed (Hern Clough). One follows this for a good while (by this point in the early evening the heavy rain had returned and set in for good) until you rise enough to see the Hern Stones in the middle distance and the path then swings right to the gravelly plateau at Bleaklow Head. The rain eased off enough for me to put down my backpack for 90 seconds. Bleaklow used to be pitch black – it certainly was when I did my Duke of Edinburgh across there in 1998. Since then it’s dominated by greenery, broken only by the peat groughs and the sand of the riverbed.
Along Hern Clough I had caught up a older couple in matching voluminous red cagoules, who were my main conversational partners of the day. They were going along the Way for three days (as far as Todmorden), planning to camp (but now very understandably thinking of finding a bed for the night). I tagged to them on the descent from Bleaklow, but pushed on in front soon enough (without to my regret, confirming the name of my B&B to them).
The way down to John Track Well was a very rough and rocky track and I turned my left ankle a little (not enough to tempt me to pack in on the first evening). Resting at the bottom, I started to get bitten to pieces by the midges so I didn’t hang around. I moved onwards around Torside Clough, opening onto the Longdendale valley. By this time the rain was teeming down and my exposed kit was saturated –I’m lucky that my dad lent me a coversheet for my backpack.
The First Evening
From the bottom of the Clough, it’s still a mile in torrential rain to the bed & breakfast at the Old House, arriving around 7.15. The accommodation for outdoors enthusiasts there is an annexe row of bedrooms with an adjoining kitchen. The facilities are excellent: I’m so wet through that the hot shower I take there is easily the best of the whole trip. I have to hurry over it (and putting my soaked kit in the drying room), as Mr Crook (the proprietor) prior to nine o’clock gives lifts to the Peels Arms in Padfield: a cosy place where a couple of local women are nattering away whilst I have my first pint of ale and grub of the trip. It’s a strange kind of sanctuary to be in, thinking that two hours earlier I was marching along the edge of a bracken covered valley in pouring rain. When I get back to the B&B I crash out watching The Expendables for 25 minutes or so; I don’t care for watching it through to the end.