“Heading for a quick wild camp if you’re up for it” read the message from James late on Wednesday evening, I’d already checked the weather and had seen that a brief 24 hour window of sunshine and clear skies were forecast between the torrential downpours that seemed to be flooding the entire country. A high level wild camp with a couple of friends in November sounded like the perfect antidote to my post-Jura blues, albeit a very dark and frosty antidote.
James drove us to Chrissie’s house in Hayfield where their respective four-legged companions Reuben and Dixie were reunited. A shorter walk had been planned with Dixie in mind as her arthritic hind legs don’t take too kindly to longer backpacks these days. After a bite to eat, we left Hayfield and headed for the hills via the Kinder Road, along the way we passed a modest terrace house with a blue plaque that cited it as being the birthplace of Arthur Lowe, this embedded the theme tune to Dad’s Army in my head the following hour.
We left the road to join a rocky track which led us steadily upwards to Edale Cross, along the way a constant relay of helicopters buzzed past laden with dozens of rubble sacks and headed over the plateau. The weather shifted about and as we ascended grey clouds massed overhead and brought a few gentle showers, we all fell victim to the traditional sods law of once you get your waterproofs on the rain stops. As the sun poked through, a vivid rainbow materialised against the black sky and seemed to meet the ground right next to where Chrissie was walking, sadly no pot of gold was to be seen.
Within a few minutes, the shower became a distant memory and the skies cleared allowing a golden light to shine down across the moorland grass as we met Swine’s Back and contoured up to Edale Rocks. Walking with a couple of dogs made for a refreshing change, I think Dixie might have fallen for me too, apparently she normally cuts a more surly disposition around strangers but she couldn’t help but run over to me each and every time we stopped, what can I say.
The sun was already low in the sky and as we headed over to Kinder Low it soon began to melt out into the horizon, we’d been out only an hour or so and it felt out of the ordinary to be treated to a glorious sunset without putting in a lot of walking beforehand, I wasn’t complaining.
A short walk from Kinder Low led us to our pitch for the night, even though the path was marked by flagstones I still managed to descend up to my knee in one particularly boggy patch.
After wandering around and scouting for a fair place to pitch a tent we found a half decent place to call home for the night, it was about as flat and dry as things get in this neck of the deforested woods. A relentless icy wind blasted us as we set about pitching our respective shelters, my fingers quickly became painfully numb as I pushed cold metal pegs into the wet ground. When James measured the windchill we were all unsurprised when it came in a couple under zero. I shuffled off into the dark to get some water from a stream which turned out to be quite a bit further than I though it would be and I made the silly mistake of leaving my gloves behind. I returned with utterly frozen wet hands that were somehow still gripping bottles of brown peaty water, I couldn’t unzip my tent for the cold until the inevitable and very painful hot aches kicked in and gave a bit of feeling back.
Laying in my bag after a cup of tea and wearing some extra layers I looked out from my porch, the city of Manchester was marked by a sea of orange dots which spread out to its suburbs and various other smaller towns across Cheshire, the darkness affected our perception of distance and it all felt within walking distance.
I tried a few long exposure shots that came out a bit blurry, it was far too cold to be tinkering about with cameras so I legged it back to my tent to try and get warm again. I had a quick nap before I realised it was only 6:30 in the evening, it’s funny how darkness equates to bedtime when you’re camping.
Before long our fourth two-legged companion Yuri joined us, having caught the train to Edale straight after work in Manchester, he had walked over in an hour or so in the dark, what a guy! We managed to stand around chatting for a whole half hour before submitting to the elements and diving back into our tents to escape the biting wind. As I crawled into my old faithful Terra Nova Laser Comp I was silently jealous of my comrades larger tents, I love my tent to bits but maybe next year I’ll invest in something a bit more substantial to make the longer nights a bit more comfortable in Winter. After a few hours I stuck my head out of my tent and watched the stars for a while and even toyed with the idea of spending the night in my bivi so I could look up all night but the freezing cold soon put a stop to that.
Once I got warm I slept very well, a good meal, hot drinks and plenty of layers can fend off the cruelest of winters. I sat up at 6 am to inadvertently release a layer of ice that had formed on the inside of my tent, any subsequent movements brought a further flurry of flakes. That’s how you make it snow inside your tent.
We all woke early and walked out early to wait for a sunset that never came, James, Yuri and I walked out to Edale Rocks to take some better photos of the new morning. We were teased by a pinkish light on the horizon but the sun was totally immersed in clouds, there was however a thick layer of cloud sitting in the valleys in the distance.
After a mountain of porridge and a big mug of proper coffee (found some new filters that sit perfectly on top of my cheapo plastic mug!) I set about packing up. After a few checks I was unable to find my tent bag, I assumed it had been stuffed deep inside another stuff sack but now I’m home and unpacked it’s still AWOL, I realise now that the wind probably whipped it away when my back was turned. I’ve now resolved to find a new bag that will compress it so it fits neatly under the top tube of my bike so I can use it for bikepacks, every cloud has a silver lining.
Chrissie and Dixie left for home after breakfast so the latter could have a little respite after a night on the town. James, Reuben, Yuri and I had made the decision to venture further along the ridge to Kinder Downfall, we were hopeful that the recent rainfall might have transformed its usual trickling spout into something more substantial. Compared to the previous evening, Kinder now looked to be totally void of colour and had never looked more like a lunar landscape.
The light and brightness of the previous evening had long gone and the day looked to be decidedly murky and glum, though it was a pleasure to be in such good company early on a Saturday morning and I was also bemused and by Reuben’s rather dandy looking outdoor wear complete with yellow doggy panniers, what a fine figure he cut.
Kinder Downfall didn’t quite meet up to its expectations, lets just say we wouldn’t be travelling down it in a barrel today anyway. Yuri pointed out a spring near the waterfall that gave the clearest water I’ve ever had from Kinder, no more dubious looking brown stream water for me. As time was ticking and I’d agreed to be back home for the kids by early afternoon we descended the steep bank of Sandy Heys before joining the road to Hayfield. We were back at Chrissie’s just after noon where she treated us to a proper bite to eat before we went our separate ways.
Backpacking, running and cycling (for me) are invariably solitary pursuits and serve as a means to find a little peace, happiness and if I’m lucky making some sense of the world by moving through and living in a unique surrounding. In the last year I’ve probably done far more walks and rides in my own company than with friends and whilst I can happily spend days and days on my own without seeing another soul for days on end it had been a real pleasure and refreshing change to spend a night out on the hills with some genuinely lovely people (and their lovely dogs).