Edale to Crowden (Old House). 17.3 miles. Miles to date: 543.2.
The first day of the Pennine Way is a test.
If you complete day one – whether you start at Edale and head north, or Kirk Yetholm and head south – you might just make the length.
So the thinking goes, anyway.
I filled up on YHA breakfast, queuing with the 50 or so kids shovelling food down ahead of another day’s outdoor pursuits under blazing sun, and got an early start.
“DRINK LOTS OF WATER!” the teacher called out above the din at five minute intervals. At which point the kids returned to the juice counter and topped up on OJ. The water jug, like the fruit bowl, remained untouched.
That suited me. I pocketed a few unloved bananas and was on my way.
I retraced yesterday’s steps along the Vale of Edale, where farmers were long into their day and the train serving Sheffield and Manchester in the valley kept a constant ferry.
The Monday morning commute.
Into the hamlet of Edale, just a few houses bordering a river, but with more amenities than villages ten times the size: church, pubs, a post office, a primary school.
As I walked, eyes lifting from the dusty track to the mountains ahead, I felt a buzz of excitement, missing too long. The Pennine Way is the start of a new chapter in my walk. A proper stretch of mountain hiking. A journey within a journey.
Humbling too: at 268 miles the Pennine Way is more than half the distance I’ve walked so far.
And I’ve not even reached the halfway point of my LeJog yet.
Morning blue over Mam Tor.
No fancy stone plaque for the start of the Pennine Way. Just this easy-to-miss sign on the base of a dry stone wall.
Along a green lane overhung by tangled ash and coppiced holly – welcome respite from the already heavy heat – and the scattered farms thin out, foxgloved tracks getting thinner and greener. The only traffic coming this way are walkers and the occasional shepherd, leading flocks to pastures new.
On a bench with a view there’s a short poem carved into the wood:
“Office Bustle for Leaves Rustle
Mobiles Ringing for Birds Singing
21st Century for Glimpse of Eternity”
I sit down, Vale of Edale spread below. It’s a proper mountain valley – walls, meadows, sheep, hemmed by heights – and is the first landscape that’s reminded me of the Lakes since I left home five weeks back. I’ll be sorry to say goodbye.
A shirtless man with a chestful of tattoos walks by. He’s returning to the campsite after a dawn start.
“I’m a man of habit,” he says. “Must have climbed Kinder Scout fifty times. Always done it the same way. This morning I changed my route.”
Was it better?, I ask.
He thought for a long time. “Different. Don’t think I’ll do it again.”
Kinder Scout – looming at the top of Jacob’s Ladder – is a mountain with a reputation. Among walkers of an earlier generation the name holds horrors. Wainwright, a man at home in the high places, warned walkers not to attempt its crossing alone.
Back then walkers on day one of the Pennine Way were thrown straight into the murky thick of it, crossing blanket peat bogs where paths were sketchy and mires in abundance. Navigation – even in fine weather – was a challenge. In mist or snow the trail could be deadly.
Fifty years on, the peat’s still there: mile upon mile upon mile of it, shown on OS maps as intricate florets; petalled contours that blossom light orange on the vast upland plateau that forms the highest point in the Peak District, Derbyshire and the East Midlands.
The difference is that now the way is paved – huge limestone slabs laid over the High Peak and making a walkway that can't be lost, even in mist.
Today, in the incessant sun, it’s hard to imagine the challenge this landscape once posed.
But there are signs. Pools of black, sticky mud that you know would swallow a sheep whole, maybe something bigger. Wander just 50 metres from the paved walker's highway and even in fine weather you’d not easily find your way home.
Packhorse bridge at the base of Jacob's Ladder.
Approaching Jacob's Ladder, the steepish switchback you can see on the left side of the photo.
The top of Jacob's Ladder. There were loads of interesting limestone outcrops on the skyline.
Cotton grass is everywhere on these moors.
But that's not Kinder Scout’s main claim to fame.
That goes to the events of 24 April, 1932, when 400 men walking from Hayfield and Edale climbed to the summit plateau in a co-ordinated mass trespass that helped secure National Parks legislation in 1949, the establishment of the Pennine Way in 1965 and marked the start of a sustained media campaign by The Rambler’s Association that culminated in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which gives walkers the right to roam free on access land.
Before that day, Kinder Scout, like swathes of the Peak District, was where the gentry sunk lead shot into grouse for a few days each year. It was off limits to everyone else and was guarded jealousy – with force if necessary – by gamekeepers.
But walking was an established working class hobby by that time. A chance to breathe fresh air. To explore the peaks seen from the smoky cities. By 1932 it is estimated that 15,000 ramblers left Manchester every Sunday for the countryside. Yet of the 150,000 acres of mountains and moorland in the Peak District just one per cent enjoyed public access; a handful of footpaths at most.
Matters came to a head on the grim battlefield of Kinder Scout. Violent scuffles erupted between the Duke of Devonshire’s gamekeepers guarding the elite’s interests on one side and a motley collection of ramblers, protestors and communists on the other.
On the day there could only be one winner, police seizing returning protestors who were subsequently given jail terms of between two and six months.
But their wilful act of trespass – and those punitive sentences – stirred something in the pubic mood. The pendulum of opinion swung behind the trespassers and within two decades the creation of the first National Park – fittingly, in Derbyshire – gave walkers the right to wander where they pleased on open land. A victory not just for the working class rambler, but for all those who found solace and inspiration in the high places.
21st Century for Glimpse of Eternity,
The actions were not just a bloody nose for the establishment. There was fallout among the protestors too: questions the years haven’t answered.
Had the ramblers been infiltrated by political provocateurs from the far left?
Had an unknown MP sympathetic to the walkers’ cause been pulling strings from the Whitehall shadows?
Was the trespass little more than a stunt?
And was the trespassers' press officer really folk legend Jimmie Miller (aka Ewan MacColl – dad of Kirsty), who would go on to write The Manchester Rambler about the trespass, and, after that, the evergreen classic Dirty Old Town?
(There’s a couple of interesting footnotes to the events of 1932, incidentally.
Firstly, a public apology in 2002 by the 11th Duke of Devonshire, on behalf of his grandfather’s "great wrong" of 1932. "It gives me enormous pleasure to welcome walkers to my estate today," he said at a 70th anniversary event.
And secondly, the judge in the original case reminded jurors that the Act of Parliament which made it an offence to trespass after being warned not to do so had previously been repealed. This meant ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’ signs were entirely unenforceable.)
Distant view of Kinder Downfall.
Every few minutes a plane would fly over, a reminder that even in this upland wilderness you're not far from the big northern conurbations.
Just past the Downfall. These are big outcrops: for scale note the tiny figure top right of the photo.
Kinder Scout was more interesting than I’d expected it to be. And bigger.
Yes, there’s peat in abundance on the top, but rock too. Dark gritstone that makes nearby cliffs some of the most prized in the country for climbers.
Past Kinder Downfall, with its fractured river of rock crumbling off the mountain's seam. Swifts everywhere: looping and circling above the grit stacks and the heathered hillsides that must transform the heights in late summer. And the long escarpment of Sandy Heys, with its sweeping views west, over Kinder reservoir and further north towards Stockport and Manchester.
But boy, is it big.
It’s not a mountain as a child draws one, but an upland plateau.
By the time I climbed down the rocky nose to Mill Hill I’d already been walking for five hours. In that time I'd have bagged a half dozen Lakeland fells.
Here I was just getting started.
Huge limestone grit boulders.
As it transpired, Kinder Scout would be the high point – literally and figuratively – of what was to become a long, tough day.
After descending to Mill Hill the Pennine Way winds across the desolate bog of Featherbed Moss, slabs paving the way like a monochrome yellow-brick road through a dour Oz.
Although there had been a breeze on Kinder Scout, here there was none, haze rippling the horizon, sticky pack, sticky arms and legs. When I sat down for water my arm was dotted black: tiny flying things that had settled on my skin and got stuck in suntan cream.
After crossing the busy A57 Snake Pass – cars alien in this upland desert – things got tougher again, a second wind demanded to climb up and up the gritty dry riverbed to Bleaklow Head, views lost in the sunken channel where air didn’t move; just that sun, notching up the pressure.
On such a big scale, time and progress slow to a crawl over forsaken terrain.
At one point I met another on the Way. Two maps out, he asked for a third opinion. Thank God for GPS. In the lowlands it felt like a luxury. Here I’d say it’s close to essential.
A few minutes later a family exploring from their car parked on the Pass. “Are you camping?” the dad asked.
“B&B. I'm heading to Crowden.”
“Then you’ll walk back?”
“No, I’m carrying on. Walking the Pennine Way.”
“You just keep walking?”
“I hope so.”
“Day after day?”
“And not come back?”
“Not until I’m done.”
“Fair play,” he replied, shaking his head as he walked off, as if he’d just meet a certifiable nutter.
Bog. I was tempted to put my foot in it, AW-style. But decided not to.
The other side of Kinder Scout.
Massive Featherbed Moss.
Slabs across Featherbed Moss.
A57 Snake Pass.
Down the widening valley of Torside Clough, the Longdendale Chain of reservoirs threading below. They were built in the mid 1800s to supply fresh water to Manchester and Salford. Now they're almost redundant. The cities are too thirsty, and source their supply instead from further north: the Lakeland reservoirs of Thirlmere and Haweswater.
To my B&B for the night. A LeJog first: no mobile signal or wi-fi. The broadband companies aren’t interested in this barely-populated valley.
In the kitchen are a couple of guys marking the end of their first day on the Pennine Way.
Already one of them’s decided it’s not for him. The combination of pack weight, sunstroke and distance finished him off.
The other’s raising the stakes. Despite finding today tough he’s planning 25 miles tomorrow. Then 29 the day after on a nine-day Pennine Way crash course. Fair play to him if he manages it. Sounds like a suicide mission to me.
Still, it’s good to have the company of fellow walkers at the end of a day like this. No-one understands the battle of wills – with the sun, load and miles – that happens on the heights better than those who’ve been through it. I’ve a feeling this trail will be a lot more sociable than those before.
As I take off my boots and release sweating, tingling feet I look at the time.
I’ve clocked up a full 9–5 shift.
Like the commuters on the early morning train from Edale.