The Pennine Way. Kinder Scout to Black Hill
Day 2. 17 miles
There are few things better following a wild camp on a mountain, than to open the tent and immediately embrace the peace and quiet of a countryside dawn, and to feast your eyes on a beautiful view. I got the former today, but the latter was shrouded in fog. Even in mid-summer, the weather can be a pain in the arse. It took a while to fully wake up but eventually the thought of a long hike on one of my favourite sections of the Pennine kicked me in to action – today would take in Kinder Down, Featherbed Moss, Bleaklow and to cap it all off, the climb out of Crowden up Laddow Rocks. It would also be a day when en-route to Crowden, I would fall over and lie for several seconds like a marooned beach whale, unable to manoeuvre myself up with cut hands and upwards of fifteen kilos on my back. More of that to come. In the meantime, my initial concerns were dragging myself out of my sleeping bag and out into a chilly morning. I’d slept well, but I admit to still being concerned about the weight I was carrying. The first four miles hadn’t been too strenuous but today would be a real test. I put those concerns to the back of my mind and concentrated on the highlights that today would bring instead, and that kicked me into action.
My breakfast barely touched the sides. This was in the form of a boil in the pot porridge and a cereal bar, which didn’t exactly fill me to the brim with fuel and energy but I knew that my supplies on the first three days would be limited. I’d ordered some dehydrated camping food a fortnight before departure which frustratingly didn’t arrive in time, so I was left to scamp around the shops in Sheffield Station for whatever I could get my hands on and that would somehow squeeze into a rucksack that was already full to bursting, prior to hopping on the train through the Hope Valley to Edale. This largely consisted of a couple of porridge pots, three packs of supernoodles, three packs of BBQ chicken, mini bananas in addition to a dozen or so cereal and snack bars and other basic provisions I was already carrying like teabags, milks and sachets of hot chocolates, not to mention around 750ml of fuel for cooking. It meant I’d be on quite a big calorie deficiency but perversely, I have found with this walking malarkey that I don’t tend to get too hungry and that a little boost around lunch time in the form of a snack and banana normally keeps me going, compared to when I am at home when I am like a human dustbin. Additionally, I had to always keep an eye out for opportunities to obtain water. To that end, I’d bought a Sawyer Microsqueeze filter that weighed next to nothing and meant instant water, rather than having to use purification tablets. Either way, I felt it important to have plenty of supplies in reserve, more so as at either end of the Pennine Way for nigh on eighty miles in total, there isn’t a single shop available and only a couple of places to enjoy a meal. From Edale, I knew my next “indoor” meal wouldn’t be until the White House pub on day three, a good thirty miles in to the walk. This morning, I enjoyed what meagre breakfast I had, packed up and after the return mile west, I re-joined the trail at 8:00. The lovely views down to Edale Valley were only just visible through the thinning fog. Beyond Kinder Low, though, it was a complete white out until Kinder Downfall forty-five minutes later where I stopped for some water, and only then did the sun start to properly burn the morning mist away. I spent ten minutes in complete solitude filtering the yellow water, its colour as a result of flowing through the peat bogs around Kinder River, but tasted as good as anything bought in a bottle.
From Downfall it was now fog-free, and thankfully easy walking which meant the views out towards Manchester could finally be soaked in and enjoyed. Concentration though is required on the steep and narrow steps that lead down to Mill Hill and then on to Featherbed Moss which is one of my favourite parts of the first days walking. On top of the Mill Hill cairn that signals the change of direction for the three or four mile path to Snake Pass, I found a MSR bowl which I found room for in my bag. Nice and light, perfect for cooking and sat snugly on top of my Trangia stove in comparison to my Alpkit cooking pot which is a fantastic bit of kit but is somewhat in-balanced and frequently falls into the flame when I am trying to boil water. Back in 2016 we stopped for lunch just beyond Mill Hill where we tried to shelter as snugly as possible among the vast swarths of heather to keep the bitterly cold wind from turning us into frozen statues. The moor is completely open and exposed to the elements, though the scenery is beautiful with the northern shoulder of Kinder a companion until the path swerves around and leads to Snake Pass. This time, there was no need to stop for a break and the warm July morning ensured only a t shirt was required on top. Also, being completely flat it’s a good opportunity to bash the miles out, knowing that beyond Snake Pass lay a pleasant but slightly more challenging walk up to Bleaklow. It’s worth observing either side of the flagstones lie still the peat bogs and puddles and imagining what walking this part of the trail used to be like before the regeneration projects began in the nineties. A recent find on YouTube, The Pennine Challenge (from 1984), reflects the trail prior to the regeneration of the worst parts of the southern section that contained mud and bogs galore, and it did cross my mind that without the flagstones that line some of these areas, how much longer the walk would take without them. Watching this series certainly explains why so many people gave up after the first couple of days after traipsing through the mud baths of Kinder Scout and Black Hill.
Kinder was left behind as I eventually exited Featherbed Moss, crossed the relatively quiet Snake Pass and entering through Doctors Gate, began the slow and gradual ascent to Bleaklow. From the flagstoned moor left behind, the terrain changed to a rough but dry track and being still early on in the day, I was able to appreciate the little nooks and crannies I didn’t take much notice of when whizzing through this area on previous visits. Some lovely flowers, little fords, and streams lined the trail which at times wasn't entirely obvious, but the beautiful old marker posts containing only directional arrows carved into the rock helped to lead the way up to the less than remarkable trig point on Bleaklow, simply a mid-sized cairn with a pole sticking out the top of it. I still haven’t properly explored Bleaklow, including the famous plane wreckage not too far from the PW, and the temptation to do so here was left in favour of a lunch break consisting of a pack of the chicken brought from Sheffield with also a banana and a couple more cereal bars making up my three course luncheon, where I sat and ate beneath the trig point in total isolation. Although I’d arrived here in good time, the day was from over and exploration off the beaten, and indeed, Pennine track would have to wait for another time. The way away from the trig point and eventually off Bleaklow again isn’t entirely obvious aside from an old way marker that sits in front of the cairn and signals an important change of direction that heads in a westerly direction on a path which is quite sandy in places but without cairns or any other signposts (that are evident to me anyway), and then on to Torside Clough, covered in purple heather and back on to flagstones but very narrow in places due to the encroaching foliage. Once here, navigation is pretty simple. It’s a case of following the stones and eventually having to cross a shallow ford as the beautiful views towards Crowden and Laddow Rocks begin to appear. Although, it was around this point that my accident occurred as I was striding along admiring the view before several seconds of confusion followed as I found my body becoming evermore horizontal, and I ended up sprawled on the ground, weighed down with several kilograms of weight on my back and my walking pole still on my wrist. Due to this, I literally could not move my body upright in the way we naturally would try to recover it having hit the proverbial deck, and when I finally rolled over and found myself vertical I looked down to find three of my fingers were bleeding. It annoyed me more that to wash them I had to use the water I’d lovingly and carefully filtered from the ford I’d crossed not minutes before. My immediate next thought was to ensure no one had seen the incident which would have been typical since I’d seen not a soul since crossing Snake Pass, and after realising I was indeed the only person around, I was to see not another person until crossing the dam over Crowden Reservoir. A quiet Thursday, and I pretty much had the Pennine Way to myself.
You may have to get used to the reminisces and flashbacks as we go along – just a pre-cursor. But, when walking this stage twice before – but beginning in Edale, not Kinder Low – I was practically on my knees by the time I’d reached the reservoirs at the bottom of the steep descent from Torside. I’d stayed at the Old House B&B and was almost crawling there after the final stretch down the road. This is a tough stage and you are thrown at the deep end from the word go, like I’d alluded to earlier. This time, however, without feeling as fresh as a daisy, I’d got just about enough in the tank to reach Black Hill, and the decision to camp out at the Woolpacks and shorten today was vindicated. Admittedly, though, I forgot how long it takes to actually pass through the outskirts of Crowden and begin the ascent up to Laddow Rocks. From crossing the reservoir bridge, it’s a walk through some nice sheltered woodland – ideal today considering how hot and sunny it was at ground level – and then once over the A628 there is walk up a quiet lane before turning into the fields with Crowden Great Brook winding it’s way ahead and into the distance. Naturally, the trail heads above the brook but the walk through the ferns and then the slow climb up the bank is more than worth it for the pay off at the top, with the magnificent views back down to Crowden, with Bleaklow looming in the far distance. I say slow there, I was running on empty at this point, which was pointed out by a day walker who had been walking behind me and upon his overtaking, remarked how slow I’d been going. I could have clubbed him. Some karmic retribution did follow later, though. Knowing the end of the day was nigh, I decided to have a sit down at the top of Laddow Rocks to appreciate the views, and I do confess to a little cat nap up there as well. As I awoke, the man reappeared and sheepishly walked past me, stating as he did that he had took a wrong turning and would have felt a tinge of embarrassment had he run into me again. I was grinning ever so slightly as he headed off along the Pennine Way in the direction of Black Hill which was where I headed to next.
As he disappeared into the distance I gingerly readied myself for the last part of the day, a descent down to re-join the brook and to find a home for the night. After some indecision I finally found a nice spot that was close to the water and sheltered from any wind that may appear. Being on low and sheltered ground, though, the weather was as calm as could be and in fact the only sounds from above during my duration there were the planes heading to and from Manchester Airport. Aside from a family who passed me by coming from Black Hill as I was about to pitch up, I didn’t see a soul for the rest of the night. My first proper dinner in the wild was a bowl of supernoodles and some chicken, which I ate in the company of swarms of midges. Nevertheless, the meal nicely filled my belly and was followed a post dinner walk up the hill which was behind my tent, and when I returned, I crawled in to bed and nodded off immediately, before the sun even started setting.