[Note that hovering your mouse over the images may reveal more text. Views expressed are those of the author alone and no criticism should be implied in any way of the other members of the party, who are all without doubt selfless, hard-working, worthy and appallingly underrated citizens.]
A last minute decision saw Sue and I enjoying the half hour journey from sunny Timperley to Torside Reservoir, where the cloud was lurking just above the height of the huge power lines that thread through this valley.
We were massively early for what turned out to be a 10.30+ start with Sue and Phil, Tom, David and not least, Graham, who was taking a day off from culling deer to kindly act as our much needed route guide and navigator for the day.
Graham softened us up with an easy few km along the Trans-Pennine Trail, passing over various streams that seemed to be doing their best to empty excess peat from the Dark Peak, in a bold effort to provide ‘Newcastle Brown Ale’ free of charge from the taps of the unsuspecting alcoholics of Yorkshire.
The plan, apparently (according to a scruffy piece of paper in Graham’s mitts), was to climb directly up to Deer Knowl before contouring eastish to reach Barrow Stones via Featherbed Moss. Even had I not been vaguely familiar with the terrain hereabouts, that name would perhaps have sounded warning bells.
Anyway, we strode up the hill towards Deer Knowl, less than a kilometre away. Progress was slow. The steep heather was punctuated by rocks with deep crevices which seemed of particular concern to Tom.
“I could die in there!” he worried.
”It’s ok, we won’t leave you” assured Graham, puffing like an old GW loco of similar vintage.
A tea break took place.
After nearly an hour of slogging up the hill, which had subsided briefly into a grassy plateau before returning to a cavity strewn rock-field, I thought ‘sod this for a lark’ and left the others to continue their relentless ascent of Deer Knowl.
A short traverse to the east (left on the above image) led to an easy path to the head of Shining Clough, and a long wait for the six adventurers. At least I was now masked by the hill from the relentless clatter of rifles on the moor just to our west. There must be a healthy population of grouse, some very poor marksmen, or hordes of synthetic pigeons.
We reassembled. Graham thankfully saw the futility of his plan without too much encouragement from others. Contouring across the groughs to Featherbed Moss would have been (even more)exhausting. So we headed up onto the Bleaklow plateau in a southerly direction, following the imagines of an old land-rover track. Phil strode off towards Near Black Clough, the others preferring to stray towards Stable Clough. I tried to keep all in sight, verbal communication being denied to us by the constant whirring of helicopter blades. We seemed to be a target.
I found Phil chatting to a couple of gents with a box the size of a rabbit hutch. Were they trying to capture the mountain hares that were dashing about all over the hillside, I wondered? ‘No’, was the answer to that stupid question. It was a ‘GPS’ and they were using it to direct the helicopter to drop its loads of bags containing hessian matting into areas where the plateau was particularly badly eroded. Special grass seed will be sown before the hessian is spread over it, stabilising the ground and enabling the seed to germinate and the grass to take a hold, before the hessian is removed. We could see bands of hessian, looking like melting snow banks, doing just this job. Further on, the black surface of the peaty plateau had developed a pale green hue where the grass was indeed starting to flourish.
Whilst Phil did his best to make a break for it with his wife’s sandwiches, he was eventually brought to heel (as he always is) on the watershed in the area of Bleaklow Hill, where the said sandwiches were eaten before they wandered aimlessly away to any other whimsical choice of destination.
Here’s our lunch spot, and the view. You can see the regenerating but very fragile grass that is taking hold in the peat.
Bleaklow Stones was our next objective. This involved going ‘there and back’ across the fragile peaty surface of Bleaklow, churned up by thousands of boots, but nevertheless in a state of partial recovery due to the hessian/grass project. Sue and I felt very guilty about the fact that we were with every step destroying work that had been done to try to prevent further erosion of the moor.
But this ‘fun’ was negated by the bad feelings I had about being here at all. I wanted to be off the hill, or at least on a path that wasn’t wrecking the landscape.
Moods weren’t improved by the fact that the forecast good weather had first disappointed us, then lulled us up the hill by gradually clearing as we ascended, then when we got to the top it had in turn squirted rain, hail, sleet and snow, at us in ever increasing ferocity.
After squelching our way slowly westwards, Graham’s contingent, with no appointments except with their B&B, decided to erode their way to Shelf Moor, whilst Sue and I headed directly to Bleaklow Head to pick up the well constructed Pennine Way path back down to Torside.
As we descended, the weather relented, it was peacefully quiet for what seemed like the first time all day; we passed some stage struck red grouse, and the late afternoon sun made pretty colours on the hillside above Crowden and the huge pylons.
Back on the Trans-Pennine Trail we caught up with Robin and James, who were looking tired and muddy after an afternoon adventure up nearby Wildboar Clough. We hoped that James had some spare trousers for his walk up Black Hill the following day.
Then, after 18km with 600 metres ascent, in all of 6 hours, we shot off back home via a food emporium. Sorry, Mike and Katie, if your dinner was a little late, but at least we made it home before you arrived!
Bleaklow is fine, but ‘off-piste’ it can be either tediously difficult ground, or disconcertingly destructive underfoot. I’ll try to stick to paths that don’t significantly increase the erosion in future.
For masochists and environment wreckers amongst the audience, here’s the route that Sue and I took. The others continued their abuse of the fragile landscape with a visit to Shelf Moor.
There’s a slideshow (26 images) here, should you wish to see more.