Martin in Gatineau Park - 2018

Martin in Gatineau Park - 2018

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Saturday 12 February 2011 – Off-piste on Bleaklow

Ramblers admiring the view from Bleaklow Stones, Dark Peak, Derbyshire, UK
[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.

Sue, Tom, Sue, David, Graham and a clown, on the soft surface of the Trans-Pennine Trail

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.

Well directed water heading from Rollick Stones to Torside Reservoir

We then forsook this excellent trail for a stretch of tarmac that ended abruptly before reaching a private house, ‘The Lodge’, above which lurked the unkempt remnants of an ornamental garden.

Rhododendron bushes mark the remains of bygone days in these parts

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.

Two Sues trying to dodge fissures in the rocks hidden by the heather on Graham's 'off-piste' 'path'

“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.

Sue found Horace, for whom 24 hours of excitement were about to commence.  More about him later.  He would not have been concerned by this evil trap, though.

A mink trap.  The clever grouse (the ones who don't fly) risk being eaten by mink, released from farms by animal rights activists to wreak havoc in the countryside

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. 

Deer Knowl - if you look carefully you can see some of our party, led from the rear (for obvious reasons) by Graham, heading for the barrier of rocks

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. 

This helicopter spent all day dropping bags of hessian around us

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.

It was very noisy.

There were lots of these groughs to negotiate on Graham's route across Shining Clough Moss Near Black Clough

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.

Mountain hare on Bleaklow - they were scampering around everywhere

Here’s our lunch spot, and the view.  You can see the regenerating but very fragile grass that is taking hold in the peat.

Lunch on Bleaklow Hill - 12/2/11 The view south towards the High Peak area from Bleaklow Hill

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.

Fun was had at the Anvil Stone, at Bleaklow Stones, with fine views south to Kinder Scout and the hills around Edale.

Phil and Sue enjoy a rodeo ride on the Anvil Stone at Bleaklow Stones 
Here’s the video!

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.

Sue finally makes it through the snow storm to Bleaklow Head

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.

The paving of the Pennine Way - below this point there was much less sign of erosion.  This paving works. The view to Torside Reservoir from Clough Edge.  Note the spectacular rock gateway Red Grouse - "You can come as close as you like, I refuse to fly after all those gunshots!" Millstone Rocks and Lad's Leap - an easy walk from Tintwistle or Crowden on a summer's evening

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.

Graham's adapted route for the day, excluding his diversion to churn up Shelf Moor

There’s a slideshow (26 images) here, should you wish to see more.


Trekking Britain said...

When I first started hill walking years ago I got lost on Bleaklow in in fog and then dark. I know what a horrifying place it can be in the wrong weather. In the end I was okay and ended up at Derwent Reservoir where a nice man from the NT rescued me.

Done it in stunning weather too though and then its a completely different place then when its nice all dry underfoot and sunny with views.

Don't think I would ever bother going up there unless it was a stunning clear frozen winters day or bone dry warm clear summers day.

Definitely more Mountain Hare on Bleaklow than Kinder these days. Lovely wee things, great when you round a peat hag and several more fly of along the peat.

I know where you are on the erosion caused by man, though I also think all peat moors will in time eventually disappear naturally as well. The longer we can keep them the way they are though the better with Mountain Hares running round on them.

I remember people going mad about the big slab paths used for the Pennine Way when they first laid them but I think they have been great for areas like Bleaklow and Kinder. I know they look a big strange in places but people really do tend to stick to them and keep a nice lined path instead of a fifteen foot wide bog created by man.

Phreerunner said...

Thanks Jamie
All this can be an emotive subject, especially when taking in the fact that in the bad old days these moors were out of bounds to walkers. Later, I'll post some of the email exchanges I've had with Graham, regarding my comments on 'his' route; though I always knew we were going up Bleaklow - out of habit I just made him the scapegoat!
(Sorry Graham)

afootinthehills said...

All in all it sounds like it was a rather fraught day Martin.

Phreerunner said...

Ha - not really Gibson - it perhaps seems like that because of the reporting style I adopted, but apart from the dodgy terrain it was a good walk in excellent company.

James Boulter said...

Just a few miles away on Kinder we were also under the flight path of a helicopter. Indeed on the way up I thought that those bags were patches of snow.

There are much better ways onto Bleaklow, the Alport valley upto Grains in the Water being one of the best walks in the entire Peaks.

Phreerunner said...

Yes James, we usually approach Bleaklow from the south, but Graham's whole point was to take a different approach. He had good reason to do that and I think that whilst I didn't like the route he was very happy with it. So, fair doos!
Pleased to see that your vetter was happy with your route, BTW.

Gayle said...

"There must be a healthy population of grouse, some very poor marksmen, or hordes of synthetic pigeons."

Or it was just lots of people firing at targets at the nearby firing range/gun club? There was much shooting when we passed last month too.

We also took a direct route across the peat of Bleaklow on that trip - but hopefully won't incur your wrath for being peat vandals, as the ground was frozen solid at the time.

Phreerunner said...

Ah - targets. Yes Gayle, Sue and I observed at the time "We should have come when it was frozen".