Monday, 28 June 2010


A brilliantly sunny day at home boded well but driving towards Castleton the clouds gathered, the sun disappeared and the windscreen wipers came on. Mam Tor, our destination, was hidden by the murk.

We meet in Castleton's car park (good loos) and we're both in cropped grousers anticipating good weather. Ah well.

We don't stay in Castleton but drive up the road to park near Winnat's Pass which will be closer to our finishing point. The parking here is free on non-holiday weekdays too.

Togged up against the weather, fleeces and jumpers, we set off in the drizzle. There are plenty of school trips about today, a sure sign that it's coming to the end of the school year and the teachers want the kids out of the way. We pass the old entrance to the Odin Mine on our left looking very Tolkein-ish and we continue along the road which eventually disappears thanks to the gradual disintegration of the Shivering Mountain as Mam Tor is known (though we think it's shivering because of the cold).

We don't follow the line of the old road but veer onto the right hand path which skirts Mam Farm and heads up to Hollins Cross. It's warmed up by now so we take off our top layers and continue our rambling discussion on proms, concerts, fashion, art and all the things that concern two intellectual women like ourselves!

Before we reach Hollins Cross the sun makes an appearance - yippee - but so does a crowd of school kids on a collision course with us on another path. We pause to let them, and their harassed looking teachers, get out of the way before heading up to the cross to enjoy the views. Edale has opened up below us with Grindslow Knott featuring prominently but with wonderful views across the Kinder range.

We decide to sit down for a coffee and a chat. There's no rush as we're making excellent time. Naturally our talk turns to food, all the good things we've been eating (and shouldn't have) and all the things we want (but won't because we're good - honest). Cream buns, chocolate, heavy salads, cakes - there's only one way to describe this. Food Porn.

We pick ourselves up, shake ourselves off and set off towards the peak that is Mam Tor. The ridge path is paved because it is so well walked making it resemble a Roman Road. Last time we were here the path was swarming with ants, this time its swarming with school kids as well as plenty of other walkers enjoying the day.

It's windier and cooler as we near the top of Mam Tor, which is the site of an Iron Age hill fort, and as we approach the top point we notice that in the cobbles some wonderful bronze plaques
have bee set into them each one depicting a different aspect of Iron Age life: a round house, a sword, a plough, a mask, a shield and a torq.

It's hard to imagine life up here a couple of thousand years ago, but it is clearly a brilliantly defensible position and the hand-dug ramparts - still clearly visible in parts - are and amazing feat of human endeavour and engineering. The 360 degree panorama certainly means that no enemies would be able to creep up unannounced and the chieftain would feel as though he was the lord of all he surveyed.

We enjoy the views along the Great Ridge to Hollins Cross, Back Tor, Lose Hill and beyond to the triangular mound of Win Hill. Beyond Stanage Edge stretches for miles. Sweeping around we see the ever-intrusive blot of the cement works - surely the ugliest eyesore in the Peak District - then Peveril Castle and Winnats Pass before skimming the flattened landscape heading towards Sparrowpit and Chapel en le Frith before finding Rushup Edge and the undulations of the Kinder Range. What a view!

We go downhill to avoid the wind and find somewhere for lunch, at last settling on Mam Tor's flanks. We break out the food which is mundane, until we reach the buns. This is hard-core food porn so feel free to avert your eyes. Shortcake pastry cases filled with a creamy custard and topped with fresh strawberries. They smell and taste of summer and are eaten in reverential - if slightly guilty - silence. We wait a while before drinking the coffee as we want to savour the lingering taste of summer for as long as possible.

All is bliss until I'm either stung or bitten on the palm of my hand by some vengeful insect which leaves me we a black bruise reminiscent of Jack Sparrow's black spot in Pirates of the Caribbean. I shan't be taking any boat trips for a while.

We head downhill, cross the road and skirt the inappropriately named Windy Knoll before heading down Winnat's Pass. Looking back, Mam Tor seems impossibly high.

The first part of Winnat's Pass is a bit of a trial as we have to share the road with cars, but once over the cattle grip we can go off road where we scramble down the rocks, pause to sniff the wild thyme and look at the flora. From here its a wide grassy slope with the magnificent rock formations towering above us on either side. The rocks contain fossils from the time all this was beneath an ancient sea. It's hard to imagine it. Somewhere above us is the so-called Lovers' Leap, but it's hard to tell which one you have to jump off, they all look pretty lethal.

By the time we reach the Speedwell Cavern car park there are loads of cars and people about, and all we have to do is hop across the fields to our cars. Despite the grim early start the day has turned out well and we've even ended up with a bit of a suntan to show for it.