We knew this was going to be a big one, so plans were afoot to meet early. And you all know what happens to the best laid plans ...
Mild for the time of year, and with the sun attempting to shine, made today's start promising, until entering the Vale of Edale where the clouds pressed in smothering the hilltops in mist and threatening rain. Undeterred we met up at Edale's large car park, fed the meter with coins and after pulling on every item of clothing we possessed, set off looking like Bessie and Billie Bunter.
A short stroll down the road brings us to the bridleway that runs up past Hardenclough Farm. The footpath takes us over the young River Noe - its source is only a short distance, but steep climb, away on Kinder - and already the water is running fast and deep.
This first part of the walk is easy, a tarmac track with a gentle incline. Just enough to get us warmed up. Once we leave the farm behind us, though, the track deteriorates and branches: right up and over a stile to go across the fields to Barber Booth, left on the bridleway towards Greenlands or straight ahead on a barely noticeable footpath although there is, hammered into a tree trunk, a yellow arrow. Not very clear but we know from a previous walk that this is the path we want.
The path skirts the wall and remains under the cover of trees, but it soon emerges from cover and deteriorates. It is seriously muddy and is getting steep. We pause to admire the view (or to remove a layer) before slogging on. And it is a slog. Too late we recall how hard this initial climb had been last time. It's straight uphill across the contour lines. We have to keep stopping to catch our breath and cool down, as well as to admire the ever-expanding view. It's glorious in this late autumn light despite the clouds. Edale is snuggled cosily beneath the protective arms of the hills, the last glowing colours of golden trees standing out against the still-lush greens and mellow browns.
Then we glance up the valley and see, well, nothing. A huge sheet of rain is speeding towards us like a heavy grey curtain. We quickly don waterproofs again and prepare for the worst. Heads bowed we continue upwards, but the promised downpour is nothing more than a sprinkling as the wind whips it away before we really feel it.We're at the stage of taking a few steps and stopping. This really is a tremendous slog.The only consolation is that it's early on in the walk where we, supposedly, have enough energy reserves to cope with it. But will we have enough energy left to last the course. Hope so, as neither of us is fit to carry the other!
We reach the road - three cheers - and pause to look at Mam Tor. It's impressive ancient ramparts are clearly visible here, and we wonder how on earth anyone could even think of attacking such a well defended site. They'd be knackered before they ever reached the top!
We walk up to the next stile where we cut off a bend in the road and reach the bottom of Rushup Edge. As we clear the dip between Mam Tor and Rushup Edge we are treated to the glorious views that, if you're really careful and crouch down, don't include the cement works. The sun is shining, but not on us (typical) although we can enjoy it at a distance.
The wind up here is extremely strong and we debate which of the two paths we should take. There's a bridleway and a footpath running parallel but either side of a stone wall. The footpath is on the Edale side, the bridleway on the Castleton side. Because of the wind, and the direction it is blowing, we decide on the bridleway for safety. We don't want to be blown off the edge.
My major concern is that there are cows ahead. PC looks at the hoofprints in the mud and declares them to be horses. The girl needs her eyesight checking. They are cow prints, lots of them!
The ridge is still climbing but it isn't too steep and there are plenty of ups and downs. For the most part the cows are out of sight then, cresting a hump, there they are. In full view. On the path. Loads of them. With young. I only dither for a moment before leaving the path, crossing a ditch and striding onward next to the wall. The cows watch me. PC is behind me saying something probably not very helpful - I can't hear because of the wind -and I don't pause to look back until I'm past the glowering herd. PC is stood next to them, TAKING A PHOTO. Doesn't she know the danger she's in? Admittedly the cows don't even blink, but they might have. I sprint on, leaving her to her foolish foibles, and find safely behind a gate. When PC catches up, blithely unconcerned, we have an essential pick-me-up from the secret flask. Ah, that's better.
It would be good to stop for a while but it's far too cold, the wind is blowing straight at us and we must press on. The path becomes wider but less distinct as we reach the high point of the ridge at 540m. The views to our left are excellent with the sun shining benignly on a patchwork of fields, but to our right the towering Kinder massive is covered in cloud.
We debate crossing the wall to find somewhere to eat, but behind the wall is a sturdy post and wire fence that makes us decide to keep on our side. It's easy walking and we're really covering the ground now, but we're hungry so our talk turns, naturally, to food: bruschetta, lasagne, chilli, pizza. Mmm.
At a metal gate the bridleway and footpath merge, and we have to cross a fast flowing stream to swap onto the northern side of the wall. The path here is almost sandy where the gritstone has eroded.
The path dips slightly then, with a fork to the left which leads down to the Chapel-en-le-Frith road, we turn sharp right across the moor. Here we see the only other person out walking today, a man sat huddled in a protected hollow of ground eating his picnic. Pity we can't oust him, he's in the perfect spot!
We press on speedily now, our stomachs rumbling. The wide track is waterlogged in places and we have to detour across the springy peat. It must be pretty grim up on Kinder. A couple of narrow tracks lead off towards the Kinder Plateau, and it may be good to follow them someday, but it would take more time than we usually have available.
We're on Chapel Gate, a track that was the old packhorse trail from Edale. As we start to descend we find a hollow to our right which looks promising. Yes, just right for lunch and providing a fantastic view down the Vale of Edale.
Out come the sandwiches, coffee and - joy of joys - fresh cream scones. How come everything tastes so much better out in the open? We devour everything with unseemly haste but maximum satisfaction. We can't linger, though, as this walk is taking longer than we'd intended, so we haul ourselves to our feet and continue our descent.
The wind is behind us now, helping us on our way, something we could do without given the state of Chapel Gate. It is seriously eroded, presumably due to the huge amount of water run off which, today, is a fast-flowing wide stream, but the track is also used by mountain bikers and motorcyclists.. I believe that the 4x4 brigade see it as one of their 'rights of way' too, but hopefully they will have enough sense to avoid it given the state it's in - but perhaps that is hoping too much. At least we see none of them today.
Surprisingly we descend fairly rapidly, our energy levels are obviously replenished, and at the bottom we debate whether to cross the fields towards Manor House Farm, or stay on the track. We decided to keep on the track, which may not have been the wisest choice. At one point the path is completely flooded and we have to scramble up onto a slippery bank to negotiate a way around the water. Yet again our supreme agility is put to good use!
A few spots of rain are starting to fall, and looking back we can see more clouds gathering with intent. We have no intention of pausing - we've already overrun our time on the parking meter - and as soon as we reach the road we're able to stride out. It's heads down and pushing the pace now as we stomp along the road between Barber Booth and Edale, but it doesn't take us long.
At last we stagger into the car park and as we are removing our muddy gear the rain that has managed to hold off all day finally decides it can wait no longer. The heavens open.
Our timing has been perfect (unless you count the overdue parking) and we're dry as we drive home through the torrent. It's been an excellent walk, but we are both seriously tired. We'll pick something a bit less challenging for next week.