FROM HOPE TO WIN HILL IN HIGH WINDS, SLEET AND RAIN
First of all I must point out that this week's walk was all PC's idea, and she must take full responsibility for it. Even her suggestion when we meet, before 10am, that 'we go to the pub for the day' does not absolve her in any way.
We've had a week off and our last walk, which was windy but mild, had lulled us into a false sense of well-being. Since then we've had snow, rain and gales so on the drive to Hope we aren't surprised to see the peaks liberally covered with the white stuff. And the forecast isn't promising: gales in Scotland, possibly filtering down to us later. Hence PC's suggestion that we sit out the day in the pub. Tempting, but she isn't getting off that easily. So we layer up, consult the map and set off.
At the moment there isn't any rain and although it is cold there's barely a breeze, so we're feeling fairly confident. We walk up Edale Road and turn right onto the small road leading to the cemetery. We cross the bridge spanning the River Noe which is flowing fairly fast, ignore the path running alongside it and take the next right hand path which takes us past the cemetery.
The path goes through a gate then underneath the railway line. From here the wide path takes us gently uphill and past a neatly kept patch of land that looks like a small site for caravans. Sure enough, when we arrive at the top of the path and pass Fairfield Farm we see the sign at the end of the driveway that indicates a Caravan Club CL site (5 caravans only). That's one worth remembering.
At the end of the drive we turn left onto the narrow road leading towards Aston and it's a little more noticeably uphill. By the time we take the left hand turn (signposted Hope Cross) PC is removing a layer. We wonder if this part of the old roman road, but careful study of the map makes it seem unlikely as the road appears to be lower down.
We press on uphill and start to see the wonderful views over towards Mam Tor and Lose Hill with their snow covered tops. We're so glad we aren't up there this week!
At the top of the tarmac lane we turn left onto the rough track which leads up - eventually - to Hope Cross. A fat squirrel crosses our path and scurries away as a ginger cat eyes us suspiciously. Do they know something we don't?
The first section of this path is very stony, and wet. It's a sign that there's been a lot of rain lately as there are rivulets of water running downhill, but it's easy enough to avoid the streams and we continue dry-shod. There are trees to our left, sheltering us from the view of the cement works (thank goodness) but every now and then there is a break which gives us ever-improving views towards the snowy peaks of the Great Ridge.
An abandoned, ruined farm building hunches at the side of the path, then we go through a gate and onto a path which cuts across a rough field. It is slippery, slick and muddy and although the uphill gradient is minor it takes effort not to slide around too much. At this point we are unaware that worse is yet to come!
Above Twitchill Farm and at a crossroads of paths, not very distinct but there is a signpost, we pause to admire the views - and the gathering clouds. PC snaps away with her phone (did I mention that she forgot the camera?) and we agree that it is wonderful to be out enjoying such glorious scenery. After a brief debate we decide to continue straight on rather than climbing steeply uphill towards Win Hill, as we want to enjoy the vista opening up in front of us.
Apart from the slippery ground the walking isn't hard and we find it easy to avoid the numerous puddles on the path. We pass through another gate and we're finally onto open moor. It's a little bit breezy here, but nothing to worry about. It's a steady but easy climb and we've made the right decision as we can now see beyond the Great Ridge to the Kinder Plateau which looks spectacular with drifts of snow emphasising the contours of the land.
We feel a couple of spots of rain so PC decides to put her coat back on, and when I see the rapidly looming grey clouds I follow suit by dragging on my waterproof trousers. Just in time too. Almost as soon as we're dressed we're hit by rain, sleet and hail. And wind. Where did that come from all of a sudden?
We press on uphill expecting the wind to ease, but it doesn't. Nor does the rain and sleet. The higher we go the harder it is to keep our footing as we're constantly being pushed sideways into the hill. For once talking has ceased as we keep our heads bowed and plough on.
As we hit the top of the path we're struggling to stay upright. The wind is so fierce that we are seriously beginning to doubt our sanity (not for the first time) but there's no turning back. The Kinder Plateau is completely obscured by ominously thick clouds and it's impossible to look in the direction of Mam Tor because that is where the driving sleet is coming from, so it doesn't look as though we're in for a respite.
Turning towards Win Hill we set off again; one step forwards, two steps sideways. Enormous puddles cover the width of the broad path and rivers link one puddle to the next. We manage to avoid them, but we have to use sign language to communicate as we can't make ourselves heard over the wind. We've reached the snow line too, with slush on the puddle-free sections of track and white fluffy sheets on the heather.
After a while we realise that the sleet has stopped and bracing ourselves against the wind (which hasn't stopped) we turn around 360 degrees to admire the view. PC spies Ladybower reservoir looking full for a change, and across the valley Crook Hill looks stark and uninviting. To the north-west we can see the roman road heading to Hope Cross. Strangely enough, there are no other walkers on this popular path. I wonder why not?
There's a long wall crossing the path with the option of a stile or gate. Naturally we choose the gate, and at the far side we fall gratefully into the shelter of another wall which runs at the side of the path. At last we're able to stand upright without effort, though our leg muscles are aching with the unaccustomed requirement to fight for balance whilst walking forward. As we rest we reward ourselves; cointreau from PC's secret flask (it's easier to get to than mine). A couple of hefty nips soon makes everything seem warmer and rosier.
Walking is a lot easier now with the benefit of the wall on the windward side, and the cointreau on the inside. However, as soon as we lose the wall we're completely exposed again and the full force of the gale makes itself felt. Win Hill doesn't look terribly promising so we prudently decide not to go right over top but keep to the path which skirts around the southern side. Before we reach it, though, we see two other walkers coming up from the south and heading right for the summit. They manage it so far, then turn and hunker down on the leeward side against the wind.
As we approach the slope of Win Hill it becomes increasingly difficult to stay upright. Every footstep has to be carefully judged but every pause is punished by the hammering gale. Its a case of heads down, watch your feet and don't look back. Just below the trig point I manage to sit on a boulder to wait for PC to catch up. When she reaches me she sits on another boulder a little higher up. After a brief break we have to fight to stand up and regain our balance before setting off again. Tempted to look back at the view I'm almost knocked off my feet, so I carry on, but PC is more successful and manages to take some photos. She's not sure she's been able to keep still enough, though, since the wind was rocking her so much.
It's downhill now, but quite worrying as the steeply sloping steps are covered in snow, slush and running water. I make it to the bottom first and wait for PC to catch up (she's been taking pictures), then we continue down towards Winhill Plantation. All of a sudden the wind stops. Completely. Under no illusions we know that we have dropped down sufficiently to be protected by the lay of the land, but it is very strange to suddenly be able to hear, talk and stand upright without effort.
We pause to consider our options. Namely, we're hungry and need somewhere to sit for lunch. Fortunately, just in the edge of the plantation are a couple of fallen trees, so we cross the snow and heather towards them. It's a perfect spot; sheltered with seating provided.
Sandwiches are dispatched with alarming speed, followed by a warming cup of coffee. PC suggested leaving the buns until later, but we're too hungry, so out they come. These are a first. Pear tarts - buttercrust pastry with half a pear and a frangipani sponge. They taste wonderful and are extremely satisfying.
As we finish off our buns, and our second coffee, a bedraggled group trudge up the path towards Win Hill. Most of them seem to be well equipped but a couple are without rucksacks or waterproofs. They'll be in for a serious shock when they climb out of this sheltered buffer zone.
Even though we're out of the wind here it is getting chilly, so we don't need much encouragement to pack up and move on. We return to the path through the snow and continue downhill where, instead of going through the gate and down Parkin Clough, we turn right across the moor.
No sooner are we out of the cover of trees the rain starts again, and looking at the grey expanse of cloud it seems that it will be set in for a long time. There's more wind here too, so we're treated to the double-whammy of stinging rain being blown into our faces. Lovely - not. We risk looking back towards Ladybower, but there's too much rain to see clearly and all we can make out are a few murky shapes.
Heads down we walk on. The path is grassy and level, but soggy and very exposed. Parts are flooded and we have to detour through the heather. Soon we come to a signpost where we have to turn right and cross through a broken section of drystone wall as we take the path signposted 'Aston'. The first part is narrow but it widens as it goes sharply downhill between high banks.
As we reach the bottom and prepare to climb over the stile in the wall (very long legs required) the weather takes a sudden and dramatic turn for the worse. Snow and sleet on a driving gale hits us squarely and forcefully. Visibility diminishes to a few feet and all we can do is turn our backs to it like a couple of miserable pack-horses and hope it will pass.
The wind dies a little and the sleet eases so we make the effort to cross the (high) stile. I get over, but as PC climbs over her phone rings and, distracted, she bangs her shin. Turns out her husband is worried about the weather conditions. We're not worried, we're actually past caring. The back of my neck is damp and one boot is starting to squelch. PC thinks her boots are OK but she's looking very soggy.
Half way across the next field is a cistern to collect water, and it is overflowing to such an extent that a wide river is running downhill from it. It follows - naturally - the exact line of the footpath. And it runs - obviously - right underneath the stile we have to cross. Then it continues - of course - all the way through the next fields exactly where we need to walk.
By the time we have to paddle (yes, paddle) to the last stile into Aston we are at the point where we can't actually get any wetter. It's still raining, we are well and truly soaked, and we are beyond caring. At least we're out of the wind!
As we squelch soggily through Aston we aren't surprised that there's no one about. There's a minor flood across the road (yes, we paddle through it) and a waterfall pouring down a bank from a field drain. The road winds around (and up and down much to PC's disgust) until we're back at the drive to Fairfield Farm. It's just a case of retracing our steps - somewhat wetter than on the way out - and as we eventually cross over the River Noe we notice how much fiercer the water is flowing. PC remarks that it could turn into flood conditions like in 2007 - I hope she's wrong.
By the time we reach the cars the cold and the wet has actually got through to us. I can't feel my fingers and struggle to get my car keys out of my pocket. PC heads for the loos to get changed. We both agree that we are totally mad - but in a good way (naturally).
Next week will be our last walk before the festive season, and we're keeping fingers crossed that the weather isn't quite as bad as it has been today. We've been out before in high winds (stanage edge) and torrential rain (ladybower) but we don't think we've ever had the combination we've encountered today. But it hasn't stopped us, and we've actually enjoyed it. Perhaps we're certifiable after all.