Wednesday, 6 February 2013


The heavy snow at the weekend, despite it having melted away with amazing speed, has left us in a bit of a quandary. Walking low level is going to mean soggy feet and a miserable slog through boggy, muddy ground. But the wind is blowing pretty fiercely so high ground, as we know to our cost, is likely to be uncomfortable, if not dangerous.

So, we meet up in Castleton to debate the options and consult the map. We don't want the high road or the low road, just something in between. There is still some snow here, snuggled in pockets under walls and in the lee of hedges, and chalking the folds of the hills.

At last we make up our minds and return to our cars for the interesting drive up Winnats Pass (why do cars on the way down think they have the right to drive in the middle of the road?) then turning right, left and right again until we climb up and over the pass between Mam Tor and Rushup Edge before winding carefully down the steep road to Edale. The view that opens out as you crest the ridge and start the descent is nothing short of amazing. Pity we can't take photos whilst driving.

When we reach the valley bottom at Barber Booth we take the tiny road at the side of the River Noe, hope we don't meet any cars coming the other way, then park up in the small deserted car park. All we need to do now is kit up and get walking.

Yes, it is bitterly cold, there is the promise of rain and there's more snow on the hills in this valley, but we set off up the tarmac road with an air of expectation. We're familiar with short sections of today's walk, but not with the whole of it, and we do like going somewhere new.

The road takes us as far as Upper Booth where we take the right hand path through the cluster of buildings around a yard, following the line of the Pennine Way. A flamboyant cockerel struts around almost begging to be photographed.

We round a corner where some sheep are penned then hit the well-worn Pennine Way track. In places the track is muddy and flooded with run-off from the hills - so much for us picking a dry route - but it isn't too bad. Mollie paddles through the extensive puddles without a care for her dirty paws or soggy undercarriage.

The wet patches don't last long, and we're soon reasonably dry shod again as the path climbs fairly gently. There are plenty of sheep grazing in these low-level fields, which means that Mollie can't be let off the lead for a run, but that doesn't stop her running as far as the lead will allow.

We crest a small grassy mound beneath the bulk of Broadlee-Bank Tor and are immediately assaulted by a fierce wind that almost blows us backwards. It must channel up the valley and gain enough momentum to really hammer this slightly exposed spot. We manage to take a few photographs, the sunlight is playing hide and seek in between the clouds and it is illuminating the landscape in snatches, bringing out contrasts in colour and form.

Pressing on we dip slightly and lose a little of the wind, and when we come to a stand of trees with conveniently contorted branches that will serve as a bench, we stop for a nip from the secret flask. It's a struggle to open the lid but eventually we succeed and have a couple of warming drinks of Ramblers Restorative. This is the last of the batch but never fear, I have more maturing in the kitchen at home so we won't be deprived of it for long.

Feeling warmed and mellow we continue and soon come to where the Park Authority have deemed it necessary to put large stone flags on the path. It's probably a good idea, this part of the route must carry a lot of foot traffic being so close to Edale, but it does feel out of character. But that is the price so many routes have to pay now that walking is such a popular recreational pursuit.

We gently drop down towards Grindsbrook Booth and come to a decision. It is almost lunch time and we want to eat out of the way. There are walkers coming down the path off Grindslow Knoll and we decide that 'up there' will be a good spot to stop before heading back towards Barber Booth.

Mmm, we'd forgotten how deceptively steep this wide grassy path is and are reminded again why we have never walked up Grindslow Knoll this way. However, today we're only going as far as the Open Access boundary before turning left and following the wall until we find a fairly sheltered spot and a tussocky mound to sit on.

We settle down with our sandwiches (and Mollie with her biscuits) then enjoy a warming coffee. Heavy clouds are gathering but we ignore them as the buns are brought out. Danish pastries with custard and almonds. Very nice, and almost a healthy option! PC starts her bun after me, but finishes first. It is amazing how quickly she can demolish anything sweet and fattening - or maybe it's because I spend too much time talking.

After a second coffee we feel a few drops of rain so pull on our waterproof trousers before we set off again. Fortunately the rain doesn't last long, but the wind has renewed its efforts and is really making itself felt.

Our original intention had been to walk down to Edale village and partway along the road, but instead we've chosen to follow the access boundary (and narrow but distinct hillside path) to avoid traffic.

After a while we are beginning to question our choice. We have to cross a very muddy stream, which really is only a minor inconvenience, but soon we are on the steep hillside and feel as though we really ought to have one leg shorter than the other. The path is very narrow, meaning each footstep has to be directly in front of the last (models may do it on the catwalk with ease, but not on a steep hillside - and we aren't models), the wind is pushing us around and Mollie can't make up her mind whether to walk in front, pull to investigate sheep or stop and refuse to move.

Eventually, though, the path begins to drop and we make our way down to a gate in the wall which takes us back towards the Pennine Way. Soon we're back on our outward path, but returning towards Upper Booth.

When we get there the cockerel is there to greet us, along with a small harem of hens, and as before he seems very pleased with himself.

It's an easy walk along the road and back to the cars, although the tiny car park is just about full. As soon as we've managed to remove our gear and get in the car the heavens open. Our timing was perfect, for a change.