Good evening folks. I’ve gone missing from here over the last couple of weeks. Not for any reason except that I’ve been busy. You’d have thought with a week off from work that I would have more spare time. Incorrect. Things have been crazier than ever and after 3 days in the Brecon Beacons I had one day at home before it was time to pack the car and set off up north again on a Peak District adventure.
I was already 10 minutes behind schedule due to the fact that I was watching The Wildest Dream, the Everest documentary about George Mallory’s tragic first summit (spoiler: or was it?). I was picking up a couple of friends from the outskirts of London before heading up to the Peak District where we would meet the fourth member of our party. After sitting in the usual London traffic on an abnormally warm and sunny Friday afternoon we were finally on our way.
After about 3 or 4 hours of driving we finally pulled in to the youth hostel gates at approximately 7pm. We were staying at YHA Ravenstor. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the centre of the Peak District. There was a small village called Millers Dale about 1 mile away which thankfully had a pub. We spent the evening in our private room drinking beer and playing Cards Against Humanity. Hardly the most social of evenings but a great way to kick things off.
We awoke the next morning to beautiful sunshine and high temperatures… I kid. It was grey and drizzling. After a tasty, but late, breakfast we set off for the 30 minute drive south to the hamlet of Ilam where the first day’s walk began.
The walk began with a traverse round the south side of Bunster Hill across some of the muddiest fields I’ve seen in a long time. Sticky, squelchy and slippery mud. This would become quite the theme of the weekend with many of us taking falls. Some more than others… Once out of the mud bath it was up a short road and in to the beautiful Dove Dale gorge.
We strolled up here for a while surrounded by dog walkers and tourists as it wound it’s way along. After reaching some stepping stones and some cyclists I took a look at the map and decided it would be a lot more fun to be walking along the top of one of the sides rather than through the gorge. So after another few hundred metres we headed up a very steep path for about 250m of ascent to the top.
Once at the top it was definitely time for a banana and a stop whilst we got used to being a few hundred metres higher than before. It was much more pleasant up here. More wind, less people and more sheep. From here the path wound up and down following the route of the gorge but always staying high. There were massive dips, large rocky outcrops and sheep. So many sheep. It was at this point that Tom took his first large fall of the weekend. A spectacular drop and roll. A perfect 10.
After a while the path dropped back down to the river side. From here it was a low level trek past large caves, footbridges and more steep valley walls. By 1pm we were very hungry but I was looking for a specific cave to have lunch in. It was pretty much bang on halfway and would shelter us from the rain which had now begun to dampen the morale! Eventually, after me saying that it was only a couple of kilometres away for a good 5km, we arrive to find a 3 generation family already in the cave. The children were enjoying the small crevices which only they could get through. After chatting with one of the elders (who turned out to be a local farmer) they headed on their way and we got in to get dry. In a cold, damp cave.
Sadly we couldn’t spend the rest of the day there as we still had a long way to go. So we headed on our way, back out in to the cold and rain which remained pretty much constant for the rest of the walk. We headed around Gratton Hill and up through field upon field before we hit a large track which took us all the way through to the tiny village of Alstonefield which conveniently had toilets. Perfect timing for a colonless hiker like myself!
The path ambled around a bit, past some farms and down a very steep and muddy slope. It was so bad that there was even an alternative route to avoid it. Although that wasn’t much better either. We stopped for a couple of satsumas once we had got past the hill and then carried on down Hall Dale and back in to the gorge we started in!
After walking alongside the river for all of 100m it was up a very steep flight of steps for a good 200m of ascent. I was starting to wish that we hadn’t done the additional incline at the start of the walk but isn’t hindsight wonderful. Once we popped out above the treeline we were suddenly back out in the rain. It had increased dramatically and we got soaked through. Weirdly it wasn’t very cold and after sweating our way up the steps we just enjoyed the cool down. It was here that Tom took another stunning fall. Legs above his head. Mud everywhere. Great work and thankfully not injured. Too badly.
The hike was drawng to an end as we trekked across farmland through one of the most unecessary gates I’ve seen. I guess there is some sort of right of way law as I cannot see that it is really keeping any sheep contained…
After a muddy downhill we ended up back where we backed the car in the gorgeous hamlet of Ilam with it’s quirky looking Scandinavian style buildings. Of which I took no photos. It was a very damp drive back to the youth hostel with relentless steaming up of the windows. I still think it’s damp in there now, 5 days since we returned.
We showered and changed into nice fresh clothes. Or the exact same trousers as you wore all day, if you are Nick. Then it was a pretty terrifying walk down a dark road to the nearest pub for food, booze, darts, snooker and third place in the pub quiz. Not a bad day and a much needed sit down after our 27km epic!
That’s it for day 1. Day 2 will follow tomorrow so keep your eyes pricked and your ears peeled for that. Until then…