Sandwiched between the big industrial cities of the North of England is the Peak District National Park. The Pennines, the peaks responsible for the park’s name, are range of hills which run like a spine through the centre of England from the Cheviot Hills in the north to Edale, a small Derbyshire village, in the South. Our adventure would be based in Edale, a small hamlet with a couple of decent pubs and a railway station. There’s not much to attract visitors to Edale other than its beautiful setting and the fact that it’s the start of the Pennine Way, a 268-mile-long hike which has become a mecca for hikers from across the globe.
Not huge hiking fans, but keen to stretch our legs and enjoy a mini adventure, we, that’s yours truly, my brother Tom and buddy Duncan, planned to base ourselves in Edale for two days and enjoy the surrounding footpaths and pubs.
The first day started a little later than planned as a Steak dinner the night before, accompanied by few oversize glasses of red wine, and a grey and wet view from our bedroom window dampened our enthusiasm for hiking a little. We’d planned to catch the local train from Reddish direct to Edale, but the late start and the convenience of sitting in the car for the next 40 minutes won over our good intentions.
By the time we’d dropped our overnight gear off and parked the car at the Rambler Inn, it was almost 13:00 before our boots touched the trails, but the joy of being hiking newbies is that we hadn’t placed grand expectations on ourselves: A 12km walk on not-overly demanding terrain was more than possible before daylight ceased.
We hiked through sheep filled fields from Edale to Barber Booth then joined a steep bridle path which elevated us to the high moorlands above the Lord’s Seat. With the wind pushing us and rain clouds chasing us we hiked down Rushup Ridge and clambered up the perfectly spaced steps to the summit of Mam Tor, once the site of a Bronze Age Hill Fort. This is hiking made easy! The views along the entire ridge-line into the vales of Edale and Castleton were stunning, a landscape that reminded me of model railways... simultaneously dramatic and tame, wild and manicured. The Pennines can’t rival the Alps for impressiveness, but the bleakness and beauty of these wind-lashed hills is breath-taking. From Mam Tor we sauntered along the Great Ridge to Back Tor, a steep climb by anybody’s standards, and creeped around the sounding cliff edge getting pummelled by the wind as Tom shot moody photos from a distance. By the time the light had started to fail we were navigating the muddy footpaths from the Great Ridge to Castleton.
Castleton doesn’t have a big population, but a constant stream of hikers means it’s able to sustain a good number of pubs. In Ye Old Nag’s Head we rewarded ourselves with a pint of smooth bitter (if you’re in this neck of the woods you must drink Bitter) and sausage and mash in a giant Yorkshire pudding, proper English pub grub! A little pub crawl ensued with pints in The George, Innkeeper’s Lodge, The Castle and The Bull’s Head. As last orders were called at The Bull’s Head our taxi arrived to make the short journey back to Edale. Word of advice for the night owls, book your taxi in advance, because getting a taxi on the night can be a little tricky.
The next morning started with a teapot of Earl Grey and a Full English breakfast at the Rambler Inn, the breakfast of champions! The forecast for the day’s weather was good, but the view out of the window said otherwise. We weren’t in any particular rush to get outside. By the time we’d packed the car and laced our boots the weather had turned and we were on the cusp of glorious day. Looking over the OS map at breakfast we’d planned to follow the Pennine Way to Upper Booth Farm where we’d divert our route and take the footpath alongside Crowden Brook to Crowden Tower. From Crowden Tower we’d work our way across the moorland to Kinder Downfall and then join the Pennine Way, down via Jacob’s Ladder back to the serenity of Edale.
The route’s beginnings were easy. Other than the monotony of opening, closing and locking farmers’ gates every hundred meters and the business of this hiking super-highway the walk to Upper Booth Farm was blissful. Just after the farm yard we took a right and began walking besides Crowden Brook. Slowly but surely the gradient began ramping-up. As we entered Crowden Clough, another National Trust trail, the route became interesting. Zig-zagging across the path of the flowing stream we skipped and jumped from boulder to stepping stone, enjoying the challenge of route-finding. We all agreed that this was the kind of hiking we could get into. The last 500m of the trail were almost like climbing as we scrambled up the steep hillside to the heights of Crowden Towers. At Crowden Towers we paused to take in the spectacular views and pose on the rocks for photographs as the strong winds tried to blow down the sheer sides. My legs were like jelly and Duncan wasn’t in his element either, we both urged Tom to get his photos quickly so we could climb down from our precarious perch.
Merino is the perfect material to wear for these kinds of adventures. Despite the rain and strong winds on the first day, the mild weather meant a Temperate Weight merino bamboo longsleeve was enough to keep us warm beneath a Gore-Tex jacket. With the sun out, the outerwear could be demoted to the rucksack and a lightweight shirt or merino hoodie was enough to keep the chill away up in the moors.
Enough of the sales pitch, back to the hike. From Crowden Tower we decided to travel cross-country across the moorland at the head of Kinder Scout to Kinder Downfall. Completely oblivious to the reality of crossing moorland we went on our merry way. Quickly things started to get muddy, and by muddy I mean the “the Serengeti after a Wildebeest stampede” kinda muddy. Attempting to avoid the worst areas we meandered around the expansive landscape, but resistance was futile and time consuming. The next best option was to lace our boots tight and take a more direct route. The ground underfoot was at best soft, at worst swampy. In places erosion by mini streams had created wide open channels which meant a muddy scramble or an ambitious leap to reach the other side. But we weren’t alone, we crossed the path of many hikers, some carrying maps and compasses, well prepared for the labyrinth ahead, others “winging-it” like us. Both equally caked in mud. It took us more than an hour to reach our destination, Kinder Downfall. The time had passed quickly, navigating the maze of mud and bogs with only a weak sense of direction to go on was fun. We all agreed that it wasn’t something we’d enjoy in less amicable weather.
Having successfully navigated the moorland, carefully avoiding the fabled flora and fauna, we sat on some rocks taking in the views. Kinder Downfall, despite the dramatic name and impressive setting was a little disappointing. I’m certain more water being blown back-up the falls than was landing in the plunge pool. However, the incredible views over Kinder Reservoir, the surrounding foothills extending over the cityscape of Manchester, Stockport and Macclesfield were unbelievable. We enjoyed a brownie and a gulp of water while Tom snapped away, trying particularly hard to get that all important long exposure shot of the waterfall we’d walked so far to see.
The clock was ticking and Manchester’s nightlife was beckoning so as planned we thundered back down the Pennine way towards the Lower Kinder Scout Trig Point. The footpath was busy with hikers, but that was hardly surprising on such a beautiful October day. The walking was enjoyable and we were making good pace, probably because Tom had packed his camera away. As we reached Jacob’s Ladder, a long, paved descent with intermittent sections of loose ankle-turning trail, the light was turning to what photographers call the “golden hour”. Out came the camera again and our pace slowed back down. The views from Jacob’s Ladder were awe-inspiring in the golden early evening light and although our progress was slow, our legs were grateful for the rest-bite as each step of Jacob’s “bloody” Ladder, a nickname it had acquired about two thirds from its end, had started to wear us down.
From Upper Booth Farm we decided to take the road back to Barber Booth, cutting off the section of the Pennine Way we’d already walked. Tom snapped away in the perfect light as we strolled back to the Rambler Inn. By the time we reached the Rambler Inn the beer garden was packed with hikers and locals enjoying the Autumn sun and toasting a great day on the trails. We might have stayed for a shandy (that’s a Radler in case you were wondering), but there was a curry with our names, my new name being "Madras" and Tom's "Jalfrezi", on it, waiting for us Manchester. We all agreed, hiking around Edale had really exceeded our expectations, the trails were fun, the views outstanding and the pubs... were pubs. We’d be back.
Get there: Getting to Edale is simple by car and train. There’s a local train which runs hourly from Manchester Piccadilly station which stops outside the Rambler Inn. The Pennine Way starts 500m away, next to Ye Olde Nags Head pub. By car... use your GPS!
Accommodation: There’s plenty of accommodation in Castleton and the surrounding area, but if the weather forecast looks good it gets booked up fast, particularly in the weekends. We stayed at the Rambler Inn where a family room for the night cost £120 with breakfast included.
Food & Drink: If your hiking from Edale to Castleton along Rushup Ridge and the Great Ridge there’s no need to take food. If you’re not taking selfies and epic Instagram shots every two minutes the hike will take no more than three hours. If you’re walking up on Kinder Scout take food drink and some warm (preferably Merino!) layers. There aren’t any pubs on the moorland and the weather can roll-in quickly.
Words by Rich Ewbank. All photos (except the photo of the photographer) shot by Tom Ewbank - http://tomewbank.com/