The Pennine Way is one of Britain’s best known and toughest long distance hiking routes. It stretches 429km from the Peak District, through the Pennines and Yorkshire Dales, up to Northumberland and across the Scottish border. The whole journey usually takes around 16-19 days and the record stands at a remarkable 2 days and 17 hours! Earlier this year, myself and a friend (the crazy man who’s cycling from the UK to Australia next year) decided on tackling what is apparently one of the most interesting, and challenging, sections of the walk – a two-day 45 kilometre jaunt between Edale and Marsden.
We set out, joined by another friend we bumped into on the train, from the Old Nag’s Head in Edale – the official start of the Pennine Way. Stocked up with supplies to last us two days, we eagerly hit the trail, intrigued to know whether our feet would last the distance…
The first couple of miles take in the rolling hills of the Vale of Edale – English countryside at its very quaintest! The Pennine Way was easing us in gently and we strode briskly onwards keen to find more demanding ground…
The walk really came to life on Jacob’s Ladder, an 18th Century packhorse route, which climbs steeply up towards the craggy edges of the Kinder plateau.
After several hundred metres of ascent the path levelled out offering panoramic views across the Peak District. The vast, open stretches of moorland atop the Kinder plateau only occasionally interrupted by the gravity defying piles of rocks which make this region famous amongst climbers around the world. Looming large on the horizon for miles as we approached were Edale Rocks.
In the spirit of microadventure, we permitted ourselves a divergence from tackling the Pennine Way to explore Edale Rocks – a climbers paradise. The beauty of the Peak District is that its rock formations offer routes for climbers of all abilities including, in my case, ultra beginners without the need for ropes and gear. Time spent scrambling around rocks such as these is always time well spent. The three of us each finding routes to the top to match our differing capability… and daring. Needless to say, with my good friend Vertigo ensuring minimal exposure to falling opportunities, my route was considerably lees demanding than my friends albeit still highly rewarding.
Reluctantly leaving our climbing playground behind, we re-joined the Pennine Way and before long entered a lunar-like landscape on Kinder Low. The blanket bog providing an extra spring to our step.
The path meandered onwards out of the peat bogs and onto more craggy edges – this time overlooking Hayfield and a distance Manchester.
Following a tough morning, with most of the walk’s ascent now behind us, we broke for a well earned lunch on the cliff top overlooking Kinder Downfall. The tea, boiled up on a camping stove, was certainly one of the best of my life. Nothing like a tea to restore the spirits of an Englishman – even one made with powdered milk. The back drop of Kinder Downfall, although only barely a trickle in the summer, made for a perfect picnic spot.
After lunch we parted company with Martin and had many long hard miles ahead over bleak open moorland. Not without reward though… the view back towards the mighty Kinder massif was certainly an impressive one and it was refreshing to experience total wilderness with two major cities only a few miles away.
The seemingly endless moorland path continued onwards towards an indeterminate destination. For once though we were thankful of man’s interference on the landscape as it was difficult to imagine this route being navigable without the paving stones marking a dry way.
After finally emerging from Featherbed Moss we crossed the Snake Pass (the main artery linking Sheffield and Manchester and a welcome reminder of civilisation) and entered Bleaklow moor which more than lived up to its name. The flagstones disappeared and we trudged several miles through wet marshland following only the needle on our compass. The cairn and pole indicating Bleaklow Summit at 633m marking a significant change in the landscape though…
The walk along Clough Edge, with views over Torside Reservoir, was back to the Peak District at its very best. With blisters now firmly taking hold of the souls of our feet, the distant reservoir, and its nearby town of Crowden which was our destination, was a most welcome sight.
9 hours, 16 miles and many blisters later, we arrived at the Youth Hostel in Crowden. I’m not sure what exactly Chris is trying to do here but I’ve no doubt it was some desperate attempt to relieve the foot pain we were both experiencing. Every ache, every pain was more than worth it though. It had been a wonderful days walking taking a range of scenery and vastly differing landscapes.
Early the next morning, we set out from Crowden and climbed through the valley and up onto Laddow edge. Not before a hearty breakfast of tea and porridge was eagerly consumed on a windswept hillside amidst the jealous looks of a passing walking group though.
Another opportunity which could not be passed up under the spirit of microadventuring – a steep scramble down the rock face to a hidden cave historically used by climbers looking for an early start.
The walk continued along the breathtaking edge of Laddow Rocks high above the valley floor. We had not anticipated that the Peak District contained such exhilarating scenery. This area would not be out of place in the Scottish Highlands.
After a few hours of awe inspiring views and the rough, rocky terrain I love so much, we emerged out onto the open moorlands again. This time it was Black Hill. The miles laboured by. The blisters began to bite once more. The bleakness finally broken by a sharp drop down to cross the river Dean Clough – an idyllic spot amongst endless acres of nothingness.
When we reached Wassenden Head Reservoir we knew we were on the home straight. And my feet could not have been more thankful.
Hobbling along a series of reservoirs, inching gradually towards Marsden it was a fitting end to the walk. We walked past many people out for a gentle afternoon stroll with their dog and were filled with immense satisfaction that we had covered such a distance.
As we took the final few steps of our 45km journey along the river into Marsden we reflected on a fantastic couple of days. Yes, this was really just a long walk but it was a microadventure all the same. We had taken ourselves out of our comfort zone, pushed ourselves to walk further than we’d done before and explored the world around us.
If you’re interested in doing the Edale to Marsden walk see here for the map and route guide we followed. If you have a decent sense of direction and a compass this map should suffice as the path is, on the whole, well marked.
In England we really are spoilt for choice for interesting places to walk. The Pennine Way certainly offers some of the best scenery but it doesn’t matter where you walk, so long as you walk. To use part of my favourite quote; “Explore. Dream. Discover.”