The midday sun was warm on the back of my neck. My weary feet kicked up the trail dust as we climbed over 35km around the beautiful Hope Valley in the Peak District. I was determined to do this. With only a handful of hikes under my belt, this one was my biggest challenge yet.
This wasn’t my first time hiking. I’d been hiking a few times before, including a gruelling 25km ramble over the Roaches in the Peak District. Drenched in mist and eerie fog, and accompanied by squelchy underfoot made that hike a real challenge for me. We often found ourselves lost and crossing random rolling farm fields heading in a ‘general direction’ with no path laid out. All the hardship however was quickly forgotten when we glimpsed our warm comfortable car waiting for us at the end, stacked with nibbles and refreshments. I said to myself, the next time we go hiking, I’d love to see some actual mountains and do some real climbing.
We headed back to Mam Tor and Kinder Scout in Hope Valley. A beautiful circular Peak District mountain range only a couple of hours from the front door which we had visited before, but had only completed a part of it. This time round, we were hiking the whole thing.
It took us a few attempts to make this trip. We blamed the weather and other commitments at the time, but I think it was me with a bout of anxiety towards meeting this challenge. A trip to the Lakes last year ended on Day Two, with my newly acquired and awesomely fashionable brown hiking boots betraying me and rubbed my ankles so bad they caused spasms up my legs! You see, I sometimes have a tendency to veer towards to the shiny things in life, rather than the obviously practical grey and very sensible looking hiking boots. Ultimately, I felt really bad for Frede that day. She was in awe of the mountains in the Lake District, reminding her of mountains she used to climb back home. On that second day, I managed to hobble in pain for about 100 yards before calling it quits. So this time round, it would be different.
I felt good. I slept well the night before, and I had my broken-in and practical looking Karrimor hiking boots at the ready. We packed supplies. Drinks. Cameras. Frede even made delicious ham and tomato croissants which would serve as the perfect mid-hike reward. We said goodbye to Edgar (the cat), checked we had everything, and hit the road around 6:45am.
Sure enough, we arrived in Hope village around 8:20am, just when Google Maps said we would. After a quick stop to the very convenient (and clean) public toilets just off the main road, we parked the car near Hope Primary School. This is near where our epic route would eventually end with a triumphant march down the back of Losehill.
I must admit, I felt a bit nervous at this point. I checked and double-checked everything, making sure my shoes were ready for the journey. Walking away from the car I knew I wouldn’t see for another 35kms was a bit of a weird moment, but it was time to man-up! I faced forward, walked up alongside Frede smiling, and in my head quoted Kevin Bacon in Apollo 13… ‘Okay Houston, catch you on the flip side’.
Complete side note, isn’t the Apollo 13 movie just awesome! I think the soundtrack alone is so special and never fails to give me goosebumps when I hear it on ClassicFM.
We started walking along the main road from Hope into Castleton, a quaint little village lined with boutique shops, a post office, with not a chain brand logo in sight.
Following the signs, we passed through a gate and began our ascent up through Cave Dale which looked like a perfect place to shoot a movie scene. A rustic rocky trail leading through overhanging cliffs and trees, as large birds swooped overhead. Their squarks echoing off the cave walls. I could just picture a garrison of Roman soldiers marching through this terribly vulnerable route in a time long ago, only to be attacked from all sides by an aggressor on the high ground.
As we climbed, I really felt like I’d seen this view before somewhere. It turns out, Cave Dale was the backdrop to a scene in one of my favourite childhood films, The Princess Bride!
Frede excitedly asked if we could peek into one of the caves nearby. I replied… ‘as you wish’. If you are continuing to read after that very corny one-liner from the film, thank you!
So after Cave Dale, we hit out across open tracks under the warm spring sun. We passed a few mountain bikers, some very curious lambs all bounding around in their new surroundings and “baahhhing” at us, and a very nice looking farmyard campsite within view of Mam Tor. That was our first summit of the day. The sky was blue without a cloud to be seen, cut by the line of the mountain as it lazily arced upward. Little silhouettes of early morning climbers could be seen already dotting the horizon, soaking in the clear views. We made our way up, crossing a road and a local cycle race, and passing signs for a trail run that was also taking place. The ground was solid to walk on, and the sun seemed to get hotter as we made progress up 517 meters, eventually emerging at the top of Mam Tor.
The view, as always, was stunning. Endless green rolling landscapes crisscrossed by brightly coloured fields and dotted farm houses. You can understand why so many people flock to this vantage point, and why it was used a hilltop fort during the Bronze and Iron ages. Whether you’re crossing over the peak to make your way over the ridgeline, or simply enjoying a quick ‘park and climb’ from by the roadside nearby (postcode S33 8WA). Mam Tor, the views, and the surrounding villages make for a great visit.
After a brief rest, we decided against climbing down into the valley opposite and up leg busting ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ on the other side which ascends up to Kinder Scout. Instead, we walked straight over the roof of the peaks following the ridge west past a gathering of colourful parasailers, and then north to the higher peaks in the distance.
Several times during this leg of the hike we would look over our shoulders and marvel at the parasailers getting smaller and smaller in the sky as we walked. From the distance, they looked like little seeds floating on the wind. How peaceful it must be up there. I wonder what happens when they need to go to the bathroom? Anyway.
The route over the ridge from Mam Tor to Kinder Scout was open and exposed. The breeze was keen but it kept us cool as the midday sun rose in the sky overhead, and the path was made up of hard ground and even rustic slabs to make it easier to cover distance.
At one point, I saw a large city to the west and was amazed to realise it was Manchester. Being this high up, I starting to realise how climbing mountains and despite their imposing size can make you feel reassured and confident of your place among them. I can see where I have come from, and where I need to go. It’s quite a positive yet simple realisation which I’m sure has been turned into a thousand memes already, however, it was nice to actually stumble across this mantra and have a ‘so that’s what it feels like’ moment.
We made good strides towards our next summit, slipping into a train of other hikers who converged from different routes to arrive at what could be called ‘base camp’. Base Camp was just a sign post really, but it was a moment to catch your breath and prepare yourself for a hard climb ahead to Kinder Scout.
Kinder Scout. The highest point in the Peak District didn’t come with the tourist fanfare of Mam Tor, but instead rose gradually among the rock formations around it and was marked with a solitary white post to indicate the summit. There were a few overhanging cliff edges in the area, which many used as a place to stand and gaze and take the obligatory ‘on top of the world’ photo. Yeah we did it too!
We stopped for lunch a few minutes after Kinder Scout tucking into croissants and tasty treats. Sitting still meant you could really feel the sun on your skin, and it’s worth noting that even though it was the beginning of May and felt quite cool with the breeze, we did end up with some red bits from sun overexposure.
Hiking tip: Always carry sunscreen with you, or cover up with light layers.
Leaving the highest peak behind us and we made our way towards the cliffs near Edale. We continued along a well trodden path along the ridge that was lined with other hikers and also some large gatherings. Frede often mentions how busy and crowded the UK can feel compared to Canada, and that there is ‘always people everywhere’. I think I really noticed it that day. It was great to see so many people out enjoying the experience, but it was also unexpected to find coach loads of visitors hanging out like a flock of migrating birds chattering on a cliff edge.
At this point my feet started to get a little sore. Hiking tip: try and wear actual hiking socks.
We eventually made our way down into valley, passing a handsome collie dog called Timmy who had momentarily lost his owner. After a few shouts down the mountain we spotted the chap running back up and helped reunite the two. I would love to have a collie dog again one day.
Into the little village of Edale, we stopped at the local shop to pick up a Cadburys Buttons ice cream and refreshments, then hit the smooth tarmac to march our way onto the main road. Our destination was the last leg of our epic expedition, Losehill. Losehill is often the starting point for many hikes in this area as it’s the first peak in the range that leads to Mam Tor. If you’re looking for a good short hike, park up in Edale and make your way up Losehill, it’s a real gem of climb. Not too tasking, but enough to make you thankful to reach the top!
Our journey, all thirty five calf-killing kilometres of it, was to begin its conclusion on Losehill. It was around 4pm and the sun was still high in the sky, although the wind had really picked up putting goosebumps on my arms. We left Edale behind us and found a public footpath which snaked its way up a winding rocky path to an intersection on top of the ridge between Losehill and Mam Tor. This was the hardest part of the climb for me. My legs were tired, my feet were sore, and the ground lined with sharp rocks and loose footing slowed our progress to a crawl. It was a new sensation to be angry towards a mountain. As I struggled, I pictured it like going up against a heavyweight prize fighter as you gave it everything you had to conquer the fight, only for this overwhelming opponent to sit there and laugh at your feeble offensive. My cussing however, remained razor sharp as I cursed some beautifully offensive words when the climb got harder, carefully slipping back to polite ‘afternoon’s’ and ‘hello’s’ as other hikers descended the other way.
Nearly at the top, a small lamb and proud parent sheep watched us hobble along. Their ‘bahhhhing’ sounded like laughing as I imagined the lamb asking the parent what the silly humans were doing. We finally made it to the top however, gasping for breath. A quick look around. No time or energy to admire the view anymore. We turned towards the final challenge of making it across the ridge line.
Reaching Losehill wasn’t accompanied by the euphoric sense of accomplishment I had hoped for, but I was so glad to have reached the last checkpoint of the hike. The wind was now a full force gale as we stopped to take a couple of phone snaps before beginning our descent. My feet were so painful at this point, I ended up actually running down the hill as it was strangely more comfortable than walking!
We were finally greeted by tarmac at the bottom, and it was now when the sense of accomplishment kicked in. I turned to look back up Losehill which was now eclipsed by clouds and an angry looking weather front, and I pictured the range of landscape hidden behind it that we had conquered. I felt grateful. Grateful to be able to do something like this. To be able to explore the countryside and bring home the blisters, the sunburn, and the pulled muscles.
Buoyed with a renewed energy we trotted along the route towards the back of Edale, and the roadside where we had left the car all those miles ago. We headed for home just as the skies over the peaks turned a dark uninviting grey. Later that night, we feasted on a delicious oversized portion of spaghetti bolognese that Frede had cooked. I remember at one point checking my Fitbit to see I had burnt over 5,000 calories that day which in my experience is a lot. I usually burn something like 700 calories on a single 10km run, so this statistic really nailed home the achievement. It also quashed all guilt over demolishing a literal mountain of delicious spaghetti bolognese snowed capped with parmesan cheese.
So when is our next hike? Maybe in a few weeks time. First I need to rest my feet, recharge my mountain motivation, and buy some better hiking socks.
I’ll put some useful links below in case you want to attempt the same route.