Head in the Clouds; Phone in the Bin
Having originally decided to do one of the Peak’s most iconic walks, The Roaches, we changed our plan at the last minute to do a walk that I hadn’t done before. There are several factors that go into where we choose to walk: the weather, if we’ve done the walk before and, most importantly, where we want to eat breakfast.
And so, with the weather looking less treacherous than we’d expected, none of us having done the AA Walk titled In the Footsteps of the Trespass, and with breakfast in Leek looking entirely disappointing, we decided to head toward Kinder with a stop in Bakewell to fill our bellies at Wyes Waters Tea Rooms and empty our wallets at Cotswold Outdoor (we did both admirably).
As we arrived at Bowden Bridge Car Park, I shook off an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. Even as we started the walk along the clearly marked footpath that takes you around the north shore of Kinder Reservoir, I couldn’t put my finger on it. And then, as we started the ascent to the Kinder plateau up William Clough, it dawned on me: I had done this walk before. Twice before.
This isn’t a forgettable walk by any means, but the circumstances of each of my previous wanderings in this part of the Peak District have meant that I remember it for reasons other than the scenery. The first time I did this walk, I did it at night. Kinder is fairly unremarkable at night when you’re plodding across a well-defined path with a vast expanse of peat around you. The second time I did this walk, I did it with full-blown tonsillitis and a fever. I didn’t know I had tonsillitis at the time, this was confirmed by a doctor a day or two later when I realised that I couldn’t remember much of the preceding weekend, let alone the walk. The whole thing had been a haze.
You could say that my ramblings at Kinder have all been marred by a lack of vision, however looking back towards Mount Famine as we set out on this most recent attempt, you’d forgive us our optimism.
In the foreground of the image above, you’ll see Kinder Reservoir. It was formally opened in 1912, with construction beginning in 1908 after legal and geographical problems delayed the start of the project by nearly 7 years. The reservoir was the brainchild of James Mansergh – it was his solution to the problem of Stockport needing clean water after the small market down saw a rapid expansion from 2,000 inhabitants in 1700 to nearly 79,000 by 1901. In the 1800s, Stockport had been plagued by riots, cholera outbreaks and a flurry of mill-building, with each new mill attracting a new influx of workers to the area.
Most of the stone breaking and digging for Kinder Reservoir was done by hand, with hundreds of navvies and their families making Hayfield home during the work. A whole community built up in the area, with single men sleeping in communal huts, whilst families built their own timber dwellings. Some of these buildings survive to this day, albeit clad in modern materials.
In the picture above, we have Kinder Reservoir in the foreground, Mount Famine rising up out of the valley and, as I’m sure you’ve keenly observed, not a single glimpse of blue sky. We were not deterred. Granted, that’s a pretty solid sheet of cloud you can see for miles, but the weather is otherwise still. There’s very little breeze as we walk and there’s no sign of rain. We even remark at how we’re not going to get to use our new waterproof gear again on this walk and how jolly fortunate that is thanks to the rather comfortable temperature. “If we’d had to wear waterproofs today,” we tell each other, “it would be exactly the right temperature to turn us into human boil-in-the-bag.”
As we get closer to the cloud line, we dismiss the impenetrable sheet of grey as atmospheric. This is a perfect opportunity to talk briefly about the difference between clouds and fog, at least from the perspective of a group of people walking through the Peak District. Clouds, as we all remember from our school days, occur when water vapour (from evaporation) settles in the air and then transforms back into liquid form. That big sheet of fluffy things you see in the top picture? Those are clouds.
Fog, however, is an ever so slightly different beast. Fog is just cloud that forms at or near ground level. So when you’re at Bowden Bridge Car Park, you genuinely are looking up at clouds. Hopefully I’m not blowing your mind with new info here. As you ascend toward the cloud line at Kinder, you get higher, ground level gets higher and while it might sound romantic to say that you’re walking in the cloud, those same clouds are now fog from your perspective. They’ve touched the ground, just as they’ve touched you.
If you’ve never walked through clouds on top of a hill before, let me be the first to tell you that they’re not fluffy. It’s a little bit like walking through sandpaper made from ice crystals that are being pelted at your face by gale-force winds. Visibility is less than 50ft, but you haven’t noticed because you can only bear to look at your feet. You can feel the difference between the peat and the path under your boot, so it doesn’t matter that you can’t see the fatal drop that’s 10ft – or is it 5ft? – to your right. The wind driving the icy crystals at your Gore-Tex jacket make it sound like your ears broke and the countryside has descended into static.
We needed our waterproofs. We could’ve done with two layers of waterproofs each because after three hours up there bravely putting one foot in front of the other, all our waterproofing failed. When kit manufacturers proudly release a video of someone wearing their waterproof wares and walking through a waterfall only to come out bone dry, they’re absolutely within their rights to call that kit waterproof. However, I’ve never seen a video where some miserable rep has to stand under that waterfall for three hours. Waterproof is only waterproof to a point. That point comes after about an hour of relentless cloud-fog-sandpaper-rain and gale force winds, I’d say. Here’s my challenge to you, Rab: put someone at the top of Kinder Downfall in the fog and wind for three hours and show them emerging from the cloud with a smile on their face. I’ll buy that jacket.
That’s why the pictures in this post stop here. There was no view. My camera got waterlogged, my phone short-circuited and my gloves soaked up so much cloud (sorry, I mean fog) that it was difficult to figure out where my fingers were in any useful way.
I did, however, bravely take a picture of Kinder Downfall doing it’s usual trick of being the waterfall that goes the wrong way.
There’s little left for me to say about this walk. We walked three or four miles through this and then descended back to Hayfield, where it was again a pleasant day beneath the clouds. Three ascents of Kinder; to this day, zero glimpses of the view.
Despite this not being the walk we hoped for (although we each gave ourselves a hearty pat on the back for being so well-prepared for the conditions), this walk is really important and it would be remiss of me not to talk about why.
The Kinder Mass Trespass
This is the real reason this walk is special. Until the 1930s, the imposing hulk of Kinder Scout played both a symbolic and physical role in the lives of working-class people in Sheffield and Manchester. The acres of moorland had been denied to people like factory-worker Benny Rothman, who saw the hills as their birthright and the “fine country presently denied us”, owned and enclosed as they were by the landed gentry.
And so, on 24th April 1932, around 400 walkers started their mass trespass from Bowden Bridge quarry near Hayfield and proceeded to ascend William Clough to the plateau of Kinder Scout where they were confronted by hired hooligans posing as gamekeepers. After a violent confrontation, two groups of working-class ramblers from Manchester and Sheffield met at the summit for a brief celebration before returning to the valley, where five of their number were arrested by the much less fit Derbyshire Constabulary. These five ramblers received heavy sentences for ‘riotous assembly’, which ultimately assisted in uniting the ramblers’ cause despite the initial opposition to the walk from official ramblers organisations.
The walk was no disorganised rabble as the gentry proclaimed – a journalist from the Manchester Evening News and folk singer Ewan MacColl joined the fray. Their feat would later be recalled in Ewan’s song ‘The Manchester Rambler’.
The trespass is widely regarded as one of the most significant events in the century-old battle for the Right to Roam on Britain’s mountains and moorlands. Ramblers defied landowners and the police, demanding their right to enjoy fresh air, open spaces and freedom. The Right to Roam became more than just a dream for ordinary people and eventually became enshrined in law under the 2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act. This event also served as a catalyst for the creation of Britain’s National Parks, with the Peak District becoming the first designated National Park in 1951.
If you’d like to follow this walk in hopefully better conditions than we did, you can find all the information you need at the AA Walks site. If you do this walk in the same conditions we did, learn from my mistake: take a dry sack with you and you won’t need to buy a new phone.