Across the Dark Peak 1 - narrative
Penistone to Chinley

We've walked a lot in the White Peak, and enjoyed the lovely hills and dales, but we'd not been in the Dark Peak before. Then Jeremy found a good, recent map, which enabled us to see the terrain and plan a nice walk. The 'dark' name slightly appealed to our sense of 'mini adventure'. Finding a nice B&B on the edge of the Moor helped, and we risked doing it in October, aware that the weather might not be kind to us.

DAY 1. Penistone to Broomhead Farm.
It was an easy train journey from London and for the last section, on the local train, we noted the dark hues of northern towns, stained by the industrial revolution. We were immediately on a pleasant path by the railway line. Although slightly misty, the trees were showing rich colours, and we enjoyed the autumnal afternoon. We peeled off to the right, on the Penistone Bounday Walk, and hardly saw the town. The suburban fields were showing some little green shoots of winter wheat, while others were a rich, unplanted, dark brown. Leaving the Walk, we turned south, through more farms, with herds of cows and bullocks, and later, sheep. Even in the grey light of a cloudy day, the trees showed rich browns and reds.

The route went over gently undulating hills, sometimes down a holloway, surrounded by holly trees. After Midhopestones we came to the edge of the moor, with heather all in autumnal colours. An easy climb to Thorpe's Brow was followed by a steep descent to Ewden Bridge. For ease of navigation, we kept to the road; however it was Friday evening, with many people driving home. As well as berries everywhere (cotoneaster, berberis, rosehips and blackberries), there were lots of lovely beech trees, turning golden, around Ewden Beck. Climbing the hill to Broomhead, we noticed lots of marks on the road: at the bottom 'get them knees going' and similar encouragements, and at the top 'vive la tour'- oh, this is where they did the Tour de France. Then into the Farm, with an elegant courtyard, the hall with old porthole windows, a beautifully converted 1850 barn, and a fine view of the moors.

DAY 2. Broomhead Farm to Hope. Our host, the farmer, told us about the rules of working in the National Park, mostly to do with not over-using the land; he also described the new possibilities of carbon capture in the peat on the moors. The clouds were a little higher, but the morning was grey. We took the track above Ewden Beck, up to the Shooting Lodge. Grouse and partridges, etc, burst out of the heather, squawking noisily, clearly nervous about being shot. We headed south, down Grouse Butts; when that ran out, we continued on smaller animal paths, soon joining the Dukes Road, on the westward path. The green and brown heather had pretty little cream flowers; the bracken ranged from dead (brown), through golden, to a lively green. The broad back of the moor stretched all around, brooding, in the grey light. Without significant features, we depended on our compass for direction: south, (towards the sun, when it was out). Sometimes the surrounding peat was jet black and very boggy. The worst of these were laid with huge stones; what a monumental job to get them up onto the moor!

The main event on the moor was Back Tor: a great pile of rocks, which numerous walkers and runners headed for. It was Saturday - many people gathered there. Lost Lad Hillend also had a great panorama , and then we continued downhill towards the reservoir. The sky cleared, the sun came out, and we picniced with a brighter view; what a difference the change of light made. Clearly there was not so much peat here, as the ground had also changed, with grass now replacing heather. Nearer the water, we were back among the trees: some fine, tall beeches, with lovely gold, amber, and red-brown autumn colours.

We got down to Wellhead and walked along the track by Ladybower Reservoir, kicking up the crackling, dry leaves; it was also popular with cyclists. After the dry summer, the water level was quite low At the Mill by Ashopton, we joined the A57, fortunately on an accompanying walkers/cyclists path. Then right onto another A road and soon across the dam made famous by The Dam Busters film, as the place where the pilots practiced their low flying. A small road above the nascent River Derwent led to the Thornhill Trail, going straight through the trees (probably a former railway line). Then it was a slanting track up, to get over the ridge, and across the fields, towards the chimney of Castleton Cement Factory. Finally to our B&B, a mile from Hope, and dinner at the pub in Brough, next to the caravan site.

DAY 3. Hope to Edale.
Another grey day: the cloud was low, covering the hill tops. We set off across the fields, to Hope, enjoying the autumn-leaved trees, notably two fine beeches standing proud by the river. The Antiques shop Living in Hope provoked me to an excess of bad jokes, like 'travelling hopefully' through the disappointing weather. We found our northward track by the School, and started climbing up Lose Hill. Before long we were surrounded by mist; the thickness of the cloud prohibited the (probable) panorama. Not a white-out, but absolutely no view. This had not put off a large number of walkers, including quite a few groups of teenagers, with large, colourful backpacks, doing the Duke of Edinburgh Awards - to improve their chances in life. (Who was more stupid, them or us - doing it 'for pleasure'?)

From Lose Hill we went westward, on an easy path, frequently laid with big stones; again, thoughts of the great labour involved in creating these walkways, lugging the slabs up the hill, and fitting them together, all along the hog's back, above the valleys either side. Some of the 'pavement' had interesting fossils, and others looked like frozen waves, a moment in time, set in stone. The lack of visual cues meant we passed Hollins Cross without remarking it, and arrived at Mam Tor and the little road, having seen almost nothing.

With such poor visibility, there was no point in schlepping on to Chinley, so we peeled off northwards; descending the hill, we were quite soon below the cloud, with a view of the Vale of Edale: ah, fields and trees. It was good to be back with the autumn colours again. We made our way down Harden Clough, with a pretty stream and some fine trees. The season declared itself beautifully: green - yellow - gold - amber - tan - cinnamon - firey-red. We had lunch in the pub in Edale and then took the little trans-Pennine train to Sheffield, with many other walkers.

Tantalised by the weather, and even with the disappointing final day, it was a pleasing walk. Crossing the great expanse of the moor was a satisfying achievement. The Dark Peak was a new discovery, and provoked ideas for further exploring, not least that the north-south Edges join up...

© Diana Ambache 2015