Around 9 months ago I had my first solo in the hills which I’ve wanted to write about for ages and is still very clear in my mind.
The forecast said it would be windy. 50mph winds that night, to be precise.
I headed south to the Peak District late afternoon, for an evening out in the hills. I wanted to test out my new bivvy bag and stove which I had just splashed out on, plus I had never wild camped on my own before. I wanted to make it special so I chose to go somewhere close to the city but also far enough to feel away from it.
I decided to stop for fish and chips and a pint of ale in the pub in Edale before heading up the hill. I was stuffed as I set out, carrying far too much food inside me to enjoy the first hour of walking. At least I knew I wouldn’t need to eat for a while.
I was travelling light and just had a couple of breakfast things, including one of those preserved packet puddings; a magical silver packet of ‘adventure food’, a chocolate cake in chocolate sauce, which cost me a few quid on ebay and which I knew would be delicious when the time came to use it.
Hiking up the trail and towards dusk I passed other hikers coming back from their day out, feeling a bit naughty as I thought they probably knew what I was up to – off camping in the hills. I hiked uphill for a couple of hours until I walked along the rocky edge of a bleak, boggy, flat terrain, with some amazing rock formations, seeing the occasional small bird but holding out for a kite or some other bird of prey. I later learned that gamekeepers actively ‘preserve’ that part of the Peak District exclusively for grouse shooting, shooting the endangered kite to keep grouse numbers up.
Once I reached the western edge I was blown away by the sight; the whole of Manchester spread out on a plateau below me. I was just below cloud level, about 600 metres, and the looming, blue grey clouds filtered the setting sun. Shafts of bright orange sunlight struck the city here and there like sheet lazer. I could see planes flying around within these shafts as they went in to land. It was dramatic and surreal and beautiful.
On I hiked as it darkened, looking for a good place to stay. A sudden thundering roar sent a shockwave through me as a massive Aer Lingus jet flew right over my head. Momentarily, like the caveman who thought the sky was falling on his head, I was awestruck but then just annoyed, and I made my way along the windy (as in twisty), windy (as in the blowy thing) trail towards my eventual camping spot.
The wind had really picked up by then and I was being buffeted around as I progressed, feeling a bit concerned.
Soon I was being blasted and even walking was becoming tricky so found a big rock to shelter behind. I dropped my bag and wandered on to find a more sheltered spot. It felt great to run about in the high wind like a fool, letting it chuck me this way and that.
I found a large rock and decided it would provide ample shelter, with the added bonus of a soft, grassy mound next to it. I returned on the blowy track for my bag and when I got settled I made myself a cup of tea on my new stove, read a few pages of ‘Sky Above, Earth Below‘ and made camp. Camp consisted of a bivvy bag with my sleeping mat and sleeping bag inside. I had high hopes of some good, quiet shelter and a sound night’s sleep.
A couple of hours of struggling with my sleeping bag and bivvy later, the wind found me, catching whatever loose piece of bivvy material, so it could flap it in my face and wherever it wanted to, basically. I also realised that I was slowly sliding away down this grassy mound and away from my sheltered rock. I got up to put on every layer I carried with me including waterproof trousers, jacket and hat as the wind and then rain battered me throughout the night. I eventually found comfort with my head almost completely under the rock, propped up on my backpack, and a couple of hours of blissful sleep with my hat pulled down over my eyes and nose to keep my face warm.
I awoke shortly after dawn, the wind had abated slightly but was still going for it. I decided to pack up quickly, no time for tea, and set off walking back in a somewhat circular route. I was tired but exhilarated that I had survived a wild night of weather at 600 metres and actually managed to grab some sleep too.
As I walked I felt fantastic and the freedom of the mountain was with me. I knew there could be nobody else stupid enough to be up there and so I had it all to myself. Then , I saw what looked like a plume of smoke heading up into the air a few hundred metres ahead. I then wondered who else could have been stupid enough to have done what I did and I decided I needed to meet them. As I neared it began to look a little different and presently I realised that it was in fact water. A waterfall was being blown back up the cliff and into the air so it resembled smoke. It was enjoyable to watch.
As I began to head inland on to the moory top, I saw bilberries growing and felt rejuvinated after a couple of handfuls of their bright, tangy flavour. I took my time picking them and revelled in their juicy goodness, filling me with new life. As I continued I saw the sandy bottom of a stream and my imagination was caught. Here I was, at 600m and it was sandy. Immediately I imagined myself walking along a sandy, rocky beach, looking out onto a vast sea below where the city lay. The moorland in front was forested and full of creatures. I felt a sadness, and as I began to find a way across the boggy land, I felt the barrenness of it and what I could only see as the tragedy of its current state.
Walking through squashy moorland I wondered at the relevance and importance of the corrugated plastic dividers which had been added here and there, I guessed with some goal of peat bog preservation or water retention – I couldn’t see what it was doing apart from polluting the already sad looking landscape. It looked neglected and depressed. The rain poured down as trudged through ankle deep wetlands, my rubbish hiking boots let water in and at times I felt I would never come out of this wet wasteland.
Soon after, I began to ascend and squelched my way back to Edale with a spring in my step, so happy to have hiked a couple of hours before 8am.
I drove a couple of miles to find coffee, which the kind person let me off 20p of the price for, and the I remembered the magical sliver chocolate pudding pouch in my bag. I opened it up as the car widows began to steam, and I regarded its delicate chocolate colour and inviting, saucy dressing. This, along with my coffee made a perfect, post wild camping refreshment. First bite and….UGH! It was grim and horrible and tasted less of chocolate than a packet of spongy bog fodder would have. I felt cheated but I also laughed aloud at my own foolishness to have put such a high expectation on something which anyone could have told me would be crap. I didn’t even finish it and that’s saying something for me.
Overall it was a great microadventure and an amazing first experience of wild camping. It did make me thing a lot about my nature connection and the wasted, almost empty land, deforested for agriculture, which we now try and preserve in its current state. I can’t help feeling that through well intentioned preservation, we are interfering in the natural recovery of places such as the peak district, now ‘perserved’ for hunting.