Kinder Scout is my ‘go to’ hill and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been on or around it. This time was going to be different though as I was doing the walk with my wife, Debbie, for the first time.
Kinder is the biggest lump in The Peak District and Derbyshire rocking in at 636m, which is a baby compared to Snowdon at 1085m and Ben Nevis at 1345m. It sits on the Pennine Way and is accessible, usually, from the villages of Edale or Hayfield. Heading down from Huddersfield, via Mortimer Way, makes Edale our usual starting spot for a Kinder walk – although we have accessed it, in a roundabouts fashion from Castleton also.
I’d climbed Kinder with the kids half a dozen times or so and they’d been mercilessly winding their mum up for a good few years that she’d never done it. So my birthday ‘present’ this year was a weekend away, with the family, introducing Debbie to some of the delights of the Peak District. I say ‘present’ because somehow I ended up paying for the whole thing (I’m not bitter, I’m just from Yorkshire – ok?). Birthday weekends away also used to be about introducing Debbie to other kinds of delights, but at the risk of making my very limited audience feeling any more sick, I will pop that thought in the bank for later. I can also hear Debbie’s voice in my head saying ‘as if’ and ‘you wish’.
The plan was for an early-ish ascent of Kinder on Saturday morning, lunch on top, the afternoon and evening in the hotel/pub I’d booked – then a climb up Mam Tor and a trip down a cavern in Castleton the next day. Simples? And for once it was, pretty much.
Kinder was the scene of my first proper, modern-age walk, back in Jan 2012 as I began my preparation for a double-Three Peaks charity walk. It was also the day I met The Walking Dan for the first time… ‘strangely-bearded’ and ‘Eastern-European’ being my immediate impression. It was the emerging power of social media that had brought us together – which makes sense, given that we are both giants of the digital world (cough!). I’d been posting a couple of pics, on Facebook, of a small walk I’d done around Langsett Res, my first furtive steps on the route to Ben Nevis, Scafell and Snowdon when I noticed a post from my oldest pal in the world – Jon. It was a curious ‘shadow’ shot (big, big shadows!) of him and two others, apparently on the summit of Mam Tor (which I’d never heard of it at the time). A quick Facebook messenger chat revealed that Jon had started doing a few walks to try and lose some of the timber he’d gained. He’d teamed up with another old pal of ours – Dave (‘The Walking Dave’?) and his business partner, Dan – with that particular trek up Mam Tor being their first proper outing. It made sense that I would accompany them on their next walk – to Kinder Scout.
I did think about calling this blog ‘Debbie Does Kinder’, but that sounds about as wrong as it gets!
Kinder gets some bad press sometimes for not being particularly peaky or for being too popular and busy, but it should be a sacred peak for all UK hikers to go pay homage to. It was the scene of a mass trespass by ramblers from Manchester back in the ’30s which ultimately, arguably, led to the creation of our first National Park, the Peak District and the right for hikers to walk where they like in open country. There’s a plaque to this effect near to Hayfield.
The packing for our particular ‘trespass’ had all been done the day before leaving just the simple tasks of getting dressed, having breakfast and getting in the car. That’s less than 5 mins for me, but a little bit longer for some others (I’m looking at you Alex!). There’d been a fair amount of snow in Huddersfield in the week prior to my birthday, which had all cleared – but I did think there could be some on high ground. This soon proved to be the case as we hit the Derwent Valley and saw the snow glistening on the hilltops in the distance.
Our walk started in the snow-free main car park in Edale, near the train station, which as usual was getting quite busy (it was still only 9am). I was carrying the only bag (rammed full of lunch, waterproofy things, buffs and gloves) to let everyone else focus on getting there and back. And after the obligatory Walking Dad family selfie we set off. We headed up towards the village of Edale, underneath the railway bridge, past the church, the Edale Visitor Centre and a random red telephone box before turning left onto the Pennine Way.
Yes, the Pennine Way starts here in Edale – before winding its way northward to a conclusion just over the border in Scotland. And, nope, I didn’t know that either until just now.
Back in 2012, on that first visit with Jon, Dave and Dan, I didn’t know what a buff was, or gators. I didn’t even have a proper pair of walking boots – I was wearing my work-assigned safety boots, which were very safe and very, very heavy and a pair of jeans (doh!). I’d splashed out on a cheap (of course) jacket from the TKMaxx jumble sale – and thought I looked like Jacques le Biscuite (vague reference to be explained another time – although I should really get him his own Facebook page and URL!). I was a total passenger on this trip, trusting that the fella with the map and proper walking gear (Dan) knew what he was doing. Looks of course, can be deceiving! It had been a snowy, frosty time back then too and the whole valley was covered in a fair few inches of snow. We weren’t doing the Pennine Way either, instead we strode confidently past the Nag’s Head pub in Edale, turned right at the ‘Grindsbrook’ sign and over the bridge to open countyside.
It’s more farmland, initially as you head the other way, along the Pennine Way. Chris and Alex took the lead following the paved path that guides you across a set of gated fields with the imposing Grindsbrook Knoll on your right and Mam Tor away across the Hope Valley on the left. Chances are you’ll hear a train at some point on this part of the walk as the Hope Valley line, runs (not surprisingly) smack through the middle of the valley. The sounds always feels a little weird as the railway line is quite well disguised and you don’t know it’s there until you see a train trundling along it, heading towards Sheffield or Manchester.
After a half a mile you hit a small bench on the right, next to a lightning struck tree, which has always been our first resting point. Not taking any chances I’d gotten everyone to stick on extra layers that morning, but a few layers were now coming off and I was getting a little bit of flak for over-uncumbering everyone. We set off again, with me looking like a clothes-horse as, for my crime of forward-planning, I’d gotten everyone’s gear thrown at me. The path heads slightly upward at this point over a part of Broadlee Bank Tor before heading down towards the farm at Upper Booth. The final field on this section can be muddy and today was the muddiest I’d ever seen it. Upper Booth is about a mile or so in, with the summit of Kinder still a couple of miles away.
Turning right, where there’s another seemingly long-forgotten red telephone box, you will cross Crowden Brook and follow the road for a little while before you reach Lea House and the main attraction of the entire walk. Well it is for our family – or for Debbie and the kids that is. For Chris and Alex, the trek to Kinder had previously been done purely so they get the chance to see the ‘Kinder Kat’ (as they call it), a friendly little tabby that always seems to be waiting for us at this point. I’m no cat lover, but Debbie and the kids love them and we share our home ‘the Hudderfield Cat Hotel’ with loads of them – all desperate to trip me up on the stairs! Debbie had always said that she’ll do Kinder as far as the Kinder Kat and then wait there until we got back.
Today was no exception with Kinder Kat meeting us well before we got to Lea House and getting some severe attention from three-quarter of the family. After what seemed an eternity we pressed on (Debbie too), reaching the footbridge at the bottom of Jacob’s Ladder and getting a chance to wolf down a quick energy-booster before we made our ascent.
No cats back in 2012. Cats were too clever to be out in the snow and ice we found ourselves in. Dan was taking us on a route following Grindsbrook Clough which was, interestingly, the original route of the Pennine Way. I could see why they changed it as it became pretty tough going, especially when the valley started to narrow and the way forward began to climb. In these very white conditions your eyes can start to play tricks on you and it got a bit claustrophobic. We’d lost the path at this point and were just jumping from stone to stone up the Clough. Eventually we had no choice but to climb and set off blindly up the extremely steep valley side hoping to find a path at the top. The purpose of the walk was to find (was it lost?) Kinder Downfall, the tallest waterfall in The Peak District and supposedly amazing when frozen. The Dan with the Map explained that, at this point, we were a long, path-free, march away from Kinder Downfall and he took a bearing and headed off into the white and snowy wilderness of Kinder… and we followed. I had no real idea of the risk we were taking at the time and even now, much more experienced, I’d think twice about heading off into Kinder No Mans Land! The terrain, away from the paths, on the plateau doesn’t suffer fools and it was a bonus that it was frozen – it’s actually more hazardous in normal conditions. The pure whiteness was, again, playing tricks on us (snow-blindness?), more than once we took a bearing on a tree in the distance only to find it was a small shrub on getting closer… and both Jon and I were startled by the world’s biggest grouse at one point! (snow-madness?). The landscape was very repetitive with snow-covered, peaty ditch following snow-covered peaty ditch, and not a hint of any other people. It took an age to eventually find the western, Manchester-facing side of Kinder and there were audible sighs of relief when we found the path and other people. We later found out that someone had gotten lost on that stretch of plateau the very next day, calling in mountain rescue and guiding them to him by setting his map on fire. We should have burnt our map for all the good it did us, and the compass… and Dan! We had our lunch at that point, beside a group who’d fired up a makeshift barbecue (as you do!). We had no idea how far we still had to go to Kinder Downfall, but had lost the will on our aimless Arctic trek so decided to join what was now a decent-sized crowd heading back towards Kinder Low.
Back to the future, on the other side of the hill, my family and I were just about to climb the renowned Jacob’s Ladder. I wanted to get the kids away from the River Noe as fast as possible as Chris had, funnily (to him), thrown Alex in there on our last trip, thankfully on the way back otherwise we’d have never made it to the top. There were no repeats this time, probably because the snowline beckoned and the boys wanted to see how their mum faired on the steepest part of our journey.
We hit the snowline just after the very steep part of Jacob’s Ladder, just past the curve. Alex and I led the way, whilst Chris helped Debbie past this tricky section. And then the snow just vanished again.
We could see now that the snow was quite intermittent, gathering mostly on the track upwards making the climb more difficult than it was anyway. Plenty of people were making the climb to the top, including one brave lady in nothing but a bright yellow sari and a pair of trainers… and one bloke claiming that Kinder was the second most-climbed hill in the UK (behind Ben Nevis) – surely not?
The boys and I built a bigass snowball on the way up to Eden Rock and Debbie strode of in a huff when we launched it at a posse of walkers from the WI! We soon caught up and, by way of Edale Rock and a soggy/peaty path, hit the trig point at Kinder Low 2.5 hours after we’d set off.
I had no doubt Debbie would annihilate the hill, but after a recent wheezy climb up Malham Cove I was worried that some of her asthma-like symptoms might return. Our reward was lunch, wedged into a corner of Edale Rocks, watching the lady in the sari trying to get past a mahooosive snowball that some muppets had rolled into the middle of the path… hehehe.
Jon, Dan, Dave and I, having survived our off-the-road expedition were now on a well-beaten and crowded path heading towards Kinder Low. The conditions were now much improved and the views amazing. Nothing but blue above and nothing but white below. It was my first real walk in decades and in the years since, in all the treks that The Walking Dan and I have done, we’ve never been in such picture-perfect conditions since. At the time though we didn’t know how lucky we were -it felt like we were walking on the moon! Many have made it back from the moon quicker than it took us to get back to Edale as the orienteeringly-challenged Dan took us off randomly towards Chapel-le-Frith with only a lucky meeting with someone coming the other way sending us back on ourselves and down the Pennine Way. We hit Jacob’s Ladder a little while later, and I mean literally hit it. All of us slipped or fell in some respect and ended up either sliding down the hill, carefully, on our backsides or grabbing onto the wooden fence that runs down the right hand side. A big group of overseas student sliding, tumbling and falling down the even steeper hill opposite proved both a distraction and confirmation there were worst ways of reaching the bottom. Glad to reach flat land we now, extremely wearily trudged the few miles or so back to Edale. 6 hours and around 11 miles in total. Not the quickest I would ever trek around Kinder, nor the longest – but you never forget your first, do you?
Unlike that initial visit to Kinder, my family’s return to Edale was back the way we came, which was downwards towards Jacob’s Ladder through the snow and ice – some things don’t change! I also managed to book myself some time in the dog house too by not helping Debbie down a particular precarious and icy stretch of the descent. In my defence, I was helping Alex, I am the Walking Dad after all, not the Walking Husband! We all made it back to the car park in one piece and went on to have a great evening at The Old Hall Hotel in Hope and in Castleton the next day. More on that another time.