The Peak District – A Rambling We Go

We were tucked in behind some rocks just below the ridge attempting, unsuccessfully, to keep out of the howling wind while having our snack break. That the wind was so bad was a bit of a mystery to me – we weren’t that high up at about 600m above sea level and in the valley below it was perfectly calm. We were heading up to the Kinder Scout plateau in the Peak District on a pilgrimage, of sorts, for the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass is now indelibly linked in England with the winning of the right to roam and is celebrated each year with a “Spirit of Kinder Day”.

Visible from parts of Manchester, the Kinder Scout plateau must have provided a tantalising escape for the workers of the textile factories of Manchester in the 1930’s. The availability of cheap rail tickets to Edale meant that rambling was an increasingly popular mass activity with up to 10,000 people visiting the Peak District each summer weekend. As one song of the time put it:

I’m a rambler, I’m a rambler from Manchester way

I get all my pleasure the hard, moorland way,

I may be a wage slave on Monday,

But I’m a free man on Sunday.

The increasing popularity of rambling, however, brought the working class walkers in direct confrontation with the landed gentry and rich industrialists who wanted to ensure that their grouse shooting activities weren’t hindered or disturbed in any way and as a consequence closed access to more and more of the moorlands. Some reacted to the closures by organising lobbying groups and argued for access on the basis of ancient rights of way, others simply trespassed. The British Worker’s Sports Federation took a fairly aggressive approach and organised a Mass Trespass of Kinder Scout in April 1932 attended by about 500 people. The Trespass and clash with gatekeepers may have passed unnoticed by history save for the subsequent prosecution of 5 ringleaders. Their jail terms of between 4 and 6 months were widely seen as extreme and garnered national attention to the movement. Even so National Parks’ legislation was not passed until 1949 and many say that its passing had more to do with the continual lobbying events of various groups than any mass trespass movement.

KInder Scout Mass Trespass plaque at Bowden Bridge.
KInder Scout Mass Trespass plaque at Bowden Bridge.

Our Walks.

We hiked two of the more popular day walks in the Peak District – Mam Tor and the Great Ridge and the Kinder Scout ridge.

Mam Tor and the Great Ridge.

Mam Tor, Peak District
Mam Tor, Peak District

We picked this walk by simply walking into the Visitor Centre in Castleton and purchasing a short brochure entitled “Walks around Castleton”. The brochure indicates many different routes up on to the Ridge. We walked out of town and facing Man Tor and the Ridge took a long loop to the right which eventually brought us up on to the Ridge. We then followed the path along the Ridge across to Mam Tor, the site of an Iron Age fort. We then headed down onto the old A625 (now abandoned due to landslides in 1977 – the hill continues to slip at about the rate of 20cm per year) past the Blue John Cavern and back into Castleton.

Kinder Scout.

Heading up to Kinder Scout Ridge, Peak District.
Heading up to Kinder Scout Ridge, Peak District.

Again there are a number of different routes up onto the Kinder Scout plateau. We parked at the Bowden Bridge car park just out of Hayfield. The extraordinary rights to roam granted to the walker in England were immediately apparent as we headed up a path immediately adjacent to Tunstead House and through farm fields until we came out onto open moorland. The path continued along beneath the ridge past Cluther Rocks until we hit Red Brook Gully, where a short scramble brought us up onto the ridge itself. Along the Ridge we followed cairns to Kinder Low trig, before we started to descend, taking a flagged path to Swine Back. From there we followed a wall down to Edale Cross (a medieval cross) onto a bridleway which took us back to Bowden Bridge.

Edale Cross, Peak District
Edale Cross, Peak District

For the Non Walker.

Even if you aren’t into hiking there is plenty of things to do in the Peak District. Suggestions include:

  • Eat a Bakewell Tart in Bakewell. Possibly the most popular village in the Peak District (for good reason) the almond pastry topped with icing and a cherry which bears the name of the village shouldn’t be missed.
  • Visit a Great House or Hall. The most famous Great House in the Peak District is Chatsworth with its priceless art collection and garden by Capability Brown. But if you want to reimagine Darcy (or at least the Colin Firth version) striding shirtless out of a lake head to Lyme Hall. If Lady Chatterley’s Lover is more your cup of tea then visit Renishaw Hall, which was the setting for the novel.
  • Descend into a Cavern. There are four caves open to the public around Castleton. Speedwell Cavern combines a walk and boat ride through the cavern.
  • Visit a mill. Not really my thing, but a lady staying at the B&B we were using was into weaving and she and her husband were touring all of the old mills in the Peak District. Cromford Mill, built by Richard Arkwright, was the first cotton spinning mill powered by water (as everyone no doubt remembers from school history lessons) and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.




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