OutdoorsRadar’s Will Renwick fits a trail run, a long walk and wild camp into a weekend in a snow-covered Peak District National Park
The Peak District is one of the most popular national parks in the UK, receiving over 10 million visitors a year. It’s no surprise really, firstly considering the world renowned beauty of its landscape and secondly considering the fact that around 50 million people live within four hours drive from it.
I’m one of those 50 million, and I’ve been one of those 50 million for 26 years, but in those 26 years I’d never got round to visiting this place of green valleys and wild hilltops slap bang in the middle of the UK. What makes this fact worse is that I’ve been an outdoors writer for a number of years now and I’ve been to just about every national park but this one. It’s not that I’ve been avoiding it, in fact I’ve been desperate to visit. So when that chance came, I leaped at it. I had a weekend free, and a whole national park (all 555 square miles of it) to do three things I love: walking, camping and trail running.
I stuffed the car indiscriminately with any tools I had in relation to these activities and off I went with my girlfriend Hannah up the motorway.
The trail run
The first stop was Edale. Why Edale? Because, I’d heard all about the brutal Peak District fell race called the Edale Skyline. Held, every year it pits entrants against 33km of hill running with a total ascent of 1,387m. It’s a circular route that follows around the tops of the mountains that wrap around the Hope valley. I fancied a of a taste of this route.
There hadn’t been any snow all winter but it had decided to arrive the same weekend as me. It made the mountaintops look absolutely irresistible, and triggered that excited trepidation that I usually feel before throwing myself to the limit of my comfort zone. My plan was to get up to the tops and sample the southern section of the race route, with the ridgeline of Lord’s Seat, Mam Tor and Hollins Cross.
The Chapel Gate path that leads diagonally to the hilltops made for a long, drawn-out climb into the thin air. I held my head down watching each footstep crunch through the snow as I waited for the summit to arrive. When it did, I looked up and found myself surrounded by thick cloud; white up and white down with only the vague carving of a narrow track in the peat to guide me along. It was just the kind of wild experience I was after having spent too long in city. The path then took me right along the ridgeline, holding its height at around 500m. Eventually, the wind roaring from the north pushed the clouds away to reveal far-reaching views of the whole Dark Peak area of the national park, as well as the sudden steep drop from the top of Mam Tor which was formed by endless landslides over the centuries.
You can see some of my run – and get a taste for the conditions – in this short clip…
Day Two: The walk
“Sorry for the delay, we’re short staffed today,” said the waiter serving us breakfast at the Losehill House Hotel the next day. “A few of the team have got stuck by the snow further down the valley.” Further down the valley was where we were going that day – and to camp, that didn’t bode well for the walk we had planned.
The roads were indeed coated in a thick layer of snow that was still getting worse. The snowline had crept right down from the tops I had run along the day before, and had begun filling the base of the valley. Fortunately, the car I had borrowed, a Ford Kuga, managed to plow along the snaking pass and get us through to the Fox House pub near Hathersage where we would be starting our walk. I was glad I hadn’t brought my 1.1 engine.
The aim was to see Stanage Edge, which is arguably the pinnacle of the Peak District’s geological wonders – of which there are many. It’s a six-kilometre-long gritstone edge made up over towering slabs and boulders – a climber’s dream. We wouldn’t be doing any of that kind of stuff though, only walking along the length of the escarpment edge and making sure not to fall down the 20-metre vertical drops.
The snow was thick over the moorland, the cloud was low and the wind strong, buffeting us constantly. We’d spotted a quarry along Burbage Edge early in our walk and had marked that out as the place to camp for the night after we had looped back. Night fell before we could reach it and the wind and snow continued. It was one of those moments where you have to take every decision very seriously; making sure that every turning and off-shooting path is considered, even when you ‘know’ you’re on the right track. Our torches guided us slowly over the moorland through the heather that bore a heavy canopy of snow.
But we got to our camp location in the quarry. It turned out to be an excellent choice as the dark slaps shrouded us from the conditions we had walked in all day. The first respite from the wind.
I’d deliberately brought along one of my bigger tents as it has a giant porch that we could chuck all of our wet gear in. We pitched up quickly, zipped in, wrapped ourselves in our down sleeping bags and warmed our stomachs with a drop of whisky while we listened to the quiet outside.
The next morning we were able to get a proper look at our location. The black quarry walls towered high over our tent, and all around us lay half-finished and long-abandoned millstones.
It wasn’t a long walk off the hill. The snow had stopped, and the wind dropped, and soon we were back in the car on our way home feeling greatly satisfied that we’d just gone through some challenging conditions but approached them in the right way and therefore had been able to enjoy every moment.
I’d finally managed to visit the National Park, and had the added bonus of taking some memorable experiences home with me.