I’d sort of said my goodbyes to snow and frost. Winter was safely bolted and contained behind the Equinox and thoughts of first Swallows and Digley Cuckoos seemed more apt. Although the Mets perfect storm of continental air and weather was very well forecast that 2 1/2 days of heavy driving snow which brought the Holme Valley to a wintry standstill and stopped daffodils in their tracks still came as a shock. Not just the amount of snow but the way it stuck before being driven by a mean old Easterly into mountainous drifts of snow which choked the valleys roads and footpaths. I’m writing this 3 weeks later and only now has a thorough thaw of these drifts taken place. The Holme Moss Road was only reopened 2 days ago and not because the snowdrifts up there had thawed but because they’d been removed by machines hacking through their 12 foot depths.
A lull in the wind and some bright but bitter days gave the chance for a walk across the hills from Dunford Bridge through to Edale. I picked the shortest route available and headed off down the Trans Pennine Trail with my wandering motto “When the going gets tough- the daft get going” ringing in cold ears.
Deep corrugated tractor ruts eased our steps along the Trans Pennine Trail. In shadowy cuttings cold air nipped at fingers like a dogs puppy teeth. Silver birches bowed towards each other beneath a blue March sky as we walked towards Cote Bank Bridge and a right hand turn into wilder walking beyond.
The path over Reddisher Knowl was buried beneath a mile long drift which crested a stone wall in a wave of silent white winter surf. There were ewes about and there must be a few under there I thought. Twenty metres off the wall bare frozen ground could be walked over at a brisk warming pace which was good as the long drift was knee deep powder on top and impossible to walk on.
Eventually a second wall is met which formed an enclosed lane choked with snow from copes to copes. I floundered knee deep and cursing. No chance of 2 days walking through anything like this! Be glad to get to the Flouch and beg a lift home.
We found a yellow new born lamb in a field corner. It was full of last leg distraught calls to its absent mother. Awful sound. I was for once at a loss as to how to help. Clearly its mother had either abandoned it or come to a wintry end herself and in the biting cold with no food or shelter this sad creature would not be around in another half hour or so either.
I walked away hoping the cluster of buildings at the end of the lane may hold some chance of a rescue. Getting hold of someone who knew who’s sheep they were would be good enough but the first person I saw and called too was a leathery looking character in an agricultural boiler suit. “Yes” they were his sheep but was I sure “t’ mother want there?” he said to me in a way I felt he must speak to all daft townies who come his way. “Look mate go get the poor thing in now while it’s still alive” I said. He took me seriously and after I described where it was headed off back up the snowy lane to fetch it.
We carried on by Swindon Farm ruins where more sheltered ewes munched silage in the sun and eventually we stopped ourselves for a brew up by the Little Don amongst Scots Pines and snowy heather. It was a stunning wintry afternoon but the going was a little challenging at times especially when drifts could not be avoided. Above us the on the open moor snow seemed more or less to have drifted in the right direction and I took this as an invitation to carry on over the Cut Gate path towards the Derwent Valley.
The path of course was buried beneath another drift of snow. A long arc of cornice maybe 20 metres wide and 3 to 4 metres deep in places covered the Cut Gate path. However it was hard packed and frozen solid this time and so able to take my weight. We crunched up it into familiar ground given a new identity by winters plastic surgery. Gone were the oozing peat bogs and wrinkled heather. Instead high cheek boned hillsides and clean taught skin disguised the weather worn Derwent Moors.
There were a few walkers about but as we got higher boot prints thinned out until we walked on untouched snow across the watershed to dip into the Derwent Valley. The occasional Mountain Hare flit sharply from the snow weaving away in tight arcs to a more comfortable distance. Most Grouse seemed to have gone lower to the moorland edge to be surer of survival. But for the swish of snow on the wind all was quiet.
Bull Crag was our destination. A high location but giving some shelter from the East wind. On arrival the sheltered area below the crag was buried in snow and it took some time to kick out a platform big enough to get the tent on. Warming work. Around us every drift was patterned with the random trails of Mountain Hares stitching out a record of their movements. Every now and then one wandered past close to us but comfortable so long as we sat still.
The days last sun caught our camp splashing golden light on snow. Warm to look at but having no effect on dusk’s ebbing temperature. Mutley had already retired to the warmth of my sleeping bag but the view and conditions were too good to close the eyes on and I sat out well past dark soaking it all up.
I’m not someone taken in by the commercialisation of walking. Most of us are born with all the equipment we need to put one foot before the other. My new tent and sleeping bag are now 10 years old and everything else is much older. The everything else is very little beyond stove,sleeping mat and clothing. I did however pick up a second hand down jacket in February and by 5 am had to put it on inside the sleeping bag such was the reach of the cold outside.
Being late March the sun was up and shining by 6 am but we were trapped in Bull Crag’s cold shadow now the earth had spun on.I got up,brewed and walked away from the tent to sit in sunny snow and gawp at a perfect morning. Around me like sentries Mountain Hares sat seemingly doing the same. Yesterdays snowy walking seemed to have set off my bad back somewhat but it was Edale here we come now albeit by the shortest route possible from here to there!
The moorland morning was bitterly cold. The walking floundering in nature but to be up here in such conditions felt like winning life’s lottery and we had it all to ourselves too. The Derwent Valley side of the hill was drifted even deeper in great overhanging cornices of snow obliterating our path and in several places being too steep or overhanging to negotiate without an ice axe! So the line down to Slippery Stones was a longer one than usual and felt like new ground in the conditions.
Fancying a pint at the Nag’s Head before catching our train required a certain pace to be kept up throughout the day but it would be worth it when stood at the bar of probably my favourite boozer. I nearly always walk there which usually ensures a good pint tastes even better.
Larch trees and crags were reflected in the Derwent reservoir and it’s woodland trail gave some easy walking through this lovely though often busy valley. We dog legged and weaved around wooded inlets until reaching Ouzleden Clough and a path up and out of the Valley. These woods were grim. Cold and shadowy with waves of deep sharp drifts across our path. Each one was ploughed through. Each taking a little bit more out of me until a rest was taken only half way up the hill. Setting off I yanked my rucksack up from the ground like I was 20 years old and felt the old back go like the old one it is.And it really did rip.
Not a lot you can do really but warm up the damaged muscle and keep going before you stiffen up and it becomes too painful to move at all.I didn’t take the rucksack off again until reaching the Nag’s Head! Despite my self inflicted injury the walking was a delight once these snow filled woods were cleared. Several steep dips and climbs by the River Alsop and onto Jaggers Clough led us in a round about way to Edale where valley views, snow drifted walls and Curlews wheeling and calling provided a fine afternoons walking to the Nag’s Head.