Peak District: Part 2
Recap: We're following a straight line from our current cabin to a shooting cabin several miles away. Unfortunately, this line just happens to be crossing two sheer valleys, two rivers, and miles of peaty marshes. With not so much as a rough trail in sight, it was up to us to hike through whatever we encountered.
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I'd be lying if I said it wasn't disconcerting to walk directly away from any discernible trails, instead leading Cam in a very deliberate straight line undeviatingly through the marsh towards, as far as we could see, nothing. The knee-deep gorse that thrived on the clammy, peaty soil below scratched at our bare legs. We encountered stream after stream that had cut deep, muddy trenches in the marsh; forcing us to skirt around, jump over or find a natural bridge across them. Occasionally these peat and moss filled bridges proved treacherous, collapsing under our weight and depositing us into the slimy deep ditch below. These small streams, although unsubstantial, were still a hazard - some of the ditches could be up to 8 foot deep, and the slick mud-lined walls tried their best to keep you within their clutches.
We made it up and over the first hill. From here, our issues changed; the valley was a super steep descent. During the rushed route planning two days prior, I had admittedly run out of time so when I saw two cabins a reasonable walking distance apart, I drew a straight line between them and hoped it would work out. At the time I just sort of crossed my fingers and figured we'd deal with that when it came to it. Well, now it was time to cross that bridge.
We zig zagged our way down the wall of grass, doing the summer version of parallel turns on skis. Like most of Cam and I's adventures, it was an 'If you fall here you will not stop until you reach the bottom' kind of deal. At least this time we'd have long grass to pad our falls.
Although relieved to descend our first valley of the day, the next step of our journey was (literally) looming over us - in the form a 500-foot steep climb out of the valley. Before we could start the torture, we had to cross the river that snaked through.
The rocks were spaced apart and blanketed in a layer of slick, slippery moss. With huge bags on our backs, we couldn't afford to lose our grip, so I hopped from rock to rock, scraping the path clean.
Heavily burdened, we made our way across carefully, twisting an ankle here would be a pretty fucked situation.
Next up was a vertical wall of ferns. Using the bases of the ferns like holds on a climbing wall, we agonised our way up the 500 foot incline.
The heavy bags were draining us, each step up hill was essentially a 40kg squat. We worked up the hill in small bursts of energy, making small gains until we collapsed at the top.
Once at the top of the hill, it plateaued into more marsh. All around us, there was still no sign of so much as a footprint in the mud. It was a novel, excitingly risky situation we were in: a days hike from any form of civilisation, as far as the eye could see, the landscape was untouched. No people, just wide valleys laid out around us. Injure yourself here and you're in trouble.
After scaling down a small waterfall, clambering on all fours out of several gloopy peat trenches and traipsing through an eerily quiet forest, we'd made it into the depths of valley number two. We rewarded ourselves for powering through hours of draining hiking and stopped by the river to cook up lunch. With all the bugs lingering by the water, we gathered up armfuls of dry twigs from the spooky woodland floor and built a small fire to smoke out the area.
Another improvised river crossing and we were on the other side. When I was planning, using some very sketchy satellite pictures, I knew that the shooting cabin we intended to spend the night at was at the end of the winding dirt road that now lay before us.
We were drained, but eventually reached the end of the dirt road. A dried-up river bed seemed to be our best hope from here, so we cruised on down.
The river bed opened out and our stone shack lay humbly before us. I breathed a sigh of relief that the grainy aerial images I'd used to spot the cabins were accurate, and headed inside.
Two steps outside of this shack was a fairly slow running, slightly murky stream. Whilst Cam and I were pacing around the bothy, we could feel our skin crawling from the clouds of bugs surrounding the stream. It quickly became apparent that if we wanted to avoid getting eaten alive we needed to build a fire to smoke out the flies.
Bizarrely, we got lucky. There must have been someone who maintains the grounds of the shooting cabin for the hunters, as there were heaps of dry grass trimmings and dead sprigs of heather. We gathered that all up and piled them up by the cabin. I attempted to start the fire, relentlessly firing showers of sparks over a nest of the dead grass with my flint and steel.
Several fruitless minutes later I gave up, resorting to a slightly less Bear Grylls-esque technique; using a lighter and a deodorant can to create a flamethrower, torching the crap out of the grass. With that firmly ablaze, we steadily topped up the flames with heather and damp grass to smoke out the mountain.
I left Cam tending to the fire, and went to cook up the usual on the rickety desk inside.
We'd found this black cap hanging up on a fence post, clearly long forgotten. I stuck it on as a travel souvenir and quickly earned the nickname 'Railway boy' from Cam.
Scope out our crazy camping culinary skills! Here we have freeze dried pasta cooking in the stream water on the bottom, I hadn't packed a pan lid so I improvised with a bowl. Heat is key! We helped conserve gas by warming up curry on top of the rice from the excess heat.
We let the fire die out as we headed inside the cabin for the night, our surrounding area sufficiently smokey. Shutting the door on the cabin seemed about as effective at keeping the flies out as a slice of Swiss cheese, so we forced dirty socks and hoodies into the holes, cracks and gaps in the door until the cabin was as good as vacuum sealed.
The narrow table in the cabin ending up serving as a double bed for Cam and I. The floor of the cabin was jagged, rocky and damp, so we came up with an exceptionally snug/claustraphobic top to toe reverse spoon position so that we could both fit. Although awkward, it worked - right up until I heard Cam roll over, shout and clatter off the table onto the floor.
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We realized the next morning that we had not been quick enough in building up the fire the previous night - I had racked up over 20 bites on my face alone, probably pushing over 100 in total spread all over my body. Any movement was intensely uncomfortable and itchy, the majority of my skin red and irritated.
We packed up, boiling murky river water whilst dancing around the stream to this song.
We set off, leaving another home from home behind. For England it was a preposterously hot day and, conveniently, all we had to drink was our freshly boiled, 50C strawberry tinted water.
Jamies pro-survival tip: Boil up water as far in advance as possible so that it has time to cool. Drinking warm water feels like drowning in a badly run bath.
After dropping down one last unmarked valley and fording a stream, we appeared on a trail. About an hour later, we came across the first person we'd seen in over 2 days - a surprisingly crazy concept considering we were in wide open areas, covering a lot of miles each day. I took this to mean we'd succeeded in finding the harder to reach parts of the Peak District.
Several hours on and we'd hit civilization. The reservoirs were perfectly still, creating this crazily trippy illusion - like an ocean sized infinity pool, the reservoir appeared to finish without an edge.
We walked along the lake front, searching for any sign of a clearing to camp in. We found a tiny strip of pebbly waterfront, behind it an area of sloping woodlands. Again setting up camp by still water, we'd learnt our lesson and didn't hesitate in starting up a fire before we could add to our collection of mosquito bites.
We trawled along the beach for driftwood, gathering up armfuls of anything dry. Then, to start the fire I grabbed some dead grass, and shaved some curls off a log to use as the fire starter. We fluffed up the shavings and dead grass, and placed it under a trestle structure of branches.
Jamie's pro survival tip: For starting fires, we made life excessively difficult for our selves - for god's sake just buy some of these:
Some persistance and we had it lit. As if summoned by the fire, two heavily burdened young guys burst onto the shore line and pulled out a seriously neglected rubber dinghy. We strolled over, chatting with them by our fire whilst I set about stacking up a 2 foot rock wall to cook behind.
As we cooked, we started to hear heavy rumbling noises coming from the sky. Typically this would be alarming, but we weren't far off the Manchester airport flight path and low flying jets are pretty damn loud. It was only as the first fork of lightning pierced the sky that I twigged we were immersed in a thunder storm. The menacing dark cloud drifted in over the lake, bringing with it a thick carpet of torrential rain.
Grabbing the soup and anything else in arms reach, we leapt inside our tent, with increasingly frequent flashes of lightning illuminating the interior. We all too soon found out that Cam had set up the tent atop what felt like a stockpile of logs, which made for some interesting sleeping positions.
We crawled back outside once we heard the rain stop, finding ourselves under a perfectly clear sky and glassy lake.
* * * *
After an incredibly uncomfortable night, we covered the last few miles of our trip; arriving at the aptly named 'Hope' train station.
Our skin raw with itchy bites, our legs, shoulders and backs collapsing; we sunk into the train seats.
Thanks for reading,