It's 3:54 am and I'm wide awake in bed, immersed in an overwhelming despondance. As a landscape photographer, I need to be constantly creating, so as to assert my presence in the art world. And yet, I haven't taken a single picture that satisfied my standards in nearly a year. My thirst to get out and create new art finally reaches tipping point. I swipe my phone awake, and spew ideas for a spontaneous adventure at Cam - the one guy I knew would be up for it. By the time I finish it's 5:30 am and my room is flooded with bird song and warm light.
Over the next 3 days I scurried about acquiring all of the gear I'd require to be self sufficient for 5 days. A camp stove, gas, a knife, flint and steel, bowls and freeze dried food. With one day to go, I fumbled together a 5 day route for us to hike.
* * *
A 5 hour train journey delivered us into the heart of the Peak District - the sleepy village of Edale. Half asleep on the train we had a cider can thrust into our faces. Startled, we turned around to see this scruffy welsh-man called Raf grinning away.
We stopped for a 'last supper' to commemorate the start of our journey, at pretty much the only place open in the tiny, limestone built village that is Edale.
If you're not from England you're probably currently sat wondering where the hell the Peak District is; well here's a little help.
As I'm too lazy to find my own facts, here's some quick info about it on wikipedia:
- It became the first national Park in England in 1951
- It's mainly just large hills, up to about 600 metres, with no real Peaks, despite it's name
- It's 555 square miles of pretty much all heather moors and rough, hilly pastures full of deep peaty marshes
Here's a fool-proof map:
Back to the story:
Bursting at the seams, my backpack was well over 30kg. To actually get it on, I had to do a sort of squat manouvre which must have looked like some bizarre form of cross-fit.
As we set off in the late afternoon, we passed many concerned looking hikers, frequently voicing their concerns.
"You're not starting off on the trail now are you?"
I guess they hadn't clocked the tent, roll mats and sleeping bags.
An hour or two later of plodding along the rocky slabs that make up the Pennine Way, a river appeared. We stopped to fill a bottle from the river, exceptionally pure asides from the occasional large flake of sediment.
From there the trail shot straight up a mountain side. Just as the forecast had predicted, each time we bent our necks up to the sky more and more clouds had slipped away to reveal the promising patches of pink.
We finally broke the ridge line, gallons of burnt-orange sunlight drenching us.
Traipsing around the summit of Kinder Scout, we scouted out a tent pitch. What the facilities lacked in running water and toilets it made up for in super comfy squishy grass, lack of noise and views.
The wind was asserting it's dominance over my feeble camp-stove, so in an attempt to speed up the preparation of our soup I built up a wind break of rocks.
Jamie's pro survival tip - making wind breaks saves heaps of gas and cooking time. Definitely a good idea.
As I squatted by the stove, I saw a man headed towards us. We had been slightly over-eager getting our tent up before dark, meaning our makeshift campground was more visible than normal. As he continued directly at us, Cam and I shared worried glances. He stopped by our tent. I feared the worst, as obviously wild camping is by no means legal.
'Hi guys... ' He said slowly.
'Oh fuck' I thought
'Great night to be camped out here isn't it! I'm gutted I didn't bring my tent, it's beautiful! '
I think I breathed an audible sigh of relief.
Declining our invite to share some tinned soup, he carried on wandering. We swathed ourselves in every scrap of clothing we had, zipped up our sleeping bags and lay back in the tent with soup and peppermint tea - which had, unfortunately, also inherited the soupy tomato flavour.
Despite being incredibly snug, I forced myself back out onto the bitterly windy hillside, trotting about in just my fluffy socks. As the night had crept up on us, a whole new view lay before us. Manchester had revealed itself, blanketing across the horizon in the form of millions of yellow sparkling pin pricks.
Streaks of clouds and stars swept over our tent. As Cam and I stood out, seemingly totally alone, the wind carried the laughter of two men, seemingly camped the other side of the ridge.
At 3am I suddenly became very aware of the wind ripping through our tent.
Earlier, we had pulled this tent out of it's bag to discover that half of it was held together with clothes pegs. Understandably concerned about the longevity of our shelter, I scurried outside and bashed a peg into anything that moved.
* * *
We had a long day ahead of us, and despite a stressful, restless night we woke early, with wisps of sunrise lingering in the sky.
By 9 am, our hiking boots were thudding down the rocky trail. Our shoulders weren't best pleased when they were re-united with the heavy pack straps.
We found ourselves at a river, and took the opportunity to scrub out the pans.
Jamie's pro survival tip: Bring soap to make sure you're properly cleaning your dishes instead of just wiping them with equally dirty water.
Wacky outcrops of rock dotted the high ridge lines. We took regular breaks every 40 minutes to relieve our backs and admire sheep.
We carried on pounding along the pennine way, which suddenly dropped down hundreds of steps - a true test of endurance for our legs.
Still trundeling along the Pennine Way, we were taken through an endless marshy moor. With no obvious point to pause at, we lay along the stone pavings and tucked into an odd mix of straight peanut butter and tinned sardines.
Jamie's pro survival tip: Bringing tinned food is heavy, space consuming and leaves a heap of stinky saucy tins to carry around - and one way or another every item of clothing ends up smeared in curry sauce. Bringing dehydrated food like rice and pasta is super lightweight, small and stinky sauce free.
We finally reached the Snake Pass road, and to celebrate my backpack decided to break. A quick, and rather unconfortable fix and we were back on our way - following a rough path/riverbed.
We found our way down to the river that wriggles alongside snake pass. We followed along it's roughly beaten path of storm fallen trees and leaps across the small river tributaries.
We had brought 4 litres of fresh water with us, allowing 2 litres each per day. As it was our second day, we had consumed all of our water. We filled up our bottles from a a crystal clear spring drizzling down a grassy wall - (we would then boil the water later to ensure it's cleanliness).
When I'd hurriedly planned our trip, I was sensible enough to check the weather. In doing so, I'd found it was going to blow like hell on our second night. Whilst looking for sheltered spots to camp, I discovered that the peaks actually have a couple of bothies - abandoned huts/cabins that are for hikers / hunters to take refuge in during storms. The locations of these are a fairly well kept secret, and I think it's right to keep them that way, hence why I'm not posting up my route. If you try hard enough you'll find their locations just off Snake Pass.
I had managed to find two bothies on the Ordenance Survey map of the area, and we were on route to the first one - hoping it still existed. There was no real route, so we were left to find our own way to the bothy. Cam and I were both pretty beat by now. We'd already charged 12 miles across mountains and rivers, and our legs were crumpling under our seemingly lead filled bags. Cam was just about ready to sleep when we turned a corner and got our first glimpse of our home for the night.
We skirted along the side of a steep valley; following rough, sheep beaten trails. We knew we were getting deep into the landscape as we strolled past the remains of a decaying sheep.
We found ourselves down in the bottom of the valley, still some serious altitude beneath the bothy. Looking around us, our only way up and out was to climb up the side of a small waterfall, using hand and foot holds to scale the rocky face.
We popped up out of the valley to realise that we'd missed out on an easy, well trodden path that lead straight to the bothy.
We reached our stone shelter, ecstatically bursting through the door to explore our home for the night.
Handwritten notes were dotted around the room, including a cute poem to read frightened children during storms. I set up my portable kitchen and started purifying some water.
There were a bunch of different supplies for emergencies - bandages, soup, air beds, sleeping bags, vodka. The crisp, cool can of Carling that had been tauntingly placed on the windowsill was too much to resist. We felt like we should pay forward the good will by donating some supplies ourselves. I donated a big bag of peanuts and a contraceptive - with all the hundreds of candles in there it was actually surprisingly romantic.
It was time for me to have my first experience of pooping outside. I dragged one of the battered wooden stools out of the bothy and wedged it in the hill side at 45 degrees. Hanging off the back of a stool at the top of a valley, watching the sunset below me, that will without doubt go down as one of the most majestic shits in my life.
Our water had boiled and cooled, so we squirted in a few drops of juice concentrate to hide any wacky tastes and aid replenishing of sugars and salts. Here's our bottle of blood:
I cooked up more rice for cam and some irritatingly spicy chicken curry, ate in our sleeping bag. Followed by another round of unashamedly delightful peppermint tea.
I peeped outside, and saw that the sky had been wiped clean, with crazily bright stars remaining.
Cam and I lay nearly upright in the long grass and brush of the steep side of the valley. I set up my tripod next to me, braced against the hillside. I took a few test shots, finally finding the composition I had envisioned - the light spilling out from the window of the bothy and the expansive sweeping sky above. I set up my camera for a star trail shot, and lay back clicking the remote every 30 seconds. We sat out in the windy valley for the best part of an hour, sipping on the remains of the rum whilst pointing out constellations and having the kind of deep conversations that are reserved for beautiful nights like these. It reminded me of when I interviewed musician Trevor Ransom and his love of the way nature grounded you:
“I need to feel small and be reminded of how frail I am sometimes. In residential areas I tend to get into this comfortable rhythm and it’s easy to put myself at the center of my universe. So going out into landscapes that are raw or massive help me feel small again. It just feels right."
We had a leisurely morning, mainly spent examining the OS map.
Back when I made the plan, I'd drawn a line from our current bothy to the second bothy - crossing two steep valleys, two moderate rivers and across miles of peaty marshes. At no point would we be following a trail, so we took some time to plan our route in more detail; finding a wriggling path across the marginally less steep contour lines.
We packed up, and locked up our home.
Part Two coming soon.