Monday, 8 October 2012

Mam Tor & The Great Ridge

I had a lot of stuff to get done at home last weekend but also badly needed my outdoor fix after a hard week at work. My Wednesday night football has been cancelled the last few weeks due to lack of players, we usually play two hours on a Wednesday, so I loose out on two hours of strenuous exercise when I don't play. So I also wanted to make sure I made up for the lost exercise during the week. I had already made a concerted effort in the last week to not use the car for short journeys and get out for a walk on my lunch hours. On two occasions this week I walked over two miles during my lunch hour! On Friday night I got home to find my wife wasn't home and was out for the night. After doing the house work I was bored so I started scouring my Routebuddy maps on my Macbook, contemplating possible early morning hikes to go see the sun rise from the top of a mountain. I came up with a plan to get up at 4:30am and head to Stanage Edge in the Peak District as I am yet to walk this popular Dark Peak escarpment. I had also been told it is a great place to be early morning. I packed before i went to bed early so I didn't disturb Nicky in the morning as she doesn't get many lie ins.

I was woken by my alarm at 4:30 but I really didn't feel like hauling my backside out of bed. After hitting the snooze option three times I finally decided to get up. I enjoy posting on my various social media networks that I am going walking in the morning as it encourages many inspiring comments from people. Some reply to say how jealous they are and it makes me realise I am fortunate to have the chance to do something that I take for granted and other people would love the opportunity to do. Some wish me a good time or tell me their past experiences of where I am going. These inspiring messages from the night before were going through my head the fourth time I went to hit the snooze button. I crept out of the house without waking Nicky or the cat. The two of them would be useless if we were burgled! It was much later than I had hoped to be setting off but it was still pitch black and the roads were empty which meant I could race there along empty streets, 'ahem!', sorry I mean drive slightly faster than normal but in a safe manner.

Early start and cold temperatures on my car dashboard

I pulled off the A6 at the Chapel-en-le-Frith junction and headed along the minor road passing the Chestnut Centre towards Edale and  the Hope Valley. At the point where the road starts to climb towards Rushup Edge I entered really thick low cloud. It was that bad that I went from around 50mph to around 20mph as I couldn't see a thing. When I reached the National Trust's Mam Nick car park I pulled in to have a think about whether it might be better to go up Mam Tor and walk along The Great Ridge instead as given the current conditions it could potentially be very atmospheric at sunrise. I also wasn't too sure I would make it to Hathersage and up Stanage Edge in time for the estimated 7:16am sunrise either. I am a National Trust member too so can park for free here in Mam Nick. So I decided on a last minute change of plan, put on my warm clothing and made my way up the slippery steps out of the Mam Nick car park in the direction of Mam For.

There were only two other walkers in the car park, both wearing head torches. I didn't bother with the head torch as I could just about see, I know the path well and my night vision soon kicked in. As I ascended the path to the summit of Mam Tor the clouds above gave way and allowed the moon to light the summit area. It was pretty awesome.

Moon over Mam Tor summit, Peak District

There were a few other cars in the car park and I did wonder where their owners might be. They belonged to the dozen or so photographers with their kit who had seen the weather forecast and made the decision to take a chance on an atmospheric sunrise. I spoke to a few of them then made my way along the ridge path to start the descent to Hollins Cross.

Descent path from Mam Tor to Hollins Cross, Peak District

At Hollins Cross I found the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen attached to an official way marker sign. On top of a brand new way marker was a weather vane with a foot high Red Bull logo. I stupidly took a photo of it and tweeted it to see what other people thought if it. What I really should have done was snap it off and pretend I had never seen it. I am not one of those people who hates signage in the mountains. If done properly I think it can be a great asset, but sponsorship and brand logos, not on my hills thank you! I will send the photo to the Peak district National Park and the National Trust to see if they are aware of its presence. Someone has since suggested it may have been temporarily put there for some kind of organised race or challenge, I do hope so.

Hollins Cross, The Great Ridge, Peak District

Anyway after getting all Victor Meldrew about that I continued along the ridge over Barker Bank until the stunning Back Tor came into view. Back Tor is by far my favourite section of The Great Ridge. It has a massive land slip on one side, an airy summit with fantastic views and is back by the Brockett Booth plantation with its splendid lonely pines. As I approached Back Tor I heard a familiar mew and looked up to see a Buzzard being chased off by several crows. It eventually gave in and flew in one single effortless movement across the ridge without flapping its wings once.

Back Tor from Barker Bank, The Great Ridge, Peak District

Brockett Booth Plantation, Back Tor, The Great Ridge, Peak District

Early morning sun over the Hope Valley, Peak District

After Back Tor I increased my pace as I could tell the sun had risen somewhere above the low cloud as it was making orangey colours in the skies above the Hope Valley. I ascended the well laid path to reach the cold and exposed summit of Lose Hill, the end of The Great Ridge.

Lose Hill summit cairn, The Great Ridge, Peak District

Sun rising over Win Hill

Myself at sunrise on Lose Hill, Peak District

I thought about turning round and heading back as it was bitterly cold in the wind. However I know from years of experience that patience in these situations can often be rewarded. I found the most sheltered spot possible, sat down and waited for the sun and wind to break up the low cloud. It was quite lonely up there but two inquisitive Meadow Pipits for company made it bearable.

Meadow Pipit on Lose Hill, The Great Ridge, Peak District

Twenty minutes later and the sun finally appeared in blue sky above. The clouds in the valleys were still not giving way, but then out of the blue the the wind increased and slowly but surely the cloud in the valleys gave way. This clearing phenomenon early in the mornings has always fascinated me. I have seen it many times on a morning of low cloud before a clear and calm day. The sun rises above and then a strong wind blows the remaining cloud away until it has done its job then settles down giving way to calm.

Clouds clearing to reveal the Kinder Plateau, Peak District

I turned round to look towards Kinder then realised the sun was behind me and the Edale Valley was still holding cloud. I know that is perfect Brocken Spectre conditions, so I walked as fast as I could over to the crest of the ridge and there right in front of me on the cloud below was a huge shadow of myself encircled by a spectacular rainbow! Brocken Spectres, as anyone who has ever seen one will know, are absolutely mesmerising.

Brocken Spectre on Lose Hill, The Great Ridge, Peak District

Brocken Spectre on Lose Hill, The Great Ridge, Peak District

The unmistakable Win Hill beyond Lose Hill's summit cairn, Peak District

Edale Valley below Lose Hill, The Great Ridge, Peak District 

Lose Hill summit plateau, The Great Ridge, Peak District

Eventually the Edale Valley clouds were blown away by the wind and then the whole ridge appeared cloudless and settled. Had I just walked up there I would have no idea of the last hour's spectacle. This is the reason why so many wise hill walkers and photographers make the effort to get up early and experience the first and last hours of daylight rightly referred to as... "The Golden Hours". If you have not yet walked up a hill very early in the morning before it gets light you really must do it!

Heading towards a clearing Back Tor, The Great Ridge, Peak District

Looking back towards a clear Lose Hill, The Great Ridge, Peak District

I retraced my footsteps back along The Great Ridge over Back Tor, Barker Bank, Hollins Cross and Mam Tor then descended to the car at the Mam Nick car park. I got home around midday after a morning outdoor fix and still managed an afternoon of getting things done at home as required.

Lonely tree and stone cairn on Back Tor

Big skies above the Edale Valley, Peak District

Kinder Plateau above Edale Valley from Back Tor

Mam Tor from Hollins Cross, The Great Ridge, Peak District

Lose Hill, Back Tor & Barker Bank from Hollins Cross, Peak District

Rushup Edge from Mam Tor, Peak District National Park

Rushup Edge from Mam Tor, Peak District National Park

Route Map...

1 comment:

  1. Well done Jamie - I'm still looking for my first Brocken Spectre of the season - too many lie-ins are to blame....