Mark Rowe's walk in the Peak District: Day one

Castleton Valley fields have gentle ridges, a legacy of medieval ploughing © Joe Cornish

Castleton Valley fields have gentle ridges, a legacy of medieval ploughing

Environment and travel journalist, Mark Rowe, brings you his experiences of day one of a two-day walk from Edale to Castleton, via the Kinder, in the Peak District National Park.

This is an elemental place, home to birds that thrive where nature is raw - ravens, red grouse and Peregrine falcons. When the cloud comes down it’s as though the door has been shut and bolted: with few landmarks to make for and many indistinct paths, this really is a walk for times when the weather is favourable.

It can be boggy and there's no easy route up or down on to Kinder. Despite all this, Kinder holds a special pace in the hearts of all walkers. Almost 80 years ago this brooding lump of mountain and plateau was the centre of the celebrated campaign for access to the countryside for the masses that lived in its shadow.

A tranquil start in Edale

The first two miles of this walk are deceptively tranquil, bucolic and easy going: contouring first around the lower flanks of Broadlee Bank Tor before descending to Upper Booth and Lee Farm. The path is often laid with flagstones, sheep graze quietly, and you may spot a kestrel, a curlew, or crows mobbing a buzzard. The route is framed by thickets of birch, rowan, and - down by the streams - alder.

But the fractured, abandoned stone barns you pass hint at the hardships involved in working this landscape. To the south lies the ridge that separates Edale from the Hope valley, much of it crumpled and folded by thousands of years of landslides.

Climbing Jacob’s ladder

The climb up to Kinder is easier than it might be - thanks to the labours of Jacob Marshall, who farmed Edale Head in the 18th century. Along with his farm workers, Marshall carved steps into the steepest part of the route.

This has always been an important packhorse route from the west of England to the east over the high Pennine moors. Commodities such as salt from Cheshire and cotton from the mills were moved east, and coal and lead were taken west. More recently, the National Trust maintained the footpath and it’s now the official route for the Pennine Way.

Kinder highlights

Distinctive features of Kinder, such as the Woolpacks and Noe Stool, are right above you. Halfway up I passed a design classic footpath sign, credited to the Peak District and Northern Counties Footpaths Preservation Society. Dated 1939, it features white raised capital letters on a black, cast aluminium plate and is a treasured signpost to an earlier age. You’ll see a few of these over the next two days.

Just by Swine’s Back, our path bears right along the ridgeline. Before doing so, it really is worth walking a further 400m along the Pennine Way to Edale Rocks and Kinder Low. You’ll pick your way through gullies of exposed peat and huge clumps of heathered turf, but it’s worth the effort as the whole of the northern moorland is opened up to you.

At 2,076ft (633m), by the brilliant-white trig point on Edale Rocks, you’re about as high as at any point of Kinder. Although you’re less than half as high as Ben Nevis, that top-of-the world feeling will take your breath away. The moorlands fill the horizon to the north, while your feet appear to be standing in a moonscape of isolated, freakishly curved stones, fashioned and polished by the weather. To the west is Manchester and, in good light, you’ll be able to pick out Jodrell Bank.

The Woolpacks and Crowden Tower

Returning to Swine’s Back, I took the path east along the ridgeline of Kinder. Climb over Pym’s Chair and you’re likely to be left breathless by the spectacle. There really is nothing like it anywhere else in the UK. Huge weathered stone columns, boulders and pillars dot the landscape: it’s as if they’ve simply dropped out of the sky. Their shapes are the stuff of sci-fi movies: here a fossilised giant snail, over there an upturned tooth, its roots pointing skywards.

As I walked along, a pair of red grouse emerged hurriedly from the heather, with their characteristic quacking ‘go-back, go-back’ call. The goats’ tracks that nudge into the moor land look inviting, but think twice before following any of them too far. They often peter out, leaving you marooned in a thick, dark porridge. Local walkers have their favourite tracks through here, but it does feel like you need to have been weaned on these tracks to know your way about. 

Just after the outcrops of Crowden Tower the path drops down to cross a ford before snaking around the back of Grindslow Knoll.

Tackling Grindsbrook Clough

The path fractures again into a mish-mash of broken stone, exposed sand and rocks. Somewhere in there is a crossroads, with a path dropping steeply downhill into Grindsbrook Clough. This was the original route of the Pennine Way and - up until the 1990s - made for a harrowing introduction. If you were heading north from Edale, the very first steps of the 280-mile route to Kirk Yetholm were as horrible as anything else that lay ahead.

Scrambling down Grindsbrook Clough today, in the top two-thirds of the ravine the path gives up the ghost altogether at times, and you have to reach down between huge boulders that fill the gully. Further downhill, the path has been tended by National Trust footpath teams, with more flagstones.

Everything becomes rather tranquil as you descend into Edale village once again, criss-crossing the brook.

Towards Hollins Cross

Edale’s church stands on one side of the lane, the cemetery on the other. Until the church was built, villagers had to bury their dead in Castleton, which meant lugging bodies over the ridge at Hollins Cross, which you can see through the trees. Traffic coming the other way was busy too, with villagers from Castleton trudging daily to the cotton mill at Edale in the late 18th century.

I took the footpath just behind the graveyard, which has 17th century gravestones. Dipping under the railway track, I made for Hollins Cross. Climb up past Peter Farm, where it’s worth pausing to glance over your shoulder at the solid lump of Kinder with Edale Rocks peeking out.  The brow of Hollins Cross can be a busy place, with five paths converging and everyone from walkers, bikers and horse riders pausing here.

Rolling fields of Castleton

After the bleak, menacing world at the top of Kinder, the grasslands around Castleton seem impossibly picturesque and benign. The fields often have gentle ridges - a legacy of medieval ploughing known as 'breedy butts'. This impression is enhanced by the abundance of cafes and lace shops in the centre. Above everything stands the lofty fourteenth-century Peveril Castle, squeezed into a narrow gulch behind the village.