I’ve been over Kinder Scout so many times I’ve lost count, from freezing cold winters with the ground covered in drifted snow to baking hot summer days where all around is green and lush, and the warmth radiates back from the peat and the gritstone rocks. But above all Kinder Scout, along with its neighbour Bleaklow, are my springtime go-to hills.
This February we had a momentary glimpse of spring and it was too tempting to ignore. An early morning dash after clearing the frost off the windscreen, saw me heading up Kinder Scout from Edale as the sun started to warm the day; I would like to say ahead of the crowds, but there were few about. I passed four people and saw only another six in the distance all day, and when, in the early afternoon, I reached a point from where I could scan the moor there wasn’t a soul to be seen.
Kinder Scout at the southern end of The Dark Peak is unique, a plateau of peat surrounded by steep slopes and craggy outcrops. Bleaklow, a more rolling hill, has wave after wave of peat hags, looking for all its worth like a frozen brown sea, and it is mighty tough to walk over, but Kinder is on its own, a geographical landscape in miniature. The plateau is drained by a number of streams that have shaped the plateau into a series of gentle shallow catchments. These streams radiate out from Kinder’s high point so that to cross the hill from one side to another you have to follow one of the streams up to the top of the moor before muddily picking your way through bogs to find a runnel draining in the direction that you want to go. But here’s the rub, these runnels grow into narrow channels, becoming deeper as they cut down into the peat, winding this way and that, so that very quickly you lose your sense of direction. The floors of these groughs, as they are called, may be sandy or may be a boggy quagmire, from where the only escape is to to scrabble up the peat bank to then slither down into the next inviting grough.
Up above, the moor is cloaked in rough vegetation, heather and moor grass brown in winter but so very green in summer. And it is up here that you can see across the moor to far horizons, but it needs another human to provide scale, and what can seem far turns out to be near, or what seems near can be very far away. On top of the moor in clear weather you can generally get a sense of your direction, sensing the different stream catchments in the gentle rise and fall of the moor, but in the frequent mists it makes no difference being up or down – arriving where you want will be a real test of your navigational skills for, whether trying to cross bogs or seeking the shelter of a grough, it is almost impossible to keep a straight course. Landmarks are few and far between but this just adds to the fun, for unless you are in the severest weather, the joy is to head where you want but see where you end up.
As the waters drain they form into fully fledged streams that in many places have cut through the peat to the gritstone bedrock, where the brown waters pool or gently trickle past beaches of small quartzite pebbles until they tumble in a variety of ways from the edge of the plateau into the valleys below. This time I went up by Grindsbrook before cutting over to the Fair Brook and the grandly titled Kinder River, their names bringing back instant memories to the aficionados of the particular walking that crossing Kinder Scout’s peat plateau demands. Patrick Monkhouse writing in the thirties* when Kinder Scout was still barred to walkers, described these ways onto Kinder as the ‘water routes’ and coupled with his ‘land routes’ they provide a huge variety of ways onto this unique hill, the hill that every year holds the promise of summer warmth to come.
*Patrick Monkhouse “On Foot in the Peak” 1932