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Joy and Wonder in the Peaks

Where is the Peak District? What is of interest there?

I asked these very naive questions to myself more than ten years ago when I had the opportunity to attend a training course in Buxton, Derbyshire.

Having spent a good chunk of my 20’s & 30’s living and travelling outside of the UK I was truly ignorant about what was really beyond the South of England and a few major cities up north. I truly did not believe that England could rival some of the fantastic sights and places I had visited in Asia & Latin America, such as Iguazu Falls and Cotopaxi National Park etc.

I was wrong!

As I set off up the M5 and headed beyond Buxton towards Castleton and the Edale valley I was excited, but nothing prepared me for what I was in store for my senses. Three things amazed me during that trip, and continue to lift my spirit each time I visit.

Joy & Wonder along the Great Ridge to Mam ToR

Separating the Hope and Edale Valleys is the Great Ridge.

It runs for approximately 3 km from Lose Hill to Mam Tor passing through places such as Black Tor and Hollins Cross.

Up here on a fine day you can feel simply full of joy and wonder. Why?

For me joy was a response to the vista and connection with the raw elements of nature. On a fine day William Blake’s evocative poetic phrase “England’s green and pleasant land” comes to mind.

"It feels good to be alive and here in this place. Wonder, I feel, was informed by a sense of geological time and human history. Up here you walk in the footsteps of ancestors".

More recently (last year) at Black Tor I saw a pile of rocks, small cairns, which often in old cultures signify some kind of offering or remembrance of those who were here, but have gone, leaving only their memory in the landscape and people they touched. This feels a fitting place to reflect on the impermanence of life and simultaneously how our footprint can live on in strange and fascinating ways.

The highlight is arriving at Mam Tor, literally meaning Mother Hill. It stands at a modest 517 m high. Mam Tor is often referred to as the ‘Shivering Mountain’ because of its propensity for landslides caused by unstable lower levels of shale. The summit is surrounded by hill forts, dating from the Bronze and Iron ages, with evidence of occupation from around 1200 BC. This makes Mam Tor the site of one of the earliest hill forts in Britain and also one of the largest, covering an area of around 16 acres. Possibly the finest 3KM walk in England, wow!

Behold the gates of paradise in the Edale Valley

When I first caught sight of the Edale Valley I was overcome with a strong sense of remoteness & silence.

It must be an illusion, a slight of hand, as Edale is actually not so remote or silent.

There is a train station at its beating heart which serves like an artery for humanity to come find this slice of English beauty. Yet it is and remains a stunning valley with gentle slopes rising towards the Great Ridge and the limestone dry valley of Winnats Pass beyond.

"It feels like a lost valley, a place you can easily miss if you don’t go on an adventure".

My own adventure took me on a gentle, but wonderful traverse of the valley, through the small fields of bleating sheep and the village of Edale itself (the start of the Pennine Way), and up to the Hope Cross, a mediaeval way-marker. In fact it reminds me of some other places I have been that have names like “the valley of longevity” or “the gates of paradise”. Places that feel like entering a portal to another dimension with the promise of eternal youth. If only!

Rebellion in the air on Kinder Scout

From Edale smaller river valleys and ravines, known locally as Cloughs, invite you upwards toward the jewel in the crown for many seasoned hillwalkers, the Kinder Scout Plateau. I headed north out of Edale village up along Grindsbrook Clough, up the Nab to the Ringing Roger and Nether Tor.

Once up with Kinder Scout (Anglo Saxon word for water over the edge) on my right and the gritstone tors to my left I felt very high and remote. The Landscape is completely different from the tranquil valley and the magnificent Great Ridge.

What stands out is the shape of the gritstone tors crafted by wind and ice. Seeing faces and distinctive shapes, especially in the mist, conjures up some strange feelings of foreboding. The plateau is flat and is a huge peat bog.

"As the wind stung my face I continued west and on towards Grindslow Knoll. Lost in the noise of the wind and with magnificent views I found myself contemplating some important subject matter, the famous Kinder Trespass".

I knew that I had to give recognition to others whose actions in April 1932 allowed me to be here in this place, right now. On that day 400 people participated in a mass trespass on Kinder Scout in what was one of the most successful direct actions in British history. The action led directly to legislation in 1949 to establish the National Parks and eventually securing walkers’ rights over open country and common land.

The trespass was controversial at the time, being seen as a working class struggle for the right to roam versus the rights of the wealthy to have exclusive use of moorlands, “power to the people.” There’s a modern iteration of this direct action taking place right now, action of equal importance - check out for more information.