I DON'T KNOW why I should be so reluctant to take time off from voluntary work: after all, when I worked for wages, there was rarely any hesitation in "buying leisure" by taking a couple of days off to be on the hill. It just seems that I spend far more time suited than booted lately.
Now, I hardly get anywhere; Derbyshire - the local South Yorkshire term for the Peak District - has been the limit for a while. But every so often, the itching gets too much and I knock the mud and the cobwebs off the boots and bugger off, bus pass and railcard in hand.
The beauty about it is that I can go midweek, without hordes of taciturn walkers in my way. What is it with most of those who walk in that area? You can see them eyeing you up, then they get within a certain distance and defocus their eyes and totally ignore you. It can't only be down to the cropped head; they did it in my longhaired days too. A friend reckons it's because they're mostly daywalkers, still subconsciously tied to their home turf. You can have a great chat in the Lakes or Scotland but rarely in the Peak. Miserable buggers.
Edale was promising last early December: we'd had a few frosty days, even some snow in South Yorks. On a whim, I gave up on my usual route up Crowden Clough on to Kinder, and headed for Jacob's Ladder. I'd forgotten how much road-walking that involves, but I was happy enough with myself. I don't like to think how long it is since I was up that way; the old short cut straight downhill from the top of the Ladder is nicely overgrown now, where once you could see the scar from Mam Tor.
Just to disprove my moan about taciturn travellers, I spent nearly half an hour talking to a guy with a "mountain" bike. Then another 15 minutes at the Swine's Back talking with another one about the disappointment of rarely getting long views. I mentioned a day at Kinder Downfall with the gleam of the Mersey and the loom of the Clwydian hills away to the west. There was a feel like a Chinese painting to that day, a sort of stripped-down landscape with just the bare essentials to give you an impression. He surprised me by saying that his home at Marple near Stockport was 600ft above the ordnance datum. I'd kicked that off by saying that my house is just below the 400ft contour yet, just eight miles away, the centre of Sunny Donny is only 30ft. It's surprising, the way lines of sight can be so tremendous. I once met a guy from Uddingston who assured me he could see the Ben from there. That did knock me back: it must be straight up Lomondside and over Rannoch Moor. When I showed surprise he said it was 80 miles, then amended that to being by road, less by beeline. (He must have been OD-ing on Tunnocks wafers, somehow confusing the Glasgow-vernacular version of "the Ben" - Lomond - with the Fort William one. Surely there's too much in the way, eg around Crianlarich, to see that from the tenements of Uddingstonia? - Ed.)
I ambled over to the Downfall, slurped coffee, sucked on a rollie, then headed up the Kinder River. There was a thin skin of frost over most of the boggy bits - which means most of Kinder - so progress was unevenly paced, with a fair bit of post-holing at times. There are horror stories about getting lost up there - sort of moorland myths, because I've never heard of anyone getting into real bother in clear weather. I've navigated using plumes from different power stations before now.
The sun was well over to the west when I reached the head of Grindsbrook, quite low for half past two. Then the penny dropped; my bloody watch had stopped. There isn't much you can do about that, and I don't see the point in cursing something you can't do anything about. Even so, I must have been hurrying, because I took a couple of sliding tumbles on loose stones on the way down the clough. So it was gathering dark when I reached the Nag's Head. And it was shut for refurbishment.
I'd just missed a train, saw it heading for Hope as I came down the road. So I made the best of a bad job. A jacket spud with chilli and a couple of pints of Guinness were forced down my reluctant throat at the Rambler. A day out? Nothing special happened, no alarms and excursions, no great views. But it was better than sitting through NHS Mental Health Trust meetings.
TAC 66 Index