Occasionally, once every so often, I get a free Saturday. By free, I mean that my wife is teaching at university, the little ones are at their grandparents, and there is nothing in the house that needs fixing and no walls that need decorating. Granted, they don’t come around all that often, but every now and then I get a Saturday where I don’t necessarily need to be around at home. It is on these days that I have decided to begin ascending the 180 Hewitts that England has to offer.
If you missed it in a previous post, a Hewitt is a hill in England, Wales and [or] Ireland that is over 2,000 feet and with a prominence of at least 30m. There is another category, which I did briefly consider setting my targets on, called the Nuttalls. Nuttalls have the same height requirements, but with a prominence of at least 15 metres. Instantly, the target then rises from 180 to 257. However, it wasn’t the number that put me off and made me settle for the former. It was the fact that Pillar Rock is included in the Nuttalls list. Getting to the top of Pillar Rock apparently does not involve a casual hike or trail run and is classed as a grade 3 scramble. Whilst this is described as “easy to moderate,” my (albeit very brief) research suggests that ropes and experience are required. I’m not particularly into heights, so it is for this reason that I opted for ‘just’ the Hewitts list of mountains.
Last weekend was one of those free Saturdays so, rather than venturing to Snowdon or the Brecon Beacons that I have done so many times, I thought I’d take a look at the map and see what I could tick off. I decided on the Peak District, mainly as it is the closest to home and there’s also the opportunity to knock two off the list in one day. On top of this, I had also been reading in the past about a plane wreckage from the late 1940’s which still remains close to one of the peaks on the list, Bleaklow Head. I have always been quite interested in visiting the site and this presented a good opportunity to do so.
With a combination of Google and OS Maps, I planned out a 17-mile route, beginning in Hayfield and finishing in Glossop. The distance was a little more than I ideally wanted to travel, as I tend to venture no further than about 12 miles during normal training runs, and this would be over more difficult terrain. However, I worked out that this was the most efficient way of summiting both Kinder Scout and Bleaklow Head, whilst also taking in the crash site and being able to get back to the car within a reasonable timeframe. There were other start and end points, but there is a bus that runs from Glossop to Hayfield that only takes 15 minutes, so this was a winner.
I travelled up early in the morning, parked at Hayfield bus station, got changed and was on my way for just after 8am. The route started off with a fairly gradual climb, before becoming too steep to maintain a run. It wasn’t too dissimilar to some of the hills in Rugby but, given I was taking in a distance that I hadn’t completed for 18 months, I didn’t want to tire myself out in the first few miles. As the trail took me round and through several field of grazing animals, I was offered a number of impressive vantage points.
In the week leading up to the run, the weather had been pretty atrocious, and I was preparing myself for the worst on the day. Given that these opportunities don’t come around very often they are planned well in advance and, regardless of the weather, I do tend to get out and get on with it. I was quite lucky though as I didn’t get rained on once and the skies didn’t affect the views too much at all. As I got higher it did get a bit gloomier, but there were still clear views for as far as the eyes could see.
I made it to the top of Kinder Scout around four miles in. Kinder Scout has a plateau summit, so finding the true summit can be tricky. Everywhere you turn looks the same and it really requires some knowledge of navigation. I was wearing my Garmin F5X which displayed the pre-planned route. Without it, there is no way that I would have found my way around on top of the plateau, and no way that I would have completed this run. It did make me slightly concerned that I am over reliant on the watch on such occasions. I download an offline version of the map onto my phone, but I don’t carry a paper map and neither do I carry a compass. I am entirely reliant on electronic devices and a GPS signal. Something that I feel needs addressing.
Having done a bit of research beforehand, I knew what to expect on top of Kinder Scout. Effectively a large bog, and a struggle to find the summit. A great feature on the OS Maps mobile app is augmented reality. If you open the app and hold your phone up like a camera, it shows you where local amenities are, including mountain summits. This would work a treat, I thought…
I followed the heading shown on the above screenshot but, as you can see, it was not the easiest of terrains. There were high mounds of grass and the lower sections were just puddles and bogs. Several times I put my foot down, only to lose it up to my calf in a bog. Luckily my trail shoes were on tight enough that I didn’t lose one. Completely unrunnable and not a great deal of fun.
After following the heading shown for a few minutes, I tried again to ensure I was heading in the right direction. Kinder Scout had disappeared from view, in all 360 degrees of vision. I searched around for a while before giving up and taking the following panorama of the summit plateau. You can see what I mean when I say that it looked the same in all directions.
The next mile and a half were hellish. Peat, puddles and bogs made it impossible to run and difficult to even walk through. Just five miles in, I questioned my sanity at this point and if this is really what I call fun. Eventually, I found my way back onto the Pennine Way, and was greeted with a fantastic view over Kinder Reservoir. I took a short break to take on some food and wring my squidging socks out.
As I progressed on along the Pennine Way, I took in just over two miles of a narrow, winding path through Ashop Moor. I must have really not been enjoying myself at this point as I looked around and everything just felt so bleak. Grey skies, grey path, brown surroundings. At least I was now running again.
The end of the Moor brought me to Snake Pass, and the beginning of the ascent to the Overexposed crash site and Bleaklow Head. Again, I followed the heading on my watch as it took me along a well-defined, but rather narrow, path before diverting completely off piste down a steep embankment, followed by the need to jump over a brook! On the other side I had to ascend an equally steep embankment and then trudge my way through high grass to make it back onto something that loosely resembled a path. The image below shows the path taken.
Once I’d made it onto the path, I made a very quick detour to the summit of Higher Shelf Stones (a Nuttall but not a Hewitt) before tracking back to find the plane wreckage.
I’d seen photos of the wreckage during my research, but nothing can really prepare you for when you get there. It felt quite eerie, I imagine amplified by the fact that I was the only one around and I hadn’t seen anyone for a few miles. On this very site, 13 men had died instantly when their plane crashed back in 1948. And here still stood the wreckage. My photos couldn’t possibly do it justice.
Following on from this, I proceeded on towards Bleaklow Head, my final ‘site’ for the day. Strangely enough, it wasn’t quite where my map from OS Maps had it positioned, so another slight detour was in order, before back tracking and beginning my descent into Glossop. The trek across to Bleaklow’s summit was about as fun as the Kinder Scout plateau. High grass, peat and bogs were not fun to try and run through, so unfortunately more walking was required.
More walking was also required on my way down into Glossop. With the Pennine Way taking me too far away from the bus station, I instead opted for several “paths” (as OS Maps calls them). Unfortunately, these were also not defined as I had to navigate whilst keeping a close eye on my wrist. The below image shows me stood on this path, looking straight along it. Again, not much running was achievable, and when I did attempt to move a bit faster, I ended up slipping and landing on my face.
I eventually made it onto a runnable path, which took me into the streets of Glossop. It was tough though, losing more than 400m of elevation over the course of three miles. Hard going on the quads! As I came into Glossop via an industrial estate, 17 miles came and went. With a missed turning and a doubling back at the end, along with the troubles on Kinder Scout and detours to both Higher Shelf Stones and Bleaklow Head, I finished with 18.2 miles in just under four hours.
In the end, I’m glad I went and did the run, and I’m happy that I saw what I did on the day, but I can’t say that it was a particularly enjoyable day. Next up on the list was supposed to be High Willhays in the Dartmoor National Park but, given my experience of this run in the Peak District, I wonder if I should abandon the Hewitts idea and be less bound by certain peaks and trails. I really enjoyed the day in Malvern that I had at Christmas, and I’d like to run up to Broadway Tower and along the Cotswold Way too, but these aren’t mountains and therefore wouldn’t be included. Sure, I could mix things up, but I don’t have enough opportunities in a year to do that, and I’m not really prepared to create them either. I suppose I have some time before the next one to give it some thought.
I’d just like to point out that I am in no way criticising OS Maps or my F5X. Without both, there is no way that I would have completed this run and I probably would still be searching for a way off Kinder Scout now.