Day 2 - Ladybower to Hadfield

32km, Lots of hikers

Reservoir road, four-wheel-drive track, moorland trail, Trans-Pennine Trail.

Two days later I caught the weekly bus to Ladybower. This is a Sundays-only service that passes my door, and a handy one it is. By nine-thirty I was hiking north along the east side of the Derwent reservoirs. A host of walkers, runners and cyclists were enjoying casual outings in the bright sun or trials of speed and endurance, each according to his whim. I positioned myself in the middle of that spectrum.

At Slippery Stones I stopped to air my feet and socks and eat a snack. Here almost everyone swings south to return to their cars and buses, but my way stretched north on a four-wheel-drive track beside the dwindling River Derwent. I’ve often walked this route, and each time I’ve been enthralled by the way the landscape wraps its silence and emptiness around me. The five people I met in the next four hours each represented an unsought intrusion, and I sensed that they, like me, felt no need to corrupt the entrancing atmosphere with clichéd conversation.

At first the valley is incised deeply into the moor, and the track stays near the river. Bracken grows on the low ground, with oak and birch, a few rowan and ash, none of them reaching any size, on the lower slopes. Heather and bilberry flourish further up the hill. To the north, where the stream has cut less deeply, the vehicle track climbs to a small storage hut and terminates. Broad vistas extend across tussocky grass to the distant weather-shaped Grinah Stones at Bleaklow’s eastern end. This is rugged country, tiring to traverse. It asks questions of your physical and mental resolve. I felt a mixture of exhilaration and awe, recalling hard treks over the austere hillsides.

A primitive, foot-worn track took me on flat and boggy ground towards the hummocks of Humber Knolls. The isolation and remoteness grew ever more profound on the way up-river, where miniature waterfalls tumbled over shelves of gritstone into small, peat-stained pools. The only other sounds were the breath of a breeze, the call of a bird and the buzz of an insect, appropriate accompaniments to the wild scene.

Stabilising the peat with new grasses on top of Bleaklow

My chosen path headed steadily towards the watershed between the Derwent and the west-flowing Etherow. The ground grew boggier, the path less obvious. In poor visibility the next couple of miles are a serious test of one’s navigational ability and self-confidence. In deteriorating weather, a party that is physically or technically weak should consider retreating. Even on this clear and sunny day I took extra time to check the way to my next objective, where I would decide how to finish my day’s walk.

On the watershed I could hear the drone of traffic from the A628, and I turned west to plod through the energy-sapping peat hags. The ground was dry for March, so progress was surprisingly easy. The choice remained of a final climb to the summit of Bleaklow or a much less strenuous descent beside Far Black Clough. With a tinge of regret I chose the latter and marched down to the Trans-Pennine Trail, the former railway line through Longdendale, where I rejoined the massed ranks of the human race.

It was a footsore but level hike to Hadfield station, where a waiting train revved up and departed just as I was stretching my arm to open the door. No problem: trains ran every half hour. I sank a couple of pints of Boddingtons in a bar that once was the station building. Seated amongst lounging drinkers who probably outweighed most international prop forwards, I watched England’s much-maligned rugby players complete a thrashing of the visiting French.

Looking west down Longdendale

The ride home through Manchester was no worse than expected, and as the train clattered along I reflected on the contrasts of the day. The mighty moorland centrepiece had provided nearly all my pleasure. The busy cycleways and transport links to each side were necessary evils. I realised there were better routes, significantly harder but aesthetically more pleasing, and I knew I should feel more fulfilled if I were staying in Hadfield to resume my trek next day.

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