Since walking began to play such a significant role in my life, it’s always been something done as a three – me, my fiancée Sammy, and dog Herbie. It was therefore a little strange to find myself in a situation where one of the triangle was missing, and having a Saturday approaching with only canine company in which to spend it. I was intrigued to see how I fared hitting the hills and moors with nobody else to talk to (well, nobody else who could respond, at least), to sense check my map reading skills – or take photos for my blog. We often encounter lone walkers, and this time it was my turn to give it a try.
I don’t particularly like the term ‘escapism’. It focusses too much on the negative, and by implying that there is something so constrictive from which one is trying to escape, it detracts from the benefits that are gained through spending time doing something enjoyable. When the temporary experience of ‘escaping’ comes to an end, the inevitable consequence is that we return to the situation we were in before we made the break, and so the unwelcome cycle continues. When I began walking, and the stresses of a 9-5 began to slip away, I’ll admit, it felt like an escape. No offices, commutes, bosses, customers, or spreadsheets to worry about, just open country and the wind on my face. Then Monday came around again and the escape became recapture.
So what is it, if not an escape? I like to think of it as a reset. You acknowledge that there are certain things in life that aren’t perfect, and that by removing yourself from them for a brief time, a few hours, a weekend, or if you’re lucky, a fortnight, you’re not going to remove them forever, but you will give yourself the opportunity to live in the moment and fully appreciate whatever it is you enjoy doing. Push the reset button, ready to face your challenges with a clear and rejuvenated mind. It’s not easy to break away from the escapism mindset; I certainly still feel the effects of end of holiday blues, and given the chance, that Monday morning commute would in an instant be swapped for a hike up a hill. But I’m getting there, through walking, and I suspect many others are too. I wonder if the lone walkers we encounter on our way are resetting, or if they’re just there because it’s fantastic fun and great exercise. Either way, whether walking alone in or in a group, the benefits to body and mind are tangible, I encourage anyone with a body or mind to try it, and there are worse places to begin than the Peak District.
It’s an ambition of mine, as it is of many walkers, to walk the Pennine Way. 286 miles from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm on the Scottish border (or vice versa, if you wish). The opportunity to do so is yet to present itself, so in the meantime I make do with grabbing at little sections of the famous trail where I can. Beginning at a patch of gravel on the A635 near Wessenden Head, the first stage of my route was to lead me to the summit of Black Hill. Here the path is mostly paved with huge flagstones acquired from the demolition of the old derelict mills of the Pennines, which otherwise would most likely have gone to waste. If you look down as you go, you’ll see the drilled holes and rusting metal fixings that once shackled the machinery into place. It’s an example of perfect re-purposing, where once the sandstone was carved out of the land for the foundations of industry, it is now returned to the earth, providing weathered but sturdy walkways that blend seamlessly into the landscape. Not only does this benefit the walker, but the land surrounding the paths can be left un-trampled and free to grow as it wishes.
At 582m above sea level, Black Hill provides a wide panorama of the surrounding landscape. In one direction a seemingly never ending succession of peaks, in another the towns of the Holme Valley, and of course the dominating Emley Moor Mast, the tallest free standing structure in the UK, which can be seen from anywhere you stand in Yorkshire. Okay, the last bit is a fib, but when you live around here you could be forgiven for thinking it’s true, as it has a habit of appearing on the skyline when you least expect it.
From there the trail descends through fords and alongside brooks, whose cascading waters are coloured by the peat like fine ruby ale, frothing as they swell around the rocks. I encountered a few characters along the way; a friendly couple who enquired how Herbie’s little legs coped with the terrain and distance we cover (surprisingly well, thank you), before recommending a plethora of local walking routes for me to try, a cyclist who tried to explain the nature of his puncture (who may as well have been talking French, so minute is my knowledge of such matters), and a poor fella who had been following the route without the use of a map, with the intention of turning off towards his home town, only to discover on borrowing my OS map that he had missed his turning some miles back and now had no option but to reverse the route back up and along the steep cloughs. I don’t imagine he’ll set off map-less again any time soon.
The path skirts along the sharp valley edge, with the glistening Torside Reservoir beckoning you down to the village of Crowden. For many Pennine Way trekkers Crowden is the first rest point after departing Edale and conquering Kinder Scout, although the campsite appeared to be filled mainly with holidaying families, making use of the opportunity explore the Way, or its neighbouring footpath up into the hills past a disused quarry towards Black Hill. After a quick bite to eat by the reservoir, it was the latter of these two options that Herbie and I took as we headed towards home. Unlike its National Trail counterpart, there are no paved slabs or tended to walkways, and once the families had fallen away and we had climbed to the top of Westend Moss, we were alone again, save for the odd supercilious sheep.
I was thankful for the clement weather, and thoughts again turned to the prospect of walking the full Pennine Way, which by all accounts throws unexpected and extreme weather at those who attempt it, at the most inconsiderate of times. Would I be brave enough to attempt it alone, like so many do? Based on my first experience of solo walking, the jury is still out on that one. I would be lying if I told you my route back to the car was without incident, or that at no point did I lose the path and end up ankle deep in sloshing peat. On a walk like this one however, such events merely add to the adventure, and I had of course followed the golden rule for venturing out alone, by explaining my route to someone before I departed.
Sunday night came and went, but I was reset and ready to face whatever the week had in store for me.