Camping Inspiration: Walking In The Dark Peak District
If you walk along what is known as the Great Ridge above the Edale Valley, you follow an elevated course between lofty Mam Tor and shapely Lose Hill and are following what many consider to be a dividing line between the Dark Peak and the White Peak in one of our most visited National Parks.
The views from this lofty ridge are stunning in all directions. It is impossible to say which is the best part of the Peak District for walkers as everyone will have a different take on this, but for many the Dark Peak is their spiritual home and the one they return to again and again for challenging, wilderness days.
Geographically the Dark Peak lies at the southern end of the Pennine Hills and forms the northerly parts of the Peak District, but does extend into the southern margins along the western and eastern edges of the region, taking the form of an inverted horseshoe if viewed from above. It gets its unusual name not, as many believe, from the dark brooding clouds that often gather over the exposed moors, but because the underlying limestone is covered over with a cap of millstone grit and peat meaning the landscape generally looks darker than the limestone dales and uplands of the more southerly White Peak.
But don't think for one minute that the Dark Peak is a dismal and black alternative to its southerly sister. You can enjoy many glorious sunny walks on days when the landscape shimmers in the brilliant sunlight from blue skies and the terrain seems to have a life of its own.
The Dark Peak is walking country supreme and was the birth place of the organised rambling clubs who campaigned to get us greater access to the moors which had often been prohibited to the masses and jealously protected by the shooting fraternity. Frustrated by lack of access to closely guarded moorland in the area, over 400 walkers organised a mass trespass onto the 2000ft+ summit of Kinder Scout in late April 1932. The event was organised by the Manchester branch of the British Workers Sports Federation who notified the press in advance. As a result of this the police turned out in force and the subsequent moorland scuffles between walkers, policemen and game keepers saw five Manchester men (including protest leader, Benny Rothman) jailed.
However, it was the start of something big that led to the freedom we have to roam the high places unobstructed today. Many walkers come to this area of the Peak District and feel they are walking in the footsteps of history as they don boots to head for the high ground.
Famed for its exposed and desolate expanses of moorland, the Dark Peak consists of windswept uplands, and open and undulating high gritstone plateaus covered with extensive blanket peat, cotton grass and heather. Slopes can be steep and paths rough and rugged but generally good. Rocky edges are common and great to walk along with ground dropping steeply away to lower slopes, wooded cloughs and deep valleys some of which have been flooded to create reservoirs.
The Dark Peak’s reputation as an outdoor destination is well deserved and the region is a Mecca for those who like to tramp along paths, be they high or low, and soak in awesome scenery. There are simply miles of footpaths along valleys and rivers and over elevated remote wilderness. The choice is varied and will suit all levels of walkers and it would be difficult to single out one particular area to suggest as a starting point.
The Edale Valley and the surrounding area is superb walking country, with the last 2,000ft tops in England before Devon located here. These are Kinder Scout (2,088 ft/636 metres) and Bleaklow (2,077 ft/633 metres) - confusing high moorlands with a bad reputation for changeable weather and nasty navigation. However, on days of sunshine and clear skies, the walking they offer is magnificent for those who can map read and use a compass proficiently. The area is also famed for its impressive gritstone outcrops that attract rock climbers with Stanage Edge (above Hathersage) being a nurturing ground for some of our most famous rock climbers and mountaineers down the years.
The Peak District as a whole was the first National Park to be established in the United Kingdom in 1951 and, due to its ease of accessibility (it lies between large cities such as Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and the towns and cities of the Potteries in Staffordshire) around 10million people visit annually.
Campers are made very welcome here – sites are generally good and range from basic farm facilities in remote locations to more commercial sites with all mod cons. The one thing you will find is the sites are very popular and often get quite crowded on sunny summer weekends so booking in advance (if possible) is recommended
As well as the uplands, moors and dales in the Dark Peak you will also find wonderful towns and villages such as Buxton, Castleton, Hope, Hathersage and Hayfield.
The Dark Peak is an all year round destination but it is at its very best in spring and early autumn – although the summer months take some beating too! Whatever the season, a camping and walking trip to the area will be a real treat for adults and children alike and one that will live long in the memory.
WORDS & PICTURES BY STEVE GOODIER
Dark Peak Circular Walks by John Gillham
Dark Peak Walks by Paul Besley
Walks in the Dark Peak by John N Merrill
High Peak Walks by Mark Richards
Jarrold Short Walks For All The Family - The Peak District (book 2 in the series)
Ordnance Survey Pathfinder Guides – Peak District Walks
Peak District – Guide to 30 of the best walking routes by Roly Smith
MAPS AND NAVIGATION
Before heading for the high ground in the Peak District you should be able to read a map proficiently and navigate using a compass in case the mist comes in. It is very easy to lose your bearings on some of the featureless moorlands to be found here. Always check the weather before setting out and make sure you are well equipped and carry food and water. The following maps cover the whole Peak District area:
Ordnance Survey OL Explorer 1 – The Dark Peak
Ordnance Survey OL Explorer 24 – The White Peak
Harvey Superwalker Map Peak District North
Harvey Superwalker Map Peak District Central
Harvey Superwalker Map Peak District South
Edale, Hope Valley, Derbyshire, S33 7ZA
The Edale Valley is right in the middle of Dark Peak walking country with the 2,000ft plateau of Kinder Scout towering over it on one side and the Mam Tor to Lose Hill Great Ridge on the other - and right in the centre of all this is the tiny village of Edale. Fieldhead Campsite is located here and is a true walker’s site located close to two pubs. The site is open all year and is next to the Peak District Park Authority’s Moorland Information Centre, where staff are always on hand to advise on the walking opportunities and weather conditions – the site is owned by the centre itself. Fieldhead Campsite has six separate smallish fields with one being a dedicated family field and one being purely for backpackers and located near a pretty river. Edale station is nearby so you can catch trains from the site to other areas of the Dark Peak. Check-in is at a little office left of the visitor centre and all the pitches are grass and the site is best suited for small to medium sized tents. The fields are linked by a path that circles the visitor centre. There is no access for cars on the camping fields so you will have to leave your vehicle in the spacious carpark by the visitor centre and carry your gear to your pitch. There is plenty of tree and bush screening making the site very sheltered. At the rear of the visitor centre, and centrally located for the camping fields, you will find the toilet and shower block with disabled facilities. These are kept clean and tidy and there is also an indoor washing up area and drying room.
Fieldhead Campsite only takes tents and does not have electric hook-ups at all
CROWDEN CAMPING AND CARAVANNING CLUB SITE
Woodhead Road, Crowden, Glossop, Derbyshire SK13 1HZ
01457 866057 (Site) 024 7647 5426 (Central Bookings)
Located in the north of the Dark Peak, Longdendale Valley is a deep trench between the high ground of the mountain of Bleaklow and the extensive peak moorland of Black Hill. It is a regular stopping point for Pennine Way walkers and the valley floor comprises of a series of reservoirs. In winter this can be a bleak and inhospitable place with the Woodhead Pass at the valley head being one of the first of England’s major road passes to get cut off by snow each year. However, in summer this is an enchanting place and well worth bringing your camping gear to for a break.
In the heart of the valley you will find the hamlet of Crowden home to Crowden Camping and Caravanning Club. This site is hidden away from the main trans-Pennine A628 which runs through Longdendale. A narrow access track leads to the camping field which is signposted from the road. On arrival you check in at reception where you will also find a shop selling basics you could need. The site is barrier controlled and is set on flat ground and surrounded by walls and sheltered by trees. The site takes around 45 units overall and caters for tents, caravans and campervans. There are electric hook-ups but they are reserved mostly for caravans and campervans. The grass is kept short and the site is very well looked after. The toilet and shower block are small but modern and kept clean and tidy. There is also a launderette facility and a drying room. The site has camping pods for hire and is well located for exploring the northern areas of the Dark Peak from. It is very popular with family groups as well as walkers and mountain bikers.
As you are in a deep valley there is virtually no mobile phone coverage and midges can be a problem in the summer months – take repellent.
NORTH LEES CAMPING SITE
Birley Lane, Hathersage, Derbyshire S32 1BR
North Lees Campsite is a real outdoor lovers’ site and is much loved by walkers, climbers and mountain bikers. That said, you will find plenty of families using the fields on good summer weekends. North Lees is owned and operated by the Peak District National Park and the wardens keep it clean and tidy. Overall there are around 60 pitches. The site very remote and is set deep in trees and is in the heart of the Dark Peak. It is very handy for the likes of Stanage Edge, the Great Ridge, Win Hill and Kinder Scout but most of the Dark Peak is easily reached from it. This is a basic site with grass pitches and no electric hook-ups. Although not an all year site it does open from November to March on a Friday and Saturday night on
a ‘turn up and pitch’ basis. As the site gets busy in the main season it is always best to book before just coming here. Toilets and showers are near the reception building and a good track runs around the camping areas. You are generally not allowed to park by your pitch and must leave your car in designated parking areas between the fields. The site is best suited to smaller tents (but can accommodate larger ones) and does not take campervans or caravans. There are three camping fields overall and although there are flat pitches some of the areas are a bit sloping too. Do not follow sat nav to get here as it takes you to the wrong place. The site has a selection of camping pods for hire and these are also very popular and often all full.
Midges are a nuisance on still summer evenings. The site is surrounded by tall trees so this attracts them. Make sure you take along repellent.