Why only just?
You’ll have to read on, all will become apparent…..
After a cancelled Peak District camping weekend due to commitments closer to home, I was itching more and more to get out and have a wander. Sadly, locally there is nothing but lowland farms and riding stables, not the sort of exciting landscape that the Peaks, Snowdonia, Yorkshire, the Highlands and many more, would offer me.
Talking of Yorkshire, I’m been lucky to have family living in North Yorkshire and even better, relatively close to both the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales. Over the past few years, we’ve been able to stay with them, on their farm during late October.
However, sadly this year, it’s not going to happen, due to family commitments back here at home. Frustratingly, I’ve a couple of walks planned around the North York Moors, so they’ll have to wait until another time.
But plans are afoot for a visit, sometime next year.
Back to Alport Castles, finally ticked off my list, but almost never happened.
|The ford across the River Bradbourne|
a view in enjoy on my drive through the Peak District
The night before, I was preparing my kit, checking everything, particularly my two headtorches and the cycle rear light that attaches to my pack, especially with sunset being 18:15 hrs (6:15pm). My hydration pack had gained two puncture holes!
I couldn’t find my spare, then I remembered that I had loaned it out, and put it to one side. I checked the spare hydration pack was ok, and because it hadn’t been used for a while, cleaned it out and everything was sorted, ready for Alport Castles.
Next, check the headtorches. One didn’t work!
Simple enough problem, one battery had just died. A battery suddenly dying like that, especially as the batteries had been changed, very recently as part of my winter preparation, is not a common event, but it does very happen where a battery suddenly loses its charge. The other two batteries were fully charged, only being replaced a few weeks ago and part of my winter preparation.
You can read about much of the kit I carry in my pack, in What's in my pack?,
Even if the headtorch had gone faulty, I’ve another two spare headtorches if needed.
A sunny Sunday morning, the car loaded up with the days kit, I started the drive to the Peak District.
After Lichfield, the drive was a slow and fog laden one. What is normally a two and a half hour drive turned out to be a three and a half hour drive!
A quick photo stop alongside Ladybower, engulfed in low cloud, allowed me to assess the parking situation, which looked very full, even Heatherdene Pay and Display Car Park was full!
|Ladybower Reservoir, looking over to Ashopton Viaduct|
As a result, my intended parking by Ladybower Reservoir was full. Those of you, who know that area, will know how quickly the parking is snapped up. So I had to find alternative parking, about three miles up the road.
This meant a change to my planned route, from Ladybower, via Crook Hill to Alport Castles. To even attempt that, would waste too much time walking to the start point and I didn’t really fancy an uphill walk late on such a warm day.
I had parked in a layby on the Snake Pass almost across the road from Wood Cottage, near Blackden View Farm. The nearest suitable path was via Alport Farm, at Alport Bridge.
Those of you, who know the area, will also be aware that mobile phone signals are not brilliant, to non-existent, so I couldn’t let my wife know of the route change before setting off.
With any walk, you should always leave a route plan with someone responsible, along with estimated return times, and so if anything should go wrong, that person can inform the police of your late return and their concern for your safety.
However, I knew once I gain some height, then I should be able to send a text message advising of the revised route.
I used text for two reasons;
1 It facilitates a more detailed route description, giving the recipient details they can store.
2 Text messages often win through when it’s difficult to establish a phone call
I was also still debating certain parts of the route to try and make a fuller day of the walk!
So, booted and suited, I set off, on the revised route, which entailed a rather precarious walk easterly along the busy A57, Snake Pass. To be honest, I was pushing my luck, for those who know the road, it harbours some rather unsavoury road users and that particular party, didn’t have much of a verge to safely walk along.
|...."a rather precarious walk easterly along the busy A57, Snake Pass"....|
Knowing the sunset time was 18:15 hrs, I was not relishing the return walk along the Snake Pass in the late afternoon light, let alone the dark!
It wasn’t too long before I reached the footpath near Alport Bridge, nicely nestled among the roadside foliage, where my walk was to start, properly.
|The footpath by Alport Bridge|
Here I had eyed up the possibility of using the track through Hayridge Farm on my return to the car, to reduce the distance I would need to walk along the Snake Pass back to the car.
Walking along the track, there was a narrow track going uphill to the left, taking my up to Hey Ridge. Time for a quick route assessment, do I walk up Hey Ridge, or follow the track through Alport Farm for Alport Castles?
|The path from the road|
|Soon the path clears the wooded area|
|The hardened track to Alport Farm|
|The path to Hey Ridge|
The sky was blue, the sun shining, Ladybower was still engulfed in low cloud, Kinder and Bleaklow should be in clear view, so my decision was made, ascend via Hey Ridge and return via Alport Castles.
I fancied that route, as I gained height Kinder was looking superb and inversion over Ladybower was looking very photogenic.
The ascent up Hey Ridge was nice and steady, with the views becoming ever more impressive as I gained height. I had also managed to gain sufficient height to send a text message advising my wife of the route change and revised return time.
It also enabled me to tweet some photos I’d taken of the inversion over Ladybower, Kinder and Bleaklow.
|Looking up Hey Ridge|
|Inversion over Ladybower Reservoir|
You can read about that walk in A Heartbeat Walk from Aidensfield on to Howl Moor
|...."reminded me a lot of walking across Howl Moor, in the North York Moors.|
The plantation I used for handrail purposes was almost akin to the plantation on Howl Moor"....
Time as pressing on, I’d already lost an hour and a half daylight walking time, so I had to move on. I’d clocked the large number of close contours of Alport Dale, where the River Alport flows through, but I’d hoped that I could make a relatively easy crossing of the Dale quite a distance along.
Coming to the end of Alport Plantation, Alport Dale was in full view, along with its long steep sides leading down to the River Alport!
|...."Alport Dale was in full view,|
along with its long steep sides leading down to the River Alport"....
It’s easy sometimes to underestimate what contours tell you about the steepness of a slope, but this was no surprise. It was just as I’d feared, a long deep dale with steep slopes both sides. However, the further west I walk, the drop to the River Alport would get gradually less.
Lunchtime was looming fast, so I stopped for a lunch break, which also served as an ideal time to reassess my route.
I was having doubts about getting back to the car before sunset. While that in itself wasn’t an issue, what was the issue, was the lack of mobile signal and my wife panicking if I hadn’t made some contact to let her know I was going to be later than the revised time was a problem.
So everything packed away, I put my pack back on my back and started to undertake a full reccie of the area and assess possible route alternatives to return back to the car within reasonable time.
After all, Alport Castles had been where they are for a long time and will still be there for a lot longer.
So I was looking at the map and the lay of the land, standing what I would have considered a reasonable distance from the edge, I was even considering back tracking the route I’d just covered. After all, the terrain was generally good, even though there were some rather wet and boggy areas, it would get me back within the allotted time.
The ground from under my feet gave way, taking me down in to Alport Dale!
Now my recollection is very sketchy what happened here.
|Looking down Alport Dale after the fall!|
I just recall the ground giving way and a glimpse or two of what seems like fast moving ground. Yes, I was falling, fast!
I’m unclear how far I had fallen, for I hadn’t actually started to locate on the map where I actually was. I know I wasn’t at the top; I had moved down a short distance to allow me to get a clearer view of the dale, so it is really very difficult to assess the height of the fall!
The next thing I vaguely recall, I was feeling cold and shaking. All I could think about was getting warm, so I somehow managed to get my fleece from my pack.
Things are still extremely vague, I really don’t remember opening my pack, but I must have, for not only had I put my fleece on, I’d pulled out the stuff sack with my storm shelter in.
Still shaking, but not feeling quite so cold, in fact I felt quite warm, I started to collect myself together and began to realise what had happened!
I was almost at the bottom of Alport Dale!
Time scales are very vague here, I’m not even going to try and guess.
The reality was, I had a steep climb out, and no matter which way I went. I had no mobile signal. I was in considerable discomfort, but no obvious cuts, bruises or damage.
I could put some weight on my legs, though still very shaky.
Still collecting myself together, I started to reassess the whole situation, I needed to climb out and get back to the car, as soon as possible.
I don’t think at this point, it had crossed my mind how serious the situation was, or even worse, could have been; but my goal was to get going as soon as I could.
Though I was able to stand up, I was still shaky, so I grabbed my trekking poles, set them to the desired length, put my pack back on my back, and decide what would be the best way out of Alport Dale.
Looking at the contours on the map and both sides of Alport Dale, I decided that the best option was to cross the River Alport, which had a few options where the stones would provide some sort of crossing, then make a steady ascent where the contours would become greater in distance apart then on the other side, and head in a south easterly direction heading for Birchin Hat and Alport Castles.
The plan was in place, the only thing was, would I be able to make the trek?
There was only one way to find out, that was to do it.
It was uncomfortable to start with, my legs seemed very unsteady, and also my arms struggled to support me on my trekking poles, but I wasn’t going to give up. Heading down hill was not the easiest of descents, almost losing my footing a few times on the steep slope down; I eventually reached the River Alport.
Looking upstream and downstream, for the best place to cross, I spotted what seemed the ideal place, a good stretch of stones across the water.
With the aid of my trekking poles, I crossed the river safely and without incident, but now there was a steep climb away from the river in front of me!
My legs and arms still a little shaky, I was beginning to wonder if I’d made the right decision. I had no option, I was now committed to this route.
So, a quick breather, a couple of deep breaths and start the ascent up the steep grassy slope.
I had about a steep 30 metre ascent before the ground would even out, or even I could consider stopping for a breather. It was a challenging climb, but I eventually made it. Where I was able to take a much needed breather and allow myself some recuperation before the next stage.
After a few minutes, I decided it was time to move on, I still had a long way to walk and a lot of height to gain.
I did wonder about the possibility of walking along the River Alport to avoid unnecessary height gain, but the map unsurprisingly shown marshy ground, which could have been more intrepid!
Onwards and upwards, the planned gradual ascent had started. But, I needed to adjust my trekking poles. The right one needed to be longer, to compensate for the downward slope to my right while the left needed to be shorter.
I was amazed how much more steady I felt once the poles lengths were set.
By now I had almost forgotten how I felt and started to feel more positive and I was actually looking forward to going via Alport Castles.
Onwards and upwards, the steady ascent and distance gained started to make the walk a pleasure again. I could see the River Alport below, becoming more distant, the crossing point was becoming more indistinct and what looked like Birchin Hat, getting nearer.
|Looking across Alport Dale to Hey Ridge, after the climb up from the River Alport|
Time for another breather and also to reassess the route, check timings and work out roughly what point I would be using my headtorch.
I found a nice sized boulder to sit on and I could start to assess and plan the next and final stages of my route.
Yes, quick calculations earlier suggested I was going to return to the car in the dark.
At my current pace, I was going to see Alport Castles in decent daylight, make a comfortable descent, in daylight, but around Alport Farm, I would most likely need my headtorch on.
Suitably rested, I decided now was probably the best time to get my headtorch handy. Have you ever tried searching for something in the pitch black?
So my headtorch was put in to a pocket for quick and easy access and my backup headtorch was placed at the top of my pack, so if I needed it, that to would be easy to put hands on it in the dark
So continuing to head for Birchin Hat, I could make out what looks like aright angled dry stone wall in the distance. Now I knew Alport Castles wasn't too far away.
|Birchin Hat, identifiable by the dry stone wall at the top|
I could also see what looked very much like a deep cutting in to the plateau I was aiming for. This would mean either an awkward route around, what would probably have very narrow footings and steep enough slopes, or I had to make a straight steep ascent upwards.
I opted for the steep ascent upwards, which I had a clear view of the route ahead, which looked steep, but safe to negotiate. I didn’t relish the idea of maintaining a steady ascent, only to find I had narrow footings with a high risk of slipping and also the risk of having to backtrack and try an alternative route.
It wasn’t too long before I reached Birchin Hat, distinguishable by its right angled dry stone wall, shown as a right angled boundary feature on the map. I could also see Alport Castles!
At this point, I hadn’t read up on exactly what Alport Castles was. What in the distance almost resembled a Motte and Bailey now looked very much like an old disused quarry. Subsequent reading told me how wrong I was. Alport Castles is one of the biggest land slips in the Peak District, continuing for almost a mile in length, not just the two features known as The Tower and Little Moor!
The largest section of Alport Castles, called The Tower, almost resembles a Motte and Bailey, which was my first thoughts of the feature, viewed from a distance.
|The first view I had of Alport Castles|
|Alport Castles, The Tower|
|Alport Castles, Little Moor|
I also had some very commanding views over to the Great Ridge, Derwent Edge and also Stanage Edge in the distance. All of those I have walked on many occasions and if you look at the titles at the end of this blog, you can read those walks too.
All of a sudden, my mobile had burst in to life, the message tone was pinging away, as Twitter was updating with all the responses to my earlier tweeted photos, so that told me, I had a signal.
Time to let my wife know that I was going to be later than the revised time sent earlier that morning.
It wasn’t too long before I had a reply acknowledging my text.
With that done, it was time to enjoy the views take and tweet some more photos, and observe a superb sunset over Kinder.
Things seemed to be going nicely to plan; I had reached Alport Castles close to the start of my descent route, just after Little Moor, leading down to Alport Farm.
Here I was to lose any mobile signal and I had estimated that towards the end of my descent, any available light would soon disappear.
|The path down alongside Little Moor|
|The path to Alport Farm runs alongside the dry stone wall|
After an initial steep descent alongside Little Moor, the path steadied out, maintaining a steady descent down to Alport Farm and also giving me some good views of Alport Castles The Tower and Little Moor.
Now for some strange reason, a cairn had been established on a reasonably clearly defined path. Hey ho, nothing to worry about, but I had to grab a photo.
It was also an ideal time to get my headtorch out of my pocket and put it in to position, ready for what I expect to be a rapid fading of light. A quick check that it still works, then on my head it went.
Also, I have a cycle rear light, which attaches nicely to the back of my pack. That can either be a flashing or constantly on set of three red LED’s.
Continuing down, it wasn’t long before I reached the River Alport, by Alport Farm, which I would need to cross again.
In the rapidly fading light, I spotted what looked like a suitable crossing point. But, the map told me the actual crossing point was some fifty metres further downstream.
Trusting my map, I opted for the maps crossing point, which turned out to be a nice substantial bridge.
|The deceptive crossing point|
|The proper crossing point, a substantial bridge across the River Alport|
Crossing the river, I walked back towards what initially looked like a crossing point, but on the other side of the river, which required some inspection. This revealed it would be a little too deep to cross without getting a couple of boot fulls of water.
Looking at the tracks leading to the water’s edge, suggest its used by vehicles, like quad bikes and tractors, so my advice, don’t consider crossing here with the bridge being so near.
Following the track round, the light had as good as faded by now, so photos are not an option, because the flash isn’t powerful enough to capture the scene clearly enough.
According to the map, it should be a steady hard core track, used by motor vehicles, however, the reality was, it was still grass. Approaching Alport Farm, I was given the choice of a path off to my right, or what didn’t appear to be a clearly marked path through a farm gate in front of me.
This is where taking bearings came in to their own. The gated grassed track didn’t look like a footpath, while the path to the right would take me the wrong way, in a northerly direction alongside the River Alport!
Added to that, in the now very indistinct light, the grassed track seemed to swerve to the left, just as the map suggested, so I took the chance and followed that.
Just as the map suggested, I was walking through Alport Farmyard. Though any signage was not very evident using the clear bright light from my headtorch, but the way it meandered matched the plan on the map.
I soon reached the end of the farmyard and the other side of the gate, was that hardened track I was looking for.
Here on, the route was straightforward, the track would take me straight to the A57 Snake Pass and through Hayridge Farm.
I’ve spent many hours night walking and have completed navigation training, in the dark, so I was quite comfortable to continue, the arduously long walk along the track and also, to conserve battery power, I switched the headtorch off!
|The view back at the car.|
Now that might seem reckless, considering the earlier incident, but I was comfortable with what I could see in the dark.
The fact is, you would be amazed what you can see once your eyes have become accustomed to no artificial light.
It can take between twenty to thirty minutes for eyes to become accustomed to the dark from bright light. However, after using a headtorch, within a minute or two, my eyes can become comfortably accustomed to darkness and I can see sufficiently to make a safe passage.
BUT! I cannot read a map, or compass, without artificial light.
I eventually reached Hayridge Farm and I could hear the traffic passing along the A57 Snake Pass.
Now the bit I wasn’t relishing, walking the busy road, in the dark!
I soon reached the layby where I had started, and was reacquainted with my car, journeys end of an eventful day.
Post walk assessment, which I did once I’d got home and relaxed in a hot bath, the day really didn’t go to plan, I’m far from superstitious, but I wonder if the things that seemed to be road blocks to the walk, were a warning?
A quick recap, the punctured hydration pack, the headtorch battery, the slow drive up and no planned parking available!
Sometimes these things make you wonder, but what it did do, was awaken me to the reality of what could have been!
Yes, a nasty statistic!
In hindsight, what did surprise me, was how I managed to work around the situation, and also reassure me that the extra kit I carry for emergency events, as often advised, is a good idea, along with the way I organise my pack, using different coloured dry sacks to store various items in, probably also helped.
My trekking poles, something I’m guilty of not using often enough, once again, have more than proved their worth as part of my first aid kit.
I’ll tell you now, there would be NO WAY I would have managed any ascent without those trekking poles after the incident.
I have written a blog about trekking poles, Trekking Poles, love ‘em or hate ‘em? Which was inspired by a previous walk where I had to use the very same poles as part of my first aid kit while descending Moel Siabod along conversations with fellow walkers who are either for or against the,. You can read about that walk in Moel Siabod and my old Navigation Training Ground.
Sadly, one of the poles has a bent bottom section. I will try to repair the section, hoping that the repair will not weaken the trekking pole. If not or I’ve any doubt, I will be replacing them before the next walkl.
The following day, the Monday, I ached considerably, particularly down my left side, walking was painful, particularly stairs and it wasn’t until almost the next weekend when I started to feel less pain.
I’m probably raving bonkers, for I would quite happily do the same rout again. But, I would keep a greater distance from the edges, which I would do with cornices when winter walking or other obviously dodgy edges.
Finally, happy rambling and thank you for reading,
Twitter @PeakRamblerPhoto Album Peak Rambler Flickr Photo Album
YouTube Peak Rambler on YouTube
Links to some of the areas I’ve mentioned and written about here:
Trekking Poles, love ‘em or hate ‘em?
A Heartbeat Walk from Aidensfield on to Howl Moor
Moel Siabod and my old Navigation Training Ground
Castleton’s North Ridges Sunday 19th February 2012
Stanage Edge on a sunny Bank Holiday Sunday
A windy wander on Mam Tor and along Castleton’s Great Ridge
An Autumn Walk on Bamford Moor and Stanage Edge
Derwent Edge and Ladybower with friends