This hike was planned for the beginning of June but a miserable weather forecast forced us to postpone until two weeks ago. I’m glad we did; it was an absolutely gorgeous day. We left home early hoping to beat the heat but it was already 24°C when we pulled over on Snake Pass at 8.30AM.
The walk started on the Pennine Way – where it crosses the A57 – and followed it for a little more than two miles to Bleaklow Head. The well-trodden path is easy to follow and the ascension is so gradual that we were not sure we had reached the summit until we saw the cairn marking it. I have to say, it was a bit underwhelming… Despite being almost as high as Kinder Scout (2077 ft. for Bleaklow Head versus 2087 ft. for Kinder Scout), Bleaklow Head offers nothing of the views you get from the Kinder range just across the road.
We greeted a group of trail runners before continuing on the Pennine Way. It was our first navigation mistake. We should have gone back on our steps slightly to take a branching path towards Wain Stones and Dowstone Clough; instead, we followed the Pennine onto Clough Edge.
It was a happy mistake… The Pennine Way is a National Trail going from the Peak District all the way to the Scottish border. It passes through some of the most beautiful landscapes in Britain and this section was no exception. We took a small detour to avoid a family of sheep and followed a brook down to a shallow river. It would have been the perfect spot for lunch but it was still early so we dug snacks from our backpacks and carried on. From there, the trail goes up and crosses with two minor footpaths, including the one we would have taken had we known we were heading in the wrong direction!
We noticed our blunder when we reached Clough Edge and saw that we were walking towards the Thorside Reservoir and not away from it. After a quick look at the map, we decided to follow an almost invisible path through the moors to try and find our way to Higher Shelf Stones, our second waypoint of the day.
We ended up on Glossop Low where we had another quick look at the map before following a rough, boggy trail eastward to Torside Castle, where it rejoined the Pennine. We found our way onto the original route and carried on walking… Until we realised we were lost again!
To be fair, navigation in such featureless moorlands can be quite a challenge. We must have taken a wrong turn and ended up, once again, in the middle of a boggy moor. There was no path – none that we could see, anyway – so we climbed on a few boulders and took a look around. We could see Higher Shelf Stones’ trig point in the distance and decided to forget paths and trails, and simply walk towards it. Easier said than done!
The plateau was relatively flat but the terrain was very uneven and it was muddy despite the dry weather of the previous week. We zigzagged through for what seemed like infinite miles but finally reached Higher Shelf Stones with a sight of relief. The sun was at its highest point and the temperature was nearing 28°C; we were more than happy to have some lunch, rehydrate and let our sweaty tees dry a bit.
The main ‘feature’ of Higher Shelf Stones is the wreckage site a few metres from its summit. In 1948, the B29 Superfortress Overexposed of the US Air Force crashed in the hills (unfortunately killing the 13 men on board) and the debris of the plane have never been moved. The site became a bit of a memorial with people leaving poppies and little white crosses.
It’s quite impressive to see such a massive aircraft reduced to pieces… No one really knows what happened but it is believed that they were flying too low in the thick fog that sometimes covers the Peak District. The time has passed but it remains an emotionally charged place and people wander around in a respectful silence.
From there, the hike back to the car was smooth and easy. We followed another stream all the way down Crooked Clough to the Doctor’s Gate, which took us back on the Pennine Way near Snake Pass.
Once back in the car, the new fitness watch informed me that we had walked 16K, taken almost 26,000 steps and burned 1,346 calories in a little less than six hours. It was a short hike but in the heat, it felt enough.
And what is the best way to cool down after a sweaty hike under the summer sun? To watch the sunset sitting on the back of a motorcycle winding its way down little countryside roads…
I love Sundays.