Just after Christmas I went on a 9 mile hike with my Brother-in-Law (Wayne), ten year old Nephew (Connor) and two friends (Martin and Simon). We decided to head to the Peak District and hike a circular route over Mam Tor, along the Great Ridge, up Back Tor and down Lose Hill before looping back across country through Hope and Castleton.
It’s a two hour drive from Solihull so we set off at 8am, the boot loaded with back packs and hiking boots. The journey was smooth and we arrived at the foot of Mam Tor at 9.45am. We parked at the side of the road, just before the turn for Blue John Cavern, and eagerly climbed out of the car to stretch our legs and get ready for the hike.
We were immediately blasted with icy cold wind and drizzle. When packing the evening before I toyed with the idea of not bringing a jumper, scarf, gloves or hat because the weather was so mild in the West Midlands. Now, I was grateful I’d been over-cautious.
Everyone started putting on their waterproof layers. I put my waterproof trousers on over my hiking trousers and then slipped on my jumper, scarf, hat, gloves and waterproof coat. I opened the Ordnance Survey Map and slipped it in the waterproof map cover and put the compass in my coat pocket.
The Hike Route
The route was a circular walk over Mam Tor, along the Great Ridge, up Back Tor and down Lose Hill before looping back across country through Hope and Castleton. You can find out more details here should you wish to do this great walk yourself.
MAP: Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL1 – The Peak District.
Climbing Mam Tor
The climb up Mam Tor was actually much easier than expected.
For those of you who don’t know, Mam Tor is a large hill near Castleton in the High Peak of Derbyshire. It is part of the Dark Peak! It rises to a height of one thousand seven hundred feet and is apparently crowned by a late Bronze Age and early Iron Age hill fort and two Bronze Age bowl barrows, which are ancient burial mounds.
Strangely, I don’t recall seeing any of these ancient structures. I was probably too worried about the extreme winds to bother looking and I hadn’t done much research in advance. Going forward I will do much better prep in order to get the most out of the journey.
The Winds of Hell
We followed a muddy path from the road up the side of the Tor and then climbed to the summit. We were greeted with icy blasts of wind and rain that can only be described as the breath of an angry god! It reminds me of a scene in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings where Caradhras (the mountain) turns against the party of adventurers to block their way, hurling snow and avalanches down at them.
I’ve never felt anything like it! And, as the path falls away steeply on either side we were fearful of being driven over the edge. I didn’t fancy rolling down that steep hill, arriving at the bottom a shattered wreck. My pack and my overly baggy waterproof trousers, which flapped ferociously in the wind, dragged me towards the edge.
There was a moment when a particularly strong blast of wind caused my ridiculous woolly hat to unroll itself down over my face like a woolly condom. I immediately went blind and could not breathe. I had to stumble back to the trig point to take shelter behind the bricks and sort myself out. It must have looked hilarious! I really must get myself a decent hat!
We considered heading back down the hill and picking an alternative route. However, in the end we pushed on along the Ridge. I’m glad we did because the rest of the hike was fantastic!
The following day I read a lady fell that morning and broke her wrist because of the wind and mud. The only fall our group experienced involved Martin slipping in the mud at the top of Mam Tor and sitting down heavily in a VERY muddy puddle! Unfortunately, I was too slow with the camera!
The Views Are Incredible From The Top Of Mam Tor
Even on an overcast and drizzly day like this one, the views from the top of Mam Tor are well worth the climb, near death of being blown over the edge, and the embarrassment of my woolly hat!
On one side you can see the Edale Valley, Kinder Scout and Derwent Moors and on the other the Hope Valley stretched out before you. I can only imagine the beautiful views that could be experienced in summer.
Many other hikers were following the same route or were passing us in the opposite direction. I was surprised how many there were and also how friendly people were. The majority of our fellow hikers gave a cheerful “hello” as they passed by.
Hollins Cross and the Great Ridge
From the crest of Mam Tor we followed the path downwards to Hollins Cross. It is the lowest point on the Great Ridge and as a result the wind abated slightly. We were still buffeted but it was manageable and was no longer cause for concern.
Being the lowest point on the Ridge a number of footpaths meet here. In the past it was the main route for crossing the Ridge from Castleton to Edale or vice versa. At this crossing of pathways is a small circular stone construction with a memorial plaque on it.
The pathway continues along the Ridge with great views on either side. We followed the path at a steady pace, just enjoying being out together in such surroundings.
Climbing Back Tor
We arrived at a point where the path split and either started to run down towards the valley or up a steep rocky natural stair up the side of Back Tor. After consulting our map, we made the scramble upwards. At the top we took a moment to look out over the valley below. We decided to have a break and sat there on the grass drinking coffee from our flasks. I felt a profound sense of peace here. This feeling of peace is what gets me out on the trails in the first place.
Making that climb up Back Tor was hard on the legs. My ten year old nephew scaled it like a monkey and still had plenty of energy to run around at the top! Ah to be ten again!
From Back Tor we continued along the Great Ridge. The path led us in a straight direction to the next highpoint, Lose Hill – the end of the Ridge. The wind was picking up again as we hit Lose Hill and became quite violent as we gathered around the metal compass. It is set on a stone pedestal and points out various landmarks and peaks that can be seen from this vantage point.
From Lose Hill the pathway heads down towards Hope. It is a relatively steep decent in places, and with the rain and mud we had to be careful not to slip. There were many people heading up Lose Hill in the opposite direction. I have to say I was happy to be making the decent.
Across Country to Hope
At the foot of Lose Hill we climbed over a stile and crossed a muddy field before reaching another gate. Beyond this gate the pathway led downhill to a small farm where we lingered for a few moments to catch our breath and work out which way we were to travel. It was at this point where we had to decide if we wanted the walk the longer 9 mile route or the shorter 6 mile one.
We opted for the longer route.
The pathway led us beside a number of empty stables, through a gate then over a number of fields before we found a proper road again. By this time our boots were heavy with clods of mud. We tried our best to use puddles and grass to wipe them clean … unsuccessfully.
A Break at the Woodroffe Arms
When we finally arrived at Hope, we decided to stop for a rest at the Woodroffe Arms public house. It wasn’t the nicest pub in the world but it was friendly and we enjoyed a nice pint there. The bloke behind the bar even gave Connor some sweets for free to go with the hot chocolate he had.
It was a nice thirty minute rest and we took the opportunity to use the toilets and clean ourselves up a bit. I took my waterproof trousers off, rolled them up and slipped them back my pack with the intention of cleaning them when I got home. I also took off my jumper, scarf and gloves which were too warm now we were off the Ridge.
After checking the map we took a road by the church and then a public footpath on our right a few hundred yards up the road, which led us back into the countryside. Strangely, just as we were joining the footpath, we noticed a bath bomb (from Lush perhaps) sat there in the mud. Very strange!
Castleton and the Last Stretch
This part of the hike was very pleasant. The pathway followed the course of a winding and bubbling river. The land at this point was flat and we took our time to cross it. We passed through a number of fields and then found ourselves on the road into Castelton. Castleton seemed like a nice little place. There were nice shops and public houses.
We passed through and took a couple of minutes to rest our legs on a bench just outside Peak Cavern, Peverill Castle looming above us on the hill.
The Re-approach to Mam Tor
We left Goosehill and followed a muddy track west along the base of a series of large hills. Many small rocks, and the mud itself, made the path a slippery and awkward route. I almost slipped several times along this pathway. We all had to pick our way slowly to avoid twisted ankles or worse.
To our left, the land rose up and in the distance on our right, running parallel to our path, was the Great Ridge itself. Mam Tor was hiding out of sight behind the hills we were skirting. Being able to see the Ridge from here really brought into perspective how far we’d walked. I remember spotting the lone pine tree at the top of Back Tor where we’d had our coffee break; now tiny and swaying in the strong winds. A very lonely existence.
The path bore northwest and eventually reached a gate. Beyond this gate was an actual road, Arthur’s Way near Speedwell Cavern, which we crossed before plunging back into the fields opposite. The ground sloped downwards here until we reached another small road winding its way through the hills. We took this road just before Treak Cliff Cavern and were pleased to walk on good solid ground again.
The Broken Road
We followed this road north until it started to become broken up and unused. It wound its way like a meandering river of twisted and broken tarmac. Various landslides over the years had caused serious damage to these roads that were now no good for road vehicles.
This god awful road was on a merciless incline and, as we were all pretty tired at this point, it was a huge relief when we made it to the top where we’d left the car at the foot of Mam Tor. By this time it was already getting dark and the wind had been driving rain at us all the way up the broken road.
I’m so glad I packed my jumper, scarf, hat and gloves. I think I need to get a better hat! Not only does this woolly hat look ridiculous but the fact it unrolled itself down my face wasn’t great. In addition, I think I might get hold of a microfleece to replace the generic jumper I wore on this journey.
The overall lesson for me was the reminder to look into the weather in much more detail on future trips and make sure I pack accordingly. Also, to research the landmarks and historical points about the route so I can get the most out of it.
On this trip I used the following equipment and clothing. You may recognise some of it from my 20 mile day hike in Warwickshire a couple of months ago.
Following the shoulder pains I had with the Albus 30 Back Pack I bought a 30 Litre Military Assault Pack. This now acts as my day pack for these sorts of hikes and outings. It is a cheap one and only cost me about £30.00. I really like it and had no pains in my shoulders or back.
I invested in a basic first aid kit to add to my pack for this trip (and future trips). I got it from Boots and added in some additional items I thought it lacked. This is a basic kit and I am sure there are lots of things that can be added but as we were always going to be close to civilisation on this outing I thought it would sufficient.
This water bladder holds 2 litres of water which can be drunk through a tube without having to take off your pack. 2 litres is more than sufficient for a trip like this. If you are taking up hiking I recommend you get one of these. They are very cheap and really do the job well.
These were actually a birthday present from my wife and kids. I find these to be really solid boots and perfect if you are just starting out in hiking. They are strong, waterproof and inexpensive.
These socks really made a difference. I tried my boots with and without the socks and I have to say the padding in these socks is a must.
These are really comfortable and well worth the money if you’re planning on going for longer walks out in the countryside.
This jacket is warm, waterproof and lightweight. I really like this jacket and would recommend it to anyone looking for something similar.
This base layer is pretty good. I wore this as my first top layer and then one of my running shirts over the top. On the Ridge I also added the jumper and this was sufficiently warm even in January.
Today I just took the little titanium cup from this set. I knew I wasn’t going need anything else as I already had the coffee in my flask. The flask was just a cheap thermo flask from Wilkinson but it does the job.