Bagging the Welsh dragon in the Black Mountains
Crossing the Black Mountains, starting at Pandy and moving on to Hay-on-Wye, the route has incredible views and a line of trig points ending in one decorated with a Welsh dragon.
Nigel Vardy takes us on a nostalgic exploration of Britain’s 1st National Park - The Peak District.
The Peak District National Park was already an teenager the day I was born, and like an older sibling, it has molded my life from day 1. Its beautiful landscapes, fresh air and peace have inspired me to enjoy and appreciate the outdoors.
My parents regularly took my sister and I into the hills at the weekends, picnicking, kite flying and searching for fossils in the limestone rocks of Bonsall Moor.
One of my earliest childhood memories is of a sunny summers day above Brightgate, where I poked at the walls, finding strange shadows in the limestone, in-between stuffing my face with fish paste sandwiches and glasses of milk. My dad’s Hillman Avenger sailed down tiny lanes in both the Dark and White Peak, taking our young eyes on great family adventures.
As I grew, we began walking the hills, with excursions lengthening as my legs grew. By the time I was a teenager, days of 15 miles or more were commonplace and by my early twenties, I had progressed to 40-mile days.
Getting outside allowed me to relax and enjoy life away from work. I’m not saying that my job was awful, as I also worked outdoors, but a change of scenery was as good as a rest.
A severe mountaineering accident put paid to my longer walking days, but I still wander the peaks today, though the routes are shorter and my legs slower.
The Peak District has given me so much. The dales of the White Peak bring rare summer flowers, bobbing birds and fresh waters. The Moors of the Dark Peak are stark in contrast, with their open peatlands challenging even the most competent navigators.
I have experienced every season and every weather over the last 40 odd years, including drought so hard that abandoned villages return from barren reservoirs, bog so wet that you sink up to your waist and 9-foot snow drifts crossed on my touring skis.
This is my world, this is where I revel, this is where I love.
Man has existed here for millennia. The famed ‘Stonehenge of the North’ at Arbor Low dates from over 2000BC. It’s one of the most beautiful and peaceful sites in the peak, and on clear days, the views from it are stunning. Both the Romans and Normans mined Lead and Blue John from the hills around Castleton, with William Peveril building a striking castle to defend his lands.
Much of this history was part of my childhood as I visited on school trips. These were halcyon days of sunshine (I’m sure it rained too), youthful exuberance and (more than likely) chaos. The Peak District National Park is as much a mental part of my life as physical. I’ve sat crying in dales of cowslips and orchids, soloed ice falls in times of anger and stared into its moorland loneliness when I feel empty.
Every time the peaks give me back so much more than I can return. Their kindness is what has kept me going through the difficult parts of my life.
Created in 1951 as Britain’s 1st National Park, the Peak District is surrounded by the great urban conurbations of Manchester, Macclesfield, Stoke, Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield. Around 20 million people are within an hour’s travel of the park, yet only 38,000 live within its bounds. Over 10 million people visit the park every year, which are both a blessing and a curse.
People enjoy fresh air, exercise and relaxation, but also bring Bank Holiday traffic jams, ground damage and litter. I learned long ago to never venture near Bakewell, Castleton or Chatsworth during the holidays, but find peace instead on the River Dane or the Howden Moors. Mam Tor and Gritstone edges make fine spots for fiery sunsets, whilst Sir William Hill and Win Hill are wonderful for the sunrise.
I often camp alone enjoying the edges of the daylight, surrounded by streams of light and silence.
The word ‘Peak’ is nothing to do with the parks hills, but the Saxon ‘Pecsaetan’ tribe which inhabited the area, but the park does have its fair share of hills. The limestone reefs of Hollins, Chrome, Parkhouse and Hitter hills north of Longnor are almost alpine in their profile, whilst Winnats Pass brings a short mountain drive.
Many people have fallen foul of ‘Bogtrotting’ over the peatlands of Kinder and Bleaklow, sinking up to their knees in the black morass. One tip – don’t jump unless you’re sure where your feet are going..!
Our countryside demands respect, so please, come and visit the Peak District, but plan your journey, take your litter home, leave wildlife be and join me in a breath of life.