Stanage Edge, Peak District

Man on the Edge…

After Sunday’s glorious clear skies, I decided to brave the icy weather and head for the Peaks again, this time to complete my original intended walk along Stanage Edge. There had been a thick fog over Sheffield all morning but by lunchtime the sun was beginning to shine through and the mist was clearing. The Met Office website promised the same out towards Hathersage, so after work I set off out of the city towards Ringinglow.
As I pass Lady Canning’s Plantation, the remnants of the previous weeks’ snowfall soon escalates into very real recent deep snowfall. The road narrows to single tracks carved out by braver or more desperate drivers and the fog thickens reducing visibility to less than 50 yards and I seriously begin to question the sense in this outing. Regardless of my doubts I press on until I arrive at the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it car park at Upper Burbage Bridge. The level of visibility is so poor now I cannot even see down the valley from the path along the ridge. I should be presented with a magnificent vista of Burbage Brook down towards Higger Tor and the ruined for of Carl Wark. To the South West I should be able to view the other side of Over Owler Tor where I visited on Sunday, but all I can see is a vast, domineering, void of thick grey fog.

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Against all good sense and judgement, armed with sturdy boots and a Explorer OS Map (OL1) I decided to head out anyway. After all I had driven all the way up here; I might as well get a few hours walking in, even if the fog prevented any glorious views. I optimistically took my camera, though the lens cap never came off, the modest pictures uploaded here are from iPhone.

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I crossed the stepping stones over Burbage Brook and headed along what I thought was the Burbage Rocks path towards the southern tip of Stanage Edge. After five minutes though it became clear I was actually following the rock-line that ran parallel to the Fiddler’s Elbow footpath. Navigating when you can’t see where you’re heading was going to be interesting and my lack of a compass would prove to be a huge learning point for this journey. I back tracked to the car park and identified the correct path and set off again.

The footpaths were difficult to identify at times due to the snowfall but luckily the Stanage Edge one had seen plenty of footfall; so there was a fairly clear route in this direction. I soon came upon the Cowper Stone, a distinctive huge boulder marking the southern-most tip of Stanage Edge, satisfying confirmation I was heading in the right direction.

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The route to the footpath across the top of the escarpment wasn’t clear so I picked my own way through the rocks, ending up thigh deep in snow at times. I was soon on top of the rocky outcrop though and back following a more obvious path.

Not far from the Cowper Stone is an old OS Trig point, set atop a huge slab of gritstone. This four foot high stone was erected in 1936 by Ordinance Survey as part of the ‘Re-triangulation of Great Britain’ project that ran until 1962. Over 300 of these posts were installed around the United Kingdom at this time and helped Ordinance Survey create the seamless mapping we enjoy to this day.

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Continuing despite the freezing fog hindering the views; I find I am actually quite enjoying the walk. There are more than sufficient interesting rocks and boulders strewn about close enough to enjoy and the quiet desolation (save for the odd bleat of a sheep or squawk of a grouse). The eerie quiet it’s unsettling at first but after a mile or so of only hearing the noise I make, I find it very peaceful and relaxing.

After rounding Hook’s Car I finally happen upon other humans more ambitious than I; scaling the cold rock face of the escarpment. I perch on a rock for a while and watch their progress musing that I’d very much like to try rock-climbing and resolve that I should visit on of Sheffield’s many climbing walls soon.

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I press on and finally reach Robin Hood’s Cave. The snaps I took on my phone do not do this geological quirk justice but it was fun to explore and served as a natural turning point. I would have liked to have gone further long the ridge as far as Crow Chin, but I was conscious of the waning daylight and thickening fog. I started back-tracking my route with the intention of branching off near Overstones Farm and meeting the footpath that would take me up over Higger Tor and back towards Upper Burbage Bridge.

However, due to a combination of bad map reading and complete lack of visibility, I cut down from Stanage Edge earlier than intended and ended up at the car park near Carr Head Rocks. Realising my error and risk getting further off track I decided to follow the road back towards Burbage Bridge. This would prove to be the last good decision I made on this walk. I followed the road until I reached a style, which I remembered from a guide book led to the path towards Higger Tor. Even after studying my OS map many times since, it still remains a mystery how I ended up where I did next. I came to an intersection of pathways and after (incorrectly) reading the map; I turned left and headed up the hill towards what I thought was the Fiddler’s Elbow. What I had in fact done was go in completely the wrong direction and only realised once I hit the road again and saw a sign for Mitchell’s Field. The fog by this point was increasingly dense and daylight was fading, I was not able to make out the obvious landmark of Higger Tor. Had I been able to see this to get my bearings (or if I had bothered to bring my compass), I like to think I wouldn’t have made such an error. After a bit of panicky map work, I found the road again and followed it back towards the Tor. Visibility was now so poor I missed out on Higger Tor completely. I did manage to find the path that led over towards the brook which took me over the Fiddler’s Elbow and eventually as the last embers of the dying daylight were extinguished, I reached my car.

I reflected that the elements were against me and even the most skilled reader of maps would have struggled with the conditions. However, I made a lot of school-boy errors and learned a few important things:

– Always take a compass
– If you are unsure of the path, stop and get your bearings
– Never rely on weather reports; prepare for all eventualities
– Assume the walk will take longer than planned and prepare as necessary (torch, food, water)
– If you’re alone, stick to the beaten path and tell someone your route

Luckily I got back safe and other than wounded pride I was unscathed, but it could have turned out differently. If I hadn’t have got my bearings or retraced my steps, I could have ended up lost on Hathersage Moor, in the dark, surrounded by thick fog with no provisions or a light. I’m not dwelling on the alternative possible outcomes, but needless to say the consequences wouldn’t have been pleasant.
So there you go, mistakes made, lessons learned. On a more positive note, before getting lost I really enjoyed the walk and aim to repeat it very soon on a clearer day with my camera in tow.

I’ll leave you with an extract from a poem by Robert Frost (1874–1963) I think appropriate:

OUT walking in the frozen swamp one grey day
I paused and said, “I will turn back from here.
No, I will go on farther—and we shall see.”
The hard snow held me, save where now and then
One foot went down. The view was all in lines 5
Straight up and down of tall slim trees
Too much alike to mark or name a place by
So as to say for certain I was here
Or somewhere else: I was just far from home…

References/Further Reading:
http://www.theaa.com/walks/on-the-edge-at-stanage-420244
http://www.haroldstreet.org.uk/map-detail.php?g=SK2509483017
http://www.bartleby.com/118/16.html (full text of Frost’s Poem)

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4 thoughts on “Stanage Edge, Peak District

  1. Hi Gareth, only just caught up with these blogs and am rapidly becoming addicted. This post reminds me of my first day doing the Pennine Way: we left Edale in new shiny gear and ascended Kinder in thick fog. We ended up floundering up to our waists in horrible peat bogs and navigating by compass. The same happened on cross fell where we were hopelessly lost and high cup nick: although that was more dangerous as we knew there was a sheer drop somewhere in front of us. So you are right, always have a compass, know how to use it, and dont plough on if you are unsure. Suggestion for your next walk:: the ridge from mam tor to win hill. Keep blogging bro

    • Hey Col, cheers! Yeah I fancy Mam Tor to Win Hill. In fact there’s a circular walk from Hope that takes in Lose Hill, Black Tor, Hollins Cross, Mam Tor and then comes back round through Castleton back to Hope. It looks an excellent walk, if you’re free one saturday sometime we’ll have to have a bash at it.

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