As well as running I quite like a rocky scramble, ie a route where you have to use your hands to progress. These can be fun during a dry spell in summer, so recently I’ve been exploring some lines new to me in the northern Peak District. For this, I’ve been grateful for Cicerone’s handy “Scrambles in the Dark Peak” book (from which the title of the blog is shamelessly taken):
Still working my way through the book, but here are a few reports/tips from what I’ve done so far. Obviously, scrambling has a few potential risks, so the routes in this book are helpfully graded 1, 2 and 3. Grade 1 are OK to do on your own. Grade 2 you might want to take a friend. Grade 3 you might want to take a rope and a friend. As I’ve been on my own so far I’ve stuck religiously to the Grade 1s and yes, generally they’ve been perfectly comfortable to tackle solo.
As most of these routes are actually up the beds of small rivers they are particularly suitable for dry periods. Nevertheless, accept the fact that you’re going to get wet feet sooner or later. I went in fell shoes and shorts and this worked well, although given the risk of ticks at this time of year leggings could be an option.
I’ve been exploring 3 main areas of the Dark Peak – Kinder, Bleaklow and the Chew Valley. Ideal parking spots as described, though note you will need to “get lucky” at some of the lay-bys:
Blackden Brook (Kinder)
Start: lay-by on A57 near Wood Cottage
This is an entry-level scramble up a narrowing valley rising to the plateau edge. There is a collapsing path of-sorts most of the way until you join the riverbed nearer the top. It feels like a hidden vale and the scenery is charming, so you could take your time with this one…. saying that I also found it fun to do as a “speed scramble” and race its Strava segment. Not so good as a descent, but there’s a fast way down The Wicken just adjacent.
Nether Red Brook / Upper Red Brook (Kinder)
Start: lay-by on A57 near Snake Inn
A little bit along from Blackden Brook are these adjacent scrambles, both a bit more taxing. For Nether Red Brook, you break off the Snake Path about a mile from the road and follow the stream bed up. Interest increases with height and there is a step at the top that requires a bit of thought but is in fact perfectly doable. I did a nice run east along the plateau edge from here, visiting some crazy rock formations on Fairbrook Naze before descending down Fairbrook itself, another fast descent. Upper Red Brook is just a few minutes further along, with a slightly more serious feel than its neighbour, and another “interesting” finish that requires a bit of thought.
Alport Castles (Bleaklow)
Start: lay-by on A57 at Alport Bridge
While in the area I thought I’d visit Alport Castles for the first time in years. There is parking for literally 1 car at Alport Bridge and seeing the lay-by unusually empty was too good an opportunity to miss! I’ve seen Alport Castles described as “the biggest landslip in the country” and as you approach from the bottom (ie Alport Farm) you get a sense of the massive geological forces at work. I picked my way up various folds in the landscape and headed for the central “Tower” which involves a minor scramble to sit on the top. From which you see how the surrounding shale cliff has collapsed in some previous era. Although it was all perfectly doable solo the overwhelming sense of nature’s power had me rather missing a companion. Good if you want to feel very, very insignificant in the overall scheme of the universe.
Torside Clough (Bleaklow)
Start: lay-by on B6105 near Reaps Farm
This was a real discovery. I’ve walked the Pennine Way to the top of Bleaklow along Clough Edge often enough without realising there was a hidden gem right below. As you begin the climb break off the main path and just follow the river. Much of the way you walk straight up the smooth rocky bed of the stream, the water never more than ankle deep. In places the rock is covered in a pleasant spongy moss; in fact going barefoot could be an option here! All around the soothing tinkle and crazy patterns of running water, and before long the mind has disappeared into fairyland. Occasionally there are boulders to circumvent which add to the interest. Numerous pools provide ample opportunities for a paddle or even a swim. Eventually the dream ends and you hit the Pennine Way which provides a fast descent route back.
Lawrence Edge (Bleaklow)
Start: car-park on B6105 by Woodhead Resevoir
This was a little different, but nothing wrong with a bit of variety. Very rough underfoot, firstly through an old quarry then though the heather & braken. Two gullies to choose from, one a little rockier than the other. A very quiet area, and good to see the world from a different angle. Again, a place to sit and feel immersed in nature.
Birchen Clough (Chew Valley)
Start: lay-by on A635 at SE 051 063
I don’t know the area around Saddleworth at all well, but this first excursion will have me back soon enough. I started by descending Rimmon Pit Clough and Holme Clough, which are decent enough scrambles in their own right. But the climb up Birchen Clough was even better, essentially a long gradual scramble alongside a waterfall. At the top it’s easy to visit the three-pronged rock tower known as The Trinnacle – apparently it’s possible to sit on top but I wasn’t getting that close on my own! My visit was made all the more memorable by coinciding with the England v Germany match which meant I had the hills to myself – all rather magical.
Crowden Clough (Kinder)
Start: lay-by between Barber Booth and Upper Booth
This popular route up the south side of Kinder is more a bouldery walk, but does have a couple of interesting scrambling sections near the top, one of which graces the front cover of the book above.
Red Brook (Kinder)
This route alongside Kinder Downfall is the best pure scramble I’ve done so far, 30 minutes or so on smooth, dry rock. A bit of bracken-bashing to get to it but good stuff once you’re in the dried-out stream bed. It’s all so engaging that time just passes – it doesn’t really feel like you’re putting effort into climbing a mountain.
Charnel Clough (Chew Valley)
Start: car park at Dove Stones Reservoir
A straightforward but enjoyable boulder-hop up a stream-bed off the main Chew Valley.
Wilderness Gully West (Chew Valley)
Start: car park at Dove Stones Reservoir (alternatively Crowden, and approach via Laddow Rocks)
There are 5 Wilderness Gullies at the head of Chew Valley, and these north-facing slopes have a pretty serious feel. I tackled the most westerly of them and found it at the more challenging end of Grade 1. The entry to the gully is across tricky terrain with many hidden holes…. things improve once in the stream-bed itself, but some thought is still required to successfully exit at the top. I will leave its Grade 3 neighbour, Wilderness Gully East, to more serious scramblers!
Yellowslacks Brook (Bleaklow)
Start: top of Snake Pass, or Glossop, or lay-by on B6105 near Reaps Farm
This area has a remote feel, yet the skyscrapers of Manchester city centre are clearly visible to the west. The scramble initially skirts an attractive waterfall, then takes a smaller cascade more directly, before finally heading towards the summit of Bleaklow along the rocky bed of Dowstone Clough.
So, a fair few of the routes in the book done, but still many more to do. It’s amazing how much interest you can find within just an hour or so’s drive from home.