High Peak Way Stage 1 (Part 2): Hayfield Road to Edale

Published 29 April 2018

Peak and Northern Footpaths Society signpost for Hayfield and Edale

Follow me for Jacob's Ladder

For thirty miles between Chinley and Grindleford, the High Peak Way takes in some of the finest scenery in the Dark Peak. It was created as a ‘challenge walk’ for those who find pleasure in walking insane distances in one day. But it also makes a fine multi-day walk for those wanting to explore the Peak District National Park. It also no longer seems to exist. The one and only reference to it online was in the Long Distance Walkers Association Website, and now it’s been removed. But it was listed when I decided to start walking it, so that’s good enough for me. In the first part of the day I enjoyed Cracken Edge, but now it was time to head to busier climbs.

Probably the most famous of all Peak District hills is Kinder Scout. It’s the location for the Mass Trespass in 1932, in that famous battle for access to the countryside. It continues to draw the crowds now. It’s a popular walking spot, with many setting off from the nearby village of Hayfield on a circular walk. Most of the walkers I saw ahead of me would be heading to the top of the Scout one way or other.

I wasn’t going there. For whatever reason the High Peak Way doesn’t go to the summit of that celebrity fell. Instead it skirts the southern end of the Kinder plateau, appropriately named Kinderlow.

The Pennine Way as it heads up to Kinder

Want to keep away from the crowds? Go Low. Kinderlow.

Another interesting decision was not to take the most direct route from the Hayfield Road. The direct route would go along Colden Clough and then up towards Jacob’s Ladder. Instead the trail takes a longer route via Tungstead Clough that adds a good mile to the proceedings. Although, it does provide some cracking views, even if they need a steep climb to see them.

I was, perhaps, a bit out of shape. At least when it comes to hill walking anyway. I found myself huffing and puffing my way up towards Kinderlow. Mind, I’ve heard it said that the sign of fitness is not how fast you climb up a hill. Instead it’s how often you stop, and your recovery time when you do so. And on that front, I did quite well, thanks for asking.

Down in the lower heights of Hayfield the fields had been snow free, but now I was higher up there was plenty of it. I love snow walking. Love the fact that you can look around and see the landscape with a whole different perspective. It’s hardly an original thought but everything looks nicer covered in the snow. Especially when the sun’s in the sky and shining bright.

It’s very satisfying to walk on too. Every footstep provides a satisfying crunch as boot landed on the crisp white stuff. And one of the great things about the Peak District is that it gets a good amount of the stuff, without causing hazardous conditions.

Edale Cross

Edale Cross

The hill was full of walkers, although most were heading towards Kinder Scout. That left me – and a handful of others – to walk around the edge of Kinderlow.

I was heading for Edale Cross, an ancient stone cross that sits to the side of the path. These days the cross sits in a little enclave, with a drystone wall behind it and a green plaque to one side inside. Installed by the Ministry of Public Building and Works, the plaque exists only to tell people that Edale Cross is a protected monument. And that’s it. Anyone desiring to know the historical significance of the stone is left wanting.

I can tell you about it though. It’s believed to be mediaeval in origin, and made of local gritstone. The reason it exists is uknown, but most likely it was a boundary marker installed by Cistercian monks from Basingwerk Abbey. Not that anyone’s really sure about these things. The recent history of the cross is better known. After the cross fell down, it was re-erected by five local farmers in 1810. Said farmers then proceeded to carve their initials in it. Well why wouldn’t you engage in a bit of vandalism of the thing you’re trying to save? I know I would.


The Pennine Way as it heads up to Kinder

Oh hello, it's the Pennine Way!

Not far from Edale Cross, my route met up with the Pennine Way. And once more I met up with people. Several inches of snow hadn’t stopped stop people going out for a Sunday walk. The Pennine Way is the main path for those heading to Kinder Scout from Edale, and people were doing it in abundance.

At the junction, the High Peak Way joined up with Pennine Way. All I needed to do was find the right path and follow it down Jachob’s Ladder towards Edale. Simple enough. Any fool could do it.

Scrunching my way through the snow, I joined a slow moving convoy that consisted of a family walking in single file. A teenage girl was making up the rear. At regular intervals she looked behind her in my direction and glared. Was she looking at the view? Was she perturbed by my presence? Either way it wasn’t creating the most favourable walking environment. Maybe that was her intent all along.

Either way, it was enough to put me off. Feigning a need for a drink, I paused and rummaged in my rucksack for a minute or so until she’d got further in front of me. With her gone, I now found myself in lock-step behind a tall man instead. But as he appeared to be content with not staring at me, it was infinitely preferable. Less good was a short way on. I stepped to one side to let someone past, and found that the snow was covering up a section of peatbog, and that my previously dry foot was now very wet.

Snowy path on Brown Knoll

Not a view you should see on the High Peak Way

Jacob’s Ladder is only half a mile from the crossroads, and as I walked, my mind began to drift a little. That could be why it took me a while to realise that something wasn’t quite right. After quite a bit of walking, I realised I had yet to reach it.

At first I put it down to the snow. Snow walking requires a slower pace, and it’s easy to think you’ve gone further than you actually have. I stuck with that excuse for a while. Even the presence of a mysterious footpath to my left – absent from my map – didn’t sway me from my firm, resolute belief that I was going in the right direction. By the time I’d realised I’d gone wrong, I’d been walking for over a mile.

Whipping out my compass, I found I was going south rather than east. The map confirmed it. This was no path to Edale. Going this way would take me back Chinley! I cursed, took an actual swig from my water bottle, and did an abrupt turn. Quick march, no time to lose. Two miles unnecessary walking. A pointless time-suck, and no mistake.

When I arrived back at the junction, I was amazed I’d even made a mistake in the first place. There it was, bold as brass. A directional signpost with the words “Pennine Way” pointing in the correct direction. Quite how I’d managed to miss it was a question I never really answered.

The path going towards Jacob's Ladder

The path going towards Jacob's Ladder

The short path to Jacob’s Ladder took me along a narrow path, hemmed in by embankments, and covered in ice. I was expecting similar from Jacob’s Ladder, but as it happened, the snow didn’t go much further down than the top of it.

Now if you’re not familiar with the Peak District, you may be wondering why I’m talking about a staircase to heaven. Or you may not, and at this point may have even less of an idea what I’m talking about than before. So let me explain. In the Book of Genesis, Jacob is on his way to Haran. The sun sets and he has a kip, resting his head on a stone. Which sounds rather uncomfortable but they didn’t have Memory Foam pillows back then. Anyway, he had a dream where there was a ladder leading to heaven, and there were angels going up and down it. Hopefully with some sort of safety system where two angels going in both directions wouldn’t meet in the middle and get stuck.

The Jacob’s Ladder in the Peak District has absolutely nothing to do with this.

This Jacob’s Ladder is at the site of an old packhorse trail. The packhorse trail is a zig-zagged path that allowed packhorses to get up the steep slope. The ladder itself is a steep but direct path, the work of one Jacob Marshall in the late 18th century, who lived nearby. By creating the direct path, those leading the packhorses could dart up and have a bit of a rest whilst the horses made their way slowly up the hill.

The Top of Jacob's Ladder

The Top of Jacob's Ladder

These days few people take the direct route. Everyone just follows the zigs and the zags. The ladder itself isn’t particularly noticeable. At least, it’s not when there’s a group standing at the top of it chatting and generally getting in the way. Besides, who is in that much of a hurry?

I meandered down the path to the bottom where there’s an old packhorse bridge that crosses a stream. It’s an idylic spot to rest. Have a drink. Maybe a snack. I would have but it appeared half the walkers in Edale were already sat there. Instead I plodded on, following the Pennine Way. As I walked I watched the skies as a helicopter ferried bags of stones from the valley to a distant hilltop. It was doing so with a high level of efficiency, taking one bag up, dropping it off, and returning with another in under ten minutes. I timed it and everything.

A helicopter carrying a bag of building material

Hope they've tested that cable...


At the tiny hamlet of Upper Booth, the High Peak Way led me away from the Pennine Way. Both trails go towards Edale, but the High Peak Way does so from the south. It avoids the village itself, and prepares the walker for an ascent of perhaps the second most famous hill in the area, Mam Tor.

My original plan had been to go up it, and follow the ridge along to Hope before getting the train home. It’s a cracking walk, but the snowy conditions meant my progress had been slow and time was getting on. Coupled with my lengthy and highly unnecessary detour towards Chinley, I’d run out of time. Instead I decided to continue on to Harden Clough – the start of Mam Tor ascent route – then divert off to Edale railway station.

Through muddy fields I squelched, before crossing the railway line at the hamlet of Barber Booth. The route took me past the field where the helicopter was picking up its load, a caravan park, and the local Methodist chuch. Then, more fields. More mud. Squelch squerch. Slippy slidey. Squelch squerch.

A muddy path and bridge near Upper Booth

Squelch squerch

My arrival on the tarmacked lane that dead up to Harden Clough was therefore a joyous moment. Less pleasant was arriving near Edale station as a train passed overhead. I did my best to sprint up the long driveway from the road to the platforms, but my weary legs were having none of it. By the time I arrived at the platform, the train was half way out of the station.

There was nothing for it. I went to the Rambler Inn next door for a reviving beer and a rest of the old legs for an hour, before stumbling back up to the station just in time for the next train home.

It had been a cracking day. The Peak District in snow is a delight even if progress is slow. I’d got to explore parts I’d never been to before as well as revisit some old friends. And there’d been beer too. What more could anyone ask for?

The view from the end of the platform at Edale station

Edale Station - a station with a view

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