Pennine Way Stage 1: Edale to Crowden

Published 30 April 2015

Old Nags Head, Edale

The Old Nags Head, Edale. The official start of the Pennine Way. Or “official start of the Pennine Wa” as the sign outside the pub actually said on the day I stood next to it, grinning like a loon for the statutory “I’m setting off for a walk!” photograph.

And I was setting off for a walk. Although, in some respects I also wasn’t. For whilst I may have been in Edale at the very start of the Pennine Way, I had also walked nearly a third of the trail already.

This was something that the part of me that has a very neat and ordered mind, was struggling with. You start at the beginning, go through the middle and then get to the end. It’s clear, logical and sensible. It’s as it should be. If you sat down today with the aim of planning your own walk on the Pennine Way, that’s no doubt how you’d tackle it.

And that is, of course, the problem. In the beginning we’d never intended to walk the whole of the trail. The decision to do so came later. And that meant that our first footsteps on the Pennine Way were roughly a third of the way in. And then when we returned for a second go, we simply continued from where we left off. All of which meant there was a gaping hole to fill. The start. Which was why I was now stood at the start of the Pennine Way a year after I’d first started walking it.

It was all very confusing. Probably best not to think about it really, and instead contemplate on the fact that the sun was shining; the going looked good. We didn’t quite have 268 miles to do, but it was certainly time to get walking.


Slabbed path near Edale on the Pennine Way

For a trail that goes over wild moorland, bogs and many hills, and that has a reputation of being a tough beast to tackle, the Pennine Way starts rather sedately. It creeps gently along fields, around the base of a hill, and along a rather wide and easy going path. It’s a nice path with some lovely views to admire – the Peak District is a fantastic place, after all – however the finest, looking down the Edale Valley, did require us to stop and turn round in order to enjoy it. Either that or we’d have to walk backwards. And that has it owns risks.

If you didn’t know anything about the Pennine Way, then walking those first couple of miles would very quickly lull you into a false sense of security. Ah this is the life, you’d think to yourself. Nice easy stroll with some lovely views. How relaxing. And then you’d arrive at Jacob’s Ladder and realise that, confound it, this was a trail that was going to make you work after all.

The ladder is not one path but two, and it’s all named after an 18th century farmer called Jacob Marshall, who was the person who built both paths. The two are different lengths. The longer one slowly but surely zig-zags up the hill at a gentler gradient; the kind that would be taken by a pack horse. The shorter of the two is steeper; a path that would allow the person leading the horses to quickly get to the top of the hill, sit down and have a rest whilst his charges slowly meandered up the other path.

Climbing Jacob’s Ladder on the Pennine Way

Climbing Jacob's Ladder on the Pennine Way

When all is said and done, Jacob’s Ladder isn’t a massive climb, however it was a sign of things to come. A hint that the Pennine Way isn’t a mild wander through pleasant valleys. Sometimes it gets difficult. There are hills to climb you know.

Naturally we entered into the spirit of the ladder. By taking the longer way up. Well if it’s good enough for the horses…


For some reason, the Pennine Way doesn’t pass by Edale Cross. Given it’s a local landmark, this seems a rather strange and curious omission. For that reason alone scores of Pennine Way walkers take the short detour to pay homage to this simple stone.

No one really knows how old the cross is, or exactly why it was put there. It’s believed by some to be medieval, and quite possibly erected as an administrative boundary marker by the Abbots of the Basingwerk Abbey who, despite being based in Wales, owned and managed a vast estate in the Peak District.

What is known is that over the years, the cross fell down, and spent many years on the ground until 1810 when five local farmers re-erected it. When they did, they left their own mark on it (or vandalised the cross – take your pick) by carving their initials into the stone. We duly paid our respects to whoever had put the cross there in the first place, and then headed to another landmark; one which firmly has a place in walking history. Kinder Scout.

On top of Kinder, on the Pennine Way

Walking on Kinder, although not burned to a cinder

Kinder is a special enough place as it is. The highest point in the Peak District, with views of Snowdonia on a good day. Its peat groughs, large stones and heather can sometimes make you feel like you’re walking in another world. However Kinder’s more than just a fantastic piece of landscape; it’s part of walking history.

As with much of the countryside at the time, the hills of the Peak District were firmly off limit to most people; access restricted to the landowners, and enforced by their staff. Those living in the crowded and polluted towns nearby could only look on and stare. Their desire to get out into the clean air and enjoy the countryside was denied.

Located slap bang between Sheffield and Manchester, it’s no real surprise that the Peak District was a prime target for those campaigning to open up access to the countryside and in 1932, Kinder Scout became a focal point of the campaign, as ramblers headed towards it from the nearby village of Hayfield, in order to invade the fell en masse.

Naturally the attempt to claim Kinder for the people didn’t go unchallenged. Gamekeepers, employed by the landowners, tried to restrict access and there were many violent scuffles. Their efforts were in vain. Several hundred walkers from Manchester reached the top of Kinder, where they met up with a party of 30 of Sheffield’s residents who had headed up from Jacob’s Ladder.

The view from Kinder Scout, looking towards Manchester

The story of working people challenging the order of the day naturally attracted press attention and the walkers were joined by a journalist from the Manchester Guardian newspaper. The resulting newspaper report helped raise awareness of the campaign, and helped bolster the cause even further. In the aftermath of the trespass five ramblers were arrested, and some were given jail sentences for their part in the scuffles. It was a decision that fuelled the campaign even further, and turned the tide in favour of reform, to the disgust of many of the landowners.

It wasn’t an overnight victory. Indeed, it took nearly twenty years in the end – a certain World War II helping to stall things – but in 1949 the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was passed, which laid the foundation for creating National Parks, and access to open land. Two years later, the Peak District National Park formally opened for business. Other national parks followed, and then, of course, in 1965 came the Pennine Way. Although it was as recently as 2000 that the Countryside and Rights of Way Act finally opened up swathes of “access land” in England and Wales where the public could roam anywhere, freely.

With so much time passed by, it’s easy to take it all for granted. But only a couple of generations earlier, we wouldn’t have been able to do what we were doing right now. There are some who believe that the Kinder Trespass set back the whole right to roam campaign; that it invoked a fight back from the landowners and, therefore, delayed the inevitable. We’ll never know for sure. But standing on Kinder Scout, looking down on the towns and villages nearby, many a quiet thanks has been given to all those who kept up the fight for so long.


Walking on stone slabs on Mill Hill, on the Pennine Way

Stone slabs lead their way over Mill Hill, over Featherbed Moss and onto Bleaklow. The slabs are a familiar sight for anyone walking the Pennine Way; introduced by the authorities to solve the problems of erosion caused by decades of walkers traversing the soft, peaty land. Several times the flagged path had taken a slightly different course to the original route, but here and there the flags had been laid on the original path, which would give an inclination why the authorities had taken the action they did. On a couple of such sections, the walls of peat on either side of the path were almost as tall as I was; the peat having eroded so much under thousands of pairs of walking boots.

It was a sign of how much the land had changed since walkers had arrived on the hills, and a clear demonstration of the conflicting demands of access to the countryside, and the need to conserve it for the future.

The path crossed the A57 road, linking Manchester with Sheffield, and which – funnily enough – passes right through the town I grew up in. After that, it heads onto Bleaklow, which didn’t seem especially bleak on this sunny day, and at a height of 633m above sea level, nor was it particularly low. Bleaklow famously contains the wreckage of an old US Air Force bomber that crashed on the hillside in 1948, killing all 13 crew members on board. The remains of the plane can be found on the hillside to this day, and the site is so well known that Pennine Way walkers regularly divert off route to pay their respects.

Those that know about it anyway. Our guidebook had decided that it wasn’t worthy of a mention.

The Wain Stones, on Bleaklow, on the Pennine Way

The guidebook did however deem another famous landmark important enough to mention. Sitting a short way from Bleaklow’s summit, the Wain Stones are a pair of weathered stones which, from the right angle, gave the impression of an old man and woman puckering up for a kiss. It’s a famous photo opportunity with walkers who strive to get the shot and angle just right. Naturally a few botch it, managing to take the picture from completely the wrong side, or getting the angle slightly wrong. And of course, I was one of those who fitted firmly in the latter category.

What can I say? This was all new to me and, just like the bomber crash site, I’d never heard of the Wain Stones and didn’t know what was ‘wain’ about them either. I took the best guess I could, and ended up with a photograph of two rocks sticking together. Would it really have hurt the guide book author to put in a suitably representative snap that novices like me could use as a guideline? I mean, our tome had several pages all about cotton grass and heather. A quick photo of some stones would be easy to fit in, or so you’d think.

My photographic errors were then followed by a cock-up of epic proportions. The mistake however, wasn’t mine. Navigation was firmly the responsibility of Catherine, my accomplice in crime for the entire Pennine Way journey, who had taken charge of the proceedings from day one after confidently declaring she could easily use a map and a compass. As my own skills had been a tad rusty, I’d naturally agreed, thus freeing me of any responsibility for the massive error we were about to make.

A horrible path on Round Hill

From the Wain Stones, all we needed to do was head north a short way then follow the clear path off to the west. Simple. Instead, we managed to head east, walking in completely the wrong direction and rather precariously down a narrow clough alongside a stream.

We were half way down to the valley floor when the mistake was finally discovered. Too far along to turn back certainly. It was to be a costly detour; one which would see us four miles away from where we should have been. Which, given we were supposed to be meeting someone there in a car, was a bit of an issue.

With limited accommodation in Crowden – basically a camp-site and a (now closed) youth hostel – we’d arranged something else. One of the benefits of growing up in the area was that we just happened to have handy and convenient supply of relatives to stay with, based just a few miles down the road. We’d arranged to stay with Catherine’s parents who were due to pick us up at the car park at Crowden. We’d called them at home earlier with a rough ETA, but somehow we had to redirect their efforts. Thankfully the invention of the mobile phone had helped us in this respect. But Catherine’s parents had not exactly adapted well to the mobile era. Whilst they did have one, they had a habit of leaving it uncharged in their drawer in their dining room at home.

Checking the map near Woodhead reservoir

My feet were aching enough as it was; at sixteen mile long, Edale to Crowden’s not a particularly short first day, and the thought of having to do another four and hope that there would still be someone there to meet us, was filling me with dread. But thankfully we were in luck. After half an hour of trying to get a mobile signal, we finally got through. Their phone had made it out with them after all, and fifteen minutes later we were being whisked away by motor vehicle.

After a day in the quiet hills of the Peaks, we were suddenly being transported to the bright lights of the suburbs of Manchester. A part of it felt so wrong to be leaving the quiet hills for a town with several supermarkets, curry houses and a grand Victorian town hall. On the other hand, we were going somewhere with free food, drink and lodgings. And who really would argue with that?

See You In Kirk Yetholm

The whole Pennine Way adventure is available to read now in paperback, and for Kindle, iOS, Kobo, and Google Play or other e-readers.

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Your Comments

louise

5 November 2015 at 8:38 pm

thanks for this- found it really helpful. I walked this route a couple of days ago- it was beautiful. Thought I’d add something for anyone else looking to finish the day in Crowden- the public phone box marked on the OS map no longer exists, and mobile phone reception drops out pretty much completely down by the campsite. It’s still probably the best pick up point for taxis back to Hadfield, but I suggest calling one at the point where the path splits to either continue on the PW/continue on to Crowden (rather than having to walk back up the hill, as I did!). Also- a lot of the taxi firms were pre-committed with school pick ups when I rocked up (around 3.30/4). Apparently this company has a bigger fleet and had a drivers available: 01457 852323

Steve Mills

15 October 2016 at 9:30 am

Good idea to use the account to mention subtle changes such as signal strength, closure of youth hostel (which came as a shock when I turned up unannounced on my first visit a couple of weeks ago to check what was available at the end of day one) and where taxis can pick up. After the haul over from Edale the last thing anyone wants is surprises in Crowden, particularly once the days get shorter. My only additions would be to comment upon the old railway line on the south side of the reservoirs which can be used to tramp back to civilisation in a safe manner (leading to Hadfield railway station), plus presence of B+B with bunkhouse just off B road down towards Glossop also on south side of the valley.

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