Date 8th August 2020
The call for another adventure had sounded and I fancied doing something totally different to my usual run of the mill walks. Quite recently, I had been attempting to up my game and fitness by planning some longer routes preferably, in locations beyond the Peak District National Park. I love walking and exploring. For me there is nothing better than finding a new place and seeing all that it has to offer. The only downside is that all too soon it is time to come home and quite often, many a walk has had to be cut short. If it was left up to me, I would happily walk many more miles in a day than I currently do. The temptation to explore further becomes so great that at times it becomes overwhelming, and I have to remind myself that there aren’t endless hours in one day. This is how I realised that in order to achieve a longer and more fulfilling walk, then I needed to prepare multi day hikes.
It was mid Summer 2020 and the current lockdown had been relaxed somewhat meaning that people could travel around the UK taking certain safety precautions. Due to not being able to holiday that year, I had planned a three day hiking trip to Glen Nevis in Scotland which was due to take place in just two weeks time. For this to be even remotely successful, I would need to get a little practice in before the trip and at least familiarise myself with carrying the heavier rucksack. I run regularly and consider myself relatively fit, yet I know that backpacking is a totally different ball game when it comes to moorland terrain and carrying weight. It requires a different level of fitness which can only be attained by regular practice and increasing fitness levels. I know now that nothing can prepare a person for the treacherous accents and terrain of the Scottish Highlands but what a brilliant thing hindsight is! If anything, this hike would at least give me a snapshot of what it might be like, and hopefully help me when I set out for Scotland in the next coming weeks.
So, this is how wild camping made its way into my life and I had figured that I could make my adventures longer by camping overnight and continuing into the following day. The adventure I had chosen for this hike was the old favourite Kinder Scout and had planned my overnight camp at the Woolpacks. It wasn’t deemed to be a long route in particular, but more of a trial run. I had chosen it because it was relatively local and was not too far away from civilisation should anything go wrong. The Woolpacks is a popular spot for wild campers and I figured given the time of year (summer time), and the fact that the weather was forecast to be glorious sunshine, that there would be other campers within close proximity and I wouldn’t feel quite as alone for my first ever solo wild camp.
I arrived at Edale Station at approximately 2pm after catching the train from Sheffield. The plan was to head up to the Kinder Plateau via the lower route which meant walking through the small cluster of houses at Barber Booth, utilising the Pennine Way for a short distance through Upper Booth Farm and then following the footpath which leads the way up Crowden Brook towards Crowden Tower. The Woolpacks, where I intended to camp, is only a short distance from there and just to the left of Crowden Tower.
The following morning, the plan was to return to Edale via the footpath along the Kinder Plateau which would pass Grindslow Knoll and the top of Grindsbrook Clough, and then proceed to pass through Golden Clough, the Ringing Roger and then drop down onto the Nab towards Grindsbrook Booth and Edale village.
The Woolpacks is an area of weathered, shaped rocks and boulders on the Kinder Scout Plateau, just slightly to the West of Crowden Tower and the top of Crowden Brook waterfall. It stands approximately 600 metres above sea level and is close to the main path along the plateau. This area is unique as although it is not uncommon to see many gritstone rock formations in the Peak District, it is the one area where there are such a large number of them in one location. It is deemed a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is therefore protected. Kinder Scout in general is famous for its many rock formations and people travel far and wide just to capture the spectacular images, yet the Woolpacks are the pinnacle in my opinion. There are that many rock formations that it is impossible to count them all. They range in size and shape and have been weathered and sculpted over thousands of years by the dramatic and hostile weather conditions up on the top of Kinder Scout which is the highest location in the whole of South Yorkshire and the West Midlands. The rocks in parts have been found to look like animals of many kinds and even faces if observed carefully. The Woolpacks in itself are a very interesting collection to say the least and are viewed by many as a favourite for photography and exploring.
Gear and equipment
So this was my first solo wild camping experience… Thank Goodness it was! I made so many mistakes during it that if I had been any further away from home it would have ended in tears! The main reason was my pack weight. I packed so much gear that my rucksack weighed an absolute tonne and I quickly began to struggle carrying it early on in the hike. That together with the fact that I had no real experience of hiking with a large rucksack was both a nightmare and a recipe for disaster. To say I packed everything but the kitchen sink would’ve been an understatement to say the least but you live and learn. Here is a list of everything I packed that day for a one night wild camp.
- Sleeping bag (dry bag 1).
- Tent (dry bag 2) and separate bag of poles and pegs.
- Cook system.
- 2 x plastic beakers.
- Water bottle.
- Large unopened bottle of water.
- 2 x small cans of Kopperberg cider.
- Sleeping mat.
- Food for 2 days consisting of breakfast, lunch and evening meal and came in the form of Wayfarer ready prepared camping foods, crisps, chocolate bars, nuts, coffee (in a jar), hot chocolate (in a jar), cheese, salami sticks, packet noodles and 2 x tins of tomato soup. I also took an additional small flask of milk (dry bag 3).
- 2 x gas bottles (dry bag 4).
- Clothing for the following day including sleep wear which consisted of 1 pair of hiking leggings, 1 hiking base layer top, 1 pair of hiking socks, clean underwear, mid layer fleece trousers and jacket, an extra layer sweater, top layer hiking jacket which I wore on the day I walked, leggings and t shirt for sleeping (dry bag 5).
- Waterproof trousers and over coat.
- Gloves and hat (dry bag 6).
- Map, compass, first aid kit, spare lighter and head torch (dry bag 7).
- Tech bag which consisted of phone, battery pack and charging leads (dry bag 8).
- Toiletries bag which consisted of a variety of both needed and unnecessary items (dry bag 9).
I cannot help but cringe as I think back to this experience but I was clueless back then and had absolutely no idea what should be taken on a wild camping adventure. Every adventurer goes about this in their own way and what they carry is down to personal experience and fitness level. I was doing this blind for my first time and my goodness, didn’t I know about it within 30 mins of setting out. I had watched YouTube videos and read blogs beforehand to get ideas of what to pack but in all fairness, it is something that is only learned best by firsthand experience.
Edale to the Woolpacks
I left Edale Station using the entrance which backs onto the car park road and keeping the Penny Pot Cafe on my left. Immediately taking a right turn, I began walking down the trail which heads towards Barber Booth through small wooded copses and fields of livestock. The weather certainly was a scorcher that day. The sun was high and there was not a single cloud in the sky as I ambled along. There appeared to be lots of people out too, all taking advantage of the good weather and enjoying the freedom which came after being cooped up inside during the current lockdown. Just recently, the restrictions of the first lockdown had been relaxed meaning that people could venture to other areas besides the ‘stay local’ guidelines. Favourable areas of the Peak District such as Mam Tor, Castleton and Edale villages had been hot spots from day one and although I needed to pass through Edale on my adventure, my intention was not to stay there long. I knew that once up onto the Kinder Plateau and the further away from Edale I headed, the less populated it would become.
About 30 minutes into the walk I began to feel the heaviness of my rucksack. It started with a pulling sensation in my shoulders which quickly turned to back ache and within no time, I was needing to stop repeatedly to rest and adjust my pack straps. I knew in my heart that I was struggling with carrying the rucksack because I had packed way too much but I had started now and felt much too wanderlust and proud to admit defeat! The journey had to continue…
After a short while, I reached Barber Booth which is a small cluster of cottages and farm buildings at the spot where the River Noe joins the Edale Road. I took the footpath to my right and keeping the river on my left, began heading up the track which crossed open farm land towards Upper Booth Farm. Upon reaching Upper Booth, I joined the Pennine Way at this point and continued along this past the farm, over the stone bridge which crosses the River Noe and followed the road.
Just slightly past the bridge there is a wooden gate to the right of the road and a footpath which leads to Crowden Clough and this was the route I took that day. The path is very narrow at this point and at times quite rocky. It winds through a wooded area climbing steeply in places and dropping suddenly down numerous rocky steps. The trees grow quite close to the path and in the height of summer when all the branches are in full bloom it can obstruct viewing. I spent a lot of time having to move branches out of my way to avoid getting smacked in the face as I walked and it was hard work picking my way up the path with the rucksack but I eventually made it to Crowden Brook and a lovely shaded area at the side of the Brook where I could rest, take the rucksack off and regather my strength for the next leg of the walk up to Crowden Tower.
As you will have seen from my earlier photograph of the bridge at Crowden Brook, this location is a stunning area in itself. The path leads through a wooden gate and drops down to Crowden Brook where there is a lovely grassy bank at the side of the path and the Brook trickles down over rocks and small waterfalls. I decided that this would be my first rest stop and had a small lunch and well deserved cup of coffee. As I sat on banks of the Brook I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I watched a young hiker come running down the hill from Kinder, practically leap into the stream and start frantically drinking the water straight from it. It certainly was a scorcher of a day and there can’t be anything worse than running out of water when out walking in this type of weather. There are no other ways of getting water in these parts apart from using the streams and it made me think about refilling my water bottles at the same time.
After finishing my coffee and harvesting water from Crowden Brook, I set off further up the path which continued on through a wooden gate, past a signpost for Crowden Clough and on up through the masses of purple heather towards the steep ascent to Crowden Tower. The path is a stunning route dotted with wild flowers, bracken, heather and lots of rocks and boulders. It starts out fairly easy with no real hills or difficulty, however this changes the further up the Clough you get.
After a while, the path crosses the Brook and involves having to use the rocks as stepping stones to avoid wet feet. This occurs several times as the path alternates sides and it is not long before serious scrambling is needed to climb higher. There is the choice to continue up the Brook and do the complete waterfall scramble to the top, however, on the day I decided that this would not be feasible due to the sheer size of my rucksack. I chose to take the sensible and boring route up using the path which runs alongside the Brook.
The scramble up the path running alongside Crowden Clough up to the Tower took me 2 hours! I think that says it all… I have to admit that I seriously underestimated this route when I planned it and the mega tonne rucksack certainly put the final nails in the coffin. The path becomes very steep as it climbs ever higher and involves scrambling over some huge boulders to get to the path on the other side of them. I found that I had to keep stopping for drinks and rest far more frequently than I would have liked due to how tired I quickly became, the intense heat of the summer weather and the weight of the rucksack. I quickly came to curse the very moment I had planned my camping kit list and it was in that very instant that I asked myself the million dollar question, ‘whatever possessed me to think I needed half of the stuff in my pack for an overnight camp?’
The route up itself is actually a very beautiful one. Both the path and waterfall scramble are reported to be challenging anyway regardless of if anyone has a rucksack or not, but the views and scenery are outstanding. It was proving to be a very popular route also, as that day there were lots of hikers either climbing it or coming down, although I didn’t see another person attempting it with a pack as large or heavy as mine!
As I climbed I kept looking behind me at the spectacular views of Edale in the valley. I was in awe of just how far I could see which stretched right back to the Great Ridge, Mam Tor and Lose Hill. All around me the purple Ling heather was in full bloom which did brighten up my mood overall, and the light cast over the landscape from the sun really brought out all the colours of the surrounding moorland which at times can appear bleak from a distance. By the time I approached the top of Crowden Tower though, I was grateful that my camping spot was so near. I don’t think I could’ve walked any further even if I had wanted to.
Crowden Tower is a gritstone rock formation which stands just a little to the right of the top of Crowden Clough waterfall. It is a popular spot for people to rest, picnic and take photographs as it offers stunning panoramic views of the whole of Edale and the surrounding areas. I sat there for approximately 45 minutes after my climb up the Clough and enjoyed the scenery whilst reflecting upon my experience. I truly believe that the walk up would have been far more pleasant had it not been for what I was carrying and I considered it a valuable lesson learned. The waterfall scramble had looked fun and a thoroughly enjoyable experience as I had watched others attempting it and I made up my mind right there and then that I wanted to return at a later date, when better equipped to try it myself.
The wild camp
After leaving Crowden Tower, I ventured the short distance along the plateau towards the Woolpacks where I would pitch my tent for the night. The time was now approximately 6pm and all I wanted to do was rest. It took me a while to find a suitable flat spot but eventually I settled upon a place that was hidden well behind some gritstone rocks where hopefully, I would be hidden from view from the majority of people. The views from my tent were spectacular and I only wish I had taken a photograph of the setup that night. Unfortunately I didn’t as I hoped to get one in the morning but as luck would have it, it was incredibly misty by the time morning came. The photo above is the only one I took on this camp and so is not the best really.
As night fell, I decided to return to Crowden Tower and watch the sunset whilst harvesting water from the Brook at the top of Crowden waterfall. It really was a stunning evening and despite how treacherous my earlier climb had been, I instantly felt happier and thoroughly grateful to be out on my first wild camping adventure. I will include some photographs I took that night of the beautiful sunset I experienced overlooking the Woolpacks.
Upon returning to my camping spot I noticed that I was not alone for the night on the Woolpacks as 2 other tents were now pitched a short distance from mine. I have to admit that I was comforted by this as it meant there were other people around me to offer support if I needed it and if I’m honest, it took a little of the fear out of my first wild camp. Just knowing someone else is there is sometimes all a person needs even if they don’t end up interacting with them for the whole duration of their stay. As I climbed through the many rock formations up there, I accidentally stumbled upon the camping/bivvy spot of a group of 4 young lads who were obviously up at the Woolpacks for an overnight camp. I hastily apologised for interrupting their night and made my way down to my tent. Settling down in my tent that night I laid for a while with the tent door open, gently flapping in the now cooling breeze. There wasn’t a sound to be heard anywhere across the Peak District at all apart from cars which I could hear believe it or not all the way from the Mam Tor road. I watched their headlights as they came over the top and dropped down from sight as they neared Barber Booth. As I listened carefully too, I could hear the voices of the lads as they snuggled between the rocks higher up on the Woolpacks. They were not being loud or boisterous, just talking, but the sound travelled fast on the chilly night air.
The night itself was a very pleasant one. I slept well apart from one scary experience when I had heard unfamiliar sounds outside the tent. Upon inspection, I had quickly learned that it was just the sound of the fly sheet hitting the inner tent in the wind and made a mental note to remember this the next time it occurred. The sleeping bag I used kept me warm and snug all night long and my sleeping mat, although not the best out there, did make for a comfortable night. I have to admit that in my past experiences of camping I have used full air beds so suddenly using sleeping mats was a shock to my system, however there is no way that air beds would be feasible in my backpacking lifestyle due to the weight of them being too great. It was a case of using lighter weight kit and adapting to it fairly quickly.
Leave No Trace
Upon waking at around 6am the following morning, I quickly glanced outside the tent. I had hoped that it would be glorious sunshine again but I was greeted by nothing but thick mist which had swept across the plateau during the night. What I didn’t realise then was that apparently it is common for mists to just sweep across Kinder without warning and it is often very misty early morning in these parts. I have since spoken to other bloggers and photographers who have set out many a time to catch sunrise on Kinder and they too are greeted with nothing but what is commonly known as ‘Kinder Clagg’. It really is just luck of the draw. I decided to have breakfast before packing away and leave early to set off on my return journey. Upon packing away, I made sure that all my rubbish was bagged in the designated black bin liner that I had packed specially and that this bag was put away safely in the top of my rucksack. I intended to take my rubbish home and leave the spot exactly as I found it. Unfortunately I do not a have a ‘Leave No Trace’ photograph as I didn’t know about the importance of showing this beforehand but from now on, all future wild camping blog posts will be accompanied by one.
The return to Edale
I set off walking along the Kinder Plateau at approximately 7.30am heading East towards Edale. The path along the top is mostly flag stone and so this is easier to walk on and clearly visible in the thick mist. I had been so surprised upon waking that morning to see such mist. It was the last thing I expected to see after the beautiful views of yesterday where I had been able to see for absolutely miles around, now today there was not a sight to be had as I walked along the flagged path towards the top of Grindslow Knoll. At this point the path forked and there was a choice of route. I could continue on the straight path and drop down Grindslow Knoll, or I could branch off left and follow the path towards Grindsbrook Clough. I quickly chose the route that I’d planned originally which was to walk to Grindsbrook and there I stopped for rest at the beautiful cairns that people have added to over the years. Grindsbrook Clough is another fabulous walk so I have heard with an equally stunning waterfall scramble. I have made up my mind to return at a later date to check it out properly.
Sitting at the top of Grindsbrook Clough I enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate and a light snack before continuing on my way yet again. The path continued further along the plateau towards Golden Clough and I encountered a few river crossings which were high up and very steep in places. I took my time when climbing the high boulders as I felt I could easily lose my balance due to the overfull rucksack but I eventually made it out onto level ground safely.
As I walked, I noticed that the mist was finally starting to disperse and the sunshine was glorious yet again. Looking across towards the direction of Edale, I spotted the Ringing Roger in the distance and began to make my way towards it. The walk along the top took me approximately 1.5 hours to reach the Ringing Roger where there was a dry, rocky footpath leading downhill. I took this path which bypassed Ringing Roger as I felt it was the safer option and continued downwards until I reached another flagstone path which zigzags down further towards the Fred Herdman Plantation and the Nab. From here, I dropped down the steps to cross the bridge at Grindsbrook Booth and walked the remaining distance into Edale village.
By the time I reached the Old Nags Head Public House in Edale I was absolutely shattered. The route down from the top of the plateau had been a knee jolter to say the least and I was now in need of refreshments and a good rest. I decided to pay a visit to Newfold Farm Cafe which is situated virtually at the start of the trail head for the Pennine Way. Whilst there I ordered myself a coffee and a salted caramel and rum and raisin ice cream which was absolutely lush! The staff there were very friendly and made me feel welcome from the start. I spent approximately an hour there sat outside in the sunshine on a lovely tabled area whilst I gathered my thoughts and energy. It was a pleasant way to end my hike that weekend and I definitely recommend this cafe for any weary walker.
Walk and Wild Camp Summary
Distance Walked: 8.24 miles
Elevation Gain: 5.29 meters (1,735 feet)
Upon completion of this adventure, I found that there were far more aspects to evaluate than usual. It was not just a hike in the moors as was my usual routine, it had included wild camping and solo wild camping at that. It was something totally new to me that I had never experienced up until this point and I spent a lot of time throughout learning from many mistakes as well as enjoying what I could.
Firstly, my thoughts on what went well during this adventure… I feel that I chose wisely when deciding on a short hike and the location of the wild camp up at the Woolpacks was brilliant. I truly cannot say a negative word about it. The views and scenery really are beautiful and I found it a delightful place to pitch up and watch the sunset after my long hard climb. As mentioned earlier in this blog, it is a location which is not too far from civilisation if help is needed and due to how popular a camping spot it is, there is always another person not too far away. For these reasons I would definitely recommend the Woolpacks as an ideal spot for the solo wild camper who may not be familiar with wild camping or being alone on the moors.
The actual wild camp in my opinion went very well. I was extremely lucky that I got the fantastic weather that I did and I think this makes all the difference to how a camp works out. There’s nothing worse than not being warm enough in your tent or having wet and uncomfortable kit. That being said, I do like to experience changes in weather as I believe it teaches people more about the different conditions in which we can find ourselves camping, gives us a great opportunity to test our kit and also changes the scenery and our overall outlook on adventure. I had plenty of food and refreshments which definitely brightened my night as I snuggled in my tent and I felt safe. The latter had been in my thoughts a lot in the lead up to doing this adventure.
Obviously I was solo wild camping and it was my first time, so I cannot deny that I was a little nervous setting out for it in the beginning. Wild camping is a big step up from just going walking in the countryside and quite often it is heavily underestimated. In order for it to be even remotely successful, a lot of planning goes into it. I feel compelled to talk about this area in more detail but have decided to save this for another blog which I will publish later. Wild camping and it’s subsequent planning is a deep and personal issue especially for a female, solo adventurer and brings into the spotlight aspects such as fear elements and safety, all of which I will discuss further in the new blog post.
So what went wrong then? Personally, I would not say anything went particularly wrong during my adventure, just that I definitely needed to work harder on lowering my overall pack weight and look closer at what items were really necessary for an overnight camp and what were not. I packed a lot of kit, clothing and accessories which if I’m honest, never even came out of the bag. They were neither needed nor used and that made me realise that they were just adding pointless weight to my rucksack which didn’t have to be there. Upon repacking my rucksack later minus the unnecessary items, I found that my pack weight was far more manageable and made a huge difference to my overall comfort.
Although the location in which I camped was excellent, the route I chose up with a 70 litre rucksack was not! Again, if I am totally honest this was down to poor planning and choosing to try the route blind without any previous experience. Crowden Clough is a challenging route for anyone and for someone with such a heavy rucksack it is a killer. I would not recommend this route if carrying such heavy loads.
Overall though I enjoyed my first solo wild camping experience. It definitely taught me a lot about managing my wild imagination and keeping fear at bay. Upon reflection, I was only too grateful that I had the opportunity to make my most serious mistakes in a local area. In two weeks from now I would be in the Scottish Highlands on another solo adventure and to experience such difficulties there would have spoiled my trip. I guess it is all a work in progress as we journey through a world of adventure and backpacking. Mistakes will be made and it will not always go as we hope but as long as we learn from our experiences and take it with us, we will eventually achieve what we set out to gain.
The big question left then is would I consider doing solo wild camping again??? Of course I would! It was an amazing experience for me and I can never beat the sense of freedom I get from being so close to the elements. The scenery, nature, the people I meet and have met along the way all make it for me. All I have left to do is plan my next one… Bye for now.
Once again, massive Thankyou to anyone who has taken the time to read my latest blog about my first solo wild camping experience in the Peak District National Park. I thoroughly enjoy being able to relive these adventures through literature and hope to create wonderful memories to look back on over the years. If you enjoy wild camping or are thinking of trying it yourself, then I hope this post has helped you along the way. It just goes to show that you don’t need the best kit or even company to have the best times, you just need to walk. Wild camping is a learning curve for anybody and there will be new obstacles at every turn but as long as you keep the passion alive the experience will only get better. Thankyou for giving me the opportunity to share my journey.
All photographs for this blog post were taken and edited by myself Lucy Bailey using a basic photography system iPhone 7 device. The photographs have since been clarified using Instagram editor tool and can be viewed from my Instagram @soloexplorer23.