I love getting away from the crowds and off the beaten track. It allows me to keep on top of my navigation skills but more importantly offers peace and tranquility and a feeling of being at one with nature. This is my meditation, nothing but the natural sounds around me: a skylark singing on the breeze, a curlew calling my attention away from its young, my own footsteps, my own breathing, the sound of my own heartbeat.
Taking advantage of a fine midweek forecast and wanting a long run I decided to head into the heart of the Peak District. Parking on the west shore of the Howden reservoir I set off northwards along the track to Slippery Stones, passing a walker and a family on bikes. These were the only people I would meet for the next 3 hours. The track is easy at this point, allowing 4 wheeled access for landowners of the grouse moorlands. Soon I am enclosed by the steep sides of Oaken Bank with the infant river Derwent reflecting the sun as it meanders north-westwards to its source.
Below the Horse Stone high and remote, the track gives way to a path and I need to concentrate on my footing a little more. The valley is opening out now as it gets higher and the path is becoming less well defined and by Hoar Clough there is no obvious line. I could go north to Shepherds Meeting Stones but that is for another day. (I will visit and sit amongst them, maybe on a day very unlike today with wind, rain and mist and will wonder about the hardships those men endured whilst tending their flock). Pressing on I find a faint line through the heather which takes me up to Swains Head. From this vantage point I can see the main Woodhead road less than 2 kilometres away with its constant stream of traffic. I wonder how many of those thousands of people who pass by every day ever take time to visit the beauty of their surroundings.
A check of the map here as getting to my next target, Bleaklow Stones isn't straightforward with the route following a watershed and deep, boggy groughs lie in wait. I manage to find a good line, the recent dry weather has left the ground firm and I find myself approaching the short climb to Bleaklow. At a height of over 620m this is almost the highest point in the Peak District and today offers fantastic views: the mast of Holme Moss to the north; Margery Hill to the east; the high, flat plateau of Kinder to the south and over in west the haze of Manchester and Stockport. I spend some time at this vantage point, taking in my surroundings and familiarising myself with the lie of the land. I'm not following any marked paths from now on so I need to be sure of my route. Once I've decided where to head next my attention comes back to my immediate surroundings and the strangely shaped boulders scattered around. You could believe that nature has a sense of humour in sculpting these hard lumps of grit.
Heading on now I run south towards the Ridge and swing around the head of Raven's Clough. This is the hardest part of the route as the terrain is thick heather and I slow to a walk until I am on the brink of a steep drop into the Westend Valley. I rapidly lose 300 feet of height as I plummet down then work hard to regain the height on the other side, using a wall as a handrail I emerge at the head of the strange gulley that is Black Dyke. This now gives easy running in a gradual descent and I take a final look around from my high vantage point before dropping down Linch Clough and finally emerging back at Howden Reservoir.
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