A walk in the Dark Peak 

Written 26th November 2021 by David Abbott

Recently a small group from the firm spent some time exploring the high moors of the Dark Peak, as part of Olliers’ ongoing wellness programme.

The “Dark Peak” is the northern half of the Peak District National Park, as opposed to the “White Peak” which is to the south. The two regions are very different in character due to the land’s underying geology – the Dark Peak, sitting atop impermeable gritstone, consists of a series of wild peat moorland plateaux, the home of free-roaming sheep, red grouse and the occasional mountain hare; the White Peak, being on free- draining limestone is entirely different – it is a landscape of pretty ,tree-filled valleys and dry-stone-walled small farms. 

The Dark Peak has a stark beauty, the occasional outcrop of wind-sculpted gritstone boulders acting as landmarks for walkers across the otherwise quite featureless landscape. They are a little like the tors of Dartmoor. 

The vegetation is a mixture of heather, bilberry, and in the damper parts, sphagnum moss and cotton grass. Grouse-shooting takes place up there, gamekeepers making annual controlled burns of areas of heather on some of the hillsides – the young grouse then feed on the resulting new tender growth, the older heather providing weather protection for the birds and other wildlife. This is the only place in England where you can see mountain hares which turn white in the winter – reduced snowfall, the result of global warming, threatens  their future. 

Hill Fog

The area, being the first tract of high ground above the Cheshire plain, attracts hill fog. That is one reason why so many aircraft, particularly during World War Two, have crashed onto these hillsides. Many of the resulting aircraft wrecks still exist on remote spots on the moors; some have permanent memorials to those who lost their lives. 

The hill mists also make for difficult navigation for hillwalkers. Deep “groughs” (the local name for fissures in the peat) criss-cross the peatbogs and can easily trap the unwary and be difficult to extract oneself from if fallen into.

So it was that we met at a popular roadside layby at the summit of the Snake pass- the high-level route over the Peak District between Manchester and Sheffield. It is the best place to access the various plateaux without having to climb up from the valley bottoms below the high moorland areas. 

Bright morning sunshine down in Glossop town had become dense hill fog up at the Snake summit just a few miles away. 

In many of the wilder upland parts of England and Wales, there are access agreements with landowners, meaning that the public are not obliged to keep to public footpaths but can roam freely across the land. 

It had been my plan for us to use that freedom of access to walk cross-country around the Bleaklow plateau. However, the mist was dense ,and visibility poor ,so we decided it was unwise to initially do anything other than follow the main path that bisects the moor, (part of the long–distance Pennine Way path) with the intention of breaking off the main path further on to visit the site of a crashed US Airforce bomber which came down in 1948 and where there is a memorial to the lost crew.  

The Pennine Way

The Pennine Way path is heavily used and actually paved with flagstones in some sections to try to prevent further erosion.  Despite that, it was extremely boggy in places. The mist made for a moody atmosphere. One of our number had never before been into such a wild and quite forbidding landscape.

After some time we arrived at some map-marked large boulders where we could break off from the main path to go over to the wreck. It was still misty. It would be dark in a couple of hours. After some deliberation we decided that it would be unwise to head off the main track – too many people have had to call out the mountain rescue, having become lost in that featureless and confusing landscape in poor weather. No point in becoming a statistic. We took, and followed , a compass bearing to get us back onto the main path towards our starting point. Ironically , as we neared the safety of our parked cars , the mists cleared and the whole landscape was visible for the first time that day. Had the weather been fine our walk would have been entirely different in nature. Nevertheless it had been an experience to remember, and we will doubtless venture up there again in the Spring when the curlews are calling and the sun is shining.

David Abbott

David Abbott

Head of Corporate Responsibility & Wellness


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