IT’S NO SECRET: I’M A SCRAMBLER FIRST AND A WALKER SECOND. I’ll walk anywhere if I know there’s a great scramble ahead of the road. Throw in some views and landscapes that make me pause or make me feel detached, even if it’s just for a second, from the rest of the world, I feel like I’m onto a winner. I’m also a firm believer that height isn’t synonymous with beauty. It just isn’t true.
That’s why the Peak District’s nine edges, a series of edges from Birchen Edge near Robin Hood, to Derwent Edge, via Stanage Edge, had the feeling of a prize assignment – a real barnburner of a trip. One of my favourite passages from Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test reads: “The White Smocks would never in a million years comprehend where he had actually been… which is where they all were now, also known as Edge City.” Edge City, in the context of Wolfe, isn’t a time or a place. Instead, it’s a state of mind – a newly found perspective. The pursuit of unrestricted fun and the ability to roam in any way an individual pleased. That’s precisely what I hoped to find in the space of one weekend.
We started our route from the Robin Hood Inn, and by midday we had made bold waves over sun-kissed marshland, through shaded National Trust woodland, and along the windy faces of Birchen, Baslow and Froggatt edges. The walk was smooth and effortless – a mere 11 kilometres – but the views on that millstone-dusted afternoon were outstanding. That night, we wild camped at Parson Ho, beneath a crag that wrapped around our tents like a pair of scarred, stone arms. It was a dramatic scene. I watched the sun set over Hathersage Moor and Higger Tor in the near distance. The midges dawned, hounded and swarmed until morning.
Our second day started off dry and humid until a cloud – which crept up on us as we moved over the Burbage Rocks – opened and haunted our route for the rest of the morning. When we finally reached Stanage Edge at midday the view was shrouded in a bleary haze of grey downpour. We made our way back down and headed straight for North Lees Campsite. This would be a good opportunity to pitch and, more importantly, dump our heavy baggage.
Surrounded by thick, green woodland, we waited out the rain under the towering trees which lined the campsite. Soon, the clouds gave way to sunshine.
With our loads lightened, we made a quick trip to Hathersage via a row of golden fields populated by sheep and a gaggle of waddling geese. After a quick pint in The Scotsman’s Pack, we returned with three bottles of hooch. The evening soon turned crisp and the wet humidity which followed us all afternoon was a long and forgotten memory.
We sat outside and enjoyed the final hours of the fading day as butterflies danced like floating paper on the thick wall of looming grass that stood tall next to our two tents. Johnny Flynn and Warren Zevon played on the speakers until well after the sun set. With the final bottle extinguished, we retired to the warmth of our sleeping bags which, tonight, looked more inviting than ever.
I awoke to the sound of water gently rolling down the river that ran alongside the edge of the site. Birds crooned in the trees that stretched above. The sounds of rumbling traffic and music at night have long been my lullabies – and in many ways I’ve grown accustomed to the weird notes of living in the city – but to wake up in the tranquillity of this place was lucid bliss. I was shot with excitement, but I forced myself to savour the moment for just a few seconds longer. That was, after all, the whole point of this trip.
I soon pulled on a dirty white shirt, and when I unzipped my tent I was met with clean, blue skies. The trees swayed gently in the morning breeze. Stanage Edge was waiting for us – all six kilometres of it. We made the short trip back to Hook’s Car, discreetly ditched our packs and ambled our way to the top. We were the only souls in sight. A trio of sheep clumsily cut their way through the thick bracken below.
Apart from the odd hushed bleat and the occasional crack of dry wood, they went by almost unnoticed. I stashed the only two items I took to the top with me – a hydration pack and an ill-advised base layer – in the shade of a protruding slab of rock and set to work on the edge.
Divided – and without the weight of our baggage to hold us down – we scouted intently from below and surgically examined from above, shouting to one another when we found a weakness or an impression we could scale up, top speed, reckless abandon. Over here! You’ve got it! We were free to change levels at any given moment and run over the spine of the edge without limits or boundaries.
It was a good system, and it did not take us long to find what we were looking for. The opportunities for some phenomenal scrambling began to present themselves, some half a kilometre north of Robin Hood’s Cave. Small routes that could be attacked in three or four different ways started to appear. As each of us ran to the bottom of the edge and scrambled our sporadic route back up over and over again, we all found our own way to the top, constantly reinventing, recalculating and renegotiating. Every time I reached the edge’s pinnacle I felt the rush all over again of seeing that clear view of Bamford and Moscar Moor wrapped around us. We found Edge City. It was a real blast.
As I sat on top of High Neb, for the last time, drained and covered in burning sweat, I hit the wall. Climbers and walkers started to appear along the ridge. It was now approaching noon.
Words: James Reader
Photos: Geoff Barton