ARRIVED IN Hope in freezing temperatures that were aggravated by wild gusts bearing a brutal threat of sleet. With cloud slumped over the hills I was happy to cower in the café at 9am for breakfast by a warming fire, while awaiting the rest of a group of intrepid hikers who congregate here every annually to complete the same walk. The tradition began with a trio of friends, and has matured as more have been invited into the fold. In fact the group now holds a programme of walks throughout the year, but this is the special one. Anyone who’s been invited before knows to turn up at café or car park, ready to leave for Lose Hill, regardless of weather. The tradition has been followed flawlessly since 1985, with one member having made every excursion. Some of the elders no longer make this bleak expedition, so this year I brought along youthful eight-year old blood. The wintry forecast looked marginal for a young ’un, with weak sunshine a hazy possibility.
We left the glowing embers of the Woodbine Cafe, heading out on dismal, waterlogged paths, smeared with liquid mud, while chatting among old friends and getting to know new ones. Somehow there’s never a problem breaking the ice while walking. Grazed pasture climbed into a coarser cocktail of unkempt grasses and heather, topped with snow, and whipped with mist and wet wind. We huddled around the meaningless viewpoint indicator using its glistening surface as a table for guzzling hot drinks and snacks, smiling and laughing in the face of harsh weather, but moved off quickly into the breeze, along an elevated path which snakes over The Great Ridge to Mam Tor.
The cloud began to break, revealing Edale Moor and Vale, followed by the Hope Valley, with its landmark chimney piercing turbulent heavens. Sunlight bounced brightly off blinding snow in a magical half-hour of glorious panorama, yet Mam Tor remained incarcerated in cloud. We marched on beneath the closing veil, still carrying the indigo glow of departed blue sky, before battling with the blizzard that shrouded the Shivering Mountain, splitting the group. No matter, all knew to head for the pub. Turning backs to the wind now, we followed the lane down, beyond the wrath of the squall, dropping between limestone crags that tower over Winnats Pass, to meet for our meal before finishing the walk.
Cave Dale is never an easy climb, swilling with food ‘n’ beer. In winter this ‘dry’ gorge can be washing with water, or layered with ice, but this time it offered only an unproblematic trickle, its steep flanks framing the ruins of Peveril Castle. Once at the top, dusk fell quickly over blue snows, with inky clouds burning red on the horizon. It was time to head down, say our goodbyes, and take the boy home.