Bivouacking in the Dark Peak
I have always wanted to regularly get away on weekend camping trips throughout the year but have never found it easy living in Warwick. There aren’t any close mountains, and it takes a bit more planning than I usually have time for to get to a wild area.
Then in early September an upcoming heatwave was announced and I had nothing planned for the following weekend. I realised it was the perfect opportunity to go somewhere exciting. After some thought and looking through maps of England’s National Parks that I had bought whilst dreaming of the outdoors during lockdown, I settled on the Dark Peak. The northern area of the Peak District, so named because of the peat and dark granite rocks. And also I like to think because it is more wild than the White Peak, it’s southern counterpart.
Plot-a-route: Kinder Plateau Circular
I decided not to pack a tent because there was a heatwave forecasted, instead I would bivouac (bivvy) for Friday and Saturday night. In simple terms this means my body is in a slightly waterproof army surplus bivvy bag with my head poking out the top.
I caught the train after work and arrived in Edale at about 1930, so just 11 minutes before sunset. With confidence abounding and a desire to get away from the other people with backpacks I immediately walked fiercely under the bridge and down a lane, having remembered the route went something like that from the map.
After about 10 minutes I was looking at the hill in front of me and thinking ‘somethings not right here’. The hill was supposed to have a nice valley going through and up it, instead it went straight up and didn’t look like a large expanse of moorland. I paused to look at the map and realised I had gone in the exact opposite direction and was walking towards Lords Seat. I turned around and sheepishly made my way back, hoping that the other walks had dispersed.
Another 30 minutes of walking took me into Vale of Edale where I planned to camp. The first spot was overlooked by a group of people with a 6man tent and lighting a bonfire so I decided to continue. By the time I found a nice flat river bank the light was fading quickly. I stripped off and waded into a small pool for a quick wash and started to feel little bites appearing all over me. With a feeling of rising dread I realised I was bivvying in a midge zone. But it was rapidly getting dark by this point and so I covered as much of myself as I could and set up my bed.
The midges were horrendous, so my fancy meal plan to fry up an onion, courgette and some ham with pasta faded. I resigned myself to just Pasta ‘n’ Sauce, eaten in a little cave I created by crawling into my bivvy bag and pulling a small tarp I had packed for sitting on over my head. It was a disappointing start!
Towards bedtime I periodically stuck my head out and shined the torch but the little biters were still swarming around. I decided to use my sheet sleeping bag (mummy liner) as a hood and slept with my head inside it. It’s made of silk and so breathable.
I slept fitfully, and occasionally awakened by bouts of rain hitting my face. It’s a funny feeling to realise its raining and that there’s nothing to be done about it when sleeping in a bivvy bag, I could only wait and hope it blew over quickly. Fortunately, it only rained twice and not for long enough to get properly wet.
I was rudely awakened at about 6am by someone exclaiming “woah! What?” and a foot uncomfortably close to my face. I reared up, forgetting my head was wrapped in a sheet and started flailing my arms around looking for the way out. The people had since walked on by the time I emerged and a cautious midge survey revealed plenty of them still flying about. I submerged myself back in the bivy bag and went to sleep for another hour.
I swiftly packed up shortly later and set off on my merry way up the valley. A shroud of mist gradually lifted and it was glorious sunshine by the time I reached the top of the plateau.
The views carried for miles, a vast expanse of moorland with not much in it. I had been speaking to a friend earlier in the week and he said they took Duke of Edinburgh groups up to Kinder as it’s perfect for training them to use map and compass bearings. There are barely any landmarks and very hard to get a sense of direction when the mist falls.
The morning crept on and I quickly started thinking about lunch, but every stream I passed was completely dried up. Eventually I realised I would need to lose some height and hope the water reappeared lower down the hillside. Fortunately it did, and I had a late lunch at 1400. One chap walked past and called “Bon Appétite”, to which I replied “cheers mate”. He then paused to tell me I was lucky to have found water in this valley, he had been up here a month ago and found it was full of brown sludge. I nodded in commiseration at his earlier misfortune and decided not to let it stop me enjoying my food.
Afterwards I decided to carry on for another 30 minutes and stop to camp beside a large looking stream I had spotted on the map. I got there to find it was also dried up and I could see where the water appeared further down the mountainside than the last one. Feeling a bit annoyed, I walked back and went below my lunch spot to find a nice series of shallow pools to wash in and relax by.
I was just starting to think about cooking when a man walked past climbing up the mountain. He stopped to talk to me and said he was walking up for the sunset. I realised that cooking where I was would be a missed opportunity and so asked him the best place to see the sunset. He said either the West side overlooking Kinder reservoir which would take an hour to walk or from North ridge was also very good and a lot closer.
I packed everything up and walked 20 minutes to North Ridge where I cooked and relaxed whilst watching the sun go down.
I had spotted a craggy tor with a nice overhang whilst making my way to the lunch spot and decided to walk back to where I had lunch (for the third time!) and set up my bivvy underneath the outcrop. It was nice and grassy with no sign of sheep as is often the case with sheltered spots.
I set an alarm for 6am as I had walked back to the eastern side of the ridge and was feeling optimistic about the chances of a beautiful sunrise. Nine hours later I was rudely awakened by my phone buzzing off the natural rock shelf I had placed it on and I sat up to see the sun poking over the distance hills.
On the Sunday I made my way back to the train station, following the edge of the ridge in a circular walk. The heatwave came to an end on Sunday and the rain arrived at around 10am, so I decided not to do a long walk and instead get on the next train home.
Overall it was a great way to spend the September heatwave weekend and though I arrived late in the evening on the first night, it shows it’s perfectly possible to catch a train for nearly four hours, have a lovely weekend of walking and camping, and get back again at a reasonable time on Sunday. I hope to revisit Kinder Plateau next year, but in August when the heather will be in full flower and the hillsides awash in purple.