First Wild Camp by Vespa - The Peak District

Saturday 27th October 2018

So, after my very rewarding dabble with 'nearly wild' camping in Wales, only four weeks later I find myself heading to the Peak District to do it properly. This is all down to the kind offer of one person, a very old friend from my teens called Rich Dytch whom I have not seen for over 25 years. We are in touch via the wonders of social media, and it turns out he is a highly experienced wild camper, having had many nights out in some of the more remote and windy places of the UK. After reading my controversial thoughts on what constitutes 'proper' camping (much of which he agrees with) he very graciously offered to show me a good entry level walk and camp for a one-nighter in the Dark Peak near Sheffield - which is a great midway point for us both travel wise.

To say I was excited about this jaunt was an understatement. As well as looking forward to the long overdue catch up with Rich, I had been obsessing over the kit, the packing and especially the weather for a good few weeks before, making me very hard work to live with at home. I bombarded Rich with many daft questions via Messenger. As the day loomed it looked like lady luck was on our side : it was going to be dry, not stupidly windy - but with an unseasonal northerly breeze making temperatures plummet well into single figures, even during the day. With a strict no fires policy in our National Parks (particularly in The Peak which had been ravaged by wild fires over summer), Rich gave me lots of good advice on what to bring to stay warm at night.

The logistics at my end did need a bit of thought. I had to get there by Vespa of course - no problem, as the Wales trip showed me that the necessary kit would fit in my Givi roll bags no problem. However, these would be no use hiking a few miles up to 600m -  I would need to bring my recently purchased monster 65 litre rucksack for that. But I didn't fancy wearing that fully loaded (at least 14 kilos) on the Vespa. So in the end I opted to have the rucksack about a third full on my back for the ride there, with the main compartment empty. The rest was in the 30 litre Givi strapped to the rear rack. This could then be slid in its entirety into the rucksack in the car park on arrival at The Peak.


The unexpectedly cold weather did also mean that I had to 'ugly up' the Vespa with my trusty Tucano Urbano leg cover and Bagster handlebar muffs at short notice before setting off. I would normally have waited a couple more weeks into the cold season before doing this, but I was VERY glad I did it early. Leaving around a quarter to eleven on Saturday morning I had barely been gone forty minutes when I hit the edge of The Peak District outside Leek. Halfway up the very steep and long road past  the famous rock formations of The Roaches I was suddenly caught in falling snow. I think it is the first time I've ever seen snow in October. My satnav is specifically for scooters, and it took me off the main road on a backroads route avoiding Buxton - normally this would be great, but not when you're in snow! Luckily it didn't seem to be sticking to the tarmac, but I was still very nervous. My hands were just starting to bite with cold, even through the muffs and gloves, and I had an almost overwhelming urge to turn back to lower land, rather than up and onwards into a strange new, high snowy place. I had visions of getting to my destination, only to be snowed in by overnight flurries blocking the roads home tomorrow.


I tried to stay optimistic (and warm) and scooted onwards through some twisty lanes. There looked to be some pretty White Peak scenery around in the gloom, but I didn't stop for any photos - I just wanted to get there. As I got nearer to the area of Ladybower reservoir the sky began to clear and the snow had thankfully ceased. Before long I was pulling into the Fairholmes visitor centre car park (surprisingly busy given the weather), greeted by Rich, a bit off a faff with swapping bags/coats etc and we set off, trekking poles clattering away on the tarmac.

What transpired over the next 3 hours or so was a steady stroll alongside Derwent reservoir and gradually upwards into the Dark Peak towards Howden Edge. How far we would venture was left very open ended and depended on what the weather was like 'up there'. The clouds were clearing, we were fairly sheltered from the northerly breeze during the early climb, and there was lots of swapping life stories involving jobs, births, deaths, and marriages. A brief stop at a stream for a water refill (we both of course had filters, although the water remained a pleasant tea colour due to the famously peaty soil) provided a moment to snap Rich in a characteristically silly pose - he really hasn't changed much since the early 90s.


The window of our lives when we knew each other well was fairly brief - probably a year or so over '90/'91 when we both lived in Wolverhampton, and I was introduced to Rich by my best mate Tom. Even then Rich was a phenomenal guitarist, and I had just started making music semi-seriously courtesy of a decent workstation synth that allowed me to produce something akin to 'finished' tracks. I still can't believe my luck in acquiring this keyboard at the time - my Mum had been putting a few quid aside for years, with a view to surprising me on my 17th birthday with a nice lump sum to pay for driving lessons, and maybe even towards an old banger. Having no interest in driving whatsoever, but plenty of interest in dabbling with keyboards (between me, my sister Liz, and Tom there were always cheap Casios of various descriptions knocking about) I asked Mum if I could blow it on a keyboard instead. To her eternal credit, she trusted me and I took possession of a brand new Yamaha SY55 synth. This turned out to be a defining turning point in my life - for good or ill. Within a year I had my first record out, but had also dropped out of college. I have still never owned a car to this day.


Anyway, in that year or so of learning to use the thing, I was very lucky to have Rich to team up with for musical jams, usually in the garage below Mum's flat, or sometimes up at his house. Occasionally Tom would join us on bass too. Much of the music we made was a sort of freeform improvised psychedelic racket, with me programming simple drum beats (I acquired a cheap Boss drum machine along the way), making drones and repetitive synth lines, with Rich providing the abstract, fluid magic of slidey guitar tones and eastern ragas. We would bung the lot through a phaser and echo pedal, set a cassette to record, and fill one 40 minute side at a time. Very indulgent, and huge fun.  And almost completely unlistenable. Here's a few mins from just such a session in 1990.

Although it did result in us being booked to play a gig locally - my first, and to this day, my last 'live' music performance. It was at a pub called The Raglan which was the favoured Indie haunt of most of our peer group - so no pressure there! It was supporting a good local band and with the bravado of youth we accepted with very little time to rehearse. The gig happened - and in my mind it would have been a triumph to this day had we not made the mistake of recording it to tape. Every duff note, flat vocal (we took turns singing - a huge mistake on my part anyway) and pregnant pause whilst I loaded up the sequencer was pored over and analysed in the weeks afterwards, to the point where I eventually found the whole thing a shoddy, pretentious embarrassment. I stuck to the recording studio (where there is never an excuse for imperfection) ever since. Rich on the other hand still loves playing his guitar live to this day. But then he remains a phenomenal musician.

Back to the hike. The path started to get that little bit more edgy as we climbed up into a very scenic valley called Howden Dean, with some quite sheer drops a few inches to our left. I followed Rich's highly technical advice (pinched from legendary walker Alfred Wainwright) to 'Watch where you're putting your feet’ which he reinforced with his own wisdom : ‘just don't fall off'. It served me well. Things weren't helped by the wind getting steadily stronger and more gusty. But the landscape was marvellous, and we could feel the cobwebs blowing away nicely.


As we neared the head of the valley it was decision time - do we venture further North into the windswept moorland for a better view, but potentially troublesome camping experience (the wind was fairly vicious by now) or do we sacrifice a vista for a nice little sheltered spot in a dip somewhere nearby? There was still a good hour until sunset, but Rich wisely decided we should play the latter, safer option. A near perfect flat grassy spot presented itself with minimal wind, and next to the stream too. Rich had his trusty bombproof Hilleberg Akto tent (a design classic) up in no time, and my Snugpak bivvy style went up nearly as quickly. However, as my tent is so tiny I did spent a bit more time setting up my additional tarpaulin over the trekking poles so that I had a wind and frost-proof storage area and 'vestibule' I could sit up in and cook. Even this was managed with daylight to spare, allowing me and Rich to have a little wander around and admire the view at sundown.


Time for scran, and it was becoming noticeable the difference in time efficiency and kit between me and Rich. He, the experienced backpacker, had everything down to a well oiled process and had eaten and brewed up using his superfast Jetboil cooking system before I had even found my penknife. His approach was to get stuff done and retire to the down sleeping bag before it got too cold. Numpty here had a different slant - I had put up the tarp shelter so that I could hopefully take the edge off the cold enough to enjoy the experience of sitting out and cooking a leisurely tea of sausage and spicy rice on my more cumbersome miltary style cookset.


Either way I was lucky that the weather was just the right side of unpleasant to get away with it, and after a very tasty tea I sat out in the dark for a good few hours chatting to Rich (him comfy in his Akto, me just under the tarp) without getting cold, despite the frost settling in. A small flask of rum may have helped a bit too. We chatted lots about the old days and I managed to say sorry for the fact that we lost touch fairly suddenly back in the nineties, mainly down to silly teenage behaviour on my part - behaviour I've always felt guilty about since, and wanted to apologise for. He accepted graciously and I felt lots better for it. In fact it turns out he had similar regrets too. That out of the way, there was loads of the old funny, inane, and intelligent banter that always made him good company.

I had none of the nocturnal anxious feeling that gnawed at the back of my mind in Wales a few weeks earlier. The dark wasn't scary at all, and being able to chat to Rich meant I wasn't obsessing over every sound. As things got late I took the opportunity to try and snap some night shots. It turns out that my cheap bridge camera can attempt them after all, after a fashion. The results aren't great but they do capture something of the scene - intermittent stars and wintery clouds, with the distant orange glow of Sheffield to the West.


By about half eleven I was falling asleep in my tiny tent, very cosy in the daftly thick sleeping bag, and happy as Larry. As I’m realising is fairly normal with camping, it wasn't exactly 8 hours of unbroken sleep. Firstly, there was the bladder situation a couple of times in the night. Secondly, I was aware that the tent fabric was flapping around fairly violently right by my head in the early hours, which worried me that the winds had really picked up. They hadn't - it was simply that I'd missed a peg-out point at that spot and the tent was loose. I got out and pegged it and it ceased. There was also the rather pleasant sound of fine powdery snow hitting the canvas on a few occasions, which was a nice novelty given that I remained warm.

Although there was little wind on our spot, you could hear it gusting through the long grass a little further up - a quite calming 'white noise' of sound like a very gentle motorway. That was fine. However, in my half asleep state I started to hear chavs zooming past on this imaginary motorway in their car - the unmistakable 'boom boom boom' of a Happy Hardcore 909 kick drum at a good 150bpm. It came and went sporadically with the breeze, only ever lasting a few seconds. What the hell was it? Was my mind playing tricks on me again? Were all those years of being a slave to a four on the floor bass drum starting to take their toll now I was in the wilderness? I started to rationalise that it could be a guy line oscillating in the wind, reminding me of the old doof-doofs.  I stuck with this theory until it changed to a definite Junglist/D&B rhythm around 3am. I also fancied I heard Rave stabs and an MC at one point. So it was DEFINITELY music - but from where? A club in Sheffield, 10 miles away? Surely not - imagine the whole city being awake with the noise? Maybe a festival in the sticks nearby? But in the snow? No chance..

I just had to try and sleep with this mystery playing on my mind - and that's all it was really, as it was phenomenally faint. I dropped off again eventually until just before sunrise when I was up and out and snapping the scene of snow and ice encrusted tents, gathering water from the stream and making a brew.


Rich woke up soon after and I immediately asked him if he'd heard anything strange. He claimed repetitive beats and an MC had stirred him. I felt relieved that my marbles were intact, and we both heard snippets drifting over to us on the north wind throughout the morning. We still haven't got to the bottom of the 'Phantom Rave', although a small illegal gathering in some nearby woods seems a possibility. If it was, it must have been a hell of a party - it was still going on mid morning.

The first mantra of wild camping is 'camp late, pack up early' and we observed this quite well - or at least Rich did with his super-efficient kit and practices. He was done in a few mins, whereas I needed well over an  hour what with the fussy cooking gear and wanting to de-ice the tarp & tent before packing. Some glorious sunshine popped over Howden Edge to greet us, so he seemed happy enough patiently laying on the grassy bank, recharging his batteries. But it was obvious that in bad weather I would have been a bit of a liability with this kit.

This was another reminder of how I was coming to the whole experience from a different angle to Rich. For him, the walking seems the primary focus, and light and efficient wild camping is a way to enhance that experience by allowing longer treks. For me, the camping was the main event, and a stunning walk there and back was the icing on the cake. Also my kit has been acquired with a bit more of a woodland/bushcrafty slant, whereas Rich is a textbook mountain hiker.

The second mantra of all wild camping is of course 'leave no trace' and I'm sure no one will ever know we were there, which is not only responsible, but also smugly satisfying. We headed off on the journey back to the car in the still windy sunshine, traipsing over some potentially dangerous peat bogs speckled with patches of snow. 


Eventually we reached Back Tor at just over 600 metres, where we were faced with some memorable vistas - West to the highest of all Peaks, Kinder Scout, and South over the quirky tors and rock formations of Derwent Edge, with amusingly descriptive names such as the 'Coach and Horses', and the 'Cakes of Bread'.





It all made me feel very lucky that I lived so near to this and other equally impressive landscapes. From here it was a long, mainly gradual descent back down to the treeline above the reservoir. My backpack wasn't the most comfortable - those few extra kilos can make all the difference, plus I was still not completely used to it. Rich said he forgot that his own Osprey backpack was even there, it was so light, comfy and well worn. I need to work at this...


Despite my achy shoulders the walk was always leisurely and civilised. Plenty more chat was had, and we seemed to be back at the car park in no time. The plan was always to get ourselves home by Sunday lunchtime, and thanks to an extra hour due to the clocks changing during the night, my interminable pack up hadn't scuppered that. So it was a fond farewell to Rich, with many thanks for a first wild camping experience that I just couldn't fault - walk, camp, scenery and company were all top notch.

Setting off home the weather just seemed to get better and better - it felt more like mid September, compared to yesterday's invernal snow flurries. The same backroads landscape was now much more inviting and I managed to stop at a couple of famous spots for snaps - Chrome Hill (the so-called ‘Dragon's Back’) and The Roaches.



It was an unexpected bonus at the end of a perfect 24 hours. I will definitely be doing it again. The question is – will it be anything like this enjoyable flying solo..?

© Rich Lane 2018

Comments

  1. Top read Rich! I have plans on doing this myself next spring so i'll be hitting you up for tips on kit!

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    Replies
    1. Deffo recoomended - but yeah, a bit cold for a few months now! Cheers for taking the time to read.

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