The ul­ti­mate walker’s road trip

Three days, three na­tional parks, three clas­sic walks and no ma­jor roads. Let’s drive.

Country Walking Magazine (UK) - - Contents - WORDS: NICK HALL IS SE Y PHOTOS: NICK HALL IS SE Y& MATTHEW PIKE

THE AMER­I­CANS BE­LIEVE they have the mo­nop­oly on the road trip. But they don’t. Fair enough, the very words ‘road trip’ con­jure up icons of Amer­i­cana; of Sal Par­adise and Dean Mo­ri­arty in Jack Ker­ouac’s On the Road or Thelma and Louise in, well, Thelma and Louise. Hav­ing such a big coun­try to ex­plore, the Amer­i­cans have been ob­sessed with telling sto­ries about ex­plor­ing it. And again, fair play. It’s a beau­ti­ful place.

But Bri­tons have been do­ing road trips for far longer. Think of Dr John­son and James Boswell romp­ing across Scot­land in the 1780s. Or read The Com­pleat An­gler (1653) and fol­low Izaak Wal­ton and Charles Cot­ton around the rivers of Eng­land, turn­ing fish­ing into phi­los­o­phy in the guise of Vi­a­tor and Pesca­tor. And then, more lat­terly, there is With­nail and I, which gives any Amer­i­can road movie a run for its money.

Even more lat­terly, Steve Coogan and Rob Bry­don rein­vented the Bri­tish road trip with a se­ries called The Trip. In it, the two co­me­di­ans toured the coun­try house restau­rants of north­ern Eng­land, al­legedly re­view­ing them, but mostly do­ing im­pres­sions of Roger Moore and Michael Caine.

It was while watch­ing The Trip that we had a brain­wave. What would the ul­ti­mate walker’s road trip look like? Where might it go?

The habit of most walk­ers pre­sented with a three-day win­dow is to set­tle on one lo­ca­tion and ex­plore it to the hilt. Noth­ing wrong with that. But what if you could make it a jour­ney be­tween three spec­tac­u­lar and very dif­fer­ent places? Turn it into a voy­age that un­folds and de­vel­ops; that twists and turns like the story of a good road movie? That would be some­thing, wouldn’t it?

First pri­or­ity: three su­per­stars. That didn’t take long. Eng­land’s three most pop­u­lar na­tional parks are close enough to link with scenic drives, but dif­fer­ent enough from each other to of­fer ex­actly the sort of be­gin­ning-mid­dle-end nar­ra­tive a road trip needs. Best of all, they can be linked with­out set­ting a wheel on a mo­tor­way or a ma­jor road.

The Peak Dis­trict. The York­shire Dales. The Lake Dis­trict. Not just su­per­stars, then, but megas­tars.

TURN­ING POINTS

Next pri­or­ity: some­one to share it with. Be­cause as any film fan knows, a good road movie is about the di­a­logue as well as the scenery.

Hap­pily I had just the char­ac­ter. My friend Matt, a for­mer col­league on CW who still writes fre­quently for the mag­a­zine ( you’ll find him else­where in this is­sue try­ing to work a Google cam­era and re­view­ing trousers).

Both of us are at a bit of a turn­ing point on the great foot­path of life. Matt has just re­turned from a five-year me­an­der­ing in New Zealand, and he and Mrs Matt are about to wel­come their first child.

I’ve re­cently hit 40 and my el­dest has sud­denly stopped be­ing a tod­dler and is ap­par­ently about to go to high school. So Matt and I are both slightly dizzy with the big things of the world, and thus our road trip be­came a pause for breath. A cross be­tween a lads’ week­end and a mid-life walk­a­bout (with the kind per­mis­sion of Mrs Matt, of course).

You don’t have to be at some ma­jor turn­ing point in your life to em­bark on this trip. But for me and him, it gave the whole project an added mo­men­tous­ness. Al­most, dare we say it, a plot.

The big ques­tion now was, which walks? Stan­age Edge, Mal­ham Cove, Cat­bells? Dove Dale, Ays­garth Falls, Blen­cathra? The op­tions seemed end­less. But even­tu­ally, like the in­fi­nite num­ber of mon­keys typ­ing Ham­let, we got there: The Great Ridge, In­gle­bor­ough and Helvel­lyn.

Then it was just about find­ing the best route be­tween the three. Be­gone sat­nav, with your quick, ef­fi­cient and dull routes from A to B. We wanted scenery, new fron­tiers, un­ex­pected sights. And maybe an ex­cit­ing zig-zaggy road or two. And that meant an af­ter­noon with an at­las. I’ve had more fun after­noons. But not many.

“What if you could make it a jour­ney be­tween three spec­tac­u­lar and very difff­fer­ent places; a voy­age that twists and turns like the story of a re­ally good road movie?”

THE GREAT RIDGE

I’m not sure where the name Great Ridge ac­tu­ally comes from. You cer­tainly won’t find it on the OS map. But it’s what ev­ery­one calls it, this two-mile scarp that sep­a­rates the val­leys of Hope and Edale. At one end is the shapely curve of Lose Hill. Along the way are Hollins Cross, Barker Bank and the mad lit­tle cliff of Back Tor, topped by the loneli­est Scots pine in Der­byshire. And at the other is Mam Tor. The Shiver­ing Mountain. The Devourer of Roads. So it’s a Ridge, and it’s Great. And so, in the words of Jarvis Cocker, it started there.

We set out from Castle­ton, head­ing off up Mam Tor via the re­mains of the A625. The di­gested road.

“It looks like earth­quake dam­age,” said Matt. “I feel like I’m back in New Zealand.”

He’s not far from the truth. This road, once the main link be­tween Manchester and Sh­effield, was slowly eaten by Mam Tor over 40 years as the mountain took um­brage at the band of black Tar­mac slash­ing across its face. To­day you can climb it un­trou­bled by cars, marvel­ling at the vic­tory of mountain over man.

The view from Mam Tor’s sum­mit is al­most cer­tainly the finest in the Peak Dis­trict. There it all is: the Hope Val­ley, Edale, Kin­der Scout, Stan­age Edge. This be­ing a swel­ter­ing Sun­day af­ter­noon, we were shar­ing the view with quite a few oth­ers of course: a dozen na­tion­al­i­ties; tod­dlers and oc­to­ge­nar­i­ans; cy­clists and run­ners.

Bounc­ing along the ridge, we yakked of this and that, of his­tory and fu­ture; of par­ent­hood and pro­cessed cheese. We chat­ted to a Ger­man tourist on Back Tor, and a Cana­dian cou­ple on Lose Hill. Then we ducked away from the crowds by head­ing down Lose­hill Edge, a lovely path which clearly isn’t in all the guide­books that ev­ery­one else buys.

A pause in the Cheshire Cheese at Hope and a gen­tle re­turn by Peak­s­hole Wa­ter, and we were back at the car. Load­ing up Google Maps, I tapped in ‘Castle­ton to In­gle­ton’. 2 hours 21, it promptly told me. But then I punched in the route I’d drawn on the at­las. Re­vised jour­ney time: 3 hours 20. “Short is bor­ing,” I ven­tured. And off we went.

ON THE ROAD ( Part 1)

We quickly be­gan to see the trip as a re­volt against the tyranny of sat­nav. How many times have we dashed across the coun­try, mak­ing for hon­ey­pot places by the quick­est means pos­si­ble? How much do we miss by do­ing that?

The an­swer is a lot. I knew about Lady­bower, the Snake Pass, Crow­den. I knew about Ha­worth and the jaw-slap­ping view from the pass over Holme Moss. But the hill­top road link­ing Glos­sop with Long­den­dale? New to me. The drive from Holm­firth to Green­field, with its spec­tac­u­lar view over Dove Stones? Like­wise. I can say the same for the A6024 above Hay­den Brook, and the B6138 at Black­stone Reservoir. When our lit­tle lane sneaked un­der the M62 at Sad­dle­worth, we felt some­how like fugi­tives, hid­ing from the agents of the Matrix.

On came Cragg Vale, Heb­den Bridge, Ox­en­hope. Ev­ery one of them made me want to come back and ex­plore them on foot. This wasn’t driv­ing. It was win­dow shop­ping.

When we pulled in at Hip­ping Hall, just up the road from In­gle­ton, it was nearly seven. The evening sun played on the ho­tel’s wa­ter gar­den, and in the dis­tance, In­gle­bor­ough slowly turned pink.

Hip­ping Hall was one of the stars of The Trip. It was here that Coogan and Bry­don were “in­tro­duced” to their cheese course (“Hello, cheese!”) and Bry­don, pre­sented with a ca­per emul­sion on his scal­lops, de­clared him­self “un­de­cided on the froth”.

So, in the sump­tu­ous drap­ings of the tim­ber­beamed restau­rant, Matt and I had a go at the four­course menu. We tried not to do im­pres­sions but a few leaked out. Pre­sum­ably any ho­tel touched by The Trip is now used to wags pre­tend­ing to be Coogan and Bry­don, so hope­fully our brief for­ays into Ken Bruce and an over-emot­ing Michael Caine were fairly harm­less. At one point, the maitre d’ emerged with a crab salad, care­fully ex­plain­ing the lo­cal prove­nance of its ingredients. He then handed over a small pot of liq­uid let­tuce to pour over it.

“Liq­uid let­tuce! Does that grow round here too?” Matt asked. I didn’t know whether to laugh or face­plant the ta­ble in shame. But it was a pleas­ingly Trippy mo­ment.

“The view from Mam Tor’s sum­mit is the finest in the Peak Dis­trict. The Hope Val­ley. Edale. Kin­der Scout. Stan­age Edge.”

IN­GLE­BOR­OUGH

In­gle­bor­ough is a noisy mountain.

It has pos­si­bly the most iden­ti­fi­able pro­file of any hill any­where: the flat-topped head, the triple-drop slide of a nose. It hov­ers, looms, de­mands at­ten­tion. It’s loud, like a rum­bling tim­pani. If any Bri­tish mountain ever suited Also Sprach Zarathus­tra, it’s In­gle­bor­ough.

“A noisy mountain? Do peo­ple re­ally pay you to write stuff like that?”

That’s what Matt said, when I tried the anal­ogy out on him as we wound our way up the long green lane from In­gle­ton to Crina Bot­tom. (I’m still let­ting it through, though.)

In­stead, we talked of old times. Of the fact that when he left his job on CW he left be­hind a fenc­ing foil, a tweed jacket and an os­si­fied ba­nana. We are still look­ing for good homes for all three.

The con­ver­sa­tion car­ried us all the way up through the steep up­per reaches of In­gle­bor­ough’s nog­gin, through the ram­parts of its Iron Age citadel and up to the cross-shaped wall shel­ter on the sum­mit.

And up here, all was right with the world. We met peo­ple. We watched trains cross­ing the Rib­ble­head Viaduct. The air smelt of peat and ju­niper.

The thing with In­gle­bor­ough, though, is that climb­ing it is only half the story. This is a mountain that is just as fas­ci­nat­ing to look at as to be on. So af­ter a stop at the Old Hill Inn, we con­tin­ued across Chapel-le-Dale and up onto the lime­stone ledges known as Twistle­ton Scars. Ranged be­neath the south­ern flanks of Wh­ern­side, these crazy-cracked ter­races are stun­ning in them­selves (es­pe­cially when topped off by a lone, wind­blasted hawthorn), but they also of­fer by far the best view of In­gle­bor­ough. Look at it on the first page of this fea­ture, sit­ting alone in the sky like Kil­i­man­jaro. Still noisy, even two miles dis­tant.

“Up here, all was right with the world. We met peo­ple. We watched trains cross­ing the Rib­ble­head Viaduct. The air smelt of peat and ju­niper.”

It was noisy back in In­gle­ton, too: kids had fled the school gates to leap into the open-air pool or lark about in the River Greta. In the way only two chaps of our age can, we pon­dered: “Do you think they know how lucky they are?” “Nope. They haven’t a clue.” That said, the kids weren’t about to jump into a com­pact sports util­ity ve­hi­cle and take one of the great­est drives in the coun­try lis­ten­ing to mu­sic from the Nineties. Fi­nally we’d got one over on them.

ON THE ROAD ( Part 2)

Day Two’s road jour­ney is, if any­thing, even bet­ter.

Up be­tween Wh­ern­side and In­gle­bor­ough, past Rib­ble­head; through Hawes and over the But­ter­tubs Pass, which in places put us in mind of the fi­nal mo­ments of The Ital­ian Job.

Wens­ley­dale, Swaledale, Keld: icons of the Pen­nine Way. And then – per­haps the best bit of the whole trip – Birk­dale. This ut­terly stun­ning val­ley car­ried us from Keld down into the vale of Maller­stang, re­veal­ing a mam­moth view of Wild Boar Fell. Again, we were land­scape brows­ing on a colos­sal scale. Ev­ery place made us want to come back and spend more time in it.

On we went past the Or­ton fells and Great Asby Scar, un­til, tip-toe­ing un­der the M6, the ter­rain slipped gen­tly fromf York­shire lime­stone to Cum­brian grit. At Poo­ley Bridge, we hit Ull­swa­ter.

And sud­denly, with Eng­land’s curvi­est lake open­ing in front of us and big, cloud-both­er­ing moun­tains down the far end, we could be nowhere else than the Lake Dis­trict.

HELVEL­LYN

The Inn on the Lake, icon of Glen­rid­ding and launch­pad for a mil­lion as­saults on Helvel­lyn, looked splen­did in the dusk.

On the lawn slop­ing down to the shore of Ull­swa­ter, a bridal party planned the big day. Fairy lights twin­kled in the trees. Across the wa­ter, Place Fell basked in the last of the day’s sun.

Matt and I strolled down to the lake, talk­ing of the im­pend­ing par­ent­hood. Not all our con­ver­sa­tions are about Kraft slices and liq­uid let­tuce. Some­times the big stuff comes up.

Next morn­ing, the sun broke over Place Fell and streamed into the win­dows of the Inn on the Lake, and Helvel­lyn called. We were up and out sharpish, plod­ding gen­tly up the Mires­beck path that climbs the shoul­der of Birk­house Moor, keep­ing the mighty ar­chi­tec­ture of Helvel­lyn out of sight un­til we came face to face with it all at High Spy­ing How.

Strid­ing Edge – our route to the top – tends to split opinion three ways. Some dread even the sight of it: a steep-sided arête soar­ing 1700ft above Grisedale (to the left) and 200ft above Red Tarn (to the right).

Some find it thrilling: the ul­ti­mate ex­pres­sion of the walk­a­ble foot­path, quick­en­ing the pulse and fill­ing the me­mory card in mo­ments.

And be­lieve it or not, plenty of peo­ple think it’s easy peasy. Pah, they sniff: at no point ex­cept the very end do you re­ally need to put your hands on the rock; at no point do you have to strad­dle the apex of the ridge with a leg ei­ther side. And it’s too damn busy.

Per­son­ally I’m in the mid­dle camp. I love it to bits. Even the busy­ness doesn’t bother me. I love the com­mu­nal chit-chat, and I think it helps those who are feel­ing un­cer­tain if there are oth­ers around to re­as­sure them.

So if I may de­fend its in­clu­sion on this trip: a) if taken care­fully and slowly,

it should de­light more than ter­rify, and b) an eas­ier path runs just be­low the ridge­line on the north­ern side, while an­other cir­cum­vents the nasty de­scent of the Bad Step on the south side. So there are ways to take the edge off the edge.

Then came the fi­nal steep scrab­ble to the top of Helvel­lyn. And then, al­most be­fore we knew it, Matt and I had topped out on the high­est, rock­i­est and most thrilling peak of our trip.

I say ‘peak’, but Helvel­lyn’s top is ac­tu­ally a broad, pink­ish-or­ange run­way. There’s no queu­ing to touch a sum­mit cairn, no wob­bling around on a shat­tered boul­der field. In­stead walk­ers sim­ply bim­ble about, drink­ing in the views and gos­sip­ing at the wall shel­ter.

So there stood Matt and I, at the zenith of a jour­ney that started two days pre­vi­ously in the mid­dle of the Peak Dis­trict. All around us, the en­tire world pin­wheeled. But this time we just stood there and en­joyed it.

THE VOY­AGE HOME

The walk down, and the jour­ney back to our orig­i­nal meet­ing point some­where in Not­ting­hamshire, flew by in no time. Some of it was even quiet, as if we had so much to process that our id­iot tongues had to stop wag­ging for a bit.

In my head I was plot­ting walk­ing trips to Cragg Vale, the Or­ton fells and Birk­dale. I no­ticed Matt smil­ing qui­etly. He was ei­ther think­ing about the mys­tery and won­der of be­com­ing a father, or pos­si­bly cheese.

I was also think­ing how much I hope you’d en­joy this trip. Do it, I urge you. Rise up against the sat­nav. Em­brace the spa­ces in be­tween. See the na­tion as it truly is, rather than the redacted doc­u­ment you get from the big roads. Me­an­der.

And cru­cially, take some­one who needs the Trip as much as you do. We can give you the routes, the ho­tel de­tails and some gen­eral advice. But what you re­ally need is some­one to make you laugh, to help with the nav­i­ga­tion and – just oc­ca­sion­ally – to help you tackle the big things of the world. May the road rise to meet you, as the Ir­ish say. On a trip like this, it def­i­nitely will.

“Atop Helvel­lyn, walk­ers sim­ply bim­ble about, drink­ing in the mas­sive views and gos­sip­ing at the wall shel­ter.”

 LET ME TELL YOU A STORY… From atop the wall shel­ter on In­gle­bor­ough, Matt (and nar­ra­tor Nick) are about to share the story of an aw­fully big ad­ven­ture.  ORIG­I­NAL TRIPPERS Steve Coogan (left) and Rob Bry­don bim­bled around north­ern Eng­land in The Trip.

MO­MENT OF CALM A pause on the shore of Ull­swa­ter, courtesy of The Inn on the Lake.

THE NEW TRIPPERS Nick (left) and Matt hav­ing a philo­soph­i­cal chat on top of Helvel­lyn.

OLD SCHOOL Our jaunt was planned en­tirely via the AA Road At­las, £2 from your lo­cal petrol sta­tion. uHAPPY DAYS It yielded mo­ments like this, look­ing out over Edale from Back Tor on the Great Ridge.

THE GRAND TOR Back Tor, the se­cond most fa­mous col­laps­ing mountain on the Great Ridge.

Barker Bank, Back Tor and Lose Hill un­fold from the path off Mam Tor. WALK­ING THE LINE ALAN NOVELLI/ ALAMY* PHOTO:

In­gle­bor­ough. Even its sum­mit crags have ex­cit­ing names: The Arks, Swine Tail and (our favourite) The Black Shiver. BIG BEAST JON SPARKS/ALAMY PHOTO:

AN EDGY EX­PE­RI­ENCE Strid­ing Edge, and in par­tic­u­lar the Bad Step at its far end. If you don’t like it, there are ways to avoid the worst of it. If you like it, it could be the best bit of the whole trip. JON SPARKS/ALAMY PHOTO:

HELVEL­LYN Bri­tain’s an­swer to Ta­ble Mountain, with Strid­ing Edge left and Swirral Edge right.

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