Fell-running: the peak of excitement
Somewhere along Burbage Edge, I leave the world behind. I am only aware of myself and the ground beneath my feet as I gather momentum down the trail. There is no room for the everyday clutter of the mind as we pick our way through the furrows and rocks of the path skirting above the valley, which opens out across this lovely stretch of the Peak District.
Thoughts like “I’ve forgotten to email so-and-so”, or “I wonder if the kitchen tap will ever stop dripping?” tend to be crowded out on a downhill fell run. It’s all about the path ahead, and the relentless flurry of ankle-preserving decisions you make as you place your feet for the next step.
This liberating feeling strikes halfway through a guided run with Dave Taylor, whose light footfall I can just distinguish behind me. We have eased our way into the route, setting out in heather moorland just above Hathersage, a pretty Derbyshire town in the heart of the northern “Dark” Peak area of the park. We began at Surprise View, so named, Dave tells me, because Queen Victoria was once taken aback at the dramatic panorama that unfolded over the Hope Valley as she turned a corner in the royal carriage in the 19th century.
“I don’t know if it’s true or not,” he admits. “But it’s a good story.” With his guided running and navigation service, Dave now specialises in taking people away from these well-known views to the park’s more obscure spots and vantage points.
“Off-road running is becoming more popular,” he says. “But few runners have the confidence, knowledge or skills to get the most from their runs, so they tend to stick to main footpaths rather than explore less visited areas.”
As a qualified orienteer, Dave is a reassuring presence for anyone worried about losing their way on a run in the area. He is also a good advert for the age-defying effects of regular exercise in the open air. Looking much younger than his 49 years, he leads with a sure-footed bound up towards the distinctive grit stone outcrops that distinguish this part of the national park. It’s a brooding, striking landscape, strangely unsung when compared to the Lake District, and Dave revels in sharing its secrets.
First we encounter Mother Cap, a scarred, stacked rock formation and one of the local area’s most prominent landmarks. As we pass old quarries, Dave points out halffinished millstones, now a symbol of the Peaks, abandoned in situ as markets and technology moved on.
Up on the dramatic cluster of boulders on Higgar Tor, we pause to take in our surroundings, which are even more glorious than at Surprise View. On this clear day – never guaranteed around here – you can see up to Win Hill, which just obscures the Derwent Reservoir where the Lancaster bombers of the Dambusters raid practised.
From here, the terrain shifts surprisingly swiftly. Dropping down the other side, we thread through heather towards a cluster of pine woodland. We catch our breath beyond a simple, packhorse bridge (“my favourite spot,” says Dave), as water burbles in the brook beneath, before delving into the woods following a faint waterside path.
Once we emerge from the pines, the gradient steepens and we climb towards the boulders by Burbage Bridge, the shouts of a rockclimbing instructor echoing down to us. At this point, a few miles have