A Search for Solitude – Part 5 Finale

Bob and Kim said our goodbyes at Kinder Downfall. They still had a long way back to Edale over the top of the moor, and there were only a few hours of light remaining. As he left, Bob wished me luck for my night on the hills. This was overheard by another walker, who was sat on the rocks nearby. She asked me if I was wild camping, and remembered passing me earlier when I was sat at my chosen spot. She was wild camping that evening as well, and asked if she could join me for the walk back, and wait at my spot for the sunset. I was happy for the company, so we walked together.

Julie, as she introduced herself, is a teacher from Belgium, who was using her summer holiday to tour Great Britain. As we walked, we passed the group of four that I had met on Jacob’s ladder, and they revealed that they were also spending the night in the hills! It was nice to know that there were others nearby, but Kinder Scout is so large that none of us would be disturbed by anyone else. Arriving back at my spot, Julie and I settled down to wait for the sunset. Unfortunately the cloud cover had built during the day, and it looked like we weren’t going to see anything, but we talked together and had a coffee. Aside from a love of the hills, we shared other interests, Julie is also a photographer, and like me is a massive fan of the works of Tolkien. The landscape is so immense in the Peak District that it really can remind you of the pages of Middle Earth, and I have often walked while listening to the sound track of the Peter Jackson films. At around 9 pm Julie departed to find her own camp for the night, but before she left she played one theme from the Lord of the Rings, and in that brief moment I was quite moved by where I was, and the significance of what I was doing. All too quickly, the music ended, and Julie moved on. A ship that passed in the night, perhaps.

On a trip from Belgium, Julie was also spending the night on the hills. We waited for darkness together before she moved on to find her own spot for the night.

I sat reading a while, and made some notes about my journey until I felt it was late and dark enough to pitch the tent – Wild camping is not really allowed, the law states that you can only camp where you have permission, and the National Park Authority has denied anyone permission to camp there, however there is an informal understanding (at least from the hiker’s side) that if you leave no trace, light no fires, pitch after dusk and are gone at dawn, you will probably be tolerated. So I began to pitch my 1 man Vango blade; of course no sooner had I reached the point of no return I heard voices! “Oh no!” I thought, “Its the fuzz!!”. Happily, it was not the fuzz, it was in fact a man and presumably wife who were also on the hills for the night. We talked briefly, then they continued north along the Pennine Way.

Finally, I was alone. The world was calm, and still. In the west I could see the city lights of Stockport and (quite possibly or) Manchester twinkling in the distance. The wind had gone, and so I was surrounded by the fragrances of the hill, the earthy smell of the peat, the gentle perfume of the heather, all I could hear was a tawny owl in the valley below me and I realised I had found it. I had found the solitude I needed.

With night falling, I was finally alone and able to wrap myself in the stillness of the hills

For a long while I just sat alone in the almost darkness, soaking up my surroundings, feeling the serenity of the place wash over me and carry away the last remnants of my stress. I had expected to feel a small amount of fear on my first proper wild camp, at least some uncertainty, but I felt nothing but calm. I got into my tent and drifted quickly into a deep, contented sleep.

Dawn came and woke me gently. It was 5 30 am but I felt more revived from that one sleep than I have after many more hours at home. I opened the tent door and was overwhelmed again by the view before me. Quickly, I struck camp and began making my way back along the western edge to Jacob’s ladder. I had decided to have breakfast back at the river with its endless supply of cool water, and was keen to get there quickly. Passing through the early morning I saw a kestrel soaring overhead, and in front of me a hare darted away down the path. I had never fully appreciated how full of life Kinder Scout really is. The land changed quickly from open grassland to dark and brooding moor, the soft brown grasses cleaved by black peat which made feel as though I was walking on the surface of a giant chocolate brownie.

Just below Kinder Low I met a man coming the other way in muggle (he was certainly not a hiker) clothing. He stopped me and asked directions to the highest point of Kinder Scout. I didn’t have my map open at the time, but I’ve been there before and was fairly certain it was away to the north. I asked him if he had a map, and he admitted that he didn’t. It’s risky, I warned him, being on the moors without navigational equipment. He hurried on, determined to at least reach Kinder Low, and I continued down to the river.

I breakfasted with the ultimate Breakfast of Champions – sausage and beans – washed down with a strong black coffee (I had a flask of milk with me, but in the heat of the day before it had turned to cheese, and was not really usable…). The walk back to Edale was uneventful, with the exception of passing a man with a hat almost identical to mine, “you have a fine hat sir” I remarked to him in passing “and my compliments to yours” was his reply. As I entered the village I admitted to myself that I did not smell nice, so visited the village shop to buy some deodorant, lucky for me they had some, and it was even my usual flavour! Leaving the shop I heard my name, and there was Julie! She had been in just a sleeping bag, she had no tent with her because she would have to carry it around the rest of her trip, so had woken much earlier than me. We walked together a while until she turned off to visit the Edale hostel, while I carried on to the train. We exchanged contact details though, to share photographs.

I used the public WC to have a quick wash with some wipes I had brought with me (known I believe, as a Glastonbury Shower), changed my top and deodorised, before setting off for the station.

As I sat waiting for the train I reflected on what had been a really perfect trip. I had covered a lot of distance, succeeded in carrying my heavy pack, made friends, shared experiences and above all else, I found the peace that I had needed.