Wednesday, 8 April 2009


The start of the Pennine Way is the perfect walking base

Edale and long-distance walking are synonymous in Britain. This small bright green valley hidden amongst the Peak District hills between Sheffield and Manchester is the official start of the southern end of the Pennine Way, the arduous rain-lashed route along the spine of England that ends in Scotland over 268 miles to the north. It is the country's oldest and most famous long-distance footpath that attracts 12,000 sturdy hikers to attempt the full route every year. If setting off for a walk along half of England isn't your idea of a day out in the country don't be put off by Edale. This mecca for walkers has plenty of shorter routes on offer that you can tackle in a day, from steep hikes up wide-open moors to more gentle strolls along the valley. All are doable on a day trip or by staying in one of the valley's many guest houses and campsites.

Edale Church

The actual start of the Pennine Way is the Nag's Head Inn, a traditional walker-friendly pub serving real ales and decent meals in the centre of Grindsbrook, Edale's only village. Even if you don't intend to walk all the way to Scotland, you can still down a pint and wander along the easy first few miles or feet of the route, depending on how lazy you're feeling.

The Nag's Head (fr0m

Pennine Way Begins
The first section of the Pennine Way

The first part of the Pennine Way meanders gently through pastures of sheep and cows until Upper Booth, the most distant of Edale's farms less than 2 miles from Grindsbrook. You can rest your feet in the historic gritstone farmyard while savouring an ice cream, tea or coffee served from the barn. It is easy to find your way back to Grindsbrook via Barber Booth, another historic farming settlement. Booths can be found throughout Edale. They are small groups of farms and cottages that are first documented during the reign of Elizabeth I but probably originated after the Norman Conquest of 1066. Each was a cattle ranch cut out of the wooded waste of the damp valley on the edge of settlement.

Edale Fields
A typical Edale view

If you feel that staying in the valley is to constraining there are plenty of paths that radiate out like threads in a spider's web from Edale onto the surrounding hills, ridges and moors. Jaggers Clough tempts the more serious hiker beyond the tea and ice creams of Upper Booth. Named after the packhorse men who used to transport Cheshire salt, Yorkshire iron and Derbyshire millstones across the Peak District, Jaggers winds steeply up the hillside towards the iconic Kinder Scout. Today the moorland is all open access land so you can wander at will beyond the farmland. This right to roam was fought for with passion by working class men from the surrounding industrial towns who clashed with the gamekeepers of landed aristocracy across the Peak District moorlands. This fight reached its zenith on Kinder where hundreds of urban ramblers joined together in the Mass Trespass one spring morning in 1932. Kinder was then private land and the trespassers were met with force by gamekeepers and police. Their leaders were arrested and jailed but the Trespass led to the formation of National Parks in England and Wales and ultimately to the Act of 2000 that made all moorland open access. Victory was a long-time coming and it is us today's walker who can reap the benefits.

The moorlands are magnificent at any time of the year. In spring the air is cut by the call of curlews, in June the white cotton grass spreads across bogs in snow-like flurries. But the moors really come alive in August when the miles and miles of heather bursts into vivid purple flowers. Summer is also the best time to catch the comical cackle of the low-flying red grouse.

Once you reach the moors there are many other ways to go than on to Kinder, either following the well-trod paths or going over the rough ground of this open access land, and coming back down to the valley via one of the many streamside paths. A look at a map will show you the dozens and dozens of walking options starting from Grindsbrook or any of the many guest houses and campsites in the valley. You can also find lots of information about walking around Edale and the moors at the excellent National Park Moorland Centre. The Centre is heated from a ground-source heat pump and has an insulating living roof of moorland plants.

Moorland Centre
The National Park Moorland Centre

Edale Lambs
Visit in spring for the delight of seeing newborn lambs

You can reach Edale easily for a day out by train. Though the valley appears remote it is less than 20 miles from Sheffield and Manchester and is on the railway line between the two with an hourly train service at present. If you prefer to stay longer to make more of the many footpaths there are plenty of guest houses and campsites to choose from. Stonecroft B&B uses organic ingredients and caters for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets. All of the campsites have fairly basic facilities with shower and toilet blocks in converted farm buildings. Google maps has a list of campsites. Accommodation can get full during weekends and holidays so it is worth booking or at least calling ahead if you're heading out spontaneously to take advantage of a weekend of good weather. Certainly, the weather can make or break a walking weekend in Edale whether or not you're setting off on the first leg of the Pennine Way or simply ambling around between booths.