Trail magazine’s 'Walks of a Lifetime' series takes you on a guided tour of the greatest mountain routes in Britain. This time we’re heading to Kinder Scout in the Peak District with experienced mountain connoisseur Tom Bailey as our guide.
One hell of a beast, that is how I’ve always thought of the Peak District’s Kinder Scout. Its hugeness isn’t just physical – the historical and environmental importance of this place rivals that of its size. To walk on it is one thing, but to walk the outer edges of the Kinder Scout plateau is to define its very existence.
It’s not very often that a map really does say it all, but in this case it’s true. The route along the edges scribes the most epic of outlines and at just under 30km, this is a day to be proud of. Make sense of the moorland madness, ignore the summit, walk the whole of this hard-to-define, richly rewarding landscape.
Lying just beneath the southern slopes of the plateau, Edale (map point 1, SK124853) makes for the perfect place to start this journey. You’ll need plenty of daylight and water, so start early and carry lots. From the car park, head north towards the village proper, past the pub, kicking right onto a footpath that takes you over a footbridge (point 2, SK122861). Make the most of this secluded, enclosed spot, because the rest of the day will be the exact opposite.
Continue on the path, ignoring a track to the right – you want to follow the path along the Grinds Brook, all the way through Grindsbrook Clough to the plateau rim. Before we get that far, the upper sections of this track get a little interesting as it swaps from side to side and you clamber over boulders. Towards the top, ignore the right-hand gully and stay with the left one.
A few deep lungfuls of air should bring you out onto Kinder proper (point 3, SK105872). It’s in the gritstone just below the edge that I’ve often picked up chunks of this coarse rock, which have perfectly circular dish-shaped holes in them. The wind has a curious way of shaping this stone, as we’ll see later.
Heading to the left (clockwise), the challenge is on. You could go either way, but clockwise from this starting point gives you the main highlights while you still have the energy to appreciate them. The route is by and large straightforward to follow. Heading in a clockwise direction, you keep the moorland to your right and the expansive views down into the valleys to your left. The path will often be a gritty cut in the peat, occasionally passing over large amounts of gritstone. Keep a forward-looking eye to stay true to the track.
One thing to muse upon (and believe me it’s a long enough walk to do plenty of that) is the historical importance of this place for us walkers. Back in 1932 a mass trespass took place on Kinder Scout. Over 400 people made it up onto the plateau, fights with gamekeepers ensued, five walkers were arrested, but the upshot of it all was that it kickstarted a revolution in opening up areas for recreational walking. A fact we take for granted now, but back in the day, to be up here, free from the toil of daily life, must have had a deep significance.
After about 1km of walking you’ll pass Crowden Clough. This is the start of a part of the route that’s rich in wind-sculpted gritstone monoliths, Crowden Tower being the first. Just past it is my favourite place on Kinder – Wool Packs. It’s like some enormous sculpture garden. The wind has made such organic shapes out of these friendly stones that it feels like they must have personalities and come to life at night. Sit on one and look away to the south, where Mam Tor and the Great Ridge lie in full view across the Edale valley. Continuing around Edale Head, the Pennine Way is joined as the route swings back north, passing yet more Dartmoor-like tors of Edale Rocks.
Kinder Low (point 4, SK079870), the peak’s inspiringly-named high point at 633m (the highest area is actually 636m but it’s not worth finding!), is definitely worth the tiny detour to get to. It’s here that you’ll be aware of vast amounts of peat erosion. Since 2011 the National Trust has been restoring peatlands over the whole Kinder plateau. In areas there is a fence to keep out sheep, allowing the newly-planted heather time to take root and eventually stop the peat from drying out and blowing away. Trust me, we all want this project to succeed. Healthy peat bogs lock up large amounts of carbon, unhealthy ones release it. Another reason for keeping to the edge of Kinder is to keep the pressure off the internal area, which is a National Nature Reserve.
The Pennine Way trends roughly northwards for the next couple of kilometres, bringing us to the Peak District’s highest waterfall, Kinder Downfall (point 5, SK082889). Originally known as Kinder Scut, this is thought to be the origin of the name Kinder Scout. Not very impressive given normal summer conditions, but after prolonged heavy rain it can be quite a spectacle. With a westerly wind blowing it actually flows up into the air, and needs to be seen to be believed.
The Pennine Way continues for its last stretch on Kinder, heading to the most north-westerly point of the plateau (point 6, SK066899). The famous old long-distance path, if followed onwards, would take you to Snake Pass, then onto Bleaklow. It’s here we turn our backs on the masses and swing eastwards, heading for some of the most impressive crags on Kinder between The Edge and Fairbrook Naze. You’ll want to have a play on these rocks, if for no other reason than to break up the monotony of walking on peat paths or the flagstone tracks that define this stretch of the Pennine Way.
Huge air crash site
To the north, below the edge, if you have good eyesight you may have seen fragments of aluminum. Here, in July 1954, two F-86 Sabre jets crashed into the north-western end of the plateau. The wreckage spilled over the northern side and is scattered over a wide area.
It was a walker, three days after the event who found the crash site. The early days of jets were dangerous times.
Once you’ve swung SSW from Fairbrook Naze, a ford over the Fair Brook is crossed (point 7, SK093891). Seal Edge is walked along, providing views down onto Seal Flats, where a row of grouse butts is visible. The red grouse is a bird that you should have seen by now, with moorland being their preferred habitat. Their distinctive call is an integral part of any moorland.
With Blackden Edge walked, it’s then round to the eastern extremities (Madwoman’s Stones being best avoided!). There is yet another small ford on this eastern edge (point 8, SK138878), although the sense of an edge is much less defined. We’ve dropped in height a little too, and at around 550m we’ll be on a gentle climb as you head back around to the top of Grindsbrook Clough, 3km to the west.
If you want to shortcut the last bit you could follow the path off Ringing Roger back down to Edale. You’ll have missed the last 2km of the edge if you do, and I could never settle for that so it’s back to the start of the circuit (point 9, SK105872). To make things a little more interesting on the way down, take the path over Grindslow Knoll and follow it in a SE direction back to Edale. Hopefully you’re able to have a well-earned pint or two and stay the night – that’s the best way to bask in the afterglow of such an enormous undertaking.
WHERE DO I START?
The nearest town is Glossop, but this walk starts near the train station in Edale at SK124853.
WHAT’S THE TERRAIN LIKE?
You won’t come across anything particularly rocky or technical on Kinder Scout, but what you can expect is stone paths, peat bogs, peat tracks, valley paths and field paths.
HOW HARD IS THE WALK?
It isn’t particularly hard and you won’t need anything in terms of scrambling skills, but this is a very long walk with many featureless sections that are tricky to follow in poor visibility. You need good fitness and sharp navigational skills.
WHAT MAP SHOULD I USE?
OS Explorer OL1 and Harvey Superwalker Peak District North maps both cover the walk at 1:25,000 scale. Other options include OS Landranger 110 (1:50,000) and Harvey BMM Dark Peak (1:40,000).
WHERE CAN I STAY?
The Edale YHA is a great option – near the start of the route and one of the highest residences in the whole national park. The Rambler Inn in Edale is a bit more luxurious with roaring fires, en-suite rooms, cask ales and home-cooked food. visitpeakdistrict.com