As an Aussie hiker with a few spare days in the UK, the logical response was Google:
best hikes uk
Sure enough, I stumbled across a very promising title from Rough Guides, The Top Ten Best Ever British Hikes. Since I was to attend a Steampunk Festival in Lincoln after my free days, the Peaks District presented itself as the logical destination.*
And that was basically the end of my research. The blogger behind the delightful Tinkerbell’s Adventures recommended Edale as central to the area, so after rescuing a fellow Aussie from the London smog we caught the train up to Sheffield and onto this tiny little village. Our YHA was two miles walk from the station, and the path through the open access farm land included some absurdly friendly horses.
We spent the afternoon buying a guide to the local area from the Moorland Visitor Centre, and promptly marched ourselves off to the far side of the valley and up the Vale of Edale. We managed to get to Hollins Cross before turning back for dinner. The hiking was easy enough, and the sheep in the stonewalled paddocks presented a lovely pastoral picturesque as clichéd as a hipster’s granola and organic yoghurt breakfast.
The next morning we skipped breakfast at the YHA rather than deal with fighting our way through the masses of school children, and instead dined at the charming Coopers Cafe. Here we learned about the annual Great Kinder Beer Barrel Challenge, where teams race each other over a mountain whilst carrying a 72 pint beer barrel.
Although we declined to laden ourselves with barrels of any sort, soon we were trekking up towards the moorland plateau of Kinder Scout. It was heather season, and the purple flowers blossomed on the hillside.
The walk itself was reasonably easy, as we ascended the heather-bruised slope and gained the peaty moorland in a short time. The views from plateau were hazy, but the rock formations were more than interesting enough. Indeed, the only issue with the walk was the difficulty in working out exactly where we were on the non-topographic map, using as reference the dozens and dozens of unmarked, identical pathways. Ultimately we only knew which path to take down Jacob’s Ladder by asking one of the many locals out for a hike!
The next morning we managed to miss our train by a mere minute. After waiting around for the next one, I farewelled my fellow Aussie and stopped at Hathersage. After some wandering, and some questioning, I discerned that there was no Visitor Centre in which to leave my pack, and knew already that the train station would be locker-free. (The train stations in England are only slowly bringing back rubbish bins, after banning them in response to IRA bombings in the 1980s.) The swimming pool too was locker free, but a very generous employee offered the boot of his car for my luggage, saying that he’d be working all day! Pack-free, I ate breakfast at the outdoor store cafe of Hathersage and perused the train timetable to discover, to my horror, that I had less than three hours before I needed to catch a train. Furiously wolfing the rest of my breakfast, I inquired about the fastest route up to Stanage Edge, and the moment that I had an answer from the friendly staff I was racing off in a general uphill direction. In answer to how long it took to get there, he’d answered that another staff member had run up there only this morning… in an hour and a half.
As at Kinder Scout, the public access paths to Stanage Edge were a maze of unmarked paths, although once I committed to each new branch of a fork I had not time enough to do anything but follow it through. Thankfully I did manage to scramble up to the impressive edge, and even had enough time up there to chat to the enthusiastic trad climbers.
Then, with the help of two obliging old gentlemen, I found a more direct route back to Hathersage, through a very controlled English woodland, a farm full of geese, and back to my pack still in the boot of the swimming pool employee’s car.
The moral of the story? That the backcountry English are very friendly to lost Aussies!
*Other alternatives from the list included the Lakes District and Scotland, but since I’ve previously lived in the Lakes District I wouldn’t bother stopping there on such a short visit. I’ve also walked from the Lakes to Scotland before, and explored Scotland on many weekends, so equally wouldn’t return there until I visit it properly.