We started off in good spirits. The surface was easy road-walking, with friendly marshals at every corner to ensure we stayed on route. The descent into the first dale started as a pleasant grassy slope, but slowly became more uneven underfoot, with many small slippery rocks and stones to look out for. This made it quite slow-going. The next two dales and ascent up into Hartington were all on good paths meaning that after a short comfort break we arrived at Checkpoint One within our time window and were feeling positive.
The scenery between Checkpoints One and Two was stunning! From our elevated position on the path, we had beautiful views down a long valley towards an unusual “sharks-tooth” shaped hill. Initially this part of the route comprised gently undulating field walking, with a variety of stiles to practice our mountaineering skills on. After several miles we encountered the first of three seriously steep grassy descents … followed by three long but not quite so steep ascents to get us back up to the same level again. This section of the walk already felt longer than the 5 miles it was supposed to be, and yet according to the map we were still a mile and a half off the checkpoint!
Once we joined the High Peak Trail, the going was a lot easier, but it was clear that the hilly section had taken its toll on Sharon. I watched the earliest time that we had planned to hit Checkpoint Two come and go; the big hand on my watch getting closer and closer to the time beyond which I felt our ability to complete the walk within 14 hours would be jeopardised
On reaching Sparklow, just half a mile short of Checkpoint Two, Sharon said that she had reached her limit and wanted me to continue alone. I felt torn. I didn’t want to leave her there, but she needed a rest, and I knew that if we didn’t split up soon then neither of us would complete the walk. As Sharon sat on the bank near the car park, I took out her map, showed her where she was and where she needed to get to; we hugged and I set off alone.
At Checkpoint Two I collected my raffle ticket to exchange for a cup of tea in the pub there. In the time it took me to visit the facilities and collect my drink, Sharon had arrived at the pub with Ryan, the “sweeper”. I was hugely relieved to see her again so soon, and was able to set out on the next leg of the journey content in the knowledge that she was safe.
From here to Monyash, the route followed a gentle downwards-sloping track between fields to the village. After a stretch of road-walking past some pretty cottages I then picked up the path to Lathkill Dale.
Having walked parts of Lathkill Dale several times before, and knowing how steep some of the descents into the dale are, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. This wasn’t a route I had done before. It started as a wide grassy track sloping gently downwards, but within a short distance the trail narrowed into a gorge, and I paused for a while to admire the cliff faces and an impressive twisted tree. The narrow path continued to wind its way between small boulders, and there was one small stretch where I had to use my hands to clamber over, but I was pleasantly surprised that the gradient was shallower than I had expected.
The upper part of Lathkill Dale is one of my favourite places. The scale of it, the colours, the butterflies (well they had to get a mention somewhere!) and wildflowers … I can’t imagine a more beautiful place to spend a sunny day – with sketch pad or camera in hand; to walk; or even just to sit there and take it all in – and today I had it all to myself. Bliss.
As I entered the wooded part of the dale, I overtook a group of three girls. Other than Ryan and the two women I had left behind shortly after leaving the pub, there was no one else behind me as far as I knew. In some strange way, by overtaking these three, I felt that I was no longer in “last” place!!!
By the time I reached Checkpoint Three, I had overtaken another two girls and caught up with a third group. Things were looking good. But after 9 hours on my feet with only a couple of short breaks, hunger kicked in. After a short “shall-I- or-shalln’t-I?” battle with myself, I treated myself to a sit-down and a bite to eat.
I’d been making good time, but the thought was in my mind that if I didn’t make Checkpoint Four by 7pm I wouldn’t be allowed to finish the walk. I therefore took advantage of the smooth surface between Alport and Bradford to jog a bit, making it to Checkpoint Four with an hour and ten minutes to spare.
The final leg! But what started out as an enjoyable stretch of road-walking with beautiful views to either side was gradually interrupted by an increasing awareness of a pain in my left knee. Only minutes later, partway down a very steep hill, the pain became so severe I had to stop and switch my knee support over. (Note to self for next time: you have two knees, and therefore need two knee supports!)
The rest of the walk passed in a bit of a blur. I caught up with a couple of women who seemed happy for me to walk with them. A key direction marker was either omitted or someone had thought it funny to remove it, so twelve of us needlessly climbed quite a steep hill, only to have to come back down it again … ouch, ouch, ouch. Then came the fields of cows -easily spooked as the light was starting to fade – but at least my new-found role as chief cow-herder for the group kept my mind off my knee.
It wasn’t until we hit the final road stretch that I started to struggle mentally. The comments of “we must be nearly there now” coming from behind were starting to wind me up – I’d seen the map and I knew how far we still had to go. I kept looking at Ryan as if to say “are you going to tell them or me?” … but ultimately decided that silence was the better option. The final downhill field-and-stile section was a killer as far as my knee was concerned.
But I did it!! The final five of us and Ryan the sweeper arrived back at the start point at 10.20pm, in virtual darkness, 14 hours and 15 minutes after starting … for a well-earned biscuit and a cup of tea.
Both myself and Sharon want to thank all those who have sponsored us, for either Doctors of the World, or the Eating Disorder work led by Helena Wilkinson at Nicholaston House in South Wales – on the beautiful Gower Peninsula.
Sharon has vowed to keep training and tackle the Six Dales again next year. I am now in training for a trip to Kilimanjaro in Sept 2018.
Until the next time…
Making her first (of hopefully many) guest appearances on here, my cousin Jill has written up the full story of events for our Peak District Six Dales Challenge last Sat 24th June: