I'm about to set off on my journey and there's a writhing knot of apprehension in my stomach.
I'm about to try something I've never done before.
Wild camping, on my own....
Yes. That's right. I'm going out to the middle of nowhere, with no backup, no support...
What's that I hear you say? I'm the most experienced one?
Well.. yes, It's true. I've always technically had the leader badge, but I've also had my friends to fall back on.. Paul is world class at finding elusive cairns in the fog.. and James? Well.. apart from the most vital task of bringing lunch (I always, always forget), he is also the best listener I've ever known. Perfect for bouncing ideas off..
I enjoy their company and we enjoy just mucking about, taking the piss out of each other and just generally getting some enjoyment out of life.
And perhaps, most important, I know if one of us injures himself, We can trust the others to find civilisation and raise the alarm.
This time. I don't have them.
I have no safety net..
... I have no idea if the wilds will be hospitable, if it will be the same calm paradise, in the total dark of night..
I'm committed now though. I've made my decision and its time to stick to it.
It's best foot forward at the bus station. There's only one bus out in the morning, and one bus back in the afternoon (the 273, if your wondering). So... although the service fits my needs, if I miss my bus tomorrow afternoon, it's a very long walk to the next nearest bus stop near the Ladybower Inn.
Ok.. If that was just a gentle Saturday stroll, then all would be well.. However, after lumping my pack all the way out here, and then back tomorrow - it's something I would like to avoid.
I find the stop for the 273 and board with a complement of old ladies, students and a few other walkers.
(and one real rambler... long of beard and faded of clothes. With what cash he had in his hand, that's where he was going (whatever it was, it took him to Stanage edge).
I get off the bus at the car park just past the war memorial. It's the only car park on the left hand side of the road, so while it's not possible to mistake, it is easy to drive past if you're not watching though.
There's no preamble today, no kit to get from the boot, or last minute adjustments. No trainers to stash... I'm already suited and booted, so...
I set off up the gravel track, that leads from the car park.
It's always a nice start to a walk. Ok, it's steep right from the off - you really have to pace yourself while you warm up. But, It's wooded and in the shade, so it's nice and cool while you're exerting yourself getting to the top...
If you come this way, there's a gate about 3/4 of the way up, and another gate at the top it's peaceful (apart from the off mountain bikers getting their kicks).. Once you get to the top, there's a stile.. You hop over and then the horizons suddenly go from being tens of feet, to being tens of miles.. It's a change in perspective that always gets me. I love things like that. Things that grab hold of you and slap you hard, even if you were expecting it.
Once out in the open, you follow the edge of the wood for a while.
It's usually very calm here and the sun really beats down on the tops here after the coolness of the wood.
It's also pretty flat and paved in places, which is a good thing. I often find myself stumbling on this path, because I'm so busy taking in the view, not looking at where my feet are..
It's a beautiful ramble along this top path with an incredible vista. You can see Win hill, Lose hill and in front of Edale itself, mighty Kinder.
Now, to those of you who just chuckled, Kinder is mighty. It's certainly not the highest peak in the UK and monsters like Everest, might be something like 14 times the height... But mighty I think it is. If you don't believe me, just try walking around the top edge in a single day, or crossing it in the spring, when the bogs are treacherous. Theres often still snow around at that time of year and every time you climb out of a grough, there's not only another one to tackle, but an unending line of them, unbroken all the way to what seems far enough, to be the other edge of the world.
Thankfully, there's none of that here.
There's a couple more stiles along the way, and one large ladder stile that takes you over a wall (a test of balance with a full pack!) and when the tops become boggy, there's a stone path to carry you over the worst bits. Oh.. And plenty of lambs at the moment.. Everything seems to have come later this year, a consequence of such a cold spring I imagine.
It's as dry as a bone up here at the moment.
I had noticed that the reservoir was starting to drop a bit, but the peat is so dry today, you can walk on the open, evil looking bits, without even getting mud in your boots.
It worries a me a bit, because I want running water in the stream in camp, but as I drop down past Alport castles, there's a spring, which was still bubbling nicely.
I stop and refill my travel tap, revelling in the taste of the ice cold water in the heat of the now mid-day sun.
It's quiet here, but I expected that. It's a Friday, so there aren't the usual number of people lining the ways (not that Alport gets the crowds, For some reason, it always seems quieter here.. A bit of a hidden gem, I've only seen it busy on hot, sunny weekends).
I've packed really light this time. No tarp, no groundsheet. No hammock or extra bits of kit.
No large saucepans or grills for the fire.. Just the basics... And it shows. I make excellent time... Too good in fact.
I arrive at camp by about 2:30... Way to early too set up shop.
I've actually been here for about twenty minutes, but there were a couple of walkers passing where I wanted to go, so I sat down and had a smoke, let them get out of sight before I plunged off into the woods..
Because its so early, I get some wood for the fire and break what I can by hand, setting up the piles, sized to make it easier later, but leave the noisy axe till later. I really must get a new pocket saw. It's so much less obtrusive, lighter and.. Well.. Safer.
I sit down, I stand.. I sit again. I write some of this blog on my phone, then remember why I don't use a phone to blog with.
I wander round restlessly. I realise that not bringing that book, might have been a mistake.
I'm going to be honest here... I'm bored.
I expected some feeling of being 'connected' to nature in some way, or something peaceful..
No. I was mentally drawing up shopping lists, working out what needed to be done when I got back..
Of all the things I'd worried about, being bored, was not something I'd anticipated.
Mildly annoyed at being excluded from the mystical group of 'oneness' with nature, I snatched up my wine and walked down to the river.
There was a large flat stone, a few inches above the waterline. So I sat. Took my boots off, rolled up my trousers and stretched back, bathing in the river and the afternoon sun at the same time. my face in the sun, my feet in the water, drinking my wine. I have to admit this was one of the most pleasurable things I've done in ages and I'd be happy to be back there, (but with a book!... I'm stressing this a bit, I know.. But only so you don't make the same mistakes)..
The water was fresh, deep and luscious where I was sat. A natural pool, maybe four or five feet deep.. I was sorely tempted to go for a swim proper. But as it was now late afternoon, it was also turning cooler and the shadow of the hill was getting close to this side of the stream. I didn't want to run the risk of not getting properly dry, or cold...
Not long after, my stone slid into the shadow and my beautiful spot chilled immediately.
Rather regretfully, I picked up my wine and wandered back to camp. I made myself some Dinner and then set about the firewood, chopping the larger logs into manageable lengths.
Sunset comes early here, because of the valley sides.. A good hour - hour and a half earlier than on the tops..
But even before the sun set, it cooled dramatically.
I lit the fire and went back to sitting, standing, sitting.. Restlessly moving around.
As the sun finally starts to set there's another couple of walkers come up the valley, I can hear them chatting just above the sound of the stream. Then one of them says, "There's a fire!" I realise I can't just let them think the woods are on fire, so I step out, say hi and offer to share. They're going further up the valley. I mention another spot further up, just around the corner that's a good place. They are soon swallowed up by the the surroundings and it's like they were never here.
I saved pudding till now.. Because I forgot to pack lunch, I thought spacing out my dinner and pudding would help me stay full for longer.
I heat through my pouch of chocolate sponge pudding and tuck in.
It's incredibly stodgy, like a block of lard in fake-chocolate sauce.. As there's going to be nothing else to eat tonight, I keep going for a while longer.
It's no good. I'm not going to finish it. I throw what's left into the fire and watch what I don't want, be boiled, then eaten by the fire instead.
Soon after, I start to feel distinctly uncomfortable in the stomach department. It's making those distinctive, but uncomfortable bubbling noises, that are never a good sign.
I sit it out for a while, hoping that it will settle, but it gets more and more uncomfortable.
Sighing, I grab my stomach and my loo roll and set off for a walk.
I stagger back into camp, feeling distinctly ill. I'm worried.
I realise I might made a school boy error. Although I've been using a water filter for drinking water, when I made dinner, the water I boiled my pouch in.. Well.. Never boiled. I used it to make a coffee with, after cooking my stew.. It might have been at a simmer for a long time.. But is that enough? Have I picked up a bug?
My guts spasm again. I decide an early night might be a capital idea.
I quickly round up my stuff and unceremoniously drop it in my porch to keep the worst of the moisture off it. I crawl into my sleeping bag and lie there feeling awful. I'm sweating and thinking how traumatic the walk out tomorrow could be.. Especially if I'm caught short on the path.. My imagination runs riot, I can't help but think about how busy it will be tomorrow, a line of people headed for Alport, spurred on by the beautiful weather, while I'm at the side of the path, saying "morning" to everyone, wanting to be invisible and being mortified with embarrassment.
I wake early. Sometime around seven.
Although I feel much better, I decide that being back at the visitor centre, with it's toilet block is a very good idea. I quickly break camp, helped by the fact that I had spare room in the pack on the way out. So I throw everything in, only making sure that I put heavy stuff in the bottom. I don't bother with breakfast, I'm not sure if Its a good idea or not.
I decide that it's safer to be hungry.
I shoulder my pack and start out of the woods. It's blindingly sunny as I walk out. It's a beautiful day. Within minutes, I feel better. I'm looking forward to the walk, looking forward to doing something.
The walk back out passes in a beautiful blur of countryside, the only annoyance being the spring I normally use to fill my bottle halfway, has a herd of cows on it. They all have young calves and watch me wearily as I give them as much space as I can. Sadly, it means topping off my water bottle is not going to be possible. I'm not about to try and put myself between a mother and her calf...
That leaves me about half a litre for the rest of the walk.
I arrive at the visitor centre with drips left in it. I'm hot and thirsty and my body is screaming for sugar.
I have a cider ice lolly and a coke. Ok, it's not isotonic and coke isn't perhaps the healthiest choice.. But I firmly believe that your body knows what it needs, especially when you're feeling under par...
I pop in the visitor centre and buy a book to keep me occupied (the bus isn't due for nearly four hours yet).
I stretch out in the sun by the reservoir, book in hand. It's about bomber crews in WWII..
As I'm laid there, reading, a Dakota flies over.. It's really low, skimming the treetops.. The bomber roars over, while I'm reading about the crews and bombers of that era. It was a welcome, exhilarating coincidence..
Without realising it, its time for me to wander up to the bus stop and as I board, I realise I'm sad. Really, really sad.
I don't want to leave. I may have had some trials and was interminably bored at times, but I want more. I've just slowed down, just relaxed...
I don't think it's going to be long before I'm back out in the hills again.