White-Out on Kinder Scout


Imagine this under heavy snow

A discussion at work about the weather conditions today has brought back another snow memory that I’d forgotten for quite some time.

This one goes back to 1983, when I was going out, for several months, in a desultory, going nowhere manner, with a young lady who I initially met at work, and who I continued dating after I changed firms.

I’d not long since connected with Linda, an old friend from childhood, who was now married, to an ex-Army PTI turned Sports Centre Personal Trainer. All of us enjoyed fell-walking (well, you know that about me anyway), so we agreed to go down to Edale as a foursome one Sunday morning.

It had snowed overnight, and conditions on the ridges didn’t look propitious, but we decided to change into our boots and set off. First up was a stop at the Visitor Centre, where Ray filled in a route card, setting out where we were going and when we expected to be back.

This surprised and amused me, having never done anything like this, before or since in the Lakes. It became a minor bone of friendly contention between Linda and I over the years as she thought I was being derelict in never leaving any information behind about where I was going, and me pointing out that there were no such Visitor centres in the Lakes, there were so many different places from which my walks started, and that I was not prepared to leave a note on the windscreen of my car, saying, in effect, that I wasn’t going to be back for six hours, during which time you can rob this vehicle with impunity.

We were ascending by Grindsbrook Clough, which was then the official start to the Pennine Way at the Edale end, but which was closed to walkers some years later, on safety grounds I presume: I do not know if it has ever been re-opened.

Grindsbrook Clough is a narrow, curving channel into the bulk of Kinder Scout, initially relatively level but soon winding upwards in quite a steep fashion. I have an image of approaching the ascending section, the sides of the Clough closing in, the snow clouds down on the higher section, a dark roof.

We scrambled up to the edge of the plateau and stopped for a consultation. It was truly white-out conditions, visibility limited to at most ten yards, and less for me because I’d had to take off my glasses and stick them in an anorak pocket because they were filling with snow. There was nothing to be seen except snow: all arund, all underfoot.

I say a consultation, but it was mainly Ray and Linda. It was agreed that we would walk on to some prominent landmark on Kinder’s wide top, the name of which I have long since forgotten. Personally, I would not even have gone as far as the edge of the plateau in those conditions, even though Grindsbrook Clough was an unerring route and we’d got that far with no difficulty, but everyone else seemed enthusiastic so, trusting in Ray’s Army training, I raised no objections.

So we set off in single file, Ray in the lead, Linda behind, then Nicola, and me bringing up the rear in the traditional gallant male role. The path wound here and there. I lost all sense of distance travelled. There was nothing to see but the cage of snow, blowing through us.

After I’d gotten thoroughly fed up with where I was, we got to where we were going, whatever it was. There were some taller rocks, in a kind of outcrop that might have been interesting if it was actually visible, but it wasn’t. Linda and Ray agreed that we wouldn’t hang around, and would immediately turn round and go back. As we were still lined up in march order, Ray turned to me and said, “Ok, Martin, you lead us back.”

“You what?” I said, in a rather loud voice. “I have no idea where we are. You get up here now!”

So we went back to the edge of the plateau in the same order, Ray at the front, me at the back and the ladies between. Once more, we twisted and turned in the white-out conditions, and once more Ray led us to the top of Grindsbrook Clough with dead reckoning, and we started down.

I’ve been caught in storms and thick cloud on Lakeland tops, I’ve climbed up through underfoot snow and given up on Pavey Ark because of it, within about a hundred yards of the summit as I learned when I came back, but that blind walk across a part of the Kinder plateau is the most extreme weather conditions I’ve found myself in.

And people wonder why I usually went out on my own, and took my own decisions!

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