Leaden BootThe sweat crusted on my face as my lungs heaved and I tried to force my feet to lug my body ever upwards. The heat was relentless and I had been walking for hours now. Every part of my body demanded that this was madness and I should just stop right now…

This madness was the 26.2 mile Leaden Boot challenge walk, which I had first completed two years ago and remembered steep climbs and oppressive heat. Over 5,000 feet worth often steep ascent to be exact, much of it really steep. As I drove to the start in the tiny stone Peak village of Alstonefield the sun was already high in the sky, promising another very hot day.

The Leaden Boot has a charming and unique tradition called the Blessing of the Boots. A short service is conducted in the Old School Gardens opposite the village hall by local Vicar Rev Anne Ballard. At the end all walkers file out singing a heart rendition of Jerusalem, and as they leave the Gardens, she sprinkles water over boots and shoes to ‘bless soles’ and keep feet blister free.


Running shoes duly blessed and the start declared, I set off down the road to pretty Milldale, an easy warm up before the first steep lung busting ascent of Baley Hill. After a short ridge walk came the steepest descent of the day; I had to pick my way down a grassy, muddy bank, resorting to hands and knees on one occasion. It was almost a relief to reach the river Dove in Dovedale and start the steep stepped climb towards Ilam and the first checkpoint. There were buckets of water at each checkpoint which I took advantage of by soaking my hat and giving myself a sudden and very welcome cold shower.

The first climb

The first climb

The River Dove and rock spires

The River Dove and rock spires

Descending to Ilam

Descending to Ilam

I grabbed some biscuits and left, and after a brief spell along the river, set off across fields and through delightful woodland filled with wild garlic. The pungent scent of crushed garlic accompanied me as I sweated and dripped my way to the second checkpoint at Slade House.

Wild garlic

Wild garlic

I helped myself to a slab of rocky road cake and immediately felt sick. I sat and drank for a few minutes until I felt well enough to heave my body up for the gradual descent down grassy banks to the ruined walls of Old Throwley Hall. The views were simply outstanding- the conical bulk of Thorpe Cloud could be seen to the right and soon after the sheer white cliffs of Beeston Tor came into view. This walk, although tough, certainly shows off the Peak District in all its glory, although I suspect that many of the descents would be slippery in wet weather.

Views back to Thorpe Cloud

Views back to Thorpe Cloud

The ruins of Throwley Old Hall

The ruins of Throwley Old Hall

Beeston Tor

Beeston Tor

After a brief flirtation with the Manifold Cycle Trail I was faced with another killer climb past Weags Barn to the next checkpoint at Grindon. Lungs heaving, I slowed to a crawl and as I approached the village felt light headed and dizzy. I decided that if I was going to continue then I needed to rest for a while and so I collapsed on a grass verge already populated with exhausted prone bodies and forced down some salty pretzels.

I took off shoes and socks to give my wrinkled feet an airing, and pretty soon I felt okay again so reluctantly left the homemade cake and pretzels behind and set off through fields to reach a narrow path contouring the hillside with stunning views over Wetton Mill and my next objective, Ecton Hill.

Descending to Wetton Mill

Descending to Wetton Mill

I had kept myself going with the promise of an ice cream at Wetton Mill and it fortified me nicely for the slog to the trig point at the summit of Ecton Hill. The climb is well worth it though for the amazing 360 degree panorama of the White Peak and the magnificent descent past old mine shafts to the folly at Ecton and the next checkpoint.

The view from Ecton Hill

The view from Ecton Hill

The next objective was the village of Sheen with the bulk of Sheen Hill rearing up into the distance. I wasn’t at all surprise to discover that we would be climbing it, or most of it anyway, and so we faced yet another tortuous ascent to a check point which proved to be very popular as they had a plentiful supply of mini chocolate bars. There were quite a few walkers in front and behind me all day which is quite unusual for me as I am usually well at the back.

The view from the slopes of Sheen Hill

The view from the slopes of Sheen Hill

I was feeling pretty tired by now and the muscles at the front of my thighs were protesting very loudly. I walked through several fields of cows, for once not caring if they decided to trample me, but they were quite civilised creatures who just ignored us. I was beyond enjoying the lovely descent through fields and past rocky outcrops into Hartington although I did manage to appreciate the home made flapjack at the last checkpoint there.

Descending to Hartington

Descending to Hartington

The last part of the route starts off deceptively gentle, following the river through Beresford Dale. However there is a final sting in the tale in the form of a final ascent through the grassy cleft of Narrow Dale. By this point I just wanted to finish as I had truly had enough. I managed to overtake some folks on the final descent through fields to Alstonefield which was a minor miracle, but it was such a relief to reach the finish and to be able to sit down! I was more than ready for my huge slice of pie and wedge of home made orange cake.

Last climb of the day... looking back down Narrowdale

Last climb of the day… looking back down Narrowdale

My time was 10:02 hours… if I had known that before I might have tried to jog a little to come in under ten hours! A tough day out, but a thoroughly good walk. And my feet stayed blister free!

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