009Well, I entered this one with high ambitions of finally smashing out the 29 mile route this year… but as usual I had had fantasies about getting much fitter than I actually have done…

I met Sue at the start, in the village hall at Swythamley, one of those Peak District villages that manages to be rather difficult to find and, as I have heard described, in the ‘arse end of nowhere’.

As we set off, it was quite clear that the overwhelming theme of today’s walk was going to be mud. I haven’t seen such a variety of mud in a long while… sticky mud, slippery mud, glutinous mud…


Sue wasn’t feeling great as she had been unwell earlier in the week, which meant that I didn’t feel too bad about holding her back with my slow unfitness, so we quickly made the decision to ‘just’ do 20 miles today. I guess you know you’re a long distance walker when 20 hilly muddy miles feels like the easy option! This is a great event in this respect- as the distances are made up of loops for the 22 and 27/ 29 mile routes, you can choose the distance you are going to attempt as you get there.

All routes start with an ascent to a trip point before dropping down through farmland towards a steep pull up through fields onto the rocky spine of the Roaches. It was when the mud came right over my brand new walking shoes that I realised that they were just not going to stay clean and new looking for very long! I remarked to Sue that I didn’t see the point in manufacturers making walking shoes in such lovely bright colours; they should just supply them in varying shades of brown/ green, with names like ‘manure’ or Peak District brown’.

Tittesworth Reservoir from The Roaches

Tittesworth Reservoir from The Roaches

At one point we were joined by a little terrier type dog, called Daisy according to her name tag, but she disappeared as we approached a farm and a kind farmer agreed to keep an eye out for her.

On top of The Roaches

On top of The Roaches

As we climbed onto the top of the Roaches the sun came out and we had a glorious view over the moors towards Shutlingsloe. After the first checkpoint the route drops down through woods to Gradbach Youth Hostel and we sloshed through ankle deep mud as a little lad walking the other way with his family commented that it looked like Chocolate World. Sue and I said if the mud was melted chocolate we would be walking on all fours hoovering it up!

Three Shires Head

Three Shires Head

After Gradbach there is a steep pull up through muddy fields to a track leading to the packhorse bridge at Three Shires Head- a brief respite before another steep and muddy climb up to the road. We could hear the annoying buzz of off-road motor bikes using the tracks- I have nothing against the many sensible riders that respect the environment and show courtesy but the bunch we met descending the track to Wildboarclough- marked no motorised vehicles- weren’t. One thought a great gate opening technique was to just repeatedly bash it with his bike wheel and three more decided to ride past us giving us hardly any room and revvving their engines loudly in an attempt to intimidate. Unfortunately when the bikes use these tracks, particularly in winter, they tend to turn them into a rutted muddy mess that nobody can then use…

All our anger was soon spirited away by a warm, cheesy Staffordshire oatcake and hot coffee and we were quite glad we had decided to do the shorter option as we could linger a little. Eventually we heaved ourselves up and over more muddy fields to a track onto the moors. We went a little off route here and were corrected by a lady leading a girl on a horse, in an I’m-friendly-but-please-leave-my-land-now kind of way.

Wild moorland

Wild moorland

I love this section, it feels so wild and remote with sweeping views over a landscape of rolling moorland and dry stone walls. It started to hail, and the temperature dropped noticeably so we donned waterproofs before sloshing our way back down Chocolate World to the woods.

We had a trudge down a very wet and muddy track towards the steep descent into Wincle with its brewery and trout farm- it was here that the 20 mile sweepers caught us. They told us they had been following four walkers who had dropped out, so they came after us! I always feel under pressure walking with the sweepers, even though we were still well within the time limit, but they didn’t rush us and chatted with us during the long road walk back to Swythamley. I was pleased to see that there was still plenty of food left- this event is renowned for all kinds of delicious salads and quiche.

A good day out- but a difficult one due to the copious amounts of mud! I don’t know if I am ever going to achieve the 29 mile route at this time of year… maybe I should walk the route in Summer instead!

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