This doesn't look like much on a dark monitor and when it isn't at full resolution, but it's one of my favourite portraits I've ever taken. I like the framing, composition and focus. It was taken in a cave at Dovedale Canyon, our first day's hike and the easiest. The trail meandered alongside a river. Some parts of it were half-drowned, others cobbled and one long stretch was covered by a sturdy boardwalk. The trees lining the path dipped their bare white limbs towards the rapidly rushing water. The riverbed seemed to be completely carpeted by luminous green plants, lending the one splash of colour to the otherwise grey-and-tawny winter landscape, aside from these tiny ferns clinging to the canyon walls.
The next day, we woke early and wolfed down a surprisingly generous cooked breakfast, provided only between the hours of 0800 and 0900, with notification of the time of intended consumption provided the previous evening. Many layers were donned, thermoses filled with tea and coffee, lunches packed and Ordinance Survey maps repeatedly consulted. At last we piled into the car and headed for the base of Kinder Scout, purportedly the highest peak in the Peak District, although I have heard tell that there are peaks in the Lake District which are higher.
Once we passed the reservoir, the trail rapidly disappeared into a slush of soggy heathland. We were forced to stop repeatedly to consult the map in order to complete the ascent.
Eventually we worked out that we needed to head up the icy slope on the far left of the panorama below, which looks much better if you embiggen it.
Behind me, you can see the reservoir from the first photo.
We celebrated our victory by hiding behind one of these smooth outcroppings and eating our sandwiches, but we didn't linger long. Though it was clear and the only precipitation was a light dusting of snow, the wind was bitterly cold, so we pressed on into the white.
One of the troops apparently didn't have enough to eat for lunch. His attempt to stalk this grouse ended in failure, although we discovered later that this was probably fortunate, as grouse-hunting is forbidden during mating season. The male grouse have a rather exciting method of displaying their masculine prowess. They hide in the heather and then ping vertically out of it, flapping and squawking and generally making the most godawful racket. This is supposed to be impressive to the females. We didn't see any evidence that it was actually working.
It had been quite difficult to discern the trail during the hike along the ridge to the trig point, which is marked by that white squared-off pyramid in the upper left. Since Kinder Scout is suffering from erosion due to the number of ramblers who visit it each year, we were feeling rather guilty for most probably having trudged over a certain amount of pristine heathland. We stopped to get our bearings so that we could finish along the Pennine Way without doing any more damage.
As we descended, the weather changed rapidly. Visibility improved with every step. The fine snow that swirled around us cleared.
Invigorated, we found the nearest pub in which to have celebratory ales, warm our chilled limbs and watch the rugby, of course. Well aired, well fed and well exercised, we were all asleep by 10 PM.
Unfortunately, one of our indomitable crew forgot to turn the alarm on his mobile off, and thus we were rudely awakened by clanging bells from under someone's bunk at 7 AM. Since I'm an early riser by nature, I couldn't go back to sleep, so I scampered off to the showers and then went for a wander before breakfast.
The hostel itself is a Victorian folly, which is peculiar enough, but for some reason they decided that what they really needed for outdoor recreation was an ill-kempt crazy golf course, which you can see in the foreground, covered in wet leaves.
Tell me I'm not the only person who's seriously tempted to be in Eyam on 4th September 2010 to see this baby in action.
One of the reasons I like being in England so much is that it never ceases to provide me with a sense of historical perspective. This sundial, which is one of the newer items in Eyam's churchyard, the oldest being an 8th century Celtic cross, is one year older than my country.
The goth in me can never resist a good gravestone photo.
Once everyone else was awake, showered and fed, we decided to seek out one more walk before the great drive back to the South. A conversation with some of the hostel staff the previous evening had convinced us that the Derwent Edge around Ladybower reservoir would be a good choice.
About halfway up the cliff face, we decided that the hostel staff hadn't liked us very much.
The brutal wind on the ridge once again necessitated a hasty lunch before the long, meandering descent to the lower end of the reservoir. Though the ground was waterlogged, the weather stayed clear until we reached the car, where the bloke magnanimously drove his shamelessly sleeping passengers all the way back to Cambridge in pouring rain. Fortunately, he had plenty of presents to open on arrival.