By Rick Ansell
It is one of my great regrets that I didn’t study geology. Every time I look at a landscape, I feel like I’m looking at a book that I can’t read. Especially when I go up to the White Peak.
White Peak, because it is predominantly limestone, as opposed to Dark Peak, which is gritstone–God’s own rock, as any climber will tell you (from God’s own country as any Yorkshire person will tell you).
The white and the dark have a very distinct boundary in the Hope Valley. To the north, the Great Ridge running from Lose Hill through Hollins Cross to Mam Tor is grit. To the south, the gentler limestone rises up, cut by spectacularly steep and narrow valleys, where the softer rock has been eroded by streams and underneath there are cave systems
We went up on Saturday evening to camp in the field where the next round of the Peak Raid was to start. I was just brewing the morning tea when someone came and knocked on the tent and told us that the race was cancelled as the field was too wet to park 90 odd cars. They couldn’t have a traffic jam down the farm track as the milk lorry needed to get through at 9.00.
I poured the tea and went to chat to Paul, the organiser. He was despondent. The sun was shining, the field was drying, but the decision had been made, the message sent late last evening. There were a few others camped in the field and a few more did arrive, having not got the message. He stuck a crate of maps at what would have been the start and told us we could do what we liked.
The sun, as I say, was shining. Two spectacular fins of limestone stuck up on either side, looking like the fossilised sails of a long sunken ship: Chrome Hill and Parkhouse Hill. I picked up a map, and as I drank my second cup of tea, traced out routes linking the controls together.
Often when I do these score events I wonder about how it would be to link up all the controls. Here was my chance.
I didn’t need to stick to the three-hour time limit. With the Second Wave upon us, who knows how much longer we are going to be able to run in the hills unless we live in them. I didn’t know the area, so a long run would be a good introduction and maybe a temporary, at least, valediction .
Three controls done, I managed a steady jog up a long hill to a ridge, impressing a lady dog walker (and myself, actually). Suddenly, the ground fell away and a vast quarry appeared below my feet. A huge digger was filling an enormous truck with what looked like the last vestiges of the countryside and in a break in the hillside, several chimneys drove clouds of smoke into the air. Mmmmm, limestone is a key component of cement. It felt like the whole White Peak was being dug up so that more concrete can be laid down.
I looked east to the more bucolic landscape, cow fields and those two sails looking, from here, like the rims of some ancient volcano that had once exploded spectacularly, blotting out the sun for centuries. Of course it hadn’t, because the geography I learnt at school remined me that limestone is a sedimentary rock, not an igneous one. No volcanoes here, I think. The fins must have been harder rock, and the surrounding area slowly washed away by the rain.
An hour in and I was feeling like if I had been doing the race, I might have got a pretty good score, but the field paths started to become indistinct on the ground. Cows stated to take an interest in me as I passed through, I missed a couple of turnings and the momentum of the run ebbed away.
The sun went and it started to feel bleak as I passed down-at-heel farms with rusting machinery abandoned in the yards. Doggedly I picked off the control sites, and Parkhouse Hill came back into view. I got completely lost in a field and waded thigh deep through a river to find myself not by the road as I had hoped, but in somebody’s back garden. I had to jump back into the river.
Finally, I reached the foot of Parkhouse. There was a control on top, and the last one was on the top of Chrome Hill. The ridges on both were sharp and almost like a proper mountain. Enough, certainly, to unsettle some of the families toiling up or teetering back down. Yes, it was good to be out and on the hills but I got back feeling a bit flat, having missed the uncertainty and focus of the time limit and the race. And I discovered I had missed one of the controls, so mission not even accomplished.
I heard today that the last two rounds of the series have now been cancelled due the Second Wave. So many hammer-blows you hardly notice them anymore.