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Cabin Fever

Ambassadors Lewis & Jack uncover a secret bothy in their own backyard

It’s not often you discover a hidden feature in an area that you spend a lot of time, but whilst scouring a map one dreary evening I came across a bothy on my home ground. Since finding it, I’d been obsessively scanning maps of various dates to find out as much as I could. Sadly with little result.

A few months ago my old man and I attempted to locate said cabin on foot, starting off below Bleaklow. In typical fashion, the fog set in thick. After endless trudging, limited visibility and with sunset looming, we called it a day. The cabin remained shrouded in mystery.

I had cabin fever, I couldn’t shake it from my mind. When I don’t make it to a location, I find it hard to put it to bed, so set about devising a two day route, using the cabin as accommodation.

I intended to head off with fellow Gather Outdoors ambassadors Jack Ansty and Arran Cross. Sadly Arran had to drop out, but mental notes had been made and maps had been marked. There was no turning back. Jack and I had to go for it.

After a slightly delayed start, Jack and I set off, our route roughly mimicking Snake Pass. Within half an hour we were already seeing views that were new to us, odd to think with us being only a few hundred metres from one of the main roads across the Peaks. New views in an area where you thought you’d seen everything it had to offer, now that’s a pretty good thing to experience.

That is one of the things I strive for: to find a new angle or perspective on a place which has seemingly been overdone, to show people there is always something new, even close to home. Our wonderful country has some incredible places. They aren’t hard to get to. People seem scared to crack out a map and spend an evening doing some research. Instead they just go to the same old touristy places, stick to the same old path, take the same old photos as everyone else.

As we meandered along the side of the valley, it was clear we had picked an opportune weekend, the colours were astounding. No matter where you turned, your eyes would be confronted with vibrant golds, reds and purples. Small patches of striking lime green, presumably by the side of a spring, would grab your attention. We were right at that turning point. Although technically already in Autumn some flora still clung on as if it were summer, but not for much longer.

The landscape varied with each mile. We passed through woods carpeted by more fly agaric than I have ever laid eyes upon. We trudged along a remote road, our tarmac-trance broken by a ruined building peering out from the low water level here, or a tree so vibrant you could describe it as ablaze there. Finally we reached unchartered territory, walking along the aptly named Cold Side opposite the magically named Slippery Stones. The terrain closed in. We were in a steep-sided valley walking a rough track clearly passable by but a few high-clearance off-roaders. It was as if we had suddenly been picked up and dropped somewhere in the far north of Scotland. As we tramped along the rocky track we passed but one person, a middle-aged chap, who had become lost. We gave him directions, offered him water and parted ways.

The light began to slowly dim, and only now did we realise that tonight the clocks were to change. We went on, across a river, up a steep bank, passing by a ruined building and along a muddy ledge, then in the distance nestled under the shadow of the moor we finally found our cabin. Not a moment too soon. The sun disappeared and low cloud blew in up the clough we had just endured. We fumbled with wooden door and its crude ‘lock’ and both collapsed in the, almost, homely embrace of what was to be home for the night.

Our evening was spent as if friends for years, cooking dinner on my stove and polishing off a bottle of port between us. We spent hours by candlelight, talking adventures, photography and our lives so far. Even before this weekend, I found myself warming to Jack. He is one of the select few, who in order to capture incredible photographs, is prepared to walk for hours, and in the process risk getting soaking wet, developing trench foot and probably end up bleeding. An almost blatant disregard for personal safety in the pursuit of adventure is second nature to me. I don’t often find it displayed by others. I would be lying if I said we slept well. The wind didn’t exactly whistle through the holes in the walls, more saunter in, but we did sleep, for a little too long in fact.

Day two began with our passage along an eight foot deep trench, reminiscent of the Battle of the Somme, cut through the peat by the tiniest of watercourses. We passed from moor to moor, ending up at a point where three or four valleys met, not too dissimilar to the Lake District. We briefly descended back to wooded cover, then up a painfully steep climb onto a vast moor. As we eventually neared its edge we found ourselves atop a great cliff created by a historic landslide, overlooking the magical Alport Castle. Jauntily we found our way down the cliff and scaled the castle itself, rocks green and slippy with a few teeth clenching moments both on the way up and down. Soon after we found our way back the way we trod the day before, but not before laying our eyes on another cabin some distance away. Another discovery to explore on another day. 

Before long we were back where we had started, tired and downtrodden. We made our way home, but not before a few moments pleasure recalling the adventure that had just passed. Laughs were had and more plans made. There was no doubt that we would embark on something even more impressive together in the not too distant future. Our friendship made sure by this surreal trip.

Hung on a wall in the cabin was this poem, written by Howard Hill in May 1979, presumably a local chap and lover of the Peaks.

Greetings safe haven of refuge,

As hastily I push open the door,

Seeking a welcome protection,

As the snow blizzard sweeps o’er the moor.

Your stony walls thick and protective,

Your rickety chairs invite rest,

What more can the world’s finest mansion?

Provide for a storm battered guest.

The table that stands by the window,

It hasn’t seen polish in years,

Its drawer full of basic necessities,

Can banish all hunger fears.

I get out my food and coffee,

Whilst happily munching away,

When in walks two other ramblers,

To shelter on this snowy day.

We chat about plovers, curlews,

Hares, grouse, skylarks as well,

The bleak rugged peak as a beauty,

Which only the natives can tell.

I glance through the cabins small window,

The sun chased the blizzard away,

It’s time to get back to the lowlands,

The city’s not that far away.

Cheerfully we take leave of each other,

On parting say ‘Have a good day’,

We northerners know to do it,

Up here by the rough Pennine Way.

As I walk the path through the heather,

To that cabin my thought oft returns,

It’s provided protection for years,

Experienced and those who must learn.

So if I ever you’re walking on the moor,

And come to this small clough,

Then pay a visit and remember,

To preserve it for ever a must.

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