But the sour demeanours on the train vanished at the sound of a clatter at the end of the car. “The tea trolley”, grinned an elderly woman (who moments before looked like she would have taken the leg off of anyone who dared disturb her peace), and everyone began fussing and rubbing their hands together in childlike anticipation. Not a one of them bought anything—the idea of refreshment was apparently quite enough.
|The pastoral landscape near Jacob's Ladder embodies a tradition of multi-use parks|
Returning from the beautiful walk, I opened the door of the hostel and was literally hit by a wall of noise. The source? Sixty-five 7-8-year-olds. Dinner, needless to say, was a less-than-peaceful affair, until the head teacher stood and bawled out some command like a drill sergeant. The little noise-making machines formed ranks and ran howling from the room, off to their night hike. Undoubtedly their teachers were hoping that a few of them would take an untimely tumble off the ridge. The resulting silence was only momentary. One of the staff, inexplicably, began singing Christmas carols.
The next morning, armed against the inclement weather that never materialised, I set off up the slopes for Kinder Scout itself.
The path wound through increasingly steep moorland, over which ran a crystal clear stream. The arm of the valley narrowed and pushed upwards until at last it flattened out, on top of the world, dark, open moor stretching away to either side. This was the site, from my perspective, of one of the most important battles of the twentieth century, fought in 1932 when rebellious ramblers stormed Kinder Scout in the face of stiff resistance from armed gamekeepers. Their persistence marked a critical moment in the struggle for the Right to Roam, which now permits us little people to access the moors, mountains and meadows across Britain.
British National Parks are very different from their North American counterparts, and reflect not only a very different historical and social experience (most land is in private hands and is being utilised for cultivation or stock ranging), but a tradition of multi-use (which has been both negotiated during the second half of the twentieth-century while also pre-dating the enclosure trend during the early modern period). So you are never as isolated as when in the heart of one of the large National or State Parks of the U.S. (though atop Kinder Scout, no village or human structure in sight, the solitude is real), and there is no functioning concept of wilderness.
|Or eerie, as around the Wool Packs on Kinder Scout|
I was fortunate in my weather, and in the emptiness of the paths that led across the high peak, past strange rocky outcroppings and around mirror-like tarns.
This wasn’t my only brush with the dangerous fauna of the British countryside. On my way up to Hollins Cross I found my way barred by a massive bull, which eyed me contemptuously. I crept as unobtrusively as I could manage around him, and found myself ankle deep in mud. As though sensing that I was at a disadvantage, the brute lunged towards me, and I threw myself to higher ground, which involved landing in the remains of his dinner from the night before, and went on my undignified way. And then there was the horse in Winnats Pass that tried to eat my arm...
|...turns into this, the Vale of Edale...|
|...into this, Kinder Scout|
As with many landscapes in Britain’s countryside, that of the Peak District is one that has been profoundly shaped by human hands and which, nonetheless, retains areas (like those on Kinder Scout, or on the edges of the Vale of Edale) which feel deeply quiet, rural and peaceful.
More peaceful, that is, than my last night in the hostel, which was periodically interrupted as the guy in the bunk above mine lurched upright and shouted, "I told you!" "I've got it!" and various other phrases which were rather less germane outside of his dreams than within them.