Digested read: headed up to Mam Tor with a headtorch with hundreds of other people to get my photo taken. A grand adventure, to help Mend Our Mountains. Really hope that works.
Well that was weird. Good weird, but definitely weird. I wonder if we had a glimpse of what it will be like when the world ends. People bumbling about in the dark, desperately seeking a leader, but finding everyone else equally clueless about what to do for the best. Still, more of that later.
Yesterday was most educational. For a start, do you know what BMC stands for? That’s right, The British Medical Council! Only it doesn’t you muppet. That’s actually the GMC, and this explains why it was not so strange to find the BMC supporting this Mam Tor skyline event. Because, people, the BMC is actually The British Mountaineering Council which you probably already knew all about, but was a complete revelation to me. Just in case you are also in that minority that didn’t know any better, according to their website:
The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) is the representative body that exists to protect the freedoms and promote the interests of climbers, hill walkers and mountaineers, including ski-mountaineers. The BMC recognises that climbing, hill walking and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions.
So I suppose the reference to risk of injury and death might potentially overlap in a venn diagram of common features between the GMC and the BMC but otherwise clearly not the same thing at all actually, so glad we have cleared all that up.
That’s all very well, but what has this all got to do with the price of eggs you are probably wondering. I’ll refrain from lamenting the welfare of chickens for now, and try to fill you in. So, a few weeks back, I saw some random Facebook post, seeking volunteers/ participants, to sign up for an initiative that is part of an apparently nationwide campaign ‘Mend Our Mountains.’ Despite the absence of either a medal or T-shirt for those who take part – which is becoming my standard expectation if I’m to be persuaded to venture out these days – it did look interesting. It was free to take part, but you did have to register in advance. The idea was to basically light up the Mam Tor skyline by packing it with lots of people wearing head torches. This all to raise awareness of Britain’s amazing landscapes, and the challenges they face. Raising funds too – Mend Our Mountains, Make One Million to help maintain and preserve some of the pathways that give access to such stunning locations.
Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million is a call to action to everyone who values the hills, mountains and landscapes of Britain. It aims to galvanise mass support for things we all use: the paths, bridleways and bridges which underpin our experiences in the great outdoors. Through a year-long appeal we aim to raise £1 million in total for a range of vital projects within the UK’s entire family of 15 National Parks. Navigate our website to find out more.
To fully illuminate the Great Ridge, we need hundreds of volunteers to turn out on the night and pack the length of the route, from Mam Tor (the ‘Shivering Mountain’) on the western end of the ridge, all the way across to Lose Hill at the eastern end. Headline sponsors Cotswold Outdoor and Snow + Rock will be helping us drum up support in-store and online.
A combination of head torches worn by the volunteers and high-powered lanterns will create a snaking line of light across the route which will then be captured on camera. The resulting publicity will give a big boost to the BMC’s Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million appeal, as well as highlighting National Camping and Caravanning Week.
Not sure about the caravan thing, but a romp up Mam Tor on a summer’s evening sounded fun, yeah, that’ll be fine, sign up, don’t really think about it, wait and see how things unfold.
So finally the day dawned. The Light Night 22 May 2018. I’d got an email giving some details of the event, but despite its length it lacked basic details. Embarrassingly, given that I live in Sheffield in close proximity to Castleton and Mam Tor I don’t really know the area at all. I ventured up Mam Tor once, on a winter day, within weeks of relocating to Sheffield. I was practically blown off the top by horizontal wind and rain, it
was an entirely unpleasant wasn’t an entirely pleasant experience to be fair, though it was memorable. ‘Nippy out’ doesn’t really cover it. Parking was described as being in ‘Goosehill’ and the email gave a link that presumed you had a smart phone, which I don’t and said vague things referring to marshals as being around to direct you, and it being a 30 minute walk to the Mam Tor control point where you had to meet. Oh well, how hard can it be to find? I thought to myself, as I squished a headtorch, a water bottle, loads of clothes and some naked bars into my battered backpack. It’ll all be clear in the end.
I was hoping to go with other Smilies, as a fair number had planned on going. Then, due to communication failures, my paranoia, extenuating circumstances, confusion and no doubt contributory negligence on my part, many bailed, and long story short, I ended up going on my own. Oh my life, the scenery heading out was absolutely stunning! I am so lucky to live in this part of the world where on my doorstep is such stupendous beauty. As is always the way, I inwardly berated myself for not heading out further afield more often. It was breathtaking out there. Perfect views across the moors and mountain. I’m not going to lie, my enthusiasm waned somewhat as I headed to Goosehill, using a postcode scavenged from the internet, and ended up in a cul-de-sac, totally lost. I then headed off towards the peak caverns – or whatever they are called, again, absolutely stunning, and I found the Devil’s Arse car park, but remembered vaguely reading somewhere that this was not where to park. I didn’t see a single sign anywhere, I asked loads of random people if they were heading to the Mend our mountains event and got blank uncomprehending looks back in return. This did not bode well. I headed up through the extraordinary landscape scouting for clues. It was certainly picturesque, but I had no clue where I was supposed to be, and there was zero signage, and no Close Encounters style gathering in progress that I could see. I was torn between annoyance and disappointment. If hundreds were out to support this that would be magnificent, but it would be such a shame if like me, wannabe participants were just aimlessly driving around tantalisingly close to proceedings but might as well be diving a coral reef in the antipodes as with no sense of where to rendezvous there seemed little chance of anyone getting to take part in this noble endeavour. I wanted the event to succeed, but was massively frustrated that it was so hard to locate it.
Eventually, in desperation I used the postcode on my event ticket. I know, I know, you are probably thinking why didn’t I use that in the first place. OK wise arse, well the thing is, that postcode didn’t correspond to the other directions we’d been given, and wasn’t a ‘proper’ carpark such that 800 participants might reasonably gather there. S33 8WA is in fact the point nearest the paths that lead to the Broken Road. I know this now, I didn’t last night.
I arrived at a pretty much deserted dead-end, from where you could see Mam Tor above but it was not at all obvious how to get to the check point from here. There was a camper van, and two other vehicles. In a last-ditch attempt to salvage things i asked some walkers who were donning walking boots if they were here for the Mend Our Mountains thing. They were! Hurrrah! They too were a bit discombobulated (I just really wanted to use that word today to be honest) as had seen neither any other potential participants, signage or marshals. However, they did know the area, and were confident that from where we were parked, we could walk up to the Mam Tor control point via the broken road. Nope, no idea what they were saying, white noise basically. They offered to let me walk up with them, but there was another new arrival who was just getting sorted, so I opted to follow them up with her, as they were confident it would be pretty much impossible to get lost.
We duly pootled on behind them. It was quite a haul. I didn’t put my watch on which is really annoying, as it would be interesting to see where we actually went. However, I can report that it was a long, hot, uphill trudge. Significantly further than I’d expected to walk. I was already fretting a bit about how on earth I’d find my way back again in the pitch dark. Particularly as the broken road – which it turns out, is exactly that, a broken road! Involved a fair bit of clambering as it just plummets away vertiginously. I learned later that this was at various times the Mam Tor Road was intended to be quite a major roadway, but the shivering mountain kept producing landslides that made it completely nonviable, and attempts to keep maintaining it were officially abandoned back in the late seventies. It was amazing though to look at, so unexpected in that landscape. Learn something every day. Sometimes lots of things!
Having hoiked our weary carcasses up the broken road, and past some cavern or other we were soon confused all over again. We kept asking people if they knew about the event, but nobody did. Eventually, we struck lucky and some walkers also participating in the event directed us to a patch of woodland, within which is the car park from which you can access Mam Tor. We got there eventually, but even when you were right on top of it there was not a solitary sign. Only the glimpse of hi-vis reflective clothing through the trees gave any clue that we were in the right place. This did not bode well for people finding the rendezvous point unaided, even if they set off intending to come….
Once in the car park, there was a jolly registration desk, with BMC bunting, and a big sign up saying ‘Mend Our Mountains’. A gaggle of marshals wearing hi-viz were mid-briefing with the organisers. The gist seemed to be that there was a super-race of senior marshals who would head off first and be placed at 300 metre intervals all along the ridge top. These were generally mountain leader qualified or equivalent. Other marshals would lead participants off in groups of ten, and then the idea was one head-torch donned participant would be placed at every 10 metres along the ridge. Then, to capture photos, participants would have to walk forward for about 5 metres, and then walk backwards over the same distance? Eh? Long exposure photography would then be able to capture the image of a line of light, as opposed to loads of little dots I think. The aspiration was something like this:
this was taken at The Lakeland Festival of light, and is pretty cool. Well, we’ll have to wait and see won’t we.
Part of the briefing included a plea to preserve such spaces. Brexit means there is no European funding for such projects; austerity has resulted in a loss of public funding it seems the fate of many such places could come down to private individuals, or organisations such as the BMC that try to fundraise to maintain access paths and similar. There was also general safety points about if there is an incident on the mountain, basically, call 999/ mountain rescue as you would in any ‘real’ emergency, though obviously there was an event HQ to assist. Particular mention was made of the importance of NOT SMOKING. There have been some devastating fires in the peaks in recent days. Some from BBQ kits but possibly some deliberately started too. Heartbreaking. One fire on the Eastern Moors covered around 45 hectares and will have had a severe impact on wildlife is believed to have been started deliberately. How crap is that.
The registration area was well organised, a long list of printed names of participants so we could be ticked off an issued with a wrist band as we arrived. There were collection buckets for change, and some merchandise. The mood was upbeat, and there was considerable optimism from the organisers that hundreds would be coming. Personally I was a bit dubious. So many I knew had dropped out and finding it was a challenge worthy of The Today Programme’s current penchant for setting a fiendish puzzle for today. I can never even understand the questions. Starting the day feeling inadequate is no fun at all.
Still, things were looking up, I espied a Smiley after all. Hurrah, there would be companionable yomping after all. As we were amongst the early arrivals, we were herded together in a group of ten, and started the trek across the ridge. Mam Tor to lose hill. This was most educational for me, as I’ve never known what all the various bits are called. We had the furthest to walk, as we’d set off early, so plenty of time to get to Losehill. It was quite a trek. It was gorgeous as we headed off, the sun slowly falling. It was still warm and the views were just stunning. My camera can’t do it justice, but you’ll get the idea maybe.
My camera might not have done it justice, but fortunately Phil Sproson’s did – check this image out, just wow! He is seeking donations for the cause so click on the link and donate to show your appreciation. And I was there people! You can just make out some people gathering in the distance.
The path is pretty clear, but quite scrambly in parts. I was increasingly doubtful about how I’d cope with the return leg in darkness. Oh well, in for a penny…
It was good fun really, being out in the landscape, chit chatting with other participants. I was reunited with the couple who I’d met parking up earlier. I was relieved, I was banking on them to get me back to my car later. We all chit chatted merrily. One had been to try to watch the flyby of the Lancaster Bomber at Derwent Dam to mark the Dambusters 75th anniversary. This entire event passed me by, I’d heard of it, then forgot, and because I’m essentially shallow, was almost pleased when it was cancelled because this removed my otherwise insurmountable fear of missing out. I accept it makes me a terrible human being that even if I may try to pretend otherwise, I was secretly momentarily relived the wind got in the way of everyone else’s fun because if I couldn’t enjoy it why should they. How terrible am I? A typhoon went instead, but was so much later than expected many of those who rocked up to see it missed that as well. Instead the Lancaster fly by took place later, unexpectedly, so everyone got to miss it basically. Oh well. Good that Johnny got his flight in the end I suppose.
Our companions turned out to be something of a media sensation. One having recently been featured in some cycling magazine. I know! The other had links to radio so we were mingling with the stars indeed. Mind you, everyone out and about on the ridge is now essentially a sporting superstar, as this event was graced with none other than Julia Bradbury! Oh my gawd, contain yourself people. Also, someone from Made in Chelsea, which none of us had ever seen, so, nope, no idea. So we all get to be TV superstars by association now. Mind you, whilst I don’t like to brag, I would like to point out that my own media career began with a BBC appearance whilst an audience member for the original Sooty and Sweep show. Just sayin.
Apparently, you can sometimes see the Aurora from Mam Tor. Wow, didn’t know that. We wondered whether we might see them, and whether we did or not we should just tell everyone we had, just because. We didn’t though, and we didn’t.
We tramped on and up, past many a senior marshal sat back and enjoying the views, often smiling broadly and/or munching on their sandwiches whilst waiting for the evening to unfold. It was all pretty relaxed and very, very spectacular. Here I am, trudging… thanks Smiley Buddy for the photo.
Eventually, we arrived at Losehill, which initially was to be our designated base camp. My smiley buddy settled down with her coffee flask for the duration. Almost immediately we were advised that we had to trek onward, to the next base camp. Just like an Everest expedition I imagine, where different satellite camps bring you ever closer to your final destination. Actually, it turned into a bit of a theme for the evening. Every time my Smiley buddy settled, unpacked her back pack and made herself comfy, we were shunted onward.
It was certainly picturesque, but it was also a bit confusing. We were all shooed up to the far end of the ridge, and looking back you could see that basically there were loads of us all squished up in one place, and a noticeable sparsity of any headtorch wearing walkers below. It seemed stupid that more walkers were being sent to join us, but there was this great gap of path with no-one on it. We all started speculating on what the plan was? Was there even a plan? If there was a plan, who was in possession of it? Nobody knew. This is where I started to wonder if this is what it will be like when the world ends. Loads of us stumbling around in the dark, clueless, asking each other what we should do, but nobody really showing any initiative. Wearing a hi-viz didn’t seem to confer any particular knowledge advantage either, and having a walkie-talkie didn’t necessarily help as not all were working. Oh dear. Dusk started to fall. The temperature dropped, plummeted even. I was glad of all my extra layers. It’s astonishing how the wind picks up and the sun goes in, and suddenly you realise just how exposed it is up there. It was positively nippy all over again.
Despite the confusion, it was quite jolly surrendering to the event and shunting back and forth up the mountain. At one point a red light appeared in the sky like a monitoring UFO, which is basically what it was, in the form of a drone. After this, frantic chit-chat ensued, and, as some of us had predicted, we were instructed to head back down the trail, back towards Mam Tor, to spread out more and infill the gaps. As little ants on the landscape, whilst important for the overall implementation of the vision, it was actually incredibly hard to judge where we should be. I got lucky at one point, finding myself on nice even path protected by a wall, but subsequent juggling meant I ended up on an exposed high point with a wind chill that was more than bracing as it whipped up my layers of clothing like a ferret on heat up a pair of trouser legs. Probably, I don’t really know from personal experience to be honest, but the analogy pleases me nevertheless.
Astonishingly, facilitated by much running to and fro from a particularly long-legged marshal, we did end up sort of in place, with head torches on. I started to believe that this might actually work, as we could see the lights way, way back on Mam Tor. Headtorches give off an incredible amount of light it seems. Because it was now dark, we had to communicate with shouts. But of course, every time someone turned their head to hear the instructions over the rush of wind and considerable distances, it meant their torches were facing the wrong way. Eventually, we were told to just face towards first Losehill, then Winhill (I think) where there was small beacon of white light we had to look at, and finally to stare ahead at Mam Tor itself for about 4 minutes, and then we all had to move as automatons, slowly walking forwards, I think that is where they hoped to get The Shot. According to the original briefing, we were then expected to walk backwards over the same distance. Mercifully, this plan was abandoned, it would have been impossible on that terrain. I’d love to have seen the paperwork for the risk assessment of that idea!
Suddenly, it seemed we were done! Oh! Is that it then? More confusion, but mainly a trail of people, like a great human caravan of migrants crossing a desert in search of water, we all started to file back off the hilltop. Four of us in our group of ten decided to take the ‘short cut’ off the mountainside, to take us more directly back to our cars, rather than go all the way back to the Mam Tor check point and then back down the broken road. To do this, we first had to surrender our wrist bands to our marshal so she could henceforth relinquish all responsibility for our safety. I say we all did, but actually the other three did, but my wrist band had mysteriously disappeared, much to my horror. Surely I’d not inadvertently dropped it and so littered the very terrain I was hoping to protect? Aaargh.
Having so signed our lives away, we headed off through a gate, over a style and plunged down the mountain. Ooops. Maybe this wasn’t the best of ideas. It was very steep, and very rough ground. The headtorches did illuminate the path, such as it was, but they also cast shadows, it made the grass look like it was three D film seen without the necessary special glasses. The ground seemed to move and it was all a bit out of focus. I was really picking my way down. Some bits required going on my arse to negotiate steep bits. I wasn’t having fun really. At one point I felt a bolt of pain go through my knee. Oops. It did pass, but that wasn’t good. Our guides though were incredibly attentive – the two walkers i met earlier who offered to guide me back were thoughtful and discrete. One went in front, and one behind at a tactful distance and carefully slow pace, for which I was very grateful. It’s ages since I’ve been out with a headtorch, and not ever over such unfamiliar terrain. It was quite lose shingle in places, and felt precarious. Then, just to keep you on your toes, periodically there’d be a really boggy patch – which I preferred as I’d rather have wet feet than go flying over the rough stones. Even so, I did some unscheduled fast bits as I stumbled on the slopes. There were some high points though, like the comedy style, which some of us clambered over, before reealising it had literally no purpose, being a style without a fence. Also, you could see the head torch lights of other walkers snaking down various paths, it was quite impressive.
After a mile or so of scrambling, we came across a fallen walker. She was trembling with shock, and I thought at first she might have broken an ankle. She was with calm friends, who were reassuring her, and encouraging her to take her time, but she was most insistent she wanted to get up. We sort of hovered at a distance in case help was needed, but her friends got her up and helped her, and we all walked on together for a bit, until we reached a sign that was the parting of the ways. They dropped down onto a tarmac road that would take them to Castleton, we headed back up for some reason, alongside a farm in darkness, and ending up back on the broken road. I had absolutely no idea where I was, and was very grateful that it wasn’t some ghastly orienteering challenge where we’d all have to take turns in leading the route or we’d still be out there. Slowly dying.
Whilst walking back, I learned that Julia whatsit is bivvying on Mam Tor with the Made in Chelsea chap. They must be mad, freezing out there, and there are some lovely B&Bs locally. Oh well, each to their own.
We didn’t die slowly though. Oh no. We ‘suddenly’ emerged at the turning point ahead of where we’d parked our cars.
This is how we got there – forgot to turn on my tomtom for first part. Doh:
There was one car lurking with headlights on. My Smiley Buddy confidently pronounced this to be her lift. I was more cautions, much more likely to be a mad axe murderer in my book, why else would you be parked up on a remote hillside near midnight other than to lie in wait for returning lost walkers I ask you? Still, she went calmly to her fate. We all said our farewells, and I clambered back into my car, discovering my lost wrist band stuffed up my sleeve as I delayered to allow sufficient movement to operate my car controls for the journey home.
It was now about 11.30. You know what, it was a really good event. The organisation wasn’t great, well not unless you already knew the area, but it was probably good enough. The cause is really important though, and I’m genuinely excited at the prospect of seeing the photo, which I think we will get to do. I understand some prints are being sold off, but presumably the photo itself is for publicity purposes.
IF I GET IT, IT WILL GO HERE! And I did, and here it is, one of them anyway
Yep, pretty good – you can buy quality prints too from the BMC shop. They say ‘All profits from sales of the prints will go towards the Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million appeal, and help to repair exponentially worsening erosion damage in some of our most treasured landscapes.’ and I’m sure they will. Some pictures on the BMC Facebook post about the event too.
So, the goal of the event for them, was to get that winning night light shot along the ridge and so to help raise a million, and raise awareness of the issues facing our open spaces along the way too. If you’d like to donate to the Mend Our Mountains appeal, you can do so here. I hope they achieved that.
My goal was to have a micro adventure and explore an area of outstanding beauty that despite being on my doorstep I just haven’t really got out to see very much. I think I met my objective for the occasion too. It was grand.
Today is the day after. Tomorrow if you will. I’m sorry to say my knee is sore and my shins ouchy again too. Maybe just ignoring this and hoping it will go away isn’t working any more. I think the Hathersage Hurtle, lovely as it was, has taken a bit of a toll. Oh dear.
Anyways, that was my Mom Mom night out on Mam. Very fine it was too. Reet good even.
I’m very excited about seeing the photo now. We didn’t have to wait very long for that! There wasn’t a lot of other coverage about the event, though I did find a very grand BBC video of Light Up the Mountain later on. The link is below. Meantime though, check out this epic photo from Phil Sproson photography I love his photos from events all over, but this one is especially awesome! You can see a lovely black and white version and donate to the cause by way of appreciation here. Go on, go on – you know you want to!
Oh, and the pretty cool video the BBC did about Lighting up the peak is here. Wow, we were ‘absolutely fantastic’ apparently. Go us. As well as being like something out of a science fiction movie and being a great thing to do on a Tuesday night! Hurrah. It’s nice to be absolutely fantastic I find, especially on a Tuesday.