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There's no such thing as bad weather
It’s December 22nd only a day or two off Christmas and surprisingly, after all the recent snow and heavy rain, it's actually a really nice day. Mild too at about 8°C, the sun shining brightly and a soft breeze is hardly moving the dark branches of the bare winter trees. Wispy light clouds ease across a fine blue sky and the Peak District is showing herself less bleakly than of recent weeks.
The going is very soft underfoot if you venture off the paths, and what remains of last summer’s leaves form a deep umber base to the still-vigorous grass. There’s a delicate smell of decomposition too; not the unpleasant odour of decay, but the rich mushroom smell of regeneration as countless fungi mysteriously recycle the detritus of the year. In the absence of greenery above the earth’s grassy carpet the lichen, clinging to the shaded elevations of dry stone walls and tree trunks, seem to rejoice in their unaccustomed prominence with a display of vibrant colours of such subtlety and aptness which put our human tastes to shame.
Seeking to describe these lichens in their greens and greys and yellows from the half-remembered watercolours of my youth, I recall such exotic pigments as Cadmium, Gamboge, Ochre, Indigo and Payne’s Grey all of which are displayed by these primitive but exotic organisms. The lichen’s vital growth is testament to the clean environment of my home valley, for which I'm grateful. Especially as you realise that the Peak District's 500 square miles occupies a central position in the British Isles and is the most visited national park on earth, with an estimated 22 million visitors every year. Even more surprisingly the Peak District was also the birthplace of modern industry, when in 1771 Sir Richard Arkwright set up Cromford Mill, the first 'factory', not far away in the Derwent Valley. Fortunately the development of steam power superseded the ample water power supplied by the Peak District's watercourses and industry migrated to the surrounding cities we know today, leaving the peakland to become the tranquil backwater we now love.
The catalyst to this multi-coloured view is of course the sun. When the lowering clouds block the sun’s sparkling light, the scene and the mood changes exponentially to an almost monochromatic palette and a dour ambience, still impressive, but now dramatic and inhospitable. The wind, rain and sleet now bite and the need for protection becomes imperative. Look at the wind and ice sculpted crags, the gale-stunted trees, and the coarse flora and fauna that inhabit this region and understand that survival here is dependant on protection, resistance, toughness and endurance.
I’m glad to get back to the Land Rover patiently waiting in the lee of an ancient outcrop of Millstone Grit, disturbing a small knot of Blackface sheep as I arrived and whose natural and primal shelter I had usurped. They trotted off across the moor leaving their evocative scent of dung and lanolin to be whipped away by the strengthening wind. I was struck by how well the Land Rover seemed to fit into this rugged scene with its chiselled profile and robust stance. I climbed into the driving seat wiping driven rain from my face and settled comfortably into position. Two ravens could be seen swirling and gliding in the air buffeted by the powerful updraft off the hillside. The moorland all around seemed to shimmer with each blast as the heather shook and the distant view of the valley below began to dissolve as scudding low cloud obscured visibility.
Time to go, lunch beckoned and I seemed to recall a large pan of Scotch broth simmering on the stove as I left the house. Just the thing for a day like this in which the Peak District had demonstrated both sides of her personality both calm and rugged – together equally acceptable. But never has the phrase “There’s no such thing as bad weather, simply the wrong clothes” seemed more appropriate.
I really appreciated my Hunter boots, which kept me dry, warm and safe as I negotiated the moorland tussocks and bogs. These were complimented with a pair of Hunter Welly Socks, which in turn were interfaced with Moleskin trousers. Over the top of all this was an absolute country classic, the Barbour Beaufort Jacket. The one I was wearing was new and bore the amazingly natty fly fishing print lining which puts some real zing into the normally muted tartan of the standard jacket. Might cause some raised eyebrows down at the pub, but what's wrong with a bit of a flourish now and then? A sweater called a Storm half-zip waterproof also from Barbour completed the mid-layer, and atop all this a Barbour Sporting tweed cap completed the ensemble.
This is the classic, tried-and-tested clothing you ought to wear in this environment. If it gets really wet you can keep a pair of lightweight, waterproof over-trousers handy in a capacious pocket of the Beaufort, but these garments are ‘at home’ on the hills and moors. Sometimes you will see visitors to the Peaks wearing garish synthetic fibre anoraks in the most vibrant colour combinations. Great in the Alps or if your planning to get yourself into difficulties and need rescuing by the air ambulance, but useless if you want to see wild life. The rustling of nylon and the gaudy colours will ensure any self-respecting fauna has evacuated the scene.
A great day in all its moods. And, most visited national park on earth or not, I didn’t see another soul out there.