Written by Peter Stone
There comes a time when you realise that, if you’re ever going to do whatever is it you’ve been thinking about, you’re just going to have to get stuck in. I had only started running four years previously (at the somewhat unusual starting age of 50) and had been slowly been developing my running from the situation where I needed to stop three times in a mile to one where I had run 24 miles without too much damage. I doubted my ability to run much further but wanted to try a distance that I considered a decent step into the ultra-distance bracket. Now I know that for many readers 50km is a short trot but for me it represented a decent target.
I had also seen that the Nine Edges walk in the Peak District, which runs from Ladybower Reservoir to the Robin Hood Inn at Baslow, was 23 miles long so I figured that if I could extent that a bit further that would be ideal. The maps and highlighter were out and the midnight oil was burned. In the end the plan was to run across Eleven Edges from Ladybower to Chatsworth House and to then continue that run across to Bakewell. It then required a slight diversion to extend the distance to the full 50km.
The morning dawned grey, foggy and wet. Everything was telling me that this was not the morning for trying my first foray into the ultra-distance bracket. Added to that was the news that, of all the days in the calendar, I had accidentally picked the day when the fantastic Edale Mountain Rescue Team were hosting their annual Nine Edges Endurance Walk. This meant that, if I didn’t get a move on, I would be stuck ‘in traffic’ on parts of Derwent Edge as hundreds of walkers would be out as well. I decided to ensure that I was parked at Fairholmes Reservoir before the walkers set off so pulled into the car park at 0715. A quick gear check, watched by a few walkers sheltering from the rain in their cars, and then I was away.
My run took a slightly different path to the Nine Edges walk but I still ran past several EMRT members who (very kindly) pointed out that the race hadn’t yet started. A shouted assurance that I wasn’t ‘one of theirs’ and I was off. Across the meadow to the first dam and up the steps to the reservoir track. During the Second World War these reservoirs were used by pilots of the 617 Squadron for practising the low-level flights needed for Operation Chastise (commonly known as the Dam Busters raids), due to their similarity to the German dams. Rain or no rain the reservoir was alive with Wood Pidgeon and grey squirrels and made the first mile of settling in very pleasant. Turning right up Walkers Clough the first big climb starts – over 250 metres of ascent on wet grass with limited visibility and more and more low cloud. The path eventually comes out onto a moorland plateau before rising up to the top of Lost Lad where the edges start in anger.
Derwent Edge is, on any good day, the most stunning route to run. Fairly flat but requiring concentration to cope with boulders, drainage channels and grouse it is a great 5 mile run. Today there was none of that, just rain, cloud and low visibility. After four miles the path turns sharply left past an area where you can often see Arctic Hares and down the hill to the A57. Here the run turns toward Sheffield for half a mile before breaking out right to start the run up to Stanage Edge. This Edge, known as the Queen of Gritstone Edges is magnificent. Extending for 2.5 miles and containing over 1600 climbing routes it enjoys a pride of place in many outdoor lovers’ affections. The path runs from Moscar Lodge and ascends to the quieter end of the edge – known as Stanage End. You can often see for 30 miles from here but, today, the visibility was down to 50 metres. The knack seemed to be to keep my head down and just keep going. It was so blank that it was easy to drift off and, at times, I lost complete track of time in that weird meditative state that comes over long distance runs.
Stanage was despatched fairly quickly and I was at the trig point at the so-called ‘Popular End’. From here I could see the car park and, for the first time in what must be over 500 visits to Stanage, there was no-one there – or on the Edge. Indeed, I still hadn’t met a single person from leaving Ladybower. By now we were approaching the Burbage Valley and the well-made track known as the Duke’s Drive (presumably for the Duke of Rutland to transport his guests to shoot grouse on the surrounding moorland) that leads down the valley. A very short run through the woods and Longshaw Woods was in sight – 15 miles down. I had arranged to meet a friend here and Keith was, of course, there on time. A change of shirt, some rice pudding and a two minute break and I was off through Longshaw and onto Froggatt Edge. As a climber turned runner this journey is a real homage to the best climbing in the world. A quick trot along to the end of Froggatt and you’re at Curbar Edge – scene of some really hard climbing indeed. The path climbs the grit edges and runs across bands of rock containing thousands of marble sized pebbles which were deposited at a time when the area was covered in shallow seas. From here the path crosses a minor road and continues across the top of Baslow Edge past ‘The Eagle Stone’. This major rock was historically climbed to prove a boy’s affections for his girl. The main danger today was the Highland cattle who, whilst always keeping themselves to themselves do have a habit of standing on the foot path and not moving even for soggy runners. If you ‘re walking the Nine Edges you’re nearly there at this stage – a trot across the dangerous Clodhall crossroads on the Sheffield road and then it’s up to you which way you get to the Robin Hood Inn. Most folk use a path which cuts directly between the two. That never seems quite right to me so I tend to run through the rock and tree strewn top of Gardoms Edge before going across the fields to the beginning of Birchen Edge. Ten minutes and I was in the car park of the Robin Hood meeting another friend, Kevin, for more rice pudding and a change of top (again). That was 23 miles under the belt – just nine to go.
The bad news is that the next nine miles are the toughest – running under and on top of Chatsworth Edge and the lesser known Dobb Edge complete the 11 Edges but there was still a way to go. The path drops into Chatsworth Park and past the House before starting the first of two steep ascents out of the valley. Climbing through the parkland past a huge number of Roe Deer created a diversion from concentrating on keeping my lungs in my chest. The path then runs through a small woodland before emerging out into really peaceful sheep pasture and up the second major hill to the top of Manners Wood. A steep descent takes you to the main A6 Matlock to Bakewell Road. From there a further steep hill known as Intake Lane and I was on Shutts Lane leading back to my house in the middle of Bakewell. As I crested the last brow I noticed that I had managed 52 km – that’ll do just nicely.