The Kinder Scout trespassers- that brave several-hundred-strong throng of hobnail-booted Manchester and Sheffield factory workers who boarded the dawn trains East and West into the darkest depths of the Peak District one Sunday morning in the mid-1930s to occupy en masse a vast uninhabited plateau 600 metres above sea level in a peaceful but ultimately victorious protest against anachronistic feudal-era laws which limited what they considered their God-given rights to wander freely among the clouds at the end of a sixty hour working week stooped at the mills and looms of Late Industrial Revolution Northern England- have a lot to answer for.
These are my thoughts just as early on another Sunday morning eighty years later, as I tie up the shoelaces on twelve-year-old Frankie’s walking boots and do my best to put a brave face on what I privately consider to be a quite terrifying prospect. Our adventurous Mancunian’s growing and unquenchable thirst for the Great Outdoors surrounding his home city has led during the course of the rainy summer to us spending our weekend afternoons scrambling under eight-foot metal fences onto a bypass road construction site under the reproachful gaze of distant men in orange high-glow vestments; engaging in a tense stand-off with a herd of beligerent-faced cows within the narrow confines of a flooded farmer’s field; and stumbling off recognised pathways into deep and unpassable valleys of tangled wild garlic, with no visible means of escape and only a single remaining ham sandwich and a compass that neither of us knows how to work separating us from ‘Man and Child Still Missing In Hills Outside Stockport- Hopes Fading’ shock-horror headlines. Encouraged by what he considers the unblemished success of these ventures, the boy has been spending some time on the internet, or to be more precise, on a hitherto unchartered sub-territory of YouTube, occupied by sturdy-looking gravel-voiced characters with thighs like traction engines, whose self-uploaded videos record them marching intrepidly through desolate rocky outcrops reminiscent of Armageddon while declaiming to a live audience exclusively comprised of storm-damaged sheep on The Timeless Joys Of The Wilderness. And as a result, he has come up with A Plan. In brief: we are to emulate the Kinder Trespassers, or expire in the effort.
Well, A Plan is A Plan, so we set off, Frankie carefree and actually skipping, myself inwardly talking myself out of quite vivid premonitions involving scenarios of death varying in nature along the range from slow and agonising to sudden and excruciating. At Marple, we board the 9:44 for the hills (it was supposed to be the 8:44, but a delay occasioned by the shoelace-tieing, and by the preparation of ham sandwiches, has postponed our departure to a time when human beings are customarily conscious, no doubt to the disgust of any actual Kinder Trespassers watching on from beyond their own graves, who are already dismissing us as cossetted modern-day cosmopolitan dilettantes unworthy of their proud legacy).
The train, which during the week carries shirt-and-tie-clad commuters, is today packed with members of the walking fraternity; roughly a 50-50 split between the native regulars (wiry well-preserved late middle-aged men- of-few-words in serious-looking outdoorswear, travelling in twos) and the once-in-a-lifetime/ never-again daytrippers (semi-comatose twentysomethings of oriental descent wearing nothing more substantial than Adidas Gazelles, corralled in dozen-strong groups by wellmeaning Christian youth workers, whose attempts to interest them in the flora and fauna of northern England they politely affect to attend to, while exchanging shy, baleful glances at each other and more alarmed ones at the drizzle-battered and glowering Pennines). At 0959 this unlikely assemblage of humanity plunges headlong together into the fivemile darkness of the Cowpass Tunnel, and at 10:12 we grind to a halt at a platform in the middle of nowhere. A sign informs us this is our destination for the day: ‘Edale, Heart of the Peak’.
Just six gruelling hours later our day’s work is done. Somehow, me and Frankie have hauled our youthful/ageing bones up six hundred metres of arduous semi-pathed rock, reaching as our reward a near-featureless and quite unearthly horizon-free terrain, whose only concession to human civilization comes in the form of a curiously-shaped five foot high white metal structure, unmistakeable to People Who Know About This Sort Of Thing as the Highest Point of the Plateau. Frankie, of course, recognises the landmark immediately from YouTube, and, fatigue forgotten, gallops open-armed towards it, exclaiming as he does so: ‘It’s Kinder Low Trig Point! Kinder Low Trig Point, Daddy! I can’t believe it! I never thought we would ever get here! I never, ever thought we could!’
Following on from this unforgettable moment capturing in cinematic panoramascape the innocent, unabashed joy of pre-teenage Frankie (How many more of these do we have left in the bank? Is there anywhere you can find out? Did we appreciate each one of them enough? Really, did we?) there are toothy photo opportunities of the boy clambering aside the metal thingy, a short saunter on the sunkissed surface of the unlikely moonscape, some minutes admiring the view and arguing over whether the distant towerblocks are in Manchester or Sheffield, and then- some slightly less tranquil minutes proving more conclusively our failure to grasp the basics of compass-enabled navigation, as we realise we are- suddenly, hopelessly and inexplicably- Lost In Space.
And then- we find the path home just as surely as we had lost it. So- to the descent, with just the one agonising cliff-edged scream-inducing near-sprain of my life-ravaged left ankle, and eventually the rewarding hoving- into- view of the Nags Head, the only public house in Edale and a haunt favoured (in fact, single-handedly kept in viable business, I would imagine) by thirsty walkers. Our train back to the city is due, but it would seem rude not to join the hardy successors to the Kinder Trespassers for a pint of mild/ a glass of lemonade for the boy (and anyway this is the only part of The Plan that I had insisted upon during the lengthy and occasionally tearful negotiations which succeeded the Watching of the Intrepid Men on the YouTube Videos) so that is exactly what we do, before emerging into village streets battered by sudden torrential rain, the first since the platform at Edale, and we don’t care anyway in our moment of post-trek, post-pint exultation as we will soon be heading through the tunnel and back to the civilisation/ stultifying suburbanity of Marple.
The Stultifying suburbanity of Marple, indeed! Perhaps we caught something up there in the clouds, in the form of The Outdoor Bug, and maybe the two of us are destined to become one with the wiry trainbound northerners in their serious outdoorswear, perennially tunnelling back and forth through the Pennine rocks at the crack of the weekend dawn, coffee in hands, heads already in the clouds, and spoken words at a premium. Well- there are worse ways to spend a Sunday, I suppose, and it was when all is said and done a day well spent up there. Although bearing in mind my outgoing definition of ‘A Day Well Spent’ would have encompassed any day not involving the emergency scrambling of the West Derbyshire Air Ambulance, the bar was admittedly set a little on the low side.
I don’t know, we might even go back. Although don’t say it too loud, I don’t necessarily want it to be next week, I’m not actually insane. The spirit of the Trespassers (damn their obstinacy and their hobnail boots!) lives on in the suburbs of Stockport, oh yes.