As you’ve probably guessed from the title of this post, my mini adventure of hiking The Gritstone Trail didn’t really go to plan.
Well, it partially went to plan. I guess the main problem was that I didn’t complete the plan.
Here’s what happened…
What is The Gritstone Trail?
The Gritstone Trail is a 35mile (56km) waymarked trail through Cheshire’s Peak District.
The trail boasts some of the finest walks in Cheshire with stunning views in all directions accompanied by interesting landmarks.
Sounds delightful, doesn’t it?
I thought so too, and upon finding out about this trail I decided that I wanted to walk it.
The trail is walked over three days.
Upon reading that, sensible people would probably book two nights at either various campsites or in B&B’s.
But not me…
…to help make it more of an adventure, I decided that I was going to walk the trail and wild camp for both nights, returning home on the third night.
I purchased a low profile one-man tent that was just big enough to fit myself and my small spaniel, Winston (who would be accompanying me on my adventure) inside.
I marked out two suitable spots along the trail where I planned to pitch my tent and wild camp.
The distances were quite evenly spread meaning that I would be covering around 10-15miles (16-24km) per day.
Piece of cake
I had walked this distance loads of times and although I knew that I would be carrying a tent and supplies, I didn’t think that it was going to be that difficult.
After all, I had the whole day to cover the distance. This meant that I could take my time and have lots of breaks.
It wasn’t until the morning of the hike when I had fully packed my bag that I got a bit concerned – my backpack felt considerably heavier than I expected it to.
I did have a slight panic.
Lighten the load
I pulled everything out of my pack to see what items I could leave behind.
Unfortunately, there was not that much that I could do without and the pack was still very heavy.
I questioned whether I should take my camera tripod, but there were some photographs that I really wanted to take, for which, I needed a tripod.
I still wanted to do the walk so I convinced myself that when the bag was on my back and fully strapped down, I would be ok.
Time to go
My housemate dropped me and my dog off at Disley Railway Station and we started our mini-adventure.
Within the first 30 minutes, I had taken a wrong turn and got lost. (Shocker!)
The trail is well waymarked with yellow arrows containing a footprint and a ‘G’, but I seem to have a skill at going the wrong way….it’s one of my many useless talents.
Anyway, I managed to get us back on track and for the first half of the day, I felt quite comfortable.
Yes, the backpack was heavy, but it wasn’t a hindrance and I didn’t feel myself struggling at all.
Overall, I was feeling quite confident.
I was going to make it!
Up, up, and up
Then came, what felt like, never-ending hills.
Although the trail isn’t mountainous, it is very hilly. I encountered several long climbs – some of them being very steep.
My legs were burning and I turned into a ball of sweat as I heaved for oxygen.
I would conquer a set of steep steps thinking that I had reached the top, only to turn a corner and find another set of steep steps.
Some of the large styles required me to pause for a few moments in order to rev myself up and encourage my legs to push me up and over.
I had another kick in the teeth when I realized that I had accidentally left behind the attachment that connects my camera to my tripod. (!!)
After all the debating I did about whether to bring the tripod or not, I was now carrying the extra weight of a somewhat useless piece of equipment.
After about 10 miles (16km), the pain started to kick in.
The worst pain being in my feet – my soles had gotten very tender and sore.
I was constantly walking over rocks and rough terrain and although this hasn’t been a problem for me before, the added weight and pressure on my feet was beginning to take its toll.
I could feel the blisters forming and the skin beginning to tear on the soles of my feet.
I was nearly at my first camping spot and thought that after a good rest I would be able to bounce back the next day and carry on the adventure.
I tried to be optimistic and I kept telling myself that I could push through.
Peace and quiet?
I found a secluded spot in Macclesfield Forest and pitched my tent. After Winston and I had refueled, we climbed inside.
I was looking forward to relaxing for the rest of the evening and getting some sleep.
Unfortunately, that did not happen.
I spent most of the night cold as I hugged onto my dog like a hot water bottle (whilst he was happily snoring away) and any amount of sleep that I did get was quickly disturbed thanks to some form of animal squawking.
When camping out in nature I would have expected a bit of peace and tranquillity, but due to the amount of wildlife that was around, I probably would have had a more peaceful sleep if I had camped next to the M6!
That night, at about 1am, I decided that I didn’t want to play anymore.
My body was aching, my feet were sore, and I was getting zero sleep.
All the fun had been sucked out of it.
Part of me wanted to push on and complete the rest trail, but what was the point if I wasn’t going to enjoy it?
I spoke to my housemate and he agreed to come and pick me up in the morning.
At 5am, I packed everything away and hiked 2 hours back to the Teggs Nose Visitor Centre where I was rescued.
My dog, on the other hand, was having a great time and would have happily hiked for several more days on end!
In hindsight, I was over-ambitious and didn’t take into account the cumulative effect of the added weight, hills, and distance.
What was supposed to be three days hiking 35 miles (56km) and two nights of wild camping, turned into a 14 mile (22km) hike over one day and a night spent listening to, what sounded like, a group forest of animals strangle each other!
After catching up on my sleep at home, I woke up feeling incredibly stiff and sore in my legs and feet.
It wasn’t until I was walking down the stairs (wishing I had a Stannah Stairlift) that I knew I had made the right decision by calling it quits and coming home early.
Every day is a school day, and if nothing else, I’ve learned a few lessons on how to make my next hiking trip more successful.
Firstly, I need to pack as light as possible. Although in saying that, I don’t know what I could have removed from my current backpack as I used and needed everything that was in there. (Well, except for the tripod!)
Instead, maybe I need to ensure that I am stronger and fitter to be able to carry the weight, choose a route that has flatter terrain and/or reduce the distance that I plan to travel each day.
Secondly, if I am going to be carrying weight then I need to invest in a stronger pair of walking boots with a thicker sole and additional cushion. Those blisters played a major role in my breaking point.
Thirdly, if camping I need to take some earplugs to block out the midnight vocalists.
…maybe the real lesson here is that next time I just need to book a B&B!!
P.S. If you have any other advice you have for me, please let me know in the comments below.
P.P.S. The week after, I went back to try and complete the trail. Click here to find out what happened.
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