The lengthy gritstone escarpment of Derbyshire’s Stanage Edge has a special place in British climbing’s past and present. So revered as the hallowed rock of traditional climbing (i.e. no drilled bolts) that when a climber posted an April Fools’ prank picture of a bolt on the grit he received death threats from the climbing community. Upon revealing it to be a joke, he continued to come under fire for using blu-tac on the rock.
Peak District rangers are similarly ruthless when it comes to wild camping in the area and have been known to publicly disembowel anyone found in tents around the crag. Hence, because I’m a good boy and somewhat scared of authority, all of my wonderful nights spent at Stanage have been either in a body-bag that outdoor companies wisely decided to instead call a bivvy (for the outdoor-inclined corpse), or in the not-so-secret Robin Hood’s Cave.
I have arrived at Hathersage station in the dead of night on several occasions, and walked the three or so miles uphill to the weather-beaten edge. Picking a good spot to dump yourself for the night is difficult when all you have to go by is the immediate ground within your headlamp beam, which mostly seems to illuminate fern or sheep. But every time I have got lucky and woken up comfortable, treated to magnificent views.
There is unquestionable delight in arriving at a place completely obscured by darkness, images of the city still fresh in the mind, the only hints of countryside being the strangely satisfying smells of bracken and livestock faeces, to then sleep and wake some hours later with the beautiful view in all of its early morning splendour. It is as if you have been miraculously dropped there.
Bivvying on the top requires finding shelter from the inevitable wind. Stumbling around in the dark I found a nice rectangular block behind which I spent a pleasurable five hours asleep as the wind ruffled the one inch of hair that was exposed. My companion Simone couldn’t find anywhere sheltered, so opted for the pagan-sacrifice-look on top of the block.
At some point that night, tired of the wind, he wandered off and found a dry-stone wall to curl up behind (I like to imagine he stayed in the bivvy bag and hopped over there sack-race style). In the morning I walked over to find him straddled across the footpath whilst runners and walkers nonchalantly jumped over him, admirably resisting the urge to put a boot in his face.
I have passed many pleasurable nights in Stanage’s finest accommodation, Robin Hood’s Cave. Its five-star features include an ideally sized crack in the ceiling for a cam dangled torch; an immeasurable carpet of soft dust; a balcony with its very own puddle (that will not shift no matter how dry it is); small rock shelves for spending ages trying to balance items on until eventually giving everything up to the dust carpet; and a perfect view of Derbyshire’s answer to Mount Rushmore, depicting the profile faces of Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story and a nameless man with a big nose (open to suggestions of resemblance). They keep watch over the entrance to the cave, soberly facing into the prevailing winds as they are slowly eaten by the weather.
Protection from said elements is almost complete, however in the midst of a violent autumn storm, the angle of the wind across the cave’s opening causes a juddering akin to opening one window in a car on the motorway. At times, you can feel the rock shaking.
All routes into the cave involve a degree of struggle. Climbing up (my preferred route) means navigating awkward boulders to the bottom of a short, easy climb that is a bit of a fight in the wet. There’s the down-climbing way where one needs to squeeze through a small crack or dangle and drop, though the landing is disconcertingly close to another more significant drop.
I was once joined by a man sheltering from the rain who sang the praises of the traverse route. After he’d finished telling me his lengthy stories about plane wrecks (of which there are 64 in the Peak District, who’d’ve thunk?), he demonstrated the route, running across a damp, slippery slab like an elderly mountain goat with suicidal tendencies. Despite the occasional journey into the worlds of odd – but otherwise pleasant – people, chances are you’ll have the cave all to yourself.
One day, when the local campsite decides that around 30 people in two decent sized fields does not constitute “full capacity”, maybe I’ll be more inclined to part with a small fortune for the comforts of flushing toilets, running water, and frustratingly soft and sloping terrain. Until then, I’m happy in my body-bag or in the company of Robin Hood and his merry men.