Outdoor Articles and Reviews

24 hours in the Peak District: Summer Solstice Camp

As the night drew gently in, a string of red lights lit up, reaching one by one higher into the sky. The transmitting station at Holme Moss stands as-the-crow-flies only 3 miles away from our camp spot high up on the side of Laddow Rocks, a rocky outcrop at the northern end of the Peak District. Further away to the east, the headlights of cars passing across the top of Langsett Moor streamed around the meandering bends of the A628. An Airbus A380 passed overhead, bound for Manchester. Yet, as is so often the case for those wild camping, we had somehow found ourselves a small pocket of wilderness; a bastion within a land of creeping bricks and tarmac.

It was the day of the summer solstice when we drove from Hertfordshire up the M1 and into the peaks, passing Chesterfield’s crooked and twisted church spire, looking like some elaborate set for a movie. We took a diversion to stop at Alpkit’s new flagship store at Hathersage where we picked up a couple of bits of new kit, namely the Alpkit Numo and a new Sawyer water filter, which we will be reviewing in the coming weeks. The shop, by the way, is very cool, and well worth the visit if you’re into your camping and hiking. I have to say their tents look excellent in the flesh and made a much more resounding impression with me and Sam in store than they had done on the website.

We made our purchases and hit the road, heading towards Crowden where we parked the car and made the 3 mile hike up to the Laddow rocks. The first part of our hike was done under a cloudless sky, the sheep had retreated from their pastures and were lazing beneath the few copses of trees that lined the path. Thankfully, as our path began to get steeper the clouds rolled in, offering some respite from the searing heat. A large bird of prey flew past, barely using its wings as it soared over us. We ruled out the usual suspects, too slender to be a Buzzard, too large for a Sparrowhawk and certainly not a Red Kite. Perhaps a Hen Harrier, maybe even a Montagu’s? We steadily reached the top of the crags of Laddow Rocks and it was time to start scouting for our spot: a small sheltered cave on the face of the crags used mostly by climbers. We had learned of the spot from a Reddit post and quickly put it on the list of places we wanted to go. It was hard to get any specific details about how to find the spot and it was up to us to keep our eyes peeled for a likely looking path to get to the cave. Fortunately we found the route down to the cave without too much difficulty.

There is just enough room in the cave for two people to camp in and there are a number of rocks and ledges that make for good seats and cubby holes for putting your gear. All in all a very cozy spot with an amazing view of the valley below, and best of all completely free! We had worried on the journey about the possibility that some other equally enlightened wild campers may already have nabbed the cave for themselves but luckily there was no sign of any other people when we arrived (in fact, in our whole trip we only saw two other people) apart from a silver plastic bag secured under a rock in the cave. Inside was a small blue visitor’s book and a biro, I opened it up to read the entries to find that we were the first people to find the book and the only other entry was written by the person that left the notebook behind just a few days prior.

The heat wave was passing and in its wake came the storm clouds, the sky was rich with orange and yellow hued clouds, towering up like distant rugged mountain ranges. We were well sheltered by the rocks as we watched the weather draw in. This was it, the circled day on the calendar, the summer solstice, a wonderful time to be camping and enjoying the long days and short, never-quite-dark nights. This camp also marked the antithesis of the night we had spent on the Norfolk coast last December, on the winter solstice, which you can read about here, where the inky night was heavy presence that defined the experience, an experience seldom had in the age of electric light. But tonight symbolised the summer, a time when our environment is at its most forgiving and bountiful, a time which has been celebrated by the peoples of Britain for thousands of years.

I have written of having a digital detox before, where I proclaim that taking 24 hours to switch off from the hyperconnectivity of modern life is a refreshing and revitalizing experience and something I would highly recommend to anyone and everyone to try at least once. Camping on the face of a cliff in the Peak District is perhaps the epitome of this notion. And I felt that in this time of division and uncertainty in Britain, a time that has been testing my faith in this country and the people who run it, just spending some time outside at the mercy of our environment and time spent with friends is a subtle but enriching experience. So get out there and try it, forget the campsite, forget the law, just find yourself a pocket of Britain’s remaining wilderness and enjoy it in all its glory!