What is the Peak Pilgrimage?
The Peak Pilgrimage is a 39-mile long distance walk, between Ilam and Eyam in Derbyshire / Peak District in the UK. It is designed to be enjoyed by all and is a new fairly new pilgrimage trail that was set up to mark the 350th anniversary of the plague (The plague ended in Eyam) ... But it has an added twist – this is also a pilgrimage walk designed as a spiritual experience. If you have walked any of the Camino's in Spain then you will have a good understanding of the word Pilgrimage. Similar to the Camino, you have issued a guide book, where you collect stamps and stickers that you collect along the way. All of these stamps can be found in churches and spiritual places. I first walked this trail in 2017, and I was looking forward to taking a group of Adventure Geekers so they could experience the beauty of the area and, for many, it was their first pilgrimage.
Unfortunately, due to time constraints, all nine of my Adventure Geekers (aka walkers/pilgrims) were unable to walk the whole 39 miles, but we certainly made a dent in route and we are looking to return later in the year to finish the trail.
Ilam to Hartington - Day 1
It’s 5.30am and if I’m honest, I didn’t sleep brilliantly. It’s not due to snorers (as the only sound of snoring is coming from the Bonnie Charlie Room. next door). No, the main reason I didn’t sleep well was due to the bright light outside that seeped through the window like a space ship was landing throughout the night. I must either close the curtains or change to another bunk tonight!
My journal is completed and I’m ready to get up and put the kettle on, but I think I’ll wait another 20 mins or so yet. I’ve already been to the loo and the floorboards are really noisy! (Apparently, I was sleepwalking last night but I don’t remember a thing!)
After a hearty YHA cooked breakfast, we set off for Ilam. The rain started and didn’t look like it was ever going to stop. We navigated our way through Dovedale Park, taking in the stunning scenery from the comfort of a warm car. I was secretly hoping (as I am sure everyone else was) that the sun would make an appearance by the time the 20 min journey was over... I could dream!
Boots. Check. Rain gear. Check. Trekking Umbrella. Check. We were on our way.... in the rain. The first stop was the gorgeous Ilam church. Or at least we assumed it was gorgeous, but it was locked! No stamp or sticker in our books! Oh no, I hope the other churches are open otherwise my Adventure Geek clients would be bitterly disappointed.
FAMOUS DOVEDALE STEPPING STONES
We made our way along the river via a few fields. The last time I walked this particular field it was full of cows, but today it was cow free. Phew! Only 20 mins into the walk and Helen had a bit of a skiing adventure of her own as she slid in a zig zag formation down a small decline, ending up rather muddy. We all needed to take our time and watch our step on this walk!
As we got closer to the Stepping Stones we were stopped by some other walkers who warned us that the first few stones were under water and the path was flooded. Decision made, we would cross at the bridge instead and then pretend that we hopped over the stones with great photos to prove it!
The walk along Dovedale valley was the best part of the day. Exploring caves, spotting dippers, discovering the fossils in the paths and just enjoying the peace... until hail storms the size of big marbles decided to drop like bullets from the sky!
MILLDALE - Famous for its ducks!
Five miles in and we found ourselves walking over a quaint stone bridge and into the hamlet of Milldale. Milldale is a delightfully positioned hamlet at the northern end of Dovedale. We were served hot tea, coffee and chocolate at Polly’s Cottage and sat and watched the ducks 🦆 whilst warming our bones with the hot liquid. We found our 2nd stamp for our pilgrimage guide book at the dinky church in Milldale and I breathed a sigh of relief that this church was actually open!
ALSTONEFIELD - Time for tea, Vicar!
We left the dinky church ⛪️ in Milldale and followed the path slowly up towards Astonfield. Boy, was this steep! In my mind, I was thinking “great training for your forthcoming Camino, Julia”. The blood was pumping through my veins and my heart was racing. Everyone had red faces, but it felt good! There was a little bit of moaning from my Adventure Geekers, but not much... honestly!
The church for our 3rd stamp was found in the gorgeous St Peters Church in Alstonefield. The vicar had left a kettle, cups and even biscuits for the pilgrims. How cool is that? A few of us used the porta-loo outside and then we enjoyed a nice break and ate our packed lunch. Eating lunch in a church is a bit surreal.
As we left the church the weather turned. The wind blew so hard that I had to keep my hand on top of my cap to make sure I didn’t lose it! The next 20 minutes were a bit boring as we crossed endless fields and pointless stiles. I say pointless, as we climbed a high stile into a field, walked alongside the wall and then climbed back over another steep stile into the same field that we had just come from. Yep, pointless!
I saw the sign for Gypsy Bank and I knew that we were about to have an adventure. I was a bit nervous as I knew what was ahead, and I wasn't sure how everyone would cope with the sheer angle of the drop into the valley. I briefed the team and explained that this journey was just about to get a bit interesting. I don’t think they believed me when I claimed “this next section is VERY steep” until they saw it for themselves. A more a-less vertical decent for about 1/4 mile. On occasions, we clambered down using our hands and knees! I was so thankful for my Nordic Poles and to the person who had taken the time to lay logs into the bank to act as steps. Brilliant!
After Gypsy Bank, we stopped to catch our breath and the final few miles was once again following the river. This time we were walking headlong into gail forced winds. It was hard work!
We finally returned to our hostel around 2.30pm knowing that we had covered over 10 miles today. I am proud to say that we did not lose our way once and that everyone had a fabulous day, despite the weather!
We all ate together in the Devonshire Arms pub. As I type, I’m back in my bunk with a full belly, listening to a group of hikers below enjoying a few beers. I hope they don’t get too rowdy as I’m knackered and need my sleep!
I am so proud of everyone that came along on this trip. Most of my Adventure Geekers had never walked over 10 miles before, and certainly not in that type weather. Everyone helped each other over stiles and down sharp inclines. We held gates for each other and enjoyed a bit of banter. Life slows down when you are walking and I absolutely loved every minute of this day.
Our plan was to complete day two the following morning, but when we woke up and looked outside the window you would have thought we were in Iceland and Christmas had come early. Everywhere was completely white and there was a severe weather warning. The sensible decision was to enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the hostel, pack up and go home. We can come back another day to finish the trail.