Derbyshire: to climb the mother of all hills

I'M IN a car park in the centre of Castleton in Derbyshire's Peak District National Park, sorting through my gear ready for a hill run.

Three giggling schoolgirls approach with clipboards.

"Ay up, mister. We'er tha' from? It's for a survey."

"Sydney, Australia."

There's a momentary look of disbelief before the youngsters note this down.

At one point the wind tears the map from my hand.

A few minutes later, I hear them telling their schoolmates in tones heavy with sarcasm: "Tha sees 'im, ovver theer? 'E said 'e wa' from Australia."

Actually, I used to be from round here, well nearby anyway, but that was a long time ago.

Now I'm back to take in one of the area's iconic day trips, up to the top of Mam Tor, the 500-metre hill that dominates the skyline. Its distinctive shape is unmistakably ancient and is the site of an Iron Age hill fort. The name means "Mother Hill" (when I grew up in nearby South Yorkshire, "mam" was, and still is, the common dialect word for mother) and comes either from its habit of giving "birth" to smaller hills or its breast shape.

I prefer the latter interpretation - it makes the lowering hillside a little less threatening. Mam Tor is also known locally as Shivering Mountain, because it is said to "shiver" as the loose shale of its concave face periodically tumbles down the valley. As I stand on the summit, having run some eight kilometres, climbing via nearby Lose Hill (470 metres), I'm the one who is doing the shivering as my sweat cools rapidly in the howling gale. At one point the wind tears the map from my hand, sending me cursing and plunging down the hillside in pursuit.


The track between Lose Hill and Mam Tor is a classic ridge run, with stunning views over Hope Valley on one side and Edale on the other. Far below, tiny cars wind along the road in the valley bottom among fields strewn with the tiny white dotted figures of sheep.

Up close, the sheep on the path stare at me with dumb insolence, only deigning to move aside at the last moment. It's quite plain who is the local and who the visitor.

In the distance lies the Blue Circle Cement Works, with its massive central chimney looking like a child's imagining of the word "factory". The industrial site is initially a little jarring; however, it has been part of the scenery since 1929 and, reframed, provides a little grit in the beautiful oyster of the valley. As I take in the view, a siren sounds for a long five minutes followed by the "whump!" of an explosion as more limestone is blasted from the quarry.

A little later, safely back in the car park and changing out of my muddy trail shoes, I'm approached by another group of clipboard-wielding youngsters (the area is evidently field-trip heaven for unimaginative geography teachers).

Where was I from?

Yorkshire, I tell the kids. It's easier and, besides, I'm beginning to feel like I'm back home.