Walks from a Castleton staycation
For those of us living in the UK, we have nearly all been forced to remain in the UK for the majority of 2021 in the ongoing saga of the Coronavirus pandemic. And just when we thought things weren’t looking too bad for Christmas this year – Omicron hit. Spending a few evenings in to try and escape the surge has given me time to finally finish this post though, so here we are a mere 6 months later than my actual trip solo hiking the Peak District.
Let us rewind to June, when things were less gloomy. It felt like most people had been off on staycations to new cities, or romantic outdoors locations with cute hot tubs etc. As someone who had been through a lockdown break up, I didn’t want my new position as a single person (at the time) to mean I couldn’t go on a staycation and get out of London for a bit. However I had never been on a whole trip by myself. After much deliberation on whether I could do it, I decided to head out of my comfort zone off to go on a trip solo hiking the Peak District in June.
Let me take you through the 3 solo hikes near Castleton I ventured on during my stay. To note, I didn’t have a car and was reliant on public transport, so two walks are circulars from Castleton where I stayed. The other one is a circular from Edale, which is located a short train ride from the neighbouring village of Hope. Appreciate most people will drive to a trip like this, but hopefully this guide will be extra useful for those who can’t or do not want to. I am firmly in that second camp, sometimes to my own detriment but hey, as we will see I survived this trip just fine!
I will talk about the walks firstly in this post, for those purely here for practical info! And then move onto my experience of a solo hiking trip in the UK, which didn’t go quite as I had pictured for anyone curious about that side of my trip. Overall, I did enjoy solo hiking the Peak District but there were drawbacks!
I used the All Trails app to find each of the walks which I completed whilst solo hiking the Peak District. This gives you the length and a map as well as photos and reviews of your chosen route, which you can pick from a range of abilities etc. To download the maps for offline use you need the subscription version, however signal wasn’t too bad and I managed just fine following signs and other walkers where it cut out on this particular trip! I would definitely recommend it if you are looking for some tested routes locally or on a walking trip in the UK.
Cave Dale, Mam Tor and Losehill Circular
For my first solo hike of the peak District I went for an easy one. This walk is a great circle starting from the village of Castleton, although of course you can pick it up at other beginning points. I actually cut it short rather than coming back into the village, in order to end at the YHA Lose Hill where I was staying. The full circuit is just under 13km and takes you over various peaks and along the Great Ridge, which separates the villages of Edale and Castleton.
I went the clockwise direction recommended on All Trails, which begins you at Cave Dale in the heart of the village, not far from the entrance to the castle. Cave Dale is a limestone valley, which contains lots of loose pieces of rock that you need to walk up. It isn’t a scramble but it is beyond a simple walk.
A small stream flows down the valley, so make sure you are wearing appropriate footwear as it can be quite wet and slippy! At the top of the valley there is a cracking view of Peveril Castle and the great ridge behind. I believe the peak of Loose Hill is the main visible peak! Great views made for a promising start to my trip solo hiking the peak district and provided plenty of photo opportunities to prove I did it!
A brief stretch of the limestone way lies ahead at the top of the dale, which you follow for a short way.
Following this section of the walk is a long diagonal stretch along a path through to some fields, where you will find sheep and cattle grazing. Farm land is walled off and the signage is quite clear which is handy, would be hard to get lost!
Coming to a small stone stile, you then turn right down past Rowter Farm and signs back to Castleton. Pass these and and you should be able to see Mam Tor rising up in front of you, assuming it isn’t a foggy day! Wander amongst the sheep and carefully cross the main road to continue on to the base of Mam Tor. There will likely be plenty of visitors in the nearby National Trust car park here, so it should be obvious where to go to find the gate which leads you to the stoney path up to the Trig point.
Once you have admired the views and if anything like me, really tested your upper body strength hauling yourself up for a Trig Point snap, its back down the stone path on the other side towards Hollins Cross.
Hollins Cross is in fact the lowest part of the Great Ridge. The cross which it is named for is long gone, a small stone memorial remains. The path is also known as the Coffin Road, as coffins used to be brought this way from Edale to be laid to rest in the church at Hope, another nearby village.
Then it is over the next peak in the area, Back Tor. I liked Back Tor the best of the peaks. It had a cool ledge where I really got to test out my self timer skills with my tripod for starters. On top of this, there are lots of little stacks of stones. It is a great interesting addition which enhances the view back down the valley.
Lose Hill is the final peak of the Great Ridge. After this it is back down through fields containing trees, which was the first shade of the whole walk. Then you turn right and head back into the village, or, if you are me, turn into the YHA car park as you pass to go and check in to your hostel room!
It was a good walk, which I set out on as I arrived around lunch time and couldn’t check in until later in the day. I hadn’t been planning such a big walk on arrival but it worked out pretty well.
Castleton Cave Dale Circular
Another walk, which I did on my final morning of solo hiking in the Peak District was the Cave Dale Circular. This again began in the village and takes you up along a footpath towards Speedwell Cavern up by the side of the castle visitors centre.
The trail I followed on the app was called ‘Winnats Path and Cave Dale circular’, however I used the map to divert up via Treak Cavern and Blue John Cavern also. Was a good way to test my sense of direction etc, which was what this trip was all about! Also was curious to see how the cavern entrances varied.
The Blue John cavern had a little cafe at the entrance as well as a shop, and I decided to stop here for a pit stop and to have a piece of Blue John cake, because it looked cool and I was intrigued. It did not disappoint! Inside was marble cake which was blue and sponge coloured, with the icing matching. Then on the top, the most incredible sugar work piece of ‘edible Blue John’. Definitely not to be missed if you are heading to that cavern!
I headed round the other cavern entrances and had a nosy, then back down to join the path. A small section of the route took me onto the road alongside farm land which was walled off but it was fine and I was soon back opposite the base of Mam Tor. From there I headed back in the direction I had previously walked to go past Rowter Farm and back down the cave dale, having walked up it perviously. it was good to go do it with another perspective. I think I enjoyed the views more going down, it was a bit more dramatic looking!
Edale Circular via Grindsbrook Knoll, Kinder Scout and Mam Tor
That’s right folks, I enjoyed Mam Tor so much I went back for more! Or something like that. Truth is I had originally planned to divert off this trail and skip Mam Tor, Hollins Cross and the bit back to Edale so I could head straight back to Castleton. But it was only 3:30pm when I got there and as I had been struggling to fill the evenings I thought I would continue back round to Edale and check out the pubs there for a bit of a change of scene. And I am glad I did finish the loop in the end! The full loop is 17.2km and involves a fair bit of scrambling – rated hard on All Trails.
The trains from Hope to Edale are once every half an hour. I decided to walk the few miles to Hope from Castleton to get warmed up and so I wasn’t trying to time infrequent buses to infrequent trains! It is a short journey, only 7 mins, and cost me £4.20 each way.
From Edale station the way to the beginning of all the walking routes is fairly obvious. The Pennine Way begins here and so it is a very popular spot with hikers. The village boasts a few pubs as well as some cafes. I had a coffee and a cake at one of these, the Newfold Farm cafe, to fuel me up for my walk, also purchasing a sandwich and some juice to have for my lunch at the station cafe, which my Dad had told me did good food.
My walk began following the signs to Grindsbrook, which took me through sheep filled fields until reaching a forest area. In the forest there is a little bridge over the brook, which I had fun with using my tripod to try and get a good picture!
It is really scenic and wasn’t that busy which was nice. I continued on along the side of the brook. There were a few people down in the gorge who were paddling in the water, which it was great weather for!
The next section was a little hard to follow at points, as the signal wasn’t great for my map to connect, but there were a few people around so I headed the same way that they did. You then have to scramble all the way up the valley to Grindslow knoll at the top. There were loads of people going up and down here. It was quite a difficult climb up the waterfall so I can see why this was rated as hard, although it didn’t really give me any trouble. I even found some friendly people to take a photo of me half way and then I saw them again at the top so they did another one for me which was nice of them!
After this I headed along a lot of rocky outcroppings, for about an hour. This was around the summit of Kinder Scout, the highest peak in the area. There wasn’t an obvious path up to the summit and I didn’t want to get lost since I was alone so I stuck to the trail, but had I had someone I would have wanted to go explore the top I think.
There was then about an hour across fields which featured a long stone path. This bit was a bit dull. It reminded me of the ‘Road to nowhere’ level from the original Crash Bandicoot games. If you know you know! I did wonder if I would ever find civilisation again. There wasn’t really any good spot to stop and eat here, would recommend doing that before you leave the rocky outcroppings of Kinder Scout.
Finally I found myself back in more farmland type territory, which was a welcome change of scenery walking alongside a higgledy-piggledy stone wall. This took me right back to my old friend, Mam Tor. I was planning originally to maybe head back in to Castleton from here, but I really wanted to go to one of the fun looking pubs back in Edale, so I decided to head back over the top and down back through more farm lands to Edale.
This was a really rewarding walk, definitely my favourite and the biggest sense of achievement at the end. I finished off with some loaded fries, as well as a beer and a cocktail at the pub. Who could say no to £5 frozen daiquiris am I right?!
Other things to do in Castleton
Visit the Caverns
The focus of the solo hiking the Peak District for me was of course the hikes, but I thought I would check out some other bits too. There are a few different caverns you can visit. I went to the Blue John Cave as a child, and Speedwell Cavern involves a boat ride I believe and so is a bit more pricey. I choose to go to Peak Cavern, which is the one located closest to the town, with a much more spectacular entrance than the other caverns in the area.
Peak Cavern is also known charmingly as ‘The Devil’s Arse’! This is due to the sounds the gurgling water can make, which can sound rather rude! The tour begins with a demonstration on how the workers made rope, and examples of the tiny houses they had carved into the caverns. Dozens of miners lived here underground. However, it became somewhat of a tourist attraction as early as the Victorian era, where guests would have to get in a tiny rather coffin like boat, lying down, to get to the centre. Of course now a proper tunnel has been dug in, so fortunately no need for us to do that!
Fair warning it is both cold and dripping with water in the cave, so would recommend wrapping up and bringing a waterproof even if it is sunny out in the village! Tours run once an hour for an hour each between 10-5 and have to be booked in advance. I did think that the £16 asking price was a little steep, but still glad I did it. I am not really a fan of caves and so doing one by myself (although was in a small group, I didn’t have anyone to share my thoughts with) was a big thing for me. They were actually showing movies in the cavern entrance whilst I was there, although I discovered this on my final night and it was sold out, which was a shame, as that would have been quite a unique thing to do!
I didn’t do any other caverns, so I won’t say anything about those, other than they are Blue John, Treak and Speedwell and are all an easy walk uphill from the town.
Climb up to Perveril Castle
Castleton is quite literally named after the Castle – it is Castle Town! The castle sits up at the top of the town and has a very steeply inclined path that must be traversed in order to reach it. There isn’t a whole lot left to see now unfortunately, with just the main walls and one tower intact. It was built in the 11th century, and is thought to be one of the earliest Norman fortresses built in England. There isn’t any evidence to suggest that a battle ever took place here. It fell out of use and into ruin around the 14th century, and is now managed by English Heritage.
Adult tickets for the castle are £7.60 and can be bought in advance. I believe if you pay upon arrival rather than in advance it costs more. When I visited in June 2021 you had to book a ticket in advance due to number caps caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
It was worth a wander, there are some informative signs about former use as a banquet hall and a small exhibition with artefacts. The main reason to visit though iif you aren’t a history buff is for the amazing views of the peaks of the Great Ridge.
Check out the Pubs and cafes
There is an abundance of pubs and tea rooms in Castleton.
On the first night, the day after the end of May bank holiday, I got to The Peak Hotel, that appeared to be serving food, only to be told they were out of most things and so busy they couldn’t take any more food orders and that we should all go to the next village over because it was like this everywhere in Castleton. I had already ordered and got my drink before being told this and was having a bit of a rant on the phone to my Mum about what to do when I was stuck in Castleton as I had no car. The waiter seemed to take pity on me and said they would take one more order for me, and I had a great blue cheese burger as a result. The one time being alone paid off!
I had lunch at The Bull’s Head one day to use their Wi-Fi, which was quite reliable, much better than the one at the hostel! Here I went for a sweet potato burger which came with chips and onion rings.
At the olde Cheshire Cheese I had a pizza and waffles for dessert as it was my final night, after reading in the sun with a Pimms at the Castle pub.
I had wanted to eat at some of the cafes, as I was getting a bit sick of heavy pub food and wanted something healthier but they were all quite small and were always full at lunch time!
YHA Losehill Hall
I was a little disappointed by my experience of YHA Losehill. I think that was maybe due to my own expectations rather than anything actually wrong with it. But basically comes down to saying I wouldn’t stay in a YHA again over school holidays, because the place was completely overrun by children who ran around shrieking at all hours of the day. I only saw one other lone adult reading a map outside one evening, other than that it was entirely families from what I saw. Most of them seemed to be using the on site camp site, but there were still plenty indoors too who ran passed my room yelling at 7am every morning.
There is no proper bag store either, I had to leave my stuff in the drying room, which didn’t lock. That meant that on my first and last day’s walks I had to carry my laptop with me, which was an unnecessary weight. Check in is at 5pm and check out is by 10am.
The room itself was fine. I had to book a private twin room, as the dorms were closed due to Covid. It was a bunk bed in a large room with a huge window at the front of the building. Which although was a nice view, it faced the camp site and outdoor dining area so was quite noisy. It did have its own bathroom, which was a wet room with a toilet, the sink being out in the main room. So at least I didn’t have to share that with the hordes of kids…
I didn’t eat there, although there was an option for breakfast and they did pizzas in the evening. The bar was decently stocked and not too expensive, so I did have a Corona whilst researching things to do and booking cavern tickets out in the grounds, but only one as I wanted to escape the melee.
The location wasn’t bad, although the driveway is extremely long! But for a traveller solo hiking the Peak District without a car, it was easy to get to on the local bus from Hope station. It is only a short walk from there to the centre of Castleton as well.
My Peak District Hiking Experience
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect coming on this trip solo hiking the Peak District. I had never travelled anywhere myself for an entire trip before. I am not a huge fan of doing stuff alone. I don’t mind spending time alone in my flat or on a run etc etc. But I rarely go out and do things alone, as I am a very social person.
I was hoping that by staying in the YHA Losehill Hall – a hostel – I might meet some people. All you ever hear about solo travel is that you are never really alone and you will always meet people to spend time with. Now I was out in the middle of nowhere in the Peak District, but I barely found anyone to speak to the whole four days. I was surrounded almost exclusively by families. Which is my personal idea of hell, as I am not particularly fond of being around children. I know I was probably just unlucky, but I was pretty bored in the evenings. The WiFi didn’t seem to work in the hostel and the 4G was very intermittent.
I really enjoyed the hikes near Castleton though and don’t feel that being by myself for those was awful. It gave me a good sense of achievement to know I navigated all those routes successfully by myself. But there were a lot of points where I thought it would have been nice to share a view, a scramble, bounce directions or photo ideas off someone. Or actually have someone to take a photo for me.
So whilst I am glad I gave it a go and proud of what I managed by my self, I don’t think I will be travelling solo in the UK any time again soon. That is not to say I won’t solo travel again, but I think I will go for more obvious backpacking destinations in future! In fact I managed five days in Crete staying in a hostel which I enjoyed much more and will write about at some point!