Saturday, 9 December 2017

Snow at the Sabres

It's 22nd of July 1954. Two RAF Sabre jets are returning from an exercise, on their way to their base; RAF Linton on Ouse. Above the north eastern flanks of Kinder Scout they collide in mid air. It's thought they misread the high ground, following a line over the reservoir. The pilots, Flying Officer James Desmond Horne and Flight Lieutentant Alan Green are both killed. The wreckage, strewn across half a mile from a point on the plateau down to Black Ashop Moor, is discovered three days later by a passing walker.

I was around eight months old at the time. Today, it's a cold, wintery December day, 63 years later. James and I are trudging over a thin covering of windblown snow towards the major part of the jets' remains. It's a night we've had planned for a while. Five of us, including Chrissie, and spurred on by her love of the supernatural, were to spend the night near the supposedly haunted site. As it turned out, an evil-looking weather forecast means that Chrissie has stayed at home with the dogs, we having decided it would be too cold for them, and two of our compatriots had failed to arrive due, mainly, to fears of bad road conditions. Hence, five plus three dogs, is reduced to me and James (James also thought it too cold for Reuben).

We leave our house at midday and take a route over Middle Moor, past Chadwick's Cabin and White Brow and up William Clough. There's some sun trying to break through.

Mindful of my experience with cold hands a coupla weeks back, I've a newly sorted bag of gloves in my sac. Three pairs of thin thermal gloves, two pairs of lined waterproof ones and my Extremities waterproof and fleece mitts now form my hand-protection armoury. Ironically, I've carried something similar in my daysack for years but had been far too frugal when backpacking. I've spent no money on extra hand wear. I'm wearing thin fleece gloves for the initial climb, adding the thinner of my lined gloves only when I feel the need. I remove the lined gloves, leaving them dangling on their wrist loops, if my hands start to sweat. It's a juggling act, but it works.

Around 3 pm we reach  Ashop Head and start out across the moorland waste towards the point I've marked on Viewranger; the crash site. It's some years since I was last here, on a MRT training exercise.

Locating the site, we find a small memorial on one part of the wreckage.

Out of respect for the site, we choose a pitch a short distance away.

James' clever weather thingy tells us it's around minus 2C with a windchill effect of minus 7C. Cold, but nowhere near as bad as the forecast had been. We both agree, had we known, the pups would all have been fine. Oh well. Weather forecasts eh?

I filter water and, as my fingers begin to chill, I'm into the tent and warmth of my winter down sleeping bag. My hands soon warm and I've coffee on the go, now wearing dry fleece gloves. With some of Chrissie's fine home-made flapjack I'm munching and supping contentedly. Apart from throwing the occasional comment at each other through the cold air, James and I remain, ensconced in the protection of our respective shelters.

I dine on Idahoan Cheesy mashed potato and Dolmio bolognese sauce, followed by some of those fruity survival biscuits in custard. That lot's helped down by a somewhat chilled drop of red wine (maybe more than a drop). 

My tiny Treadlite lantern holds the darkness at bay.

I watch iPlayer including a feature film; "The Lighthouse". The true story of the Smalls Island tragedy of 1801, which resulted in a change from two to three man lighthouse crews thereafter. Highly recommended. Available for 10 more days.

The night is clear, cool and fairly still. From time to time I hear unusual sounds. First a single, long, shrill whistle. Much later a dog barking. It's dark and late. Who'd be up here with a dog. Only a search dog handler but there's no sounds of the shouted or whistled instructions I'm familiar with as a former handler. Nor the associated sounds of search parties. Just before 9pm there's a sharp, distant explosion. Each of these noises could have a logical explanation but, suffice to say, the crash site is known for strange sounds. And then there's the tale of a fellow MRT member who, on a night exercise, saw a man in uniform close to the Sabre wreckage on the plateau (of which he was unaware). He wasn't known for flights of fancy and only divulged this quietly to Chrissie, some time afterwards. It had troubled him. Make of all this what you will. I try to be open minded. I tend towards a belief that locations may hold a memory which, under certain circumstances, might be replayed, much like a recording.

The morning brings mist. Tent flysheets are covered in a thin layer of ice, inside and out.

After breakfast, and a relaxed second coffee, we pack.

A walk over the plateau is off the agenda. James has an understandable concern for his journey home across the Peak District. It's started to snow and there looks like more to come. The sky is heavy with that milky, foreboding grayness. Instead we decide to return via Burnt Hill.

James snaps me heading across the open moor, into the snow.

Then to Ashop Head...

...and we're off east towards the Liberator wreck site, where we stop and munch goodies.

Goggles make the wind blown snow more bearable and microspikes help on the slippy flagged bits of path.

Making our way back into Hayfield's like walking into a Christmas card scene.

And, some 24 hours after we left, we're back, warming ourselves with coffee and cheese on toast.

There's no finer way to spend 24 hours than in the wilds, in the company of a friend.