I first found out about the Kinder Dozen from Tim about five years ago, and I knew that the general advice was: (1) it’s a long day out; (2) don’t do it in summer because the bracken’s a nightmare. Point (2) will become quite pertinant.

Kinder Dozen

Written by Haydn Williams

Having had some success on a ‘long run’ with Abraham’s Tea Round a couple of weeks previously, I decided to try another circular beast. I first found out about the Kinder Dozen from Tim about five years ago, and did a Kinder 5/12ths Dozen a couple of years later when Andy did the full thing but I had to leave early. So I knew, vaguely, the route, and I knew that the general advice was: (1) it’s a long day out; (2) don’t do it in the middle of summer because the bracken’s a nightmare. Point (2) will become quite pertinant in a few paragraphs time.

Stony path up a hill covered in mist. © Haydn Williams 2021
Climb 1: Grindslow Knoll © Haydn Williams 2021

I was disciplined enough to get a prompt start, with some typical Kinder weather to greet me on the first ascent, Grindslow Knoll. As the name suggests, the Dozen involves twelve ascents and descents of Kinder Scout, starting and finishing at Edale but circumnavigating the plateau in the process. It definitely falls into the “contrived challenges” category rather than “naturally aesthetic lines”, but I don’t have a problem with that. As someone who’s done hill reps on Lose Hill (not fun) I know how much effort it is to get decent amounts of climbing done in the Peak District, so this route packs an impressive punch with more than 10,000 ft. I normally work in metric units, but tradition dictates that the route is 24 miles and 10,000 ft, measured before GPS, and these figures should be questioned.

Crowden Clough valley, with lots of green vegetation. © Haydn Williams 2021
Climb 2: Crowden Clough © Haydn Williams 2021

The first few climbs were familiar from previous exploits, and I had no particular trouble keeping to a reasonable schedule. The record for this round is 4h42m, which I certainly wasn’t going to trouble. I had eight hours in mind as a reasonable target, and after reaching Kinder Low at the top of climb four at 2h30m, I was feeling pretty confident.

Footpath up a hillside towards Edale Cross. © Haydn Williams 2021
Climb 3: Jacob’s Ladder © Haydn Williams 2021

The weather had cleared a little bit, which meant I couldn’t miss the sea of bracken ahead as I passed through Cluther Rocks. I refilled my water bottles as I crossed the adolescent River Kinder, dropping my map into the water as I did so and expending some more energy chasing it downstream. Some cunning route choice espied in advance took me fairly neatly through the bracken, and I eventually reached the edge near Sandy Heys trig point.

A wooded and bracken-covered valley, with Kinder Low gritstone edge behind. © Haydn Williams 2021
Climb 5: Sandy Heys. Descent to the middle of the picture, then head off to the top right-hand corner. © Haydn Williams 2021

On touching the trig I realised I’d never been up to it in over 20 years of bashing around Kinder, and this was the first bit of new ground for the day. The trip across the plateau was short, and punctuated by all kinds of vegetation unfamiliar to me from previous years’ exploits. The exclusion of sheep has really made a difference to the flora up there, and it’s nice to see such diversity coming back.

Sandy Heys trig point standing proud above flat rocky ground of Kinder plateau. © Haydn Williams 2021
Sandy Heys trig. First new ground of the day. © Haydn Williams 2021
Leafy low-growing plants on Kinder plateau moorland. © Haydn Williams 2021
Kinder’s not looking quite so desolate nowadays. © Haydn Williams 2021
A signpost describing work to revitalise Kinder plateau by keeping sheep off the area. © Haydn Williams 2021
This has been going on for some time now. © Haydn Williams 2021

I did another water refill before I entered sheep country again on the descent alongside Upper Red Brook, and enjoyed the good running down Ashop Clough. Turning south at the footbridge and following the grouse butts I didn’t feel as much pain as I’d anticipated summiting Fairbrook Naze. Gate Side Clough and Seal Stones, too, went fairly well, although I did break open the sour snakes on the steep bit of the latter. The bracken had hidden a more direct line but only as I got close to the Blackden Brook crossing did it become really troublesome.

Foxglove flowers on a steep hillside in a valley. © Haydn Williams 2021
More exciting new vegetation on Kinder. © Haydn Williams 2021

With lovely piles of foxgloves and even some long grass in sheep-free areas, I began the ascent to Kinder East trig in a carefree manner and then hit a wall of green. It was high, it was thick, and there was no avoiding it. This is where I started to lose time, and the effort of forcing through it (not to mention the constant paranoia about ticks) was really energy-sapping.

Lots and lots of bracken plants. © Haydn Williams 2021
Welcome to the hurt locker. © Haydn Williams 2021

From the trig it was a nice run down on briefly familiar ground past Madwoman’s Stones to Upper Ashop, then more bracken out to Crookstone Knoll. All of this new ground hadn’t endeared itself to me, but I think the most galling fact was that various people had told me to be aware of exactly this problem, and I had completely forgotten about their warnings in my excitement to finally have a crack at the route.

A DofE group in Jaggers Clough clearly thought I was mad, appearing out of the bracken to run down and touch the boundary wall at the ford, then heading straight back the way I’d come into the ferny maelstrom again. A slight uphill across Nether Moor, but I knew the worst was yet to come from the YHA up alongside Lady Brook. By this time I was very tired and very thirsty, and dreaming of all kinds of cunning shortcuts that those who’d gone before may have missed (needless to say, there were none).

Bracken plants extending all the way up a steep hillside. © Haydn Williams 2021
The hurt locker extends quite some way. © Haydn Williams 2021

Another water refill despite there being sheep everywhere, because I was just soooo thirsty. This was definitely the worst bit of the entire route, followed closely by the final climb out of Ollerbrook Clough onto Ringing Roger. But by that point I knew I was definitely going to make it, even if I was now over ten hours and the rain was starting to set in. The flatter section between the true edge and the requisite cairn seemed to take forever, but then I could turn and head down Ringing Roger towards the finish.

Heather in bloom on the rocky hillside of Ringing Roger. © Haydn Williams 2021
Heather in bloom on Ringing Roger, the final descent of the day. © Haydn Williams 2021

My accompaniment on this final downhill was a constant buzz as bees swarmed around the heather, which seemed to be further ahead in its flowering here than anywhere else on the route. Having seen barely anyone all day anyway, I had complete solitude again (apart from the bees) down into Edale as the afternoon became evening. I channelled my inner John Kelly and kept up a decent pace as I approached the Nags Head, then continued to clomp my way noisily down the main road with terrible (tired) running form back to the car park. 10 hours and 40 minutes was the final time.

On reflection, the Dozen was one of the hardest days I’ve had on the hill: it was hard work throughout; the bracken sapped morale massively; the heat was intense despite the cloud cover. Nevertheless, I never really thought about abandoning the attempt, and it was a good exercise in forcing yourself to push on when there seem to be few redeeming features left on a route! I realise that sounds quite bleak, but on the flip side you get to see all of Kinder, including lots of very quiet bits, and there are some really nice bits of running and of scenery. I’d highly recommend it. Just not in July when the bracken’s up.