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THE SETT SEVEN SUMMITS

Updated: Jan 21


The Edale Skyline and Kinder Edges rounds are well known but there is another obvious circuit nearby that is comparatively neglected. The Sett Seven Summits (sometimes known as the Hayfield Skyline) is a similar length to the other two, 19 miles and 3000 ft of ascent, with all of it on good paths (unless you take in the true summit of Kinder Scout), so it makes a good hill run as well as a fine walking day out. The seven summits are Lantern Pike, Mill Hill, Kinder Low, Brown Knoll, South Head, Mount Famine and Cracken Edge, making a logical loop around the headwaters of the River Sett. The obvious start is the low point where the route crosses the Sett at Birch Vale, but the initial ascent up Lantern Pike from there is brutal, so personally I prefer to start at Peep-o-Day, the highpoint of the road between Chapel and Hayfield.


South Head from Cracken Edge, Derbyshire

South Head from below Cracken Edge


A mile or so of gradually uphill farm lane and grassy track lead to a short steeper pull up to the obvious Big Stone. If you're here in leisurely mode and have a climbing head on there's some nice bouldering on this, up the arete or up the spaced jugs on the front. Even if neither of these apply it's always irresistible to step across onto the block, which gives the view a bit of airiness. It feels much more like the top than the actual summit of Cracken Edge, which is an unmarked grassy spot a few hundred yards further on. You can see all seven summits from here – the loop usually looks quite a long way!


Kinder Scout from Cracken Edge, Peak District

Kinder from the Big Stone, Cracken Edge


You now have a choice of following the path along the edge (the scenic option) or cutting across over a parallel scarp to join the track along the western slope of the hill (easier and marginally shorter). If taking the edge route you have to lose a little height before a left turn onto a deeply cut bridleway takes you over to where the routes rejoin. A long easy descent continues down to Birch Vale and the lowest point on the round. It's then a 700 foot pull up onto Lantern Pike, the start being the steepest bit, though the rest of it isn't gentle either. The main bridleway avoids the summit so you have to cut up left to join the ridge. Again (if you're going to be really picky) the obvious point isn't the summit, which is a nondescript clump of heather a little further on.


Lantern Pike and Hayfield, Derbyshire

Lantern Pike and Hayfield from Mount Famine


Your reward for the slog is a couple of miles of easy track winding around the side of Matley Moor. If you are running you can rack up distance quickly here as the track has only minor ups and downs all the way to the start of the Monk's Road near Hollingworth Head. The few hundred yards on this is the only bit of public road on the walk, and it goes round a sharp bend with not much verge so care is needed. It's a relief to cross the main road and start up the enticing grassy path up towards Mill Hill. This takes you over the minor hummock of Burnt Hill, with the view opening out all the time. Don't forget to look back as you are soon high enough to see over Cown Edge and out across the Cheshire Plain to Wales. At the end of the covid lockdown the lack of air pollution meant that you could pick out the tiny cone of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon summit) just peeping over the shoulder of the Glyders. You can see Snowdonia quite often, but usually just as a hazy block rather than individual summits.


Matley Moor and Cown Edge, Peak District

Matley Moor and Cown Edge from the way up Mill Hill


The path becomes stone slabs and passes the wreckage of a USAAF Liberator, which crashed in misty weather on 11th October 1944 on its delivery flight. The two airmen on board were uninjured enough (the pilot had a broken jaw) to walk to the Grouse pub and report the accident themselves. Mill Hill is a fairly minor summit but it's well marked because it marks a sharp turn on the Pennine Way. As most walkers know, the latter was Britain's first long distance path, designated in 1965. What is less well known though is the story of why it runs from Edale to the Cheviots on the Scottish border, rather than the more logical option (for a "Pennine" way) of Ashbourne to Hadrian's Wall. In 1944 a detachment of paratroops were doing mountain training in Edale, expecting to be used in Italy, and their final test was to walk from the Cheviots back to Edale in a week. After 5 days the trip was cut short and they were deployed to Arnhem (below sea level and as flat as land gets). After the war those who survived did the walk to commemorate their dead colleagues and Tom Stephenson, who had been arguing for years for a British equivalent to the Appalachian Trail, latched onto the resultant publicity to support his campaign. It still took almost another 20 years before all the rights of way were sorted out (the water board in Longdendale were particularly obstructive).


Cloud sea from Kinder Scout, Derbyshire

Cloud sea over Kinder Reservoir


Crossing this patch of hillside always takes me back to a January night in 1989 when I was attempting the 40 mile Derwent Watershed Walk. It was about 7pm and had been properly dark for a couple of hours when I came off Kinder and saw a light flashing about. This turned out to be a guy with a sprained ankle. This was long before mobile phones and he wasn't looking forward to both a night in a bivvy bag and the embarrassment of the mountain rescue arriving in the morning (he expected his wife to call them if he wasn't back by midnight). I spent the next three hours helping him hobble down to Hayfield and then couldn't muster the energy to go back up again, so I got a train to Hathersage and spent the night in Stanage Cave. It probably turned out for the best as it snowed overnight, but I still haven't done the Derwent Watershed ☹️.


Sandy Heys and Kinder Reservoir, Derbyshire

Sandy Heys and Kinder Reservoir - the walk follows the sunny skyline left to right


A short sharp uphill on a good trail takes you to the corner of the Kinder plateau and the rocky track along past Sandy Heys. A little beyond this is the rock outcrop of Western Buttresses. If you're not chasing time then there's an interesting detour to the edge here, where the symbols of the Aetherius Society are painted on the rock. This was founded in the 1950's by London cabbie George King, who claimed that the founders of all the major world religions had been visited by a "spiritual being" called Aetherius and their faiths were just garbled versions of his message. King went round the world "charging" 19 holy mountains with "cosmic energies" and the society he founded still exists (based in California now, surprise, surprise 😁). They run pilgrimages to the various peaks to pray for world peace and other laudable aims - the most recent one to Kinder was last July. Coniston Old Man, Ben Hope, Kilimanjaro and (rather oddly) Lurcher's Crag in the Cairngorms are some of the other summits involved. My vague memory is that there used to be more symbols but now there's just a cross and the initials GK (for George King). They are on the edge of the crag just above the well known VS of Extinguisher Chimney, and anyone who has thrutched through its notoriously strenuous finishing chimney probably feels like they've been reborn in any case😬.


Aetherius Society symbols, Kinder Scout

The Aetherius Society symbols, Kinder Scout


It's only a short distance further to the Downfall, the scenic highlight of the day, at the head of its dramatic gorge. A group of us once spent a May bank holiday weekend bivvying here, selling tea, coffee and mars bars in aid of the mountain rescue. We made a fair bit of money and when it wasn't your turn on the stove you could fit in some of the classic rock climbs around the falls. We had great weather and the Downfall itself was dry enough that we could use it as a way up and down. Most of the climbs are very green these days, but that weekend I did Great Slab in the sunset and remember it as a fine route. I suppose in the 80's it wasn't all that long since it had been a popular climb - add another 35 years with few ascents (only 4 logs on UK Climbing since mine) and it's definitely retiring into the vegetation now.


Kinder Downfall, Peak District

Kinder Downfall


The next bit is by far the most travelled part of the round, along past the top of Red Brook (a fun easy scramble) to the trig point on Kinder Low. If you wanted to include the true summit of Kinder you could head 'inland' from the Downfall to follow the stream through Kinder Gates and go up to the proper top. At present this is only marked by a small turfy cairn (for the purist there's a peat hag 50 metres north-west which is marginally higher) but at various times it has sported a bigger cairn with a post, and for part of 2022 there was a gritstone block engraved with "Kinder Summit" in gold letters. The latter didn't last long, and given how heavy it must have been then anyone who put in the effort to carry it away probably deserves to keep it!


Kinder Scout summit cairn, Peak District

Kinder Summit cairn, with the block


Most people tend to treat the trig point at Kinder Low as the summit, and certainly if you're doing the Sett Seven as a run then following the path along the scarp edge from the Downfall to the trig is far more pleasant.


Kinder Low Trig, Peak District

Kinder Low Trig, it's rumoured that Santa pays a visit on Christmas Day


It feels like the walk is going to be all downhill from here (though it isn't), and looking out southwards you get a real feeling of height and space. The White Peak plateau is generally around 400m and feels well below you, though rather oddly you don't get the same effect in reverse, when Kinder doesn't look markedly higher than the nearby hills.


Looking south from Edale Rocks, Kinder Scout, Derbyshire

Looking south from near Edale Rocks


You follow the hordes past Edale Rocks and round Swine's Back (another easy summit if you want it), then things quieten down once you're past the top of Jacob's Ladder. After a short ascent you need to make a brief out-and-back to take in the actual summit of Brown Knoll. The path is made of stone flags taken from a demolished mill in Rochdale and these continue down the shoulder towards South Head, but then end in bog as the ground flattens out. This bit never seems to dry out however sunny the weather, and the path has spread quite widely as people try to keep their feet dry. Once across the major trail of the Roych the going improves and you have a short sharp uphill to South Head, a great viewpoint and the most 'summity' feeling spot on the round.


South Head, Kinder, Derbyshire

South Head


A good trail runs equally steeply down the far side to the Pennine Bridleway, then you have an easier grassy ascent to the final summit, Mount Famine. This has an excellent view of the whole round, with the little crags and the drop to the east providing a bit of mountainyness. Following the ridge north a clear path descends steeply to rejoin the Pennine Bridleway and a farm trail back to Peep-O-Day. As a walk the whole thing takes around 8 hours, so it's easily fittable into even a winter day, while I'm sure that there are people who can run it in considerably less than half that (though I'm not one of them 😁).


Mount Famine, Kinder, Peak District

Mount Famine


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